Murderous circus characters may seem like the basis for a Stephen King novel, but for senior Ithaca College student Luke Davidson, it resulted in an invitation to The New Voices Project, a prestigious musical theater program, for his musical “The Circus of Terror.”
New Voices is a musical theater development program based in Los Angeles, hosted by New Musicals Inc. (NMI) and Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment. Now in its fifth year, the program allows selected playwrights, composers and lyricists under the age of 26 to participate in workshops, receive feedback and watch concerts of their work. This year, organizers selected nine projects produced by a total of 17 individuals.
Davidson and his partner Jonathan Horn were the only undergraduates accepted into this year’s program. Their work will receive feedback from NMI staff and representatives from Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment. They will then be given the opportunity to rewrite and resubmit their work in time for it to be presented in a concert in Los Angeles.
“We were both shocked to find out we won,” Davidson said. Pleasantly shocked, but shocked nonetheless.”
The pair have been friends since high school, with Davidson attending Ithaca for musical theater and Horn at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he will receive a degree in theater and another in music. In their junior year of high school, Davidson wrote a script for a murder mystery musical and asked Horn to help him compose the music on his piano. With Davidson writing lyrics, Horn composing the music and a joint effort to create the story, the two wrote the “The Circus of Terror.”
“We liked the idea of playing around with twisted, freaky characters that are colorful and fun, but at the same time it’s dark and there is murder going on under the big tent,” Davidson said.
“The Circus of Terror” had several successful productions in their high school and was dropped upon entering college, though it would unknowingly be the material that thrust them into the spotlight. When Horn discovered the New Voices Project after a professor recommended the program to him, he and Davidson decided to apply for fun. The application required them to submit 15 minutes of material — which in their case was three songs from the musical — as well as short essays about their passion for musical theater.
“I really love the art of telling stories through music, which is why I like writing musicals,” Davidson said. “It wasn’t really hard or challenging, it was just a learning experience while I was doing it.”
Davidson has been surrounded by music since a young age, growing up in Minneapolis and singing with his father and grandfather in a trio. He studied piano for six years and began musical theater in middle school. Davidson attended an arts high school where he began to dabble in plays and musicals, before attending Ithaca to explore other mediums of acting, such as film.
“I don’t really have any specific training writing for musicals,” Davidson said. “It’s just something I’ve been doing enough, watching enough of and absorbing enough from them that I feel they are fun to write.”
Each team has their own scheduled week within the New Voices Project, with Davidson and Horn participating in May. They will be Skyping in from their respective college locations to view the rehearsals of their music and to hear feedback that will then be incorporated before the performance.
“The circus musical was fun at the time, and it will be great to work on again and tweak,” Davidson said. “I’m excited to get the opportunity to receive this feedback from professionals, and hopefully I can apply it to my musical writing in the future.”