Warren County alumni forges ahead in musical theatre writing

Brooke Magalis is pictured drumming for the band Black Hat Clowns. Photo courtesy of Brooke Magalis

Brooke Magalis knew she would be taking a creative plunge at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts when she spent four months perfecting her application.

Having grown up in Front Royal, Magalis is now apartment hunting in New York City so she can be settled in to start at Tisch in the fall, pursuing a two-year Master of Fine Arts degree in musical theatre writing.

Despite a background steeped in music and literature, she said she only had a pipe dream of attending Tisch while in high school and didn’t think she’d be accepted when applying earlier this year.

“I genuinely believed in my heart of hearts I was not going to get in,” she said.

Part of the application asked for original compositions, and Magalis had plenty of work to sort through and pick from.

She said she remembers that as a student in Warren County Public Schools, band teachers would allow her to take various instruments home so she could teach herself to play. She’s been playing with the band Black Hat Clowns alongside her father since auditioning on the drumset at 16 and writing and recording for other projects. She said musicians she’s encountered and worked with in the local community helped inspire her with their talent.

“I told myself that I wouldn’t write a musical because it seemed like … this insurmountable thing, very intimidating,” she said. “Then I tried it and I was completely in love with it.”

Studying to be an English major at James Madison University drew on a love for reading that she learned from her mother, who is a writer. She said she finished out her senior year at JMU by writing a section of “Jane Eyre” into a musical as part of her thesis, which served as an introduction to the musical theatre writing path.

“My lyrics tend to be very narrative, very character-driven to begin with,” she said. “Musical theatre writing tended to be a good fit. That fit was just so good that when I found it, I couldn’t not do it.”

After consulting with a professor at JMU and mulling the decision over herself, she began to put together a lengthy application to Tisch’s graduate musical theatre writing program, which she said is “really the only one like it in the country.”

In March, she traveled to New York to audition for 30 slots in the program alongside 55 others, creating work on a deadline and meeting current students. She noted the “high caliber” of the others there – she said one co-auditioner is a doctoral candidate in another program and one wrote for an opera that had already premiered in the city.

“A lot of these people have insane amounts of credits already,” she said. “It’s a very talented crowd and I’m really excited to work with them. They’re all people my age who are between 22 and 28 and they’ve already done all of these cool things.”

Magalis said that as a result of her audition, she’s receiving a $40,000 scholarship from the school – which will only put a dent in her total tuition costs.

“They offered a bunch of us merit scholarships based on how badly they wanted us in the program,” she said. “It was absolutely terrifying.”

Despite the cost and the sometimes intimidating workload ahead, Magalis said she’ll be learning from and working with some of Broadway’s best creative minds and professionals at Tisch. Leading up to the start of classes, she said she’ll be tying off projects, brushing up on music theory and studying musicals.

Magalis said looking at the caliber of a successful show like “Hamilton” can be intimidating. While she said she’d like to work on an Off-Broadway show in the near future, she knows she’ll constantly be pushing herself on a creative front.

“I think those are the more practical goals: just bettering myself as a storyteller and musician and composer,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to support myself creatively.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com