You've thrown your heart off a cliff...
Same heart. Different cliff. It shatters on the rocks far below. You stare at the pieces, spread all across the beachhead. And, after staring, you begin the slow walk down the cliff edge to the shore.
This is how we learn about ourselves. It's where we learn what we are made of. Because when you are smashed apart, when you are picking up the pieces, that's when you see all the things that you are. It's when you see all the things that you had forgotten that you were. It's when you actually stop and notice what is there.
You see your childlike naivete lying under a rock, next to your courage. You walk over and pick them up, you turn them over in your hands and you see them. They have not changed, those parts of you. They were always there, but now as you rub the sand from them, you come to see them differently, your perception changes ever so slightly. You see them for what they are. And you see that whilst hearts are susceptible to breakage, there are some things inside them that can't be broken.
Unsurprisingly, the next thing you find is your curiosity half-buried in the sand. The surf breaks over it, washing it clean. Nearby is your sense of humour, chuckling to itself at the irony of finally ending up on top (literally) of your sobriety.
You walk barefoot in the sand as you pick up each piece. The world is new and dangerous. But you feel fearless. Then you notice that your fear is lying underneath a piece of driftwood. You sigh to yourself... that would explain it. You brush off the sand with your fingers and put it next to your strength and your persistence.
You walk the beach, until the sun goes down, collecting the pieces of your broken heart. You pick up your pride and your ambition. Nearby, you find your generosity and your hope. You stumble across your envy and jealousy beneath a piece of seaweed. Those two are never far away from each other. You consider leaving them behind but your sense of fairness (which you just found underneath some spiral shells) won't allow it. And that's for the best. They are part of who you are for better or for worse.
You find your sense of competition nearby and for some unknown reason you find your vanity, your kindness and your hysteria in extremely quick succession shortly thereafter. You find your clarity around the next corner and the reason becomes clear.
And then, finally, you are done.
You sit on the sand and look at your collection of treasures. You see some things for the first time. Parts of you that you never even realised were there because they had been hidden away for so long. Slowly, almost reluctantly, afraid you will lose a piece or miss something out, you reassemble your heart.
When you are finished, you pry open your ribcage and place it carefully back in your chest. The pieces are the same, but it feels different, because you know more about what's inside it than you did before.
You climb slowly back up the cliff and leave the beach behind. And you know that at some point, perhaps not soon, but someday, you will return to the sea.
And you will stand at the edge of a different cliff. And you will take your heart in your hands and hurl it once again to the rocks below. And it will shatter once more.
But when you go down to the waters edge, and search for all the pieces, you know that you will see them differently once more. And you will find something there that you simply didn't know you had.
That's got to be good news.
So over the last couple of months I've been deliberating, with my erstwhile colleagues Derek Bluebottom (my depression), Jasper Mounterbatten III (my ego) and Colin Shitsmearer (my envy).
We've been having weekly meetings at which Derek sits, gently moaning to himself, Colin stares at everyone suspiciously and Jasper is rubbing his nose from all of the cocaine. Needless, to say, despite Jasper's attempts to take over, I've been chairing the meetings. The agenda has only one thing on it. How to make audiences more aware of all of the brilliant work that is being created by my colleagues in UK musical theatre.
There is only so much that we can do I suppose, I'm not a marketing or advertising guru. As a writer myself, I want to be spending my time doing what I believe I'm best at. And that is writing. Ideally I'd like to leave the marketing and advertising work to the people who know best. But unfortunately, the people who know best cost money. And I don't have any of that.
So instead I'm just going to say how I think we can all help in our own small way to help the UK Musical Theatre Industry really come alive... and I think that the audience is the MOST essential part of the long overdue theatrical revolution in the UK. It's a beautiful cycle... it works like this...
Producers and Venues see that audiences are responding to new work...
Producers and Venues will keep taking risks on new work...
Producers and Venues keep taking risks on new work...
Producers and Venues will continue to commission New Writers to make new work...
The New Writers get commissioned to make new work...
New Writers will get better at writing and then they'll make better work...
The New Writers make better work...
Audiences will have better experiences at the theatre...
Producers and Venues see that audiences are responding to new work...
And the cycle continues!
So as audience members we owe it to ourselves to support the creation of new work. If you're part of a dramatic society, get as many folks as you can to come along, if you work in a work place, take your work mates along, if you live in a house with house mates take your house mates along.
Then tell everybody to make a noise.
So the only thing Derek, Colin, Jasper and I feel like we can do is tell everybody we know about some of the wonderful things that are happening in UK musical theatre at the moment. I'm not going to go crazy, I'm just going to tell you about a couple of things coming up that I happen to know about...
Wasted is a rock musical about the Bronte's by Chris Ash (Music) and Carl Miller (Book & Lyrics). Book tickets for it immediately. Tell everybody you know about it. I described it to my house mate. She was dubious. I convinced her that it would be worth her time. Chris and Carl are seriously talented and uber smart guys. They've got a fricking brilliant idea. They've got a seriously smart director in Adam Lenson and they've got a cracking cast and venue at The Southwark Playhouse. I've been fortunate to have been able to listen to various pieces and parts of this show as they've been developing it over the years, and I'm fairly certain it's going to be an event to remember. If you want to know about the Bronte's... If you did an English Literature Degree (come on, everyone knows you did)...If you don't think you like musical theatre. Then this is a show for you.
