New Yale/Signature Theatre initiative gives budding Yale composers a leg up

A closeup of a young female composer writing sheet music at the piano.
(© stock.adobe.com)

The idea for a new partnership to support student composers in the Shen Curriculum for Musical Theater and alumni of the program during the first phase of their professional careers was hatched by Ted Shen ’66, executive director of the Shen Family Foundation, and Daniel Egan, coordinator of the Shen Curriculum for Musical Theater at Yale, while sitting on a train after an end-of-semester concert presented by the Shen Curriculum. The two were discussing Egan’s wish list for the now 13-year-old initiative.

Egan, lecturer in the Department of Music and in the Theater Studies Program, explained that while there is substantial support for musical theater students at Yale as undergraduates, after graduation it becomes incredibly difficult for the students to advance their careers in a field that is both competitive and costly.

Several months later, Shen contacted Egan asking him to vet an idea for a new partnership between the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and the Shen Family Foundation. From that conversation, the Signature Theatre/Yale Composer Partnership was created to offer career-building opportunities for promising young Yale composers who have been involved with the Shen Curriculum. The new partnership recognizes two composers annually — one graduating senior and a second composer in the first five-to-six years after graduation.

The graduating senior who is awarded the Signature/Yale Composer Partnership will receive a three-week workshop of a musical that she/he is developing and will benefit from a year-long relationship with Signature Theatre, including a five-week internship that will include attending rehearsals and observing and assisting artists at the Signature Theatre as they mount a world premiere production. The Signature/Shen Artist will learn all aspects of operating a non-profit theater.

The second composer will receive a two-week workshop of a musical in development. For the workshop, as with that of the graduating senior, the Signature Theatre will provide a director, musical director, and a cast of actors to aid in the development of the piece. There will be two presentations for Signature Theatre audiences during each workshop — one at the end of the first week, and another at the end of the workshop to accommodate rewrites during the workshop period.

The artists in each of these programs will receive a stipend and a housing allowance.

What we are looking for are composers with an original voice in this idiom,” says Egan. “The partnership will help by honoring an individual who has a unique voice while providing early career access to professional-level input and resources.”

Signature Theatre is the nation’s leading non-profit developer of new musicals, and based on our longstanding working relationship with its committed, nurturing staff, we are confident that its unique know-how and experience are ideal for guiding the early development of Yale’s musical theater graduates,” says Ted Shen, who, along with his wife Mary Jo, heads The Shen Family Foundation.

The exterior of Signature Theatre in Oct. 2009
The Signature Theatre in Oct. 2009. (Photo credit: Ecragg [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons)

Yale students who have participated in the Shen Curriculum for Musical Theater are well prepared for this new opportunity after graduation, says Egan, in part because of the dedicated faculty who teach within the curriculum. “The great gift of all of those who have taught in the Shen Curriculum is their fierce commitment to not merely replicating the form, but to finding new avenues of creative expression.”

Egan says that the passion on the Yale campus for Shen Curriculum courses reflects the growing viewpoint that the American musical theater is a repository of American culture. The Shen Curriculum offers eight courses annually, each combining the introduction to a specific topic or skill with cultural and historical exploration of changing attitudes toward art, context and formal aspects of the art form itself. The Shen Curriculum also offers a thriving master class series, Fridays @ Five, that invites professionals from Broadway to connect liberal arts study to the professional world beyond. “These are intimate conversations that are extraordinary opportunities to talk together as peers,” says Egan.

As part of the liberal arts offerings at Yale, says Egan, students have the opportunity to be either a devotee or a dabbler in the Shen Curriculum. Only about half of the student who are engaged in the curriculum are in a related major. Taking Shen Curriculum courses enhances and expands a Yale student’s experience at the university by fostering a blend of theory and collaborative practice, combining intuition with more traditional academic intelligence.

The new Signature Theatre/Yale Composer Partnership as well as the ongoing success of the Shen Curriculum are a testament to founding sponsors Ted and Mary Jo Shen, whose visionary support has been extraordinary, says Egan.

The deadline for Yale undergraduates to apply to the Signature Theatre/Shen Artist program is Dec. 1; the deadline for graduates is Dec. 15. Submission information can be found here.

Media Contact

Bess Connolly Martell: elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu, 203-432-1324