Winners & Finalists
When I was five years old, my sisters and I produced a homemade version of Phantom of the Opera with bedsheets for curtains and a chandelier made out of toilet paper rolls. Phantom then became the first Broadway show I saw at age 13—I knew I would never want anything more than to be part of that theatrical magic in real life.
I began writing music after graduating college and moving to South Korea to create original educational shows. As both an aspiring performer and writer, I’m most drawn to multi-hyphenates like Anaïs Mitchell, Shaina Taub, and Sara Bareilles.
I love creating an indie-pop sound, something whimsical that features synths and an electric drum kit. As someone from the South, I also inevitably infuse my work with a folksy element or bit of twang.
When everything is at its messiest, music is the only thing that makes sense!!!
"The Ugly Side of Me"
My first loves were music and dance. And baseball. I was pretty shy and had a mean lisp so it took me a minute to warm up to the stage. But when the world was ready, I finally made my long awaited debut as the Mayor of Munchkinland.
My Freshman year, to get into a writing class, I wrote a Sopranos-meets-Zootopia mini-musical about a squirrel vs. rabbit vs. skunk turf war over the Northwestern campus. I had no idea what I was doing — I maaaybe stole melodies from other songs I knew and prooobably the plot from Animal Farm — but I DEFINITELY had something to say, about coming together for a greater cause. Yes, the animals join forces and decide to raid Allison Dining Hall as the solution for their territorial food crisis.
When I grow up maybe I’ll have a “style”! At this point I’m all over the place. My Spotify discover weekly is chaos, so of course my writing is just as eclectic. I grew up playing jazz drums, so that’s probably the biggest genre influence. I like to set up the world for my character to live in — get to know what they’re feeling first before figuring out what they have stay and how they say it. A mentor taught me to start by writing the monologue / dialogue version and let the character(s)’ vernacular drive how the lyric is structured. This process can lead melody and groove to all sorts of stylistic sensibilities, and I like to try a little of everything. So short answer, it depends!
I love the puzzle. You get to express something that’s true to you, some story you need to tell, and then push the pieces around until you find the best way to tell it. We don’t have the chance to do that very often in real life.
"It's Not Pretty to Be Crazy"
Being from the Philippines, my grandmother used to listen to Lea Salonga all the time, so I grew up seeing myself in her and the roles she played on stage. Coincidentally, my first show ever was Aladdin Jr in 4th grade. I was pretty much hooked after that.
As far as I can remember, I’ve been writing in journals— diary entries, poems, stories, stream of consciousness. I wrote whatever I felt which eventually translated into singing once I discovered my musical creativity. I get inspiration from Sara Bareilles, Dodie, and Phoebe Bridgers (to name a few) who I fell in love with because of their beautiful lyrics.
Sometimes I feel like the song I’m writing is meant for a person and their guitar to be performed in their bedroom, and other times I feel like it’s a ballad meant to be performed on stage. I’m not sure what to call it all.
I find it really rewarding when I get the courage to say something through music that I couldn’t have said just talking. I love how empowering songwriting is.
My 5th grade choir instructor was very theatrically inclined, she had us as ten year olds doing the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” scene in the middle of our concert.
I went to school for performance, but I think ultimately I was inspired by Eric Whitacre to be a composer.
I like finding magic. I’m interested in finding the spaces where magic and realism meet and then pushing both of the boundaries—musically and theatrically.
That almost supernatural feeling that can happen during creation/collaboration. Sometimes in a practice room with a friend, and sometimes with an entire audience. It’s like nothing else.
BEN: Playing Freddy the bullfrog in a summer school musical called "Once Upon a Lily Pad" (lol). ANDREAS: I was a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz!
BEN: I read To The Lighthouse in high school and felt something crack open in me. ANDREAS: I started writing when I realized that it would help me direct films in an intentional and narrative-driven way.
