Talkin' BroadwayV.J.

The Genesius Guild:
an Interview with Tom Morrissey

by Jonathan Frank

For the past seven years, the Genesius Guild has been providing an arena for the development of new plays and musicals. To find out more about the organization and the programs it provides for the nurturing of new shows, Jonathan Frank interviewed its founder and Artistic Director, Thomas Morrissey.

Jonathan Frank:  Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Thomas. The first question I have for you is how do you pronounce your company's name?

Thomas Morrissey:  It's pronounced 'jen-EE-see-us.'

JF:  For the longest time I kept reading the name of you organization as 'Genesis Guild,' which I figured made sense as your organization is concerned with creation.

TM:  The name was probably a mistake since everybody mispronounces or misspells it (laughs). But when people do get the name they find it extremely memorable. It comes from St. Genesius, who was the patron saint of actors ... although I believe he is one of the casualties of the slew of decannonizations by the church. In the '30s and '40s it was a tradition for theater professionals to give St. Genesius medals as a sign of good luck on opening night.

The story of St. Genesius is that he was an actor and a writer of comedic farces and the emperor asked him to write a play that ridiculed Christians. In the process of writing it, Genesius was converted to Christianity, which, of course, angered the emperor, who had him beheaded.

JF:  Is the Genesius Guild religious in nature, then?

TM:  No, not at all. We are an organization that creates and develops new plays and musicals and I wanted a name for the organization that was rooted in a theatrical tradition.

JF:  Are you the founder of the organization?

TM:  Yes, I am. We're going into our seventh year and have been incorporated for about five and a half years. I was a member of Circle Repertory Company. One of the offshoots of their company was a group of 150 to 200 actors, directors and writers who would get together every weekend to work on a new show. Essentially, it was an in-house development department for Circle Rep. A lot of the stuff that was developed ended up being produced either on the main stage at the Rep or by another company. When Circle Rep folded about eight years ago, a group of us who missed having a place where we could work on new material created the Genesius Guild to fill that void.

JF:  Do you have a core group of actors, writers and directors that you call upon?

Tom Morrissey
TM:  Not presently. When we started seven years ago, we had a group of around forty people who put together what we called our Monday Night Performance Project Series, in which we would put up portions of works in progress. We started organizing the evenings into themes, as it seemed easier to manage them that way. We would do an evening of stand-up comics, for example, or one devoted to new songwriters, or dramatic plays about death. Different members of our forty-person group would curate each evening and bring in people from outside of the organization who fit the various themes.

Through the course of a three-year period we saw thousands of pieces that were at a variety of levels of development: some would be performed off-book and costumed, while others were done in chairs with scripts in hand. Many of those pieces were produced elsewhere and a few even became films. We were basically a place for the pieces to have a life during one instant of their development. We didn't have any ownership in the works nor did we carry them further than that one snapshot of time.

Over the years, we discovered that having a core group was more inhibiting and more work than it was worth. Currently, we don't really have an artist membership base. Instead, we are more project oriented. What we really want to do is take a piece through all its stages of life, from its inception to a fully staged production. Our goal is to create new plays and musicals that can be produced commercially, even though our works may be non-commercial in nature or ahead of their time or behind their time; we never know.

JF:  Do you go out and find shows, or do people submit them to you?

TM:  Right now our programming falls into three phases. However, we are constantly evolving and re-inventing ourselves as a company, and fine-tuning the process in order to achieve better results.

Currently, the first phase is The Script Club, and it is the first place people come into contact with the organization. The group is made up of about thirty-five playwrights, composers, performers, directors, and other theatrical artists who meet on an ongoing basis to discuss scripts. This group of thirty-five people goes to workshops and readings elsewhere and acts as our feelers. We are also constantly developing relationships with literary agents and heads of writing programs. We're listed in every conceivable directory that we think writers might look at; we're trying to outreach as broad a base as possible.

Each script that we receive is read by at least two of the members who evaluate the script, rate it as 'yes,' 'no,' or 'maybe,' and then bring it before the rest of the group. If a piece gets two 'no' evaluations, it goes back to the author with a letter thanking him or her, stating that we are not interested in this particular piece but would love to receive future works. If it gets two 'yes' evaluations, it goes into The Raw Reading Series, which is a place for us to hear scripts read out loud by actors to an invited audience. Sometimes a director will be attached, but usually it only gets one or two rehearsals. It's just a place for us to hear pieces that we think are interesting read out loud. If a piece gets a 'maybe' evaluation, it gets read and submitted until either a firm 'yes' or 'no' decision gets made.

