"Call Me Adam" chats with Libra Theater Company's Managing Artistic Director Nick Luckenbaugh and Executive Artistic Director Victoria Weinberg about their annual Songs You Should Know concert, this year, at 54 Below on Tuesday, February 4 at 9:30pm!
Songs You Should Know is an annual concert of new and rarely performed songs from some of today’s most talented writers. Click here for tickets!
1. Libra Theater Company has been producing Songs You Should Know, an evening of musical theater songs by some of today's emerging and established writers, for the past three years now. What made you initially start this series?
Nick: When we founded Libra four years ago, we started out with this idea of "balance." We try to make performance opportunities that allow artists to balance art and everyday responsibilities - no matter how creative we have to get with scheduling. But we also want "balance" to apply to our programming. Music and non music theater. New work and the classics. There's so much great work out there, and we feel it’s important to give our artists and audiences access to as wide a variety as possible.
That said, one of the things Victoria and I are most passionate about is new musicals. There is so much good new music theater out there. And a lot of that - whether it’s by an established writer or someone bubbling just under the surface - hasn't gotten the attention that it deserves. So Victoria and I thought, "How do we create a forum where we can bring all that together?" So Songs You Should Know came about.
Victoria: Well, Nick truly had the idea for Songs You Know Know first. So, I can't take too much credit for the initial idea! But, that being said, our mission statement is something we take very seriously. This concert is the perfect marriage of our love for new work and our passion for creating performance opportunities that cater to the schedules of our performers. We rely very heavily on the talent of our artists, but we provide them with as much support as possible. Many of our artists are busy with rehearsals, performances, family commitments, or jobs – so it is our job to find them the rehearsal time and tools they need to fit their busy lives.
For this concert in particular, that’s why a great musical director is so important. Songs You Should Know would not exist without someone with great hands at the piano who’s also so committed to our process. Mark Evans – musical directing for the second time for this – is wonderful. None of this would work without him.
Nick: Libra's definitely a smaller company in the grand scheme of what's out there in New York. Not saying that I'm not proud of the work that we've done - because I'm really proud. But it means a lot to me that as we've continued to do this, we've had talented up-and-comers as well as amazing Broadway performers like Lilli Cooper or Max Crumm continue to agree to perform in a concert organized by a little off-off-Broadway company. And it tells me that there are a lot of people out there who care about musical theater as an art form and want to support the new work that's happening - be it from established artists or from writers just starting out with a guitar and a dream. And I think - looking to the future - it's that love of new work and passion for promoting it that I want to keep at the heart of this concert.
Victoria: Personally, the series has evolved for me in the fact that I care so much more about the bigger picture because of it. As a new graduate when the concert first started, I wanted so badly to be in the concert myself and sing alongside the "big guns." But over the past three years, Libra’s become so important to us and my personal passion for promoting new work has grown. And it’s helped me grow personally. This year, I’ve really come to understand the importance of finding the best performer possible for each song rather than securing the "biggest name" or finding a way to sing something myself because I love the song. (And trust me, there’s a lot to love!) But it really is more important for us to promote all this fantastic new work than to push any individual artistic agenda.
Victoria: 54 Below produces fantastic shows. There's no question about that. They have such a varied line-up of concerts from Chita Rivera to Joanna Gleason to Jeff Daniels. I think that any chance a young and growing company has to produce new work on a stage that’s held such storied performers is a fantastic opportunity. We’d love to be part of music theater history and 54 Below offers that in spades. Plus, the drinks are fantastic!
Nick: I second all of that. Also, for me personally, I’m thrilled that we get the chance to work so closely with Jennifer Ashley Tepper, the Director of Programming at 54 Below. I remember that when I was almost out of college and started getting into producing, a director I knew said, "Nick, you have to meet with Jen Tepper and try to learn from her!" And he was absolutely right. She’s taken the musical theater world by storm, and I think anyone who wants to produce on a small or large scale can really learn from her enthusiasm and dedication and sheer ability to get people excited.
