The theme song from Martin Scorsese’s 1977 film New York, New York features a particularly famous line: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere, It’s up to you, New York, New York.”
More than 30 years later, that line still holds true, at least for those in the performing arts field, and in the coming months, two Calgary-based artists are taking a crack at the Big Apple.
Musical creator and artistic director of Calgary’s Forte Musical Theatre Guild, Joe Slabe, is one of them.
Slabe, who’s production Austentatious previously appeared in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is once again heading to New York for a reading of another of his musicals, Jeremy de Bergerac, for well-known Broadway and Off-Broadway producer Ken Davenport.
Jeremy de Bergerac had its world premiere earlier this year via the Guild, the company Slabe started to develop and present new Canadian musicals. Come August 6, Jeremy de Bergerac will make its New York debut with a staged reading featuring a cast of New York actors.
“These projects go back seven, eight, nine years. It’s a marathon. You keep going and going and, eventually, the work pays off,” says Slabe.
Drawing upon his experience as a high school drama teacher, Slabe crafted his story around a fictional Catholic school production of Edmond Rostand’s classic Cyrano de Bergerac.
As in Cyrano, there is a love triangle in the narrative, “but not a conventional love triangle,” says Slabe — what sets this one apart is that the titular character, Jeremy, who plays Cyrano in the play within a play, is in love with a straight kid also starring in the school production.
Meanwhile, the two teachers supervising and directing the play have their “own set of conflicts and issues they are trying to work out,” explains Slabe.
“I think anyone can relate to Jeremy’s struggles, because it’s about who are you going to be when you grow up. It’s about what your passion is — it’s not just about coming to terms with your sexuality,” says Slabe, adding that, initially, he was going to make the piece a tragedy.
“There are so many gay tragedies that I decided I needed to change the ending to one that was hopeful,” he says.
Slabe jumped at the opportunity to have the reading in front of Davenport, who has been behind such projects as the Broadway revival of Godspell, the Off-Broadway hit musical Altar Boyz, and the new play My First Time. When Slabe travelled to New York in March to attend some new musical readings, he recalls thinking: “My play is as good as any of these.” So he got a video copy into the renowned producer’s hands via an acquaintance.
Slabe acknowledges that a New York (or London) production of a new play is key to that show’s success.
“Even an Off-Broadway production puts you on the map. Then people know about it,” he says.
The reading is open to the public, but producer types will be in attendance — the kind who could make Slabe’s dream of having a New York run of Jeremy de Bergerac a reality.
Slabe says this development is all part of what he set out to do when he founded Forte Musical Theatre Guild in 2008.
“Our goal is to develop new Canadian musicals and export them nationally and internationally and get them done around the world, and this is a big step to doing it,” he says.
The other Calgarian having her work shown in New York is filmmaker Jill Clark.
While taking an online poetry class, her professor, Gerry LeFemina, mentioned a film series being created around an anthology he had edited about the New York subway titled Token Entry: New York City Subway Poems. Clark had already sent LaFemina a rough copy of a short film she co-wrote and produced called If You Really Knew Me for his feedback and critique.
“He said, ‘If you were in the area, I would invite you to make a film for the Subway Series,’” Clark recalls.
Clark, however, didn’t let geography stand in her way — she obtained a copy of the anthology, selected a poem from it around which to base her film, wrote a screenplay and went to New York with her 15-year-old son, Lockie, to film the project over a two-day period.
Her short, Subway Silk, revolves around a commuter who catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman in a silk dress and then loses sight of her when he follows her off at her stop.
But, in his pocket, he mysteriously finds a flower from the bouquet she was carrying.
“Was it all a dream? We don’t know. It’s part of the magic of the movie,” Clark says.
The burgeoning filmmaker is arranging a private screening for Subway Silk — along with six other films from the series — at the Tribeca Grand Hotel on September 22. Following its New York debut, she will host a local screening for the project and will then shop it around to various film festivals.