So those of you who have been following this blog for a little while are already acquainted with my massive ego Jasper Mountbatten III. He's an extroverted, irrational, volatile personality but he can also be entertaining in party situations. Sometimes he's inspiring (albeit in a rather bullying "Finish the whole keg you frickin' democrat!" kind of way) which can be helpful at those moments when you do actually need to finish the keg. Other times he's like a hurt little child and can sulk in the toilet for days at a go. But whatever the situation, Jasper's reaction is inevitably active. Even the sulking is an active kind of sulking. And his reactions are those of either extreme joy, or extreme injustice and anger. You'll forgive Jasper if he has a rather inflated view of me as a person, that's kind of what his job is.
Today though, I'd like to introduce you to another aspect of my personality. He's related to Jasper, although you would hardly guess it to look at him. When Jasper is the one at the party entertaining everybody with a hilarious story about the time he fell asleep in a river, his cousin Derek Bluebottom is the one that everyone is desperately trying to avoid. He's the guy at the party who looks like he was forced to come by his mum. He's the one in the kitchen standing by the fridge. You know, the one who you need to politely ask to move in order to get another beer. It's not an accident, he's standing in the way deliberately. Just so that someone will be forced to interact with him. Deep down he wants to connect, but instead he just kind of looks at you with nothing in his face. Pretty soon, word has spread through the party that there's a weird sad guy next to the fridge, and people start going to the off-license instead of to the kitchen. Derek has that effect on people.
If I'm perfectly honest though, the last place you would ever find Derek is at a party. He's more likely to be found at home on the sofa, sitting in the dark (having been unable to find the will to turn the light on) scrolling meaninglessly through an endless pit of despair until his phone runs out of battery, gradually sinking lower and lower until he can't feel anything anymore. Not joy, not sadness, just an infinite bog of numbness.
Say hello to Derek Bluebottom, my depression. Or perhaps don't bother, he's not likely to hear you.
You might wonder why I'm introducing you to Derek at all. He's not exciting like Jasper (or arguably normal like me), he's a bit of a pariah...
There are many times in my career so far that Derek has come to visit me. I must say I don't particularly look forward to his visits as I never really know how long he's going to stay. He came to stay after I got fired from Fantastic Mr Fox, actually he was a fairly regular visitor in the weeks leading up to that moment.
He also came for regular holidays during my very early years as a composer/lyricist, whenever I didn't get anywhere in a competition, whenever I didn't get a job, whenever I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life and what the damn point of any of it was anyway. Interestingly enough, although they make fairly strange bedfellows, Derek usually comes to visit with Jasper. But, you don't always know that he's there. He slides in the door behind Jasper and sets up in the spare room before you've even realised. And the most important difference between Jasper and Derek? Jasper always leaves as soon as the cocaine runs out, whereas Derek lingers long past his use by date.
So of the two, who is the more dangerous? Jasper for his outbursts, and volatility? Or Derek with his quiet numbing?
For me, the answer will always be Derek. But why am I talking about Derek now?
Because he's in my spare room... and I'm terrified.
I have recently gotten an amazing commission which I will be able to tell you about as soon as it is announced, basically it's an opportunity that has been one of my secret goals ever since I started off on this crazy theatre journey. So naturally when I found out, Jasper turned up at the door with a bottle of expensive champagne and a pound of heroin. It was great. I was so distracted for the two days of Jasper's hardcore party visit that of course I didn't notice Derek as he slumped through the door behind Jasper and headed straight for the spare room.
And then of course, Jasper left.
And now I'm left with Derek. Occassionally he comes out of the spare room, and pads gently through the hall, sometimes he'll sit next to me on the couch. He has a presence that infuses everything near him with an overwhelming sense of meaninglessness.
But the most difficult thing about Derek is his diet. As much as his presence is disturbing, it's his diet that is really dangerous for me. You see, Derek doesn't bring things to eat with him when he visits. He feeds on what is available to him. And his favourite food?
Derek eats my confidence like there's no tomorrow, for breakfast (when he can be bothered to have it) lunch and dinner. And the really sad thing about Derek is that eating my confidence has absolutely no effect on Derek. He can eat it all and never put on weight, it's like it disappears down his throat into an endless black hole.
And Derek doesn't even need bad reviews to start eating. All he needs is my imagination. My perceived thought that I can't do this job. This is what is happening right now. This commission is a great opportunity and already Derek is thinking about how badly it will turn out.
