It might seem like a baffling statement, but it's something that you hear fairly regularly of late in the stage press. I have read several instances over the last few years of writers who have principally made their names in other genres of theatre or music, starting an interview with this prophetic phrase.
In a sense it's as absurd as saying "I absolutely despise the taste of brussel sprouts. That's why I'm making brussel sprouts for dinner." I think there is a disconnect here. The people who say such things are not phrasing their feelings in an appropriate way.
I wonder if this is what they actually mean...
"I have never seen a piece of musical theatre I have enjoyed, but I am fascinated by the idea of what a musical could be, so I am setting out to break the traditional form and write a new type of musical theatre for people like me to enjoy."
Is this what you mean? Because "I hate musicals" doesn't really articulate that thought... and breaking the 'traditional form' has been done a thousand times over.
It is extremely frustrating that people who have never written a piece of musical theatre (and profess in public to hate the form - or at least demonstate a profound ignorance about it) are being offered the opportunity to have their debut musical theatre work produced on a huge scale.
They are given the support of enormous national organisations, huge budgets and years of development and yet after all of this generosity they still begin an interview with "I hate musicals.." To me, a dedicated musical theatre composer & lyricist, and when I say dedicated I mean the study and writing of it occupies the majority of my waking (and dreaming) hours, it feels like a real slap in the face from the theatre industry. It also demonstrates a dangerous,ignorant, slapdash approach to the production of such work from people who should know better.
In what world would you give a chef who has only ever made deserts the opportunity to cook the main course in a michelin starred restaurant, when indeed, their opinion of 'The main course" is that it doesn't interest them, in fact that they hate it.
It seems insane but this is what is happening right in front of our eyes.
I understand the point of what these producers are trying to do and that is to be applauded. They are trying to innovate in the musical theatre form and inject it with new creative blood, blood that is not "tainted" with the history of Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber and such. They are trying to create something fresh. That's great.
But they ignore the lessons of history at their great peril. It is very possible to study, listen to and reference the incredible canon of musical theatre history and still create something ground breaking and new. Just look across the pond at Hamilton. There is absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel every time a musical is born. And people who think that is what they are doing, just need to look back a few years to find out that actually it has been done before, and it's been done better by people who really took the time to learn, study and love the pure craft of this most collaborative, exciting and versatile of art forms.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. Innovation doesn't happen in leaps and bounds. It happens in tiny steps and just because we haven't bothered to look down at the steps, it doesn't mean that we aren't standing on them..
I think it's brilliant that artists from other genres are attempting to move into musical theatre because they are excited by its potential as an art form (I started out as a folk singer songwriter). I just wish those same people wouldn't jump out and say that fateful phrase "I hate musicals" before they have any idea of what they're talking about. Musicals are one of the most diverse of theatrical forms available to any artist (if you want to say there is only one type of musical, meet me for a pint and I will happily prove you wrong a hundred times over).
To be able to say "I Hate Musicals" with any ring of truth to it, you would have to have seen every musical ever written. And I know you haven't. Because some of them are just being written now. Indeed, apparently one is being written by you... what will you say when it is finished? Will you still say "I Hate Musicals?" If so, then it sounds like you hate your own work and if that's the case... maybe stop?
So please, whoever you are (and you know who you are) do yourself and the entire musical theatre industry a favour and stop saying it. All you are doing is denegrating the reputation of the art form, perpetuating a common misconception about musicals and proving yourself profoundly ignorant about the craft of something you are attempting to make.
Go away. Study musical theatre with the kind of dedication it deserves if you plan to make it, and then, if you still hate it be my guest, tell the world. Shout it from the rooftops of Broadway. Let your hatred for musicals shine in your eyes with the power of the footlights! But once you've said it, don't you dare go away and try to write one. You are just insulting the rest of us.
Yesterday was the most incredible day. After years of writing, playing around with wonderful little groups of brilliant musos, yesterday we found the music at the heart of The Wicker Husband.
I was utterly privileged to be in a room with a motley collection of the most outstanding, generous and creative musicians.
In a community centre in Pimlico we heard the Wicker Husband come to life through their incredible playing. The cracking of willow, the tools of the workshop, the sound of life and of magic emerged from their instruments.
The three extraordinary fiddles of Philippa Hogg, Hannah Morgan and Loren O'Dair created the sound of the willow weave; the wicker lark came to life in the tones of Loren's beautiful recorder; the rhythms of the land and of life were conjured by Ruairi Glasheen's dynamic percussion arrangements which included hitting everything from pots and pans to wicker baskets; the magic of wicker coming to life was represented by the sparkling exuberance of Jon Witten's ethereal hammer dulcimer; the sound of the village appeared magically from Josh Sneesby's playful and cheeky accordion and melodica. And everything was glued together by the sublime smoothness of Hedi's Bass.
Add to that the beautiful voices of Laura Wickham, Philippa Hogg, Josh Sneesby and Anne Marie Piazza and there wasn't alot more that a composer could ask for.
