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Chicago alum brings improvised musical to NYC

Cast of One Night Only

While Chicago is known for good theater, it’s not every day that local performers and productions venture East to New York’s Broadway stages. But this past fall, Michael Girts ’05 and his cast of Chicago improv artists delighted NYC audiences with off-Broadway performances of Girts’ original musical, One Night Only.

At One Night Only, the cast created a brand new musical each night, complete with singing, dancing, rhyming, reprises, and free play. Veteran Chicago improvisers used audience suggestions to create a 60-minute joyride that was never seen before—and would never be seen again.

“The audience titles our show, writes segments of our lyrics and even composes a critical component of the score,” Girts said. “We’ve put together a team with legitimate musical theatre talent. On the spot, these actors create interesting melodies, beautiful harmonies, intricate storylines, and colorful characters. They also happen to be hilarious.”

One Night Only was one of six works by up-and-coming theater artists selected for the 2012 season of the Araca Project, an early career development initiative of the Department of Drama in Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) and the Araca Group, one of New York City’s leading entertainment production and merchandising companies. Launched in 2011, the Araca Project fosters entrepreneurial spirit by giving emerging theater artists the opportunity to take on the full artistic and fiscal responsibilities of producing their work off-Broadway. Selected artists assume such responsibilities as securing production rights from an author, casting, rehearsing, assembling design elements, raising capital, engaging a creative team, loading in and out a physical production, budgeting, marketing, and maintaining a box office/ticketing system.

Approximately 90 applicants submitted entries, and the six chosen works underwent a two-week producing intensive, an educational/immersion experience that teaches each selected artist about the essential elements of producing a show from leading theater producers and industry professionals. The experience culminated with performances of the works at the American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th St., in New York City.

Girts and his Chicago-based team raised more than $10,000 to cover the costs of traveling to New York City and bringing the production to life. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring Chicago-style musical improvisation to a new audience, he says. “At One Night Only, every night is the opening and closing night of a brand new musical, because everything that happens on stage is completely made up on the spot.”

Girts is hoping to re-mount One Night Only sometime this year.

Earning his BFA in acting from Syracuse University and his MBA from the University of Notre Dame, Girts is a Chicago actor and teaching artist devoted to spreading the joy and power of improvisation. He has performed for The Second City in Rod Blagojevich Superstar, Rush Limbaugh! The Musical, and Fair and Unbalanced. Other credits include the Chicago Improv Festival, Chicago Sketchfest, Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg, Illinois, and ImprovAcadia in Bar Harbor, Maine. Girts teaches improvisation and has run workshops for various universities and professional organizations, including The Second City Training Center, Laugh Out Loud Theater, the University of Notre Dame, Northwestern University, Columbia College and many others.

The Araca Group was founded in 1997 by University of Michigan alumnus Matthew Rego ’92 and SU drama alumni Michael Rego ’90 and Hank Unger ’90, who serve as mentors and provide services for the Araca Project. The group soon established a reputation as a leading theatrical production company; its inaugural Broadway undertaking, the critically acclaimed “Urinetown: The Musical,” received numerous major awards, including three Tonys. Other Araca productions included “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” the blockbuster musical “Wicked,” Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” and “Rock of Ages.” In addition, Araca is now the largest screen printing and merchandising company on Broadway and strives to transform the live entertainment experience with innovative apparel, souvenirs and licensed products.

To learn more about the Araca Project, including how to submit a theatrical piece for consideration in 2013, visit aracaproject.com.