I have come to realise over the past year, that actually I really need a lot of confidence in order to do my job well. If I am to create good work I need to be able to trust in my ability to create good work. Especially in the theatre I have to be confident enough of my own worth as a composer/lyricist in order to be able to express my opinions and thoughts to my collaborators. I have to believe that my contribution is worth something. And the moment that I stop doing that I can't function effectively as an artist.
I've talked about this before but I hadn't realised what a huge part confidence has to play in the role of a creative in the theatre (as in many industries). When I was starting out I thought that it was talent and who you know that determines whether or not you succeed in this business (whatever your definition of success maybe). But I have come to realise that confidence plays an immense part in the whole process. For without it, any talent you possess is meaningless. If you are unable to express that talent and contribute your thoughts and ideas you might as well be back home in the spare room with Derek.
The good news is, that now I've started realising when Derek is on his way round...
So I start hiding his favourite foods from him. As with many things, I have noticed that simply being aware that Derek is coming over is half the battle. Just knowing that he will be there, and that he will be eating on my confidence somehow makes me feel better, and conversely it also makes me feel more confident that I can handle it.
I can prepare to a certain extent for his visits now and I also know that eventually, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but some day...
I'll wake up...
go to the spare room...
open the door...
and Derek will be gone (at least for now).
I don't think I'll ever get used to his visits, and I don't think we'll ever particularly get on. But at the very least he has made me aware of my own confidence in myself and for that he deserves a bit of thanks.
See you next time Derek.
Ah, I can almost hear the dulcet tones of Michael Buble and Cliff Richard ringing through the air. Ok, it's not quite Christmas yet, but there are some Christmas things that need a bit of preparation...
About four years ago my girlfriend decided she wanted to volunteer for an event that Iris Theatre were putting on called The XMas Factor... She didn't know anything about it, but assumed that as it was a Christmas event there would probably be mulled wine and so she signed up. When she came home that night she told me that it had been a competition for new song writing and that I would have really enjoyed it if I hadn't been busy sitting in my pants on the sofa.
I didn't really think about it again until the following year when (as I slowly became more hooked in to the new musical theatre scene) I heard about the event and a deadline for submission. It turns out it wasn't far away and I didn't have a Christmas song to submit. So I did what any songwriter would do. I wrote one and submitted it. I then forgot about it as I often do and went on with various other things until I received a lovely email from Iris Theatre saying that they would like my song to be in the final of their XMas Factor. I was stoked. That year I attended the competition, together with Amanda, and was delighted to win the Iris Panel Award and the Audience Runner Up Prize with my song The Angel at the Top of the Tree. That song served me well as it has gone on to be sung by quite a few people and also won a special runner up Prize at the Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Competition. The song also gave me the basis for an idea for a full musical based on the life of Christmas decorations...
From such pine needles do mighty Christmas trees grow.
It's now been three years and the XMas factor has given birth to two more of my songs, The Little Match Girl (Audience Award Runner Up) and The Beautiful Game (Audience Award with brilliant lyricist Richy Hughes. Not only that but the XMas factor has been a huge boost for my confidence as a writer and has given me an audience for my work as well as a large amount of mulled wine.
For those of you who haven't been, The XMas Factor really kicks off your Christmas. It's a beautiful venue in the Actors Church in Covent Garden and the festive spirit is alive and well with guest bands, brilliant singers, a wonderful host and of course lots of brand new Christmas songs.
But this year is going to be a bit different...
Laura With, the genius mastermind behind the whole concept has created:
XMAS FACTOR: ALL STARS
This year, the winning songs from the past four years (panel award and audience award + some favourite wild cards) will go head to head in a brutal contest to the death. As Christopher Lambert said in Highlander many years ago... "There can be only one."
But that's not all... in a whole new initiative, Iris Theatre is producing a Studio Recording Album of the winning songs, sung by brilliant singers and played by brilliant musicians. For me this is literally music to the ears.
As a new writer, you are represented by the quality of your work and you want to show it at it's best to potential producers and companies who might want to work with you. As it is costly to get high quality studio recordings of your work produced we often have to rely on live recordings, which, whilst wonderful simply can't capture the same nuance as a studio recording.
As well as being a damn fine album of brilliant new Christmas songs, this will also give the writers an opportunity to have their work recorded and hopefully help them find an audience far beyond the lucky audience who are able to attend the concert in person...
But, the thing is that these recordings cost money, even when people give up their time and expertise for them, studios are often expensive.
