SUNY Cortland Department of Performing Arts, in partnership with CreateTheater (Executive Producer Cate Cammarata), is bringing the inaugural co-production of The Bone Harp to Off-Broadway in NYC this spring.
SUNY Cortland and CreateTheater established the Professional College Musical Theatre Partnership in 2022 as a place for musical theatre writers to develop new work and see their creation come to life as a first step in its development. The Bone Harp was chosen as the first project for the partnership. After a very successful workshop reading in December on the SUNY Cortland campus, The Bone Harp was invited to be included in the New Works Festival at Theatre Row in NYC on May 23-24.
Inspired by a Scottish folk song, The Bone Harp follows two sisters, Jessa and Jenny Allen, who have made the most of their isolated life as daughters of the village gravedigger since their mother left the family ten years before. They’ve discovered the Boneyard, a ghostly realm where the spirits of villagers past keep them company once their bodies have been exhumed and their bones prepared for interment. When their father departs for an annual trip, the girls discover a grisly secret: that their mother did not leave-she was murdered.
With the help of their ghostly friends and with their mother’s vengeful spirit urging them on, the sisters must determine who is responsible for this crime and how they will hold the perpetrator accountable. After a failed appeal to the village from which they have been outcast, Jessa and Jenny are faced with the truth: that only they will be able to decide what justice means in this case and determine how to achieve it. As the murderer’s path crosses theirs and a violent confrontation looms, they will need all of the skills they have acquired in a lifetime of isolated endurance to not only find justice for their mother’s death, but to survive themselves.
“This is an exceptional opportunity for our students,” says Kevin Halpin, SUNY Cortland Performing Arts MT Program coordinator, “to have been part of the creation of a new musical from the ground up, plus getting to perform Off-Broadway in New York is a spectacular way to establish a career in the professional theatre.”
“SUNY Cortland is the perfect place to develop new musicals,” explains Cate Cammarata, Founder and Executive Producer of CreateTheater. “Their students are in training to become professional working artists, and here our company has the time, talent and space to workshop new material. I’m proud to be able to move this college cast of The Bone Harpto a NYC theater industry audience Off-Broadway as a part of our New Works series.”
The Bone Harp features lyrics and libretto by Laura Stratford and music by Heidi Joosten. It was chosen from approximately 100 submissions to be considered for development in the professional partnership. Kevin Halpin, as director and Jeff Cox, as musical director rehearsed with the student cast for two weeks before the first presentation in December.
Based on feedback from audiences and discussion with Halpin and Cox, the writers set out to move forward with adjustments and adding new material to The Bone Harp, based on those discussions.
“We’ve completely rewritten the end of Act One and opening of Act Two since our presentation at SUNY Cortland in December,” Stratford said. “These changes, in addition to some book edits, mean that what audiences see in Manhattan will be significantly different from what Cortland audiences saw last year.”
“Everyone is very excited about incorporating the changes for our performances in New York. New music and new scenes that give us more insight into the characters, strengthen the relationships and add to the dramatic drive of the story,” shared Halpin.
LAURA STRATFORD (Book/lyrics, additional music) is a Chicago-based musical theatre writer, member of the Dramatist’s Guild and ASCAP, and the Founding Executive Director of Underscore Theatre Company. Her work has been produced by Underscore, the Midwest Fringe Tour, EX-Pats Theatre, the Actor’s Training Center, and NYMF, and she is the librettist for The 57th National Mathlete Sum-It, licensed by Theatrical Rights Worldwide. She wrote and composed nine songs for season two of the podcast Arden. Learn more about her work at www.lauracstratford.com.
HEIDI JOOSTEN (Music) is a Chicago-based composer, lyricist, pianist, harpist, orchestrator, sound designer, music director, vocal coach, and conductor. Since 2014, Heidi has collaborated on over 100 new theatrical, comedic, and concert productions in the Chicagoland area. Most recently, she music directed and conducted the concert production of CHILDREN OF EDEN at the Cadillac Palace Theatre and is a member of the Mainstage company at The Second City. Notable theatrical writing collaborations include: THE BONE HARP, QUEER EYE: THE MUSICAL PARODY, SAINT HILDEGARD: THE RUPERTSBERG TOUR, and MICRO. Heidi is also a highly-prolific classical composer, and her award-winning music has been performed across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. She holds composition degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and the Chicago College of Performing Arts. Heidi is a proud member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild. www.heidijoosten.com / @heidijoosten
KEVIN T. HALPIN (Director) has worked for over 40 years as a performer, director and choreographer across the US and internationally. Throughout his career he has directed and choreographed over 100 productions. In 1999 he moved to Cortland, NY to establish and develop the Musical Theatre Program at SUNY Cortland. The new BFA program is focused on providing every young artist the opportunity to reach their full potential in all aspects of musical theatre performance.
JEFF COX (Music Director) is a New York-based music director and conductor who has performed internationally and on Broadway. His credits include THE BAND’S VISIT (Broadway & National tour), A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK (Off-Broadway), WICKED (National tour), AUSTEN’S PRIDE (Fifth Avenue Seattle), and numerous other regional theatres and concert venues. An avid arranger and orchestrator, Jeff has shaped the development of new works, including THE BONE HARP and Danny K. Bernstein’s FAR FROM CANTERBURY. His work as a copyist has appeared on music stands in New York, on cruise ships and across the country. Jeff is a faculty member at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and he holds a Master’s Degree in conducting from Ithaca College. www.jeffcoxmusic.com
Cate Cammarata (Producer) is an Off-Broadway producer, director, and dramaturg in NYC, dedicated to the development of new plays and musicals. She is the Founder and Executive Producer of CreateTheater’s New Works Festival, launched in 2022 at Theatre Row. Off-Broadway: The Assignment, My Father’s Daughter. Regional: My Life Is a Musical (Bay Street Theater), Bran Castle (Porchlight Theater, Chicago). Cate has an MFA in Dramaturgy and teaches theatre at CUNY Baruch College. Her company, CreateTheater, has been helping writers develop and produce their work since the company was launched in 2016. Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU) honored her with the TRU Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2022. www.CreateTheater.com ,