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An Inside Look at AMPLIFY 2023

By Sarah Rebell

Some fundraisers are black tie only. Extravagant, formal, and often highly exclusive, they cost a prohibitive sum to attend. And yet, only a small portion of the exorbitant ticket price might end up going to the cause for which they are purportedly raising funds. 

AMPLIFY is the antithesis of all that. This fundraiser is by, for, and about the Maestra community. 

However, you don’t have to be a songwriter, librettist, performer, or even involved in the musical theatre industry to enjoy the concert. AMPLIFY is for Maestra’s over 1800 directory members, but also for its donors, allies, and anyone who is interested in uplifting the organization’s mission.

“We want it to be very clear: this is a concert to highlight the Maestra and to highlight the women who are writing and composing and playing in musical theater,” explained AMPLIFY’s lead producer Laura Ivey, who is also the Maestra Board Treasurer. “It’s supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be some kind of gala feel; it is much more of a casual, downtown-y concert.”

The show’s director Kate Baldwin echoed the sentiment. “This concert is a celebration of community, first and foremost,” she shared.

AMPLIFY 2023 is Maestra’s third annual fundraiser concert. This year’s event is set to take place on Monday, March 27 at Chelsea Music Hall and online via All Together Now

What to expect

“The theme that has surfaced for this year’s AMPLIFY is growth,” shared Baldwin. “I’ve made it a point this year to honor the late, great Lucy Simon, and what better way to celebrate her and the flourishing that Maestra is experiencing than to revisit “Wick,” from The Secret Garden.”

Without giving away too much of the set list, Baldwin hinted that the audience should also expect to hear songs from musical theatre writers Zoe Sarnak, Erin McKeown, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Britta Johnson, and Julia Riew. The evening will likely end with Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray’s “I’m Here” from The Color Purple, described by Baldwin as “a thrilling anthem which speaks to visibility.”

AMPLIFY 2023’s host and director (and Maestra Advisory Board member) Kate Baldwin emceeing the event in 2022.

The theme that has surfaced for this year’s AMPLIFY is growth.

-Kate baldwin

Putting it together

“Directing a concert like this is about choosing material and artists who excite me with their unique point of view,” Baldwin explained. “My job is to make the concert environment one that supports their best work and lets them do what they do so well. Even though a thousand details go into creating an evening like this, it always feels to me like something of a magic trick.”

Selecting the songs

“It’s a past, present and future type of a concert,” described music director Julianne Merrill. “I think it brings a lot of joy to the entire community to see what’s possible and to celebrate those who’ve come before, those who are doing currently, those who are coming up,” Merrill said. “And that’s really the idea of amplifying our voices, amplifying our community’s voices at large.”

One such up-and-comer is songwriter Julia Riew. A recent college graduate and the recipient of the 2022 Fred Ebb Award, Riew first got involved with Maestra when she applied to participate in its inaugural mentorship program. Her mentor Deborah Wicks La Puma was one of the first women musical theatre composers that she had ever encountered. Riew has been an active member of the community ever since. 

“Maestra has been tremendously supportive in my journey as a songwriter in every way, such as creating opportunities to connect with other musicians, helping job opportunities find me through the Maestra Directory… and even re-sharing my posts on Instagram!”

This year, her original song “The Greater Good” will be presented at AMPLIFY. “Claire [Kwon] and Emily [Borromeo] have brought life to this song in a beautiful way beyond my wildest dreams,” she enthused. “I can’t wait for you to hear them belt it out!”

It’s a past, present and future type of a concert… to see what’s possible and to celebrate those who’ve come before, those who are doing currently, those who are coming up… that’s really the idea of amplifying our voices, amplifying our community’s voices at large.

-Julianne merrill

How you can support Maestra

Of course, AMPLIFY is still an important fundraising opportunity for all Maestra’s initiatives, including the mentorship program in which Riew participated. In keeping with the concert’s theme of growth, Maestra Mentorship in particular, has grown an enormous amount over the past three years – from 19 participants to 65! 