To this end Iris Theatre have begun a crowdfund on Kickstarter. They don't need a huge amount... only £2500. And £600 of that has already been raised...
I know that many people have supported my work in the past, and I don't expect you to give to every project I'm involved in, but these guys really deserve some moolah and help. If you have anything spare at all then please do give what you can. There are many new writers who need your support and if the world wants new music to listen to then this is one of the ways in which you can help that happen! There are some great perks available and I promise that the quality of the songs will be worth it.
Here is the link, please do take just a couple of minutes if you can, find your debit card and donate to a Christmas that won't be dominated by Michael Buble and Cliff (we love you guys!).
You can have a listen to the three songs that I wrote for XMas Factor here... thanks to all for supporting!!
I wish the ladder was as straight as that...
Whilst These Trees Are Made of Blood was playing at the Arcola Theatre I was asked by a few different young composers about my journey from a full-time admin job to my current situation as a composer & lyricist who earns the large majority of his living from songwriting for the theatre.
I started writing to them, trying to give them as robust an answer as I could. It turns out however, that the answer was not a simple beast. It was taking me pages and pages to explain the strange, wonderful, brutal journey my career has taken and as I wrote to them, I thought it would be best to combine my answers into a post which might be of interest to other young composers just starting out. I'll try to be as succinct as possible. I will fail at this. But everyone please note the effort.
Unlike other career paths, songwriting doesn't have a step by step promotional ladder to climb... it's really screwed up... or at least it was for me... check it out.
My Dad learnt the guitar in order to play songs to me and my brother as we grew up. We had two tapes that played on repeat in the car, 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' and 'Les Miserables'. My brother performed in musicals at school including 'West Side Story', 'My Fair Lady' and 'The King and I'. I was constantly envious. I bought my first and only album, Paul Simon's 'Anthology'. I bought Paul Simon's 'Graceland'. It remains my favourite album of all time. I began to play the guitar. I gave up several times. I taught myself to read music from a book. I eventually stuck with the guitar. I started listening to and playing Classical and Flamenco music. I plateaued at a decent level and never got any better. I played Nicely Nicely Johnson in 'Guys and Dolls' after begging both the director and musical director to let me do it. I wrote my first piece of music when I was about sixteen, for the guitar. I thought it was really good. I became obsessed with Metallica and learnt a number of their songs. I went to university to try and study music. I was admitted to the composition department based on a couple of my recordings. After three weeks I was failing and falling behind badly. I didn't understand any of the terminology and I didn't realise that there were other clefs of music. My theory was dead in the water and I couldn't catch up. So I dropped out and began studying Classical Studies. I started teaching myself piano. I wrote my first couple of songs. Then I quit and went to another university to study Archaeology. Then I quit and started studying classics again. Whilst studying I joined Dunedin Operatic Society, an amateur musical theatre society and ended up performing in a lot of shows and meeting lots of friends. That's when I started writing funny little songs about ridiculous university events. I studied opera. I wanted to be a singer. Then I didn't.
A YOUNG SONGWRITER
But it wasn't until after I left NZ (in order to pursue a wonderful NZ girl who I had met in a show) when I was about 25 that I started to pursue songwriting seriously and then it was as a singer-songwriter on the folk circuit in London. I wrote ALOT of songs, I did ALOT of gigs. I would say I performed upwards of 200 gigs across three years and I wrote about 100 songs. I performed them alone or with my band Columbus Giant. We got some radio play, we even got a regular gig playing in the foyer of the Royal National Theatre, we did some festivals but I ultimately I found it very dispiriting. Alot of the time you were playing in pubs where no one was listening and you weren't getting paid and I spent alot of the time just wondering what the point of it all was. I also discovered that other people were better at performing my songs than I was. All this time I was working full time as the International & Awards Officer at the Royal College of Music. At some point along this run my girlfriend joined an amateur theatre group. They were putting on a Christmas play and they wanted some music. My girlfriend suggested that I could write it and I thought why not. There was no money involved, it was just a couple of rehearsals and it was a chance to combine my love of theatre with my love of music.