Then our captive and endlessly enthusiastic audience of our brilliant director/dramaturg Charlie Westenra and of course the indubitably talented bookwriter Mr Rhys Jennings capturing the whole event on film.
After so many years of living with these songs, it was an exceptional experience to hear them roar into life with such dynamism and skill. Keys were changed, notes were added, bars were added, the songs grew and changed and evolved beyond what I could ever have imagined and all thanks to this incredible bunch of people. There are times in life where you just feel so grateful for everything that conspired to put you in certain situations and yesterday was most definitely one of them.
I simply cannot wait to share this sound with you all when the show is finished.
Also huge thanks to all those who funded our crowdfund and to the wonderful folk at Dunedin Operatic Society whose financial support made it possible to pay these brilliant folks for some of their time. Thanks also to the brilliant Stiles & Drewe and their assistant Lettie Graham for their guidance and wonderful support in helping us create this show (two of the songs we worked on yesterday were written out in France while I was on retreat with them). And of course thanks to the wondrous folks at MMD whose endless support of new musical theatre writing has made all of this possible.
I owe alot to Paper Balloon Theatre Company. In fact, I could probably say that I owe my whole career to it. After a chance introduction to Katie Boon, an itinerant Australian Theatre Maker with immense drive, ambition and talent, I became one of the founding members of what was to become Paper Balloon Theatre Company. They encouraged me to quit my real job after all...
The best thing about Paper Balloon is that they have always allowed me to be myself. The craziest, silliest, wackiest version of myself. As a result, for them I have written the strangest, silliest and most absurd songs of my career to date. 'The Wobbily Bird' 'The King of the Grumps' 'The Slapping Fish' 'You'll Never Make a Fisherman' and 'Moon Fishing.'
Paper Balloon have always encouraged me to be a huge, overgrown, hairy man child and not a day goes by where I don't feel the benefit of their influence in my writing. But don't let our silliness fool you... We take silly ridiculosity extremely seriously. We tackle difficult subjects for our younger audiences and feel a responsibility to treat them with the same respect we show each other.
We are currently crowdfunding for our latest show 'THE BOY AND THE MERMAID'. Last year, Alex Kanefsy (Artistic Director and fellow hairy man) was disturbed by the images of desperate people washing up on the shores of Europe. The story of people fleeing danger and ending up in strange lands is one that has repeated throughout human history countless times and no doubt will continue to be a part of human culture for as long as our race manages to survive.
Alex wanted to explore this timeless story and to tell it to young audiences in a way that would allow them to empathise with the difficulties facing those less fortunate than ourselves. Not only that but we wanted to make sure that our audience was entertained. As, those of you who have worked with young audiences before, they are the most brutal and honest critics you will ever have. If they don't like something, they won't sit politely and sip their red wine to pass the time, they will look directly at mummy or daddy and say very loudly 'This is booooorring." Particularly embarrassing if mummy or daddy is sitting next to you...
Fortunately, the child critic cuts both ways, and you will rarely find a group more willing to engage their imaginations if you do your job right. You can hear the gasps, laughter that borders on hysteria, cries of terror and enjoyment and the sobs of sadness.
For me it's so important that children are engaged with the ability to express these kinds of emotions in a safe place, the theatre is nothing if not a training ground for human emotion.
So... when Alex approached me with a story based on the humanitarian refugee crisis I didn't realise that was what it was about...
'The Boy and the Mermaid' was set in a timeless fishing village on the edge of the world. "Sweet!" I thought. "This is about mermaids and has crazy fishermen in it." I was hooked. My silliness went into overdrive. The story follows a boy in the village who has never been to sea. One day he hears a strange song which draws him into the water, he follows it til he finds someone caught in a net, in his attempts to help he is pulled into the water. he discovers that the person is not a person, but a mermaid. She is different to him. She is escaping the dreaded Kracken who is destroying her people. He takes her back to shore. The townsfolk are terrified of her and lock her up. More mermaids start appearing having run from their homes under the sea. When the Kracken finally rises up the villagers and the mermaids have to fight together to destroy it. Then when the beast is defeated (not killed) the villagers and the mermaids are left on the shore together to build a new life.
I finished reading it and I said to Alex, "Dude, this sounds like what's going on in Syria and Europe." He said to me "Well, yeah dude. That's what it's about."
The importance of stories is that the good ones can be set anywhere, in any time and in any situation with a whole range of different characters and they can speak to you about what is happening in the world right now at this moment. We communicate with stories every day, miniature ones play out in our heads from moment to moment, stories are so deeply ingrained in how we learn and how we live that most of us don't even recognise that we are storytellers. Constantly telling ourselves and others new stories in order to cope with the pressures of life.
We think that this is an important story to tell. We have been fortunate to receive funding from Arts Council England to have two weeks of development. We are now crowdfunding to do a final week of putting our theatrical languages together before heading into rehearsal...
We are excited to share this new show with you and with our young audiences. If you happen to know anyone who may be interested in helping us or just wanting to spread the word a bit further than our own small social shores, please do pass this on to them!
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