The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga has the rare distinction of having been an award-winning play before it even opened. The musical was one of 13 first-round recipients of the 2017 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award by the Theater Communications Group (TCG). The New Play Award was created in 2006 to encourage the development of new, enduring works of American theater. The award helps to alleviate the greatest constraining factors in the development of original theater: time and budget. Over the past 11 years, the Edgerton Foundation has awarded $10,244,900 to 348 separate productions premiering at theaters across the country.
The New Play Award was of enormous benefit to The Four Immigrants. The musical had originally been allotted two weeks of rehearsal, one week of tech, and one week of previews – a very tight schedule for a show with many song and dance numbers and a small company of actors who each play myriad characters. The award subsidized an additional week of rehearsal time. This allowed the performers to richly develop their characters, the technical staff to better formulate their designs, and the triple-threat composer/lyricist/scriptwriter Min Kahng to make the adjustments he wished to the show’s text and music.
Leslie Martinson, the show’s director, was thrilled to have received the New Play Award because it allowed her to build the show at a pace which would serve the creative process. “Normally, with a pre-existing script, you know what the ‘moments’ will be. Your job is just to build the moments and polish them,” she said. “The New Play Award allowed us to discover the ‘moments’ we wanted to create to tell this new story and then build them. We didn’t have to settle for the obvious answer.”
Choreographer Dottie Lester-White found the extra time the New Play Award made possible to be essential. Though she had choreographed most of the show’s dance numbers before rehearsal began, she had no knowledge of the actors’ ability to execute her planned routines. The extra week allowed her to teach at the actors’ pace while also making changes and cleaning the choreography as she went.
For actor Hansel Tan, who plays Charlie in the show, the additional time allowed him to develop his character more richly. “In a fast rehearsal process, actors miss getting to live with a piece and their characters,” he said. “It’s a special thing to be able to dwell within a show’s ecosystem for a while, and have it manifest the story it needs to tell.”
The Four Immigrants joins the ranks of many famous musicals and plays that were originally sponsored by the New Play Award, such as Hamilton, Next to Normal, All the Way, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Dear Evan Hansen, Water by the Spoonful, and Oslo. Nine New Play winners have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes (four having won), and 15 have been nominated for Tony Awards (five having won for Best Play or Best Musical). TheatreWorks has previously received six New Play Awards for The Loudest Man on Earth (2013), Upright Grand (2012), Clementine in the Lower 9 (2011), Fly by Night (2011), Auctioning the Ainsleys (2010), and The North Pool (2010).
By Holly Dayton, New Works Festival Intern