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.
With Colin Shitsmearer firmly locked in the cupboard at home with nothing but a couple of cockroaches to feed his evil shit-encrusted body, I've been having a blast at BEAM 2018. In fact, for those followers of this blog who are familiar with my massive ego (a.k.a Jasper Mountbatten the III) and his partner in crime my depression (Derek Bluebottom), I also have something to say about them and the whole experience.
Unlike Colin, who is completely toxic and deserves nothing more than a good slap in the face and 20 years in the hold with no rum ration, I have a slightly more complicated relationship with Jasper and Derek. They do tend to follow me around a little bit. I've noticed a couple of times during this amazing festival of new writing that a glance towards the toilets while talking to a brilliant writer who I've just met, will inevitably catch Derek in the act of standing with his head bowed humming a depressing tune to himself. Alternatively a glance towards the bar will catch Jasper drinking himself into a stupor and doing his best to hold himself back from talking about how brilliant he is.
But it's not long before Derek and Jasper fade away in the shadow of the thrill of meeting new, talented writers who are genuinely fun to be around. Derek goes to the disabled loo and locks himself away and Jasper passes out on the floor of the bar and I am left to enjoy the experience on my own.
I bring this up because I am constantly harried by my demons. I am coming to understand that this is not a battle I am supposed to win. They will always return, I will never defeat them, but as the great Sun Tzu said in the 'Art of War'.
"Know Thine Enemy". And in knowing I am coming to understand them. I'm even beginning to feel a little guilty about Colin back in his cupboard...
BEAM 2018 is nearly over, but one of the best things about it, aside from the community building that I've already mentioned is the inspiration to keep creating, keep building, keep writing. The sheer talent and the breadth of scope that BEAM has revealed is astonishing. Who knew there were so many ways to tell a story through music and lyric? I didn't.
Now I'm going to get drunk. And who knows, maybe Jasper Mountbatten III will turn up to the party.
This is just a quick one really. It's the morning before BEAM2018 begins. The UK's biggest new musical theatre festival put together by the incredible folks at Mercury Musical Developments and the Musical Theatre Network. These dudes, including top brass Victoria Saxton and James Hadley and their teams live musicals. So much so in fact that they should have a musical written about them, that includes such hits as "Making it Happen Even When It's Shitting Down with Snow."
So I've got my hat on, I'm still in bed, I'm looking for my gloves, drinking tea (who says men can't multi task - only four of those things are lies) and I'm nervous. Nervous and excited. Interestingly I'm not nervous about my own pitch for Turing, a musical adaptation of the life of Alan Turing. We wisely asked some brilliant people to help and the great thing about brilliant people is that they are brilliant and they make your work sound good.
I'm nervous about the other pitches.
It's not a competition, but inevitably as a writer you can't help feel like your work is going to be judged in relation to the other work. Some horrible-dark-little-crust-infested-demon-that-lives-on-the-sludge-waters-of-my-soul is hoping that everything else is terrible. His name is Colin. Colin Shitmearer. He's my evil alter ego. He comes from a long line of Shitsmearers and like most Shitsmearers he is absolutely not to be believed or trusted. So I've made a decision to lock him away today. I've hidden the key inside a Cadbury's Creme Egg. Colin hates those, so there's no way he's getting out.
Today,it's just me coming along.
So now I'm more excited than nervous, not only am I incredibly proud of all of my talented friends who will be showing off their skills today, but I'm incredibly excited to make some new friends.
As much as BEAM2018 is about getting new work to the attention of the people who can produce it and develop it, for me the best thing about it is the community building. Without community we have nothing, strength comes in numbers, and friendship with other writers enriches your life immensely. Not only in the creation of new and exciting collaborations, but in the fact that you can go to the pub, talk about your work, the pitfalls, the highs, the lows, the technical aspects of lyric writing all of the sharing that you don't necessarily want to bore other people with. MT people are excited about it. You can inspire each other, motivate each other, get drunk with each other and hopefully slowly climb the musical theatre ladder together. It's frickin brilliant.
At last count through the programme it turns out I know 50 people either performing or writing for BEAM2018 and now they are all mates. Five years ago, I knew no one. I mean, ridiculous.
So I'm coming along with an open heart and an open mind and Colin Shitsmearer can go suck it. Can't wait to meet the future of New British Musical Theatre in a couple of hours, I have a feeling we might just get on...
BEAM ME UP MUTHER FLIPPER!!!!!