This fall we are implementing the second phase in our development process, The Writers' Group, which consists of a group of writers who have been pre-screened via The Script Club and The Raw Reading Series process. It is meant to provide a place for the writers to work on new works in development.

The piece may then go to what we call Target Projects, in which we try to provide what the author needs to develop the piece further. It might be more readings, or getting the author in touch with a director, or a dramaturge, or a composer. Or they might simply need a place and a computer on which to write. We're developing as many resources and tools as we can and matching them up with projects we believe in to help carry them further. We're not into short-term commitments: our most recent fully staged show, Just Us Boys, for example, was in development for three-and-a-half years.

Phase Three includes the Staged Reading Series, in which pieces that are in the final stage of development get produced for industry people. We did a staged reading of a musical last year called Guardian Angel, which featured music by Doug Katsaros, who composed the music for Just Us Boys, and was the arranger for The Rocky Horror Show, as well as the opening sequence of the Tonys and Savion Glover's tap number this year. The book of Guardian Angel was by Mark Bramble, who wrote 42nd Street. It featured a cast of 30 people and was something we could never produce as a full-fledged show, but we could do a staged reading and give people a sense of what it could look and sound like if it were fully staged. We invited a number of industry people to see it and hopefully somebody will pick it up for further development.

JF:  Tell me about your CD, Our Heart Sings, which features a host of Broadway and Cabaret performers.

TM:  The CD, which is available for sale on our website and at our events, came out of our Cabaret Program, which has been in operation for roughly the past four years. We devoted one of the nights of the Monday Night Performance Project Series to cabaret. Christiane Noll from Jekyll and Hyde, Paige Price from Smokey Joe's CafĂ© and Andrea Burns who was in Beauty and The Beast had been toying with the idea of doing a cabaret show but had never put one together. They took an evening and each did a 20-minute segment to workshop a cabaret show. That cabaret evening was extremely successful and spawned a cabaret series, which we did for about two years. The problem with the series, however, was that although we had all these high-profile entertainers, we could never develop or duplicate the shows due to their schedules. Thus, we are now shifting the cabaret program away from focusing on individual performers to being a place to workshop and work on musical revues or small musicals that would be suited for a cabaret space.

JF:  What upcoming events do you have?

TM:  Our new season starts in September. We have yet to finalize our next fully staged show, but it will probably be a musical by Doug Katsaros. We have a fundraising gala coming up on November 4th that will honor our attorney, Donald Farber, who wrote the book Producing Broadway and is the editor of the Entertainment Law Journals.

We traditionally take the month of August off, and this year we're moving into a new office space during our hiatus. We're a member of A.R.T. New York, which stands for Alliance of Resident Theaters of New York. It's a service organization of which most non-profit theaters in New York are members, from the smallest company to Roundabout. The organization provides seminars on everything from accounting principles to 'how to produce a show.' They also refer attorneys or insurance agents and provide information on how to survive any emergency.

About a year ago, they got a funding grant through the city of New York to rent an entire floor of an office building. Various non-profit theater companies are going to be subtenants of the office spaces and we are going to be one of them. It will house roughly ten small companies like us, a number of mid-sized companies, and five large companies. Right now sixteen companies have committed to the space, but they expect there to be a total of twenty. Drama League is going to be a subtenant, as is the National Alliance Of Music Theater, of which we are members, and the Arts and Business Council. So there will be lots of support for us to tap into just down the hall! We will have a shared reception space and three rehearsal spaces, which will be great as it will give us is a permanent place to do all of our Script Club, Raw Reading and Target Projects.

JF:  Do you hold auditions for the readings and the shows?

TM:  Yes, we do. The Script Club has actors as members and a lot of them participate in the Raw Readings. We typically hold open auditions for our staged readings, but our casting is done primarily through agents, due to the caliber of talent we hire for our readings; we usually hire Broadway professionals for the leading roles.

JF:  How do people get involved in The Script Club?

TM:  They can just call. It's really the first way people become a part of us, and it's from there that people can move on. There are lots of opportunities, but people have to be committed to the organization; we're primarily a volunteer organization at the Phase I and Phase II stage. Offering one's services as a volunteer or as an intern, for example, is a great way for us to get to know one another.

JF:  Sounds great! How else can people get involved in your organization?

TM:   We have a membership program, where people can join to support our organization. If you are a theater artist, it costs $15, and if you are a 'regular' person, it starts at $20 and it entitles you to discount tickets, as well as other perks.

JF:  Thank you for the information, and I wish you all the best for your upcoming move and season.

TM:  Thank you.

For more information on The Genesius Guild, including how to join or submit materials, visit their website at www.GenesiusGuild.org.

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