4. What does 54 Below offer you that another venue might not?
Victoria: 54 Below offers such a wonderful support system when you’re working on a project there. Here’s where I’m going to echo a lot of Nick’s sentiments. Jen Tepper – in addition to being the world's greatest musical theater historian – is one of the most supportive and lovely ladies you will ever meet. She excels at keeping you to task on your deadlines and also providing you with the best team possible. You’re never out of options, and there’s always someone to go to with a question or for advice on how to get things done. I can’t say enough about the group of people that work at 54 Below.
Nick: 100% agree. We’ve worked with some wonderful venues over the past three years (special shout out to the Laurie Beechman, which has hosted this concert twice before). But one of the best parts of being at 54 Below is that you’re working with an entire team. And as Victoria said, they’re all so supportive. And as far as the space itself, it really feels like you’re making a mark on theater history when you’re performing there. And that’s really special.
Nick: There's so much great new work to choose from. But one of the things we've become more and more conscious of as we've programmed each concert is making sure a variety of writers are represented – particularly when it comes to emerging writers. "Emerging" is such a broad term. It can cover writers who've certainly had successes but haven't had their work on Broadway just yet. It also covers writers who've never had anything published or are still working toward their first professional production. And they've all got amazing work that deserves to be showcased. And I think we've really tried to make this concert representative of all the "emerging" writers that are out there. I only wish we had more slots available at each concert to give even more emerging talent time onstage.
Victoria: When we receive these amazing songs, we want to make sure we’re giving them their best debut possible. Carner & Gregor are a great example. Libra’s had the chance to work with these great writers every year since our inception, and this year, they’ve given us a brand new song. Especially given our history with them, we wanted to find a performer that would give the song the a fantastic outing. Molly Hager immediately came to mind. We’re only glad that she was free, because she’s going to be amazing!
We also love returning to artists that have worked with us before whenever possible, such as Marissa McGowan and Blair Goldberg. Honestly, just like a director loves to return to their favorite actors, we as a company value loyalty, and we just can't get enough of the artists that return to us and constantly wow us with their performances.
Victoria: I would love for Songs You Should Know to be the concert for new and hot performers and writers – something that people look forward to all year. And in doing that, I’d always want us to work toward balance and really embrace all new music – putting brand new composers you’ve never heard of onstage with more established ones (and everyone in between). As long as creative people keep pushing the boundaries of musical theater, we’ll keep debuting those songs.
Nick: Honestly, given the resources, I’d love to do this more often. As I said, there’s so much great work, and there just aren’t enough slots in a given concert to showcase what’s out there. Especially when it comes to brand new writers. In my opinion, there are a slew of promising artists just out of grad school or who can’t even afford the awesome grad programs that are out there. These guys just haven’t been able to break out yet, and I think they deserve to be up there debuting new stuff alongside some of the more established writers putting out new work. I mean, how great would it be to regularly give brand new writers the ability to say, "My song premiered at 54 Below alongside new stuff by Tony-nominated writers?" Pretty great, right?
Nick Luckenbaugh is a New York City-based arts administrator and grant writer, serving as both the co-Founder and Managing Artistic director the award-winning Libra Theater Company as well as Manager of Institutional Giving at Atlantic Theater Company. Nick is also a playwright and music theater composer/lyricist. He is currently collaborating with singer/songwriter Amy Molewski on Unbound, a new musical fantasy. His song cycle Royal Fables will receive a workshop at NYU this spring under the direction of Megan Mekjian. http://www.nickluckenbaugh.com
Victoria Weinberg is proud to have co-founded Libra Theater Company. She is a graduate of NYU/Tisch & a student of Larry Singer, Richard Sabellico & Susan Eichorn Young. In addition to producing, Victoria has performed at regional theaters, theme parks & here in NYC with companies such as the Player's Theatre & her very own Libra. She has performed new works with composers such as Joshua H. Cohen, Mark T. Evans, and Carner & Gregor. She is a proud mama to her chi-weenie, Tobi. http://www.victoriaweinberg.com