Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview: Benjamin Davis on the Inaugural AMTF

Everything has a beginning.

The upcoming inaugural Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival (AMTF) started with a "Why don't we have something like this?" epiphany when Atlanta-area actor-singer-producer Benjamin Davis was at the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) just one year ago.

This summer, Benjamin's then-budding vision will become a reality, making Atlanta musical theatre history!

Benjamin Davis, Founder & Executive Director, Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival
Benjamin Davis, Founder & Executive Director, Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

I had the awesome honor of interviewing Benjamin who shared with me some background on his theatre adventures and some of what he plans to grow into an annual event.

About Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

Benjamin envisions the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival as an avenue to facilitate and foster "the next generation of theatre allow creative minds to explore their ideas with the guidance of seasoned industry professionals." Benjamin sees this as an opportunity to "celebrate our community and the impact that Atlanta can have on the national theatre scene."

Benjamin was inspired when attending/working the New York Musical Festival last year to start one here in Atlanta. NYMF, launched 12 years ago, today runs for nearly a full month and this year showcases 2 to 12 shows per day. Benjamin's fearless endeavor will no doubt rival its NYC sister Festival one day. That Benjamin has in only one year created and is about the launch the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival is mind-blowing! This is BIG, you guys!

There were 20 submissions received by the May 1 deadline and four official selections have been made that will be presented in the inaugural Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival, over two days and two nights, August 1-2. Tickets are available on the Actor's Express website and the shows will be performed at Actor's Express and Synchronicity Theatre

The range of topics presented in the inaugural year of the Festival is quite astounding. Festival-goers will see shows concerning slavery, family, feminism and memory! (more info about these shows is below)

Of course, getting any project of this magnitude off the ground takes vision, dedication and support. AMTF conducted a crowdfunding campaign and it was a total success at 111%! It's very exciting to see such support and enthusiasm for new musical theatre and for emerging theatre artists! 

Want to donate to the success of the Festival? You still can...donate here.

Tickets are now on sale for the two-day Festival. AMTF will take place on Monday and Tuesday, August 1-2. There will be a show at noon both days and a show at 8:00 p.m. both days...a total of four original works.

The Festival will be presented in four blocks over the two days. Each block will include a showcase performance of a local musical, in an abbreviated form, and one of the four official selections—a full performance of the original work.

About Benjamin Davis

A native Georgian, Benjamin has been acting since he was 12 years old. He grew up as a singer, and simply stumbled upon musical theatre when his middle school chorus class presented a musical each year.

He was born in Buford, Georgia, matriculated at University of Georgia and did his apprenticeship at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a theatre I've enjoyed on many occasions and highly recommend.

His first role came in 7th grade, as Wihthrop in The Music Man. Benjamin recounts the experience as one in which he "thought he was cast because of his natural talent, but probably had more to do with the fact that he had bright red hair and an actual lisp." 

His favorite shows today include a plethora of contemporary musical theatre, but he says the shows he's dying to tackle are Spring Awakening, American Idiot and Dogfight...*wink* *wink* to all Artistic Directors in Atlanta.

The most recent performance I had the pleasure of seeing Benjamin in was Sweeney Todd at Actor's Express, one of the theatres hosting the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival. After meeting him, I fully know that his passion for theatre is authentic. His desire for AMTF to be a total success is indeed genuine, and I'm wholly convinced it will be!

Over the years I've known many actors and actresses, some of them very close friends. The one common trait each and every one of them possess is a complete and total devotion to their craft. Benjamin's commitment to singing, acting and launching the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival is exactly that...a wholly committed devotion to a successful launch and continuation of the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival.

When I asked him what he does for fun in his spare time—knowing that was a long shot—Benjamin said, "You hit the nail on the head when you mention that our lives are acting. In addition to my acting career, my actual free time is usually spent on the Festival or other projects. My REAL free time would be spent cooking with my girlfriend, playing with my dog, or studying the craft. My free nights are spent watching other shows or movies, usually engulfing myself in other people's work. Free time and hobbies are a thing of the past for me!"

Sadly, Benjamin recently lost his canine companion to health complications. My heartfelt condolences to him and others who loved his pup.

When Benjamin got the idea for the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival, he was working as the Associate Producer for a show called The Last Time We Were Here at the 2015 New York Musical Festival, and the show was a great success.