"Different in Daylight" is one of two songs that we co-wrote for Andreas's first-year film at NYU Grad Film. We use music as a way to create emotional development and narrative momentum in film.
ANDREAS: I love it when it comes together, something clicks between the people performing it, and the whole story starts to work. BEN: I love that, like theater, the real thing only exists in the moment.
My mom taking me to a local production of My Fair Lady as a little kid and hastily covering my ears when Eliza Doolittle yells the word “arse” onstage.
I stumbled into composing a summer stock’s TYA season and kept writing because I liked it and nobody threw tomatoes at me during the shows. Ben Scheuer has been a big influence; his lyrics astound me.
My writing is very specific, which paradoxically I think helps more people relate to it. I view all my work as a collaboration between myself and the artists who work on my pieces.
Like all artists pursuing their craft, I am clearly in it for the money.
SARAH: When I was little I saw Wicked and was completely obsessed. I knew every word. SHANE: I was talked/tricked into auditioning for Annie in high school and fell in love with theatre around the time I went to look up this "Popular" song I'd heard at auditions and discovered Wicked.
SARAH: I've been writing music since I was in middle school, but I didn't officially decide to be a musical theatre writer until college. SHANE: I started writing songs in a pop punk band when I was 15, but I decided to write theatre after I heard Next to Normal in high school - I didn't know you could tell those kinds of stories as musicals.
SARAH: Shane and I have an eclectic style, based in contemporary musical theatre but with indie folk rock vibes. We like to play with style to enhance and strengthen character. SHANE: Sarah and I are both disabled and both non-binary, so we tell stories that feature underrepresented characters in formats we strive to make as accessible as possible.
SARAH: Being Autistic, I sometimes struggle to communicate socially. Writing is a way I can be understood. It's a truer representation of who I am than I can communicate socially. SHANE: I love the sheer number of layers on which a piece of music can work: harmony, melody, lyrics, and orchestration all mixed together create something so much bigger than the sum of its parts.
My moment I knew I loved theater seeing "The Lion King", and wanted to be a part of making people think, dream, and feel.
I started listening to Paramore, Justin Nozuka, Lauryn Hill, and The Fray: they were al storytellers with their music and it was like "why not make this theatrical?"
My works sounds like 90's alt-rock, 90's R&B, 40s-60s gospel and jazz, and pop music of the 80s and 90s. It's always tells aa story that feel authentic to me and to many listeners.
Connecting with audiences in inventive ways.
I was cast as a newsboy in Gypsy in the 4th grade. After that I started doing a lot of community theater in my hometown and fell in love!
I had always written melodies on my piano but was inspired to add lyrics to my music after I studied abroad in London. Seeing so many amazing shows left me eager to write from my own perspective.
I would describe my writing style as a blend of pop/MT styles - I try to incorporate lyrical melodies that have a strong emotional quality with exciting contemporary rhythms and harmonies!
Hearing other people perform my songs is always the most rewarding part. As a singer myself, it's fun to see how other singers interpret my music and bring their ideas to the table.
SHEELA: My 6th grade class did a musical revue featuring songs from Hair and Tommy. ALLISON: I was the Narrator of MacBeth in our third grade version of the play. I wanted to be Lady MacBeth but Maggie Cantor got the part.
SHEELA: I started composing as a child, but only as an adult--after toggling lives as a classical musician and anti-child-trafficking lawyer--did I start to think I might actually have something to say. ALLISON: I had been a poet since childhood, but seeing Vagina Monologues in 2001 rocked my world and made me want to write plays.
SHEELA: I aspire to create music that encompasses stories, sounds, and people that have been silenced or siloed by society, and that challenges expectations about who “belongs” in what kinds of music. ALLISON: My background is in poetry, so...language? And a passionate relationship with feminism.
SHEELA: Noodling at the piano is fun, but what I really love is hearing performers interpret what I've written and surprise me in their performances with something more interesting than I realized was there. ALLISON: I don't write music; I revere people who can do that.