The New York Musical Festival is ceasing operation after funding issues and the resignation of its senior leadership team.
The festival, which features staged productions, readings and concerts of musicals in development, has not yet paid out owed ticket sales from 2019, according to several participants. Artistic Director West Hyler, Executive Director Scott Pyne and General Manager George Youakim resigned Wednesday in response, after having worked on an unpaid basis for months.
The festival filed for bankruptcy Thursday in the Southern District of New York.
NYMF has been in operation since 2004, with notable musicals including developmental productions of “Next to Normal,” “In Transit,” “[title of show]” and “Emojiland.” In a statement Thursday, the board of directors cited a nationwide funding crisis as a reason for ending the festival.
“It is with a heavy heart that we face the reality of the arts funding crisis in the United States. It has caught up with NYMF. The Board and donors have been valiantly subsidizing NYMF operations for 15 years, but looking ahead, we do not see a clear path forward,” the statement read.
The NYMF staff had been working without pay since September, when Hyler, Pyne and Youakim were asked by the board to resign from their positions but stay on as volunteers. NYMF had also moved out of its midtown office earlier this year to reduce expenses.
The team formally submitted their resignations Wednesday after the board told the staff not to proceed with checks that were scheduled to be paid.
Asked if NYMF would be paying the money owed to festival participants, spokesperson Keith Sherman cited the bankruptcy proceedings.
“This issue is a matter of public record as of today. All creditors should follow the established legal procedures,” Sherman said.
The nonprofit organization is funded through a combination of ticket sales, donations, grants and sponsorships. Vendors, creditors and staff members are also still owed money, according to the bankruptcy filing and people familiar with the matter.
Per the contract signed between festival participants and the board of directors, participants are owed a percentage of the ticket sales made over the handful of festival performances. After submitting final receipts for productions, which took place between July and August 2019, participants expected to receive their share of the box office receipts in October, but have yet to receive payment.
NYMF ensured its musicals a base package, which included some amenities such as sound, lights and venue, with the shows contributing the rest.
Krista Eyler, a composer/lyricist and co-book writer of “Overture,” had been expecting a return between $3,000 and $6,000 for her musical, which she and her co-book writer Barbara Nichols had put together for $50,000. Eyler had hoped to put the money from NYMF toward future musical development.
“That’s five instruments scored. That’s theater rental. That’s paying your actors,” Eyler said.
Since the fall, she and other participants had been checking on payment every few weeks, but had not been frustrated by a lack of response from the festival. On Wednesday, Eyler and others received notice of the staffwide resignation, one of the first communications from the festival in weeks.
Hyler, who was hired as artistic director in February 2019, called his time as artistic director “one of the greatest experiences,” of his career, citing the opportunity to work with emerging artists and a 50% jump in the number of submissions.
“I’m extremely disappointed in this current turn of events,” Hyler wrote in an email.
In response to the resignations, Jenny Waxman, book writer and lyricist of the musical “Leaving Eden,” had been compiling a letter threatening legal action on the part of the festival participants. Informed of the dissolution of the festival Thursday, Waxman planned to continue following through with whatever legal remedy would help her obtain the money.
Her musical, “Leaving Eden,” had won the best musical prize at NYMF, a fact that she had hoped to use in future marketing for the show. But, with the festival’s recent turn of events, Waxman was no longer sure it held the same appeal.
“It’s so disappointing to have worked on this show for years, to have been accepted to NYMF and won the best musical award and now it’s a little tainted,” Waxman said.