Brittany Bullen, Composer of the musical Shelter
An inspiring musical called Shelter is coming to New York this fall. Loaded with emotional songs and a powerful message, the show was chosen among hundreds of entrants to be featured this July in the New York Musical Theater Festival.
What began as a project to improve theatrical roles for women led to the creating of a musical that seeks to obliterate homelessness issues. Composer Brittany Bullen shares the story behind her musical Shelter.
Our Interview with Brittany Bullen
What inspired you to create the musical Shelter?
Shelter was, at first, the answer to the question, “Why are there so few shows with great roles for women?” I started putting together an outline in the summer of 2010. At that time, the show was just going to be vignettes about specific characters, like Cats. Actually the first thing I did was look at the cast list from Cats and many of the characters we have now were inspired by those descriptions. As it evolved, though, it became clear pretty quickly that we were going to want a plot.
What do you hope your audience takes away from watching the musical?
I think the overarching message of the show is that homeless people deserve help and that one person really can make a difference. Even if we can’t entirely make homelessness go away, it’s still worth trying if for no other reason than the fact that it makes our own lives better.
I would hope that people start to realize that your average panhandler on the street is not the typical person you see in a shelter. Often, people in shelters are people who are really trying to get a new start on life. Due to difficult circumstances, they find themselves in situations they can’t get out of– it could just as easily happen to anyone. These are people who deserve a chance. Even those beyond help are still human beings and still deserve, in the very least, a warm place to sleep at night. I hope to open people’s eyes to that and empower them so that they know no matter how limited their resources are, they can still make a big difference in someone’s life.
Can you tell us about the Festival?
The New York Musical Theatre Festival takes place in July of this year. They heavily subsidize all aspects of producing the show there, and our show is at the PTC Performance Space on 42nd Street between July 26-30th. We’re putting the show up in Salt Lake and bringing the cast and crew from here, and my brother-in-law and co-composer, Newell, is assembling an orchestra on the east coast that will meet us there.
Tell us how your dream came true!
I submitted the show to the festival in the fall of last year and we were notified in January that we might possibly be given a slot. It was literally five months of waiting after that! More and more of the actors I knew were already making plans for the summer and it was looking less and less feasible. Literally, the day before we were accepted we had decided to turn it down, even if they offered… but then they offered. It was then, in doing some more research, that we realized what a huge deal this festival really was and that we’d be stupid to pass up the opportunity, so we said “Here goes nothing!” Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve had a second between then and now for it to really sink in because we’ve been working non-stop since!
How does your home in the Salt Lake area inspire your artistic creativity?
As far as I’m concerned, Salt Lake is the best place to be a musical theatre performer. Utah audiences love musicals, so there are always shows going on at every level of professionalism. In general, if you’re interested in being part of uplifting, family-oriented shows, this is absolutely the right place to be. If I were looking for more modern, edgy material, I might consider a different location.
How did you first get involved with music and theater?
I’ve been singing and writing since I was very young. In fact, I wrote my first “musical” when I was about eight, with oldies tunes in place of the show’s songs woven together with what I’m sure at the time seemed like a very intricate plot. I had the kid I had a crush on come in and audition for me, but sadly the production never panned out. I actually didn’t start acting until college; my sister was into it so that was her thing, while I was a choir nerd all through high school. I always loved musicals more than anything, though. My Dad took me to New York when I was twelve to see some shows and I’ve been a musical theatre junkie ever since.
What motivates you to sing, act, compose, and to pursue your dreams?
I like to joke that I have a lot of feelings… I often feel like there’s a melodrama going on inside my head, but I try to act like a normal person most of the time– that’s why I need musicals. Sometimes those feelings get so big, you either have to sing them, write them, compose them or just have a complete nervous breakdown. I think the creative option is much more pleasant.
What is your dream as a performer?
Every musical theatre nerd worth her salt wants to go to Broadway. That’s always going to be the dream. But, truth be told, fame in and of itself has never really been my goal. I just want to keep doing what I love to do.
What are your main gifts as an artist?
That’s a tough one. Well, I love to write dialogue, that’s for sure. I love the way you get started on a scene and it almost seems to write itself– like the characters are having a conversation and I’m just taking down dictation. That’s always been easy for me. As a performer… I guess you could say I can sing pretty loudly! I always say that the biggest mistake a singer can make is to get nervous. I remember I had a turning point in my early twenties where I learned that if you can be fearless, you can pretty much sing anything. That was a fun day.
Finally, what is your advice to musical theater performers out there?
I love musicals. A lot. But the thing that keeps me grounded is remembering that in the end… it’s just a show. It’s not everything, it’s not life. There are a lot of things that are more important. In the right frame of mind, performing should enhance our enjoyment of real life. Performers should always remember that while being up on stage is thrilling, the greatest thrills in life happen offstage!
Changing the World, One Life at a Time
True to her message, Brittany stays involved in tackling the homelessness issue. Her website, ShelterMusical.com, has a page where visitors can donate to homeless women and children through Women In Need, Inc.
To read more about the musical Shelter, visit the official Shelter musical webpage.