Before that, Benjamin also had the awesome opportunity to tour with the Broadway Dreams Foundation as a production assistant/intern coordinator. Through Broadway Dreams, Benjamin has had the opportunity to work alongside Broadway greats including Billy Porter, Tituss Burgess, Eden Espinosa, Jarrod Emick, Megan Hilty, Stafford Arima, Norm Lewis, Stephanie J. Block, Tyler Hanes, Deidre Goodwin, and Tony Vincent, among others.

His resume is impressive to say the least! I believe he will prove to be the musical theatre promoter that Atlanta wants and needs.

Benjamin also maintains a steady amount of on-camera work. He has appeared in feature films, including The DUFF and The Fat Boy Chronicles, as well as commercials for Georgia Lottery, Top Flite, Zaxby's, RaceTrac, and Home Depot, among others.

Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

Official Selections

Let's now have a look at the four Official Selections that will be featured in the inaugural Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival, presented here in performance date/time order. Tickets for all shows are available on the Actor's Express website.

Underground (tickets)
Monday, August 1  |  12:00 p.m.  |  Synchronicity Theatre

Book and Lyrics by Akil DuPont

"1850. With dreams of freedom tuggin' at his soul, Bali plans to escape from slavery after learning that his master, Jacob, is going to sell his young daughter ...Bali encounters a house slave, Dembi, who is content with her station in life..."

Human strife and struggle is often the catalyst for music, whether it offers relief or fuel. This show, I believe, is a story about the human condition, about the incredibly difficult decisions we sometimes have to make...decisions that will dictate our future. A must-see!

Underground | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival
Underground | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

The Yellow Wallpaper (tickets)
August 1  |  8:00 p.m.  |  Actor's Express

Adaptation by Hannah Church
Music & Lyrics by Julia Appleton

"...a treatment called the 'rest cure'. Imagine lying in bed for eight weeks in complete isolation."

Granted, there are times, especially in today's busy world, I crave quite alone time, but never would I, or most anyone for that matter, want it forced upon me. I am completely curious about this 1891 "cure"...and how it's put to music!

The Yellow Wallpaper | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival
The Yellow Wallpaper | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

The Fine Art of Forgetting (tickets) (website)
Tuesday, August 2  |  12:00 p.m.  |  Synchronicity Theatre

Book by Heidi Cline McKerley
Music by S. Renee Clark
Lyrics by Jeff McKerley

"...we follow Karen's journey as she juggles a mother battling Alzheimer's disease, a disappearing father, a nonexistent romantic relationship, and a new career opportunity that seems too good to be true."

I know S. Renee Clark's music. That alone tells me this one will be magnificent. The story is one that I believe many of us have in the past or are currently dealing with, making it wholly relevant to so many today.

The Fine Art of Forgetting | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival
The Fine Art of Forgetting | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

What's Past (tickets)
Tuesday, August 2  |  8:00 p.m.  |  Actor's Express

Written by Chase Peacock and Jessica de Maria

"What would you do if you could remember all the things you never knew you forgot?

That part of the show's synopsis terrifies me. Not because of the show, but because I don't think I'd want to unravel certain aspects of my past, but I can hardly wait to see it dramatically acted out on stage!

What's Past | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival
What's Past | 2016 Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

You can get a discount by purchasing multiple shows and for a short time there will be full-festival passes available for all four shows at a significant savings! Remember to double-check your ticket and time, as the festival is being conducted at two different theatres, Actor's Express and Synchronicity Theatre.

Stephen Michael Brown, Title Sponsor of Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival, is someone I do not personally know, but I've seen his hand in a lot of great work, a lot of magnificent theatre, so it wasn't a surprise when I learned that he extended his expertise and generosity to the Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival.

I hope to meet Stephen at some point in the future, but allow me please to share with you one of his favorite quotes, which I believe is accurate of how he approaches every day:
"I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find out." - Roger Ebert
I'm looking forward to what I know will be a magnificent musical theatre experience! Thank you Benjamin, staff, artistic advisors, sponsors, playwrights, directors, crew and actors! And of course a huge thank you to all who purchase tickets!

Submissions for the 2nd Annual Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival will open this fall, so be sure to sign-up for informative email updates (bottom of their homepage) and follow AMTF on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

We may all very well be witnesses to the beginning of the next national musical theatre sensation! See you at the Festival!

Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival

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