BOOK TICKETS FOR WASTED HERE
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
Sleepy Hollow is a new musical by Eamonn O'Dwyer (music & lyrics) and Helen Watts (Book). It's being performed by the National Youth Music Theatre at The Other Palace from Wednesday 22nd August to Saturday 25th August. Again, book tickets now please. Eamonn is a shit hot writer and there's a bloomin' Harp and a Cor Anglais in the band! Jasper Mountbatten nearly flipped out when he heard about that. If you don't know what a Cor Anglais is, come along and find out. Speak to Eamonn after the show, he's unfeasibly tall and handsome and I'm sure he'll be very happy to tell you all about the Cor Anglais. I haven't heard any of the songs from this one yet, but since Eamonn's written it, it's bound to be jagged, beautiful, funny and haunting.
BOOK TICKETS FOR SLEEPY HOLLOW HERE
For both of these shows, please go and book tickets right now. And book for early in the runs. Once you've seen the show, if you liked it, then tell people about it. Tweet about it. Social media the shit out of it.
One of the best things about these shows is that they are written and created by genuinely nice people and they deserve widespread support.
There are of course plenty of other new musicals that have happened and are happening all over the place at the moment, do go out and find them!
Dear UK Theatre Industry,
I would like you to stop your nonsense now please.
Those of you who know me, know that I am for the most part a reasonable, polite individual. My mother raised me that way. I always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I consider the effect of my actions before taking them whenever possible. I am a forgiving sort, willing to give anyone a second chance (good old Catholic upbringing). I am constantly described by people as laid-back (although if I’m perfectly honest, those who are closest to me know that I am fiercely ambitious and highly exacting in the standards I set for myself).
Unfortunately I too, perfect individual though I am, have a Kryptonite. Something that will shatter all of my social niceties, all of my world weary understanding of the complex emotions of both individuals and the mob. And today an announcement from The Stage has pushed me beyond the limits of endurance. Please be aware The Stage, It’s not just you. You’re brilliant. I read you regularly. You have even given my work and the work of my friends several nice reviews...
But let me tell you a little story to explain what’s just happened in my brain…
Once upon a time (for that’s how all the best stories start) there was this camel. Let’s call her Frankie. And one of the things she liked to do most was hang out on twitter and surf the internet.
But one day, for some completely unfathomable reason, someone turned up at Frankie’s watering hole whilst she was retweeting something by Lin-Manuel Miranda (that guy!). That someone came up behind her and very quietly, very deftly placed a piece of straw upon Frankie’s back. It was so quiet and so deft that Frankie barely noticed that it was there at all, at best it was a very slight irritant, and so she continued tweeting about Hamilton.
Over the years, every day another person came up behind her and put another straw on Frankie’s back, until it stopped being an annoyance and it grew into a burden. Frankie was now finding it slightly harder to do her usual work, the weight of the straw on her back was beginning to weigh her down. But Frankie was a polite camel and was sure that eventually the people putting the straw on her back would stop.
But Frankie was wrong. Because the people putting the straw on her back were completely unaware of what they were doing. And Frankie, although now completely covered in tons and tons of straw, was so polite (god bless her Catholic Camel upbringing!) that she continued to say nothing. Not to question, not to ask.
Until one tragic day (let’s call it The 16th August 2018) an unsuspecting organisation called The Stage placed a tiny unsuspecting piece of straw on Frankie’s back. And you can guess what happened…
The straw that indeed broke the camel’s back on this occasion is my kryptonite. And that kryptonite comes in the form of ignorance. As mentioned before, I’m quite a forgiving person except when there is wilful ignorance involved. There is no excuse for it. The information is out there to read, the people are there to talk to, you owe it to yourself and your audience to educate yourselves.
Everyone, please can you look at the below and tell me what is wrong with this picture?
Nothing wrong with the fonts... nothing wrong with the nominees (all bloody brilliant)...
Ah, that's it'. It's this... I think there is a difference between a COMPOSER and a LYRICIST. It’s quite incredible that you don’t seem to know what that is. One person writes music, the other writes words that are set to music. Simple right? And different.
Today you announced the nominees for The Stage Debut Award that is entitled:
Best Composer OR Lyricist
Indulge me for a second if you will… would it be right for there to be a Stage Debut Award category entitled:
Best Director OR Lighting Designer
Best Choreographer OR Musical Director
Best Sound Designer OR Producer
No? Why not? Oh they're completely different jobs? Oh… alright then… that explains everything.
So why is it alright for there to be a category entitled:
Best Composer OR Lyricist
This is for me the utter height of absurdity, but just goes to highlight the depth of ignorance that currently exists in the UK Theatre Industry. Please note that I say “UK” Theatre Industry. The American’s across the pond have long known the value of the lyricist. Indeed they have substantial monetary awards for the best of the new lyricists, such as the Kleban Award ($100,000!).
