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Composer Derek Gregor and lyricist Sam Carner put Millikin University seniors Heather Banks, Lydia Burke and Alli Atkenson through their paces during the school's New Musicals Workshop.

DECATUR – It's a lot easier to go out on stage in the musical world and "break a leg" if the "leg" is real.

Millikin University students have been getting their reality check outside of the classroom through an innovative program called the “New Musicals Workshop,” now celebrating its 10th year.

Some 17 students, from theater majors to those studying stage management, have spent several days working with industry professionals who are crafting and recrafting actual production pieces. The public can get a taste of what they've been up to with a free show beginning at 6 p.m. today in Kaeuper Hall, part of Millikin's Perkinson Music Center. Students will perform numbers from the musical “Island Song” and do a complete stage reading of the musical “Unlock'd.”

These are the works of lyricist Sam Carner and composer Derek Gregor, winners of the 2004 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater. The Millikin students sing the creative team's work but also interact with them as they fine-tune songs and make changes on the fly.

“The speed of it all, it's a lot faster,” said musical theater major Heather Banks, 21, describing the pace of the workshop to regular class. “And it's beyond useful experience for us because they structure it in a way that instills a great worth ethic in us and a sense of selflessness because we're serving the piece and the writers, and it's not about us.”

The students have also been learning alongside lyricist Chris Dimond and composer Michael Kooman, both members of the Dramatists Guild and currently working on an animated series for the Disney Channel. They have worked with the students in previous workshops and developed several shows through the program.

Dimond says the value of the workshops cuts both ways, allowing the creative team to get instant feedback on how a number is working and what they need to do to make it happen. “It's really important to see your musical develop over every stage and to respond to how it feels out loud and on its feet,” he added.

Lori Bales, an associate professor with the school of theater and dance at Millikin, says her students learn much and gild their resumés with some star power as they rise to new challenges. “We expect them to bring their professional game here,” she added. “It's great experience.”


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