This year’s fundraising goal is $25,000. Donations from AMPLIFY will go towards both general upkeep for the organization, such as paying for the Maestra Directory and salaries for Maestra’s growing staff, as well as towards creative development programs, including the Virtual Technical Workshops and the aforementioned mentorship opportunities. 

Returning AMPLIFY music director Julianne Merrill leading the 2022 show from the piano.

Reaching Maestras around the world

AMPLIFY’s organizers are mindful that Maestra’s community extends far beyond the boundaries of the tri-state area. This growth is evidenced by the expansion of Maestra Regional Groups, such as the most-recent addition Maestra Texas and written features on international Maestras through the “Multicultural Maestras” blog series

The efforts to include those that cannot attend in-person are ingrained in the structure of the event, as it was initially presented as a virtual event back in March 2021 – before most people had even received one dose of the COVID vaccine. Maestra has continued to provide a virtual viewing option for AMPLIFY so that Maestras across the globe can participate. 

“We want to make sure that our Maestra members around the world feel like they are being celebrated,” said Merrill, who values the hybrid format of AMPLIFY as both a playback engineer and music director. “We do our best to try to make the virtual audience feel as if they are there.” 

The unique vision for this digital component is made possible in collaboration with Jessica Ryan: broadcasting director of AMPLIFY, the CEO of All Together Now, and a master storyteller at the intersection of technology and live experience design. “I’ve been increasingly inspired by…the ways in which technology creates the ability for more people to connect with the stories we’re telling,” Ryan shared in a piece she wrote for Medium, which echoes Maestra’s own philosophy. 

For Merrill, balancing the live music with the pre-recorded music in collaboration with All Together Now and Broadway Unlocked has given her valuable, hands-on learning experience. “I feel like this concert is an opportunity for me to really flex those skills and to continue to get all departments working together and performing live in a really organic way.”

The pit and performers

This will be Sasha Mitsuko Ono’s second year playing the cello in the AMPLIFY band. Thinking back to her experience at last year’s concert, she recalls how she felt “supported by an incredible community of women in music working towards a more equitable working environment.” 

Ono is looking forward to performing with the “special band” and performers again on March 27. “Playing this music makes me excited for a future filled with diverse composers and a hope that femme and nonbinary voices can be more prominently featured across the world.”

A handful of performers are choosing to return, as well.

Last year, Bryonha Marie Parham sang “If I Could’ve Been” by trailblazing songwriter Micki Grant. “The room was so hungry for that message,” Parham recalled, “the song of a Black woman (or any woman for that matter), taking her power back, even in the midst of so many societal constraints and limitations. I remember feeling so honored to sing it!”

Parham is becoming somewhat of a Maestra regular as a performer for both AMPLIFY and at Georgia Stitt and Kate Baldwin’s recent MISS concert at 92NY

“When I get to be a part of AMPLIFY or MISS, I feel an overwhelming sense of duty. It becomes my duty to tell these stories and to bring a voice and a perspective to the women and nonbinary artists that came before me. I feel like an extension of their activism, and that is very important to me!”

Performer Bryonha Marie Parham singing Micki Grant’s “If I Could’ve Been” on-stage at AMPLIFY 2022.

Amplifying Maestra’s Mission

Many of the concert’s organizers emphasized how AMPLIFY is a tangible manifestation of Maestra’s mission of support, visibility, and community. 

“I think the Support comes in who we’re hiring, how we’re bringing all the Maestras to the table in every aspect that we can,” Ivey explained. “The Visibility is that you’re seeing Maestras performing. The music is from Maestra. The band is all Maestra. And then, of course, Community, which is that we’re all in a room together and/or online together.”

Join the Maestra community at AMPLIFY 2023! Click here to get your (in-person or virtual) tickets today, here to make a donation toward the event’s giving goal, and check out the highlights from AMPLIFY 2021 and 2022 in preparation for March 27th!

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