I do not want to take away from the achievements of the people who are nominated for this award. I know and admire the work of all three of the nominees for this award; Gus Gowland, Matt Winkworth and Kate Marlais are all extraordinary people and talents and they deserve to be nominated in a category that makes sense.
So… what’s to be done? I’m not the sort of person who just howls about a problem and doesn’t suggest how it be fixed…so how about this The Stage?
One category for…
And one category for a completely different skill/art form?
Having written the above and then continued further investigation, it seems that the above picture is the only place where the category Best Composer OR Lyricist is mentioned. The award on the Official Stage page is Best Composer. I'm not sure if you realised your error and changed it, which is something, but in many ways, this is marginally worse as there isn’t even a category for Best Lyricist (despite the fact that all three of those shows were pieces of musical theatre that involved lyrics).
If those involved wrote both music and lyrics (I know Gus Gowland for example did both music & lyrics for Pieces of String) then they should be nominated in two categories. Because they are completely separate art forms. I am fortunate to have been regularly employed as both a composer & lyricist, but just because I happen to do both that doesn’t mean that they are the same.
As I say, this is not just about you The Stage, you are merely the final straw. Over the years in the UK the art of the lyricist has been misunderstood, if not almost entirely ignored. As Mrs Oscar Hammerstein said once when being introduced to Mrs Richard Rodgers who’d described her husband as the man who wrote the classic “Some Enchanted Evening”…
Her response was something along the following lines of…
“No, no my dear… my husband wrote ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, you’re husband wrote ‘Da da da da da da.’
The art of the composer is an extremely specialised art form, the art of the lyricist is no less so. It’s time for the UK Theatre industry to educate itself. There is no excuse for ignorance. I would be very happy to meet and talk with any in the industry who wish to learn a bit more about this. I don’t want to just complain about it. I want to change it.
Have you ever had a conversation with a friend and found yourself wondering how they can do that to themselves? And then found yourself in a similar situation, having a similar conversation with a similar friend and arguing eloquently and convincingly FOR every single thing that you had ever so recently argued so passionately AGAINST?
Our brains are not simple. True they aren’t as complex as the brain of a dolphin but certainly they are not simple.
And so our stories shouldn’t be simple either.
The narrative of our lives is at once overwhelmingly complex and mind-numbingly simple. As we are experiencing them in real-time they are as complex as the task of a four hundred-sided Rubiks Cube being completed by a creature without opposable thumbs (read: Dolphin). And yet, looking back on them, everything seems so simple, almost as structured as a perfectly formed narrative…
“If this hadn’t happened, then this would never have happened… if this disaster hadn’t occurred then I would never have met the best person in my life…” etc. etc. etc. and so on and so on for ever and ever amen.
So, doesn’t it make sense then that when creating something, when we are inside the middle of it… it is a puzzle, a maze, a beast of almost incomprehensible difficulty. Then when we have finished it, it seems so impossibly inevitable that we could never have imagined it any other way.
Except… that we did.
We imagined every other scenario, every other direction, every scene, decision and choice. And we made only one. We are all murderers. We murder alternate realities with every step we take, every choice we make. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Certainly it means that some things will never be, but when we look back in half a century’s time, we will see that it all seemed inevitable. That the narrative of our lives only makes sense when played backwards.
SO… that show that you got fired from, that meeting that you couldn’t make, that job that you couldn’t take… and yes, that person that you fell in love with in the middle of a maze who couldn’t love you back. All these things will be OK. Maybe not now, maybe not for a long time, but they are all part of a bigger narrative, a larger world and one day you’re going to look back at quite a glorious view…
Thank goodness for the love of good friends.
Derek Bluebottom here. Just to say sometimes life can be tough. It's not that anything is particularly wrong. It's just that nothing feels particularly right. It's worse when it's sunny. I think rain is healthy. When you look out the window and see the rain pelting it down on some poor schmuck who has just locked himself out of his car, you can watch him struggle and shout, getting wetter and wetter, until a car drives past him and covers him in rain soaked London filth, and you can think: "Ah. You poor schmuck. Bless you and your beautiful struggles. At least that's not me." And then when you do find yourself out there amongst the rain, the dull grey sky dripping all over you, you can think, "Well. At least the atmosphere feels exactly the same way I do about everything right at the moment. I suppose that's something."
Please note my lack of exclamation marks. For one thing it's too hot for exclamation marks. For another, exclamation marks smack of a huge amount of effort and energy. Neither of which are currently on the menu. They have been replaced by Lethargy and Melancholy. Both of which require only full stops to give them their full sodden grey weight.
There shall be no grand revelation at the bottom of this post. There shall be no sudden rallying of the troops. There shall be very little of anything that will comfort the weary traveller or the disgruntled composer as he goes about his business.
Even when everything is going so well. Even when everything is going right. Sometimes I still feel like a useless piece of shit. Even when I'm taking my pills.
And I suppose that's cool.