THEATRE & MUSIC
It was a revelation. People sat in the theatre and actually listened to the songs, they were engaged with the story. It turned out that people enjoyed it and I was invited back along with the writer to do a christmas show of our own the next year. Again for no money, but what an experience. That one went well too, then I got involved with a group that was trying to make it's first professional piece for children. A friend of mine, recommended me to them. We all got on famously and we wrote a piece called Nightlight. You couldn't call it successful I suppose but people we didn't know came to see it and paid money to see it. It was full of invention and mistakes and we rehearsed nights while we all held down other jobs, it ran for three performances and none of us made any money but it was a step. Some press came to see it. They said it was a bit of a mess, but very inventive and we would be ones to watch in the future (we are now Paper Balloon Theatre and have made three professional shows).
Then another Christmas show with the amateur theatre was offered and we decided to go for an all out musical. We wrote the thing from scratch in three months and all of the grey hairs I now have arose from that period of stress, excitement, joy and terror. I had to score out the music. I had never written music out before. It took me forever, lunch breaks etc... but I got there in the end and it left me with some wicked Sibelius skills.
I had saved up some money from my job and didn't have anything to spend it on. I wondered if I could do this for a living, so whilst sat on my bicycle at a red light in Kensington I decided I would quit my job the next day. I did and I left three months later.
PLEASE NOTE: I would NOT recommend this cold turkey option.
1st PROFESSIONAL JOB
Someone offered me my first professional composing job just before I left. The job came from someone who had seen Nightlight and enjoyed my music. I was being offered £1000 to write some music for a show for young people. Thought all my bloody christmases had come at once didn't I? It was my first taste of being paid for something I love.
That was almost my only professional job that year... I haemhoraged cash, I made bad budgeting decisions, I ended up sleeping on couches of generous friends for months. I toured as a performer for a while and I applied for composing jobs in Artsjobs. I didn't get many, in fact I only got one. (Fortunately that one has led to steady professional work for the last four years and has led to some amazing industry contacts and a regular royalty income). In the meantime, other friends from my singer/songwriter days introduced me to their friends in the theatre, directors and writers all just starting out and looking for musical collaborators. I started working with them and they started getting professional gigs and then they would hire me to work on them (one of them was Amy Draper director of These Trees Are Made of Blood who saw me and my band perform at The National Theatre during my songwriting days and was a friend of one of my best mates).
After a couple of years of working and living in this way I was gradually building up connections and a portfolio. Then I started feeling like a massive fraud (Please note: I still feel like one). I had no qualifications, I had no training. I didn't know what I was doing and it was starting to worry me. I wanted to get better at what I was doing but I didn't know how. I couldn't afford to become a full-time student again and I really didn't fancy the idea of writing essays about music and theatre. I wanted to be learning it and doing it at the same time and I wanted to be able to make a living at it whilst I did that. So I started searching.
I looked for musical theatre writing competitions and training courses. I wanted to show the industry I could do this job, but I had no idea how to get the industry to hear my work... when I googled this, an organisation appeared in the browser. It's name (and you should write this down) was Mercury Musical Developments or MMD for short.
This, in it's distilled and essential form is an organisation that helps musical theatre writers. It offered competitions, advice, events and a community of people trying to do what I was doing and all at different levels and stages of the game. There was one particular competition that was taking applications: The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Award. I really had no idea what it was about but it seemed like it was worth a shot. Back then, it was not a requirement that your song be from a musical that you were writing. I wrote a song and submitted it to the competition. It was called 'The Only Prince Around' and took as its inspiration that all of the 'prince charming's from fairy tales were really just one prince charming constantly riding out and saving maidens. It was directly inspired by the Michael Bruce (check him out) song 'Portrait of a Princess' which a friend had sent me by email and that I loved!
I submitted the song and then forgot about the whole thing. In the meantime, I continued to google and I discovered the second organisation that I consider to be essential to my career progression thus far. Book, Music and Lyrics or BML for short. BML was different from MMD in that it was specifcally a training course specialising in musical theatre writing. I applied immediately and was very happy to be accepted to the course. It was extremely reasonably priced, centrally located and only two hours a week. I saw it as a chance to meet some other songwriters as well as to improve my craft. As well as adding structure to my otherwise rather unstructured life.
Just prior to the BML course beginning I found out that my song 'The Only Prince Around' had made it through to the final of the Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Award. I didn't really know how big a deal this was until I arrived at the sold out award ceremony in London's West End and heard my very own song being sung by the incomparable Turlough Convery (now starring in Poldark who went on to win the performance competition). My song didn't win but it was enough to hear the applause afterwards to know that this was what I really wanted to do. It turns out that one of my tutors in BML (Tim Sutton) that year was the winner of the songwriting competition, so I couldn't feel too bad about it. (Since that time I have been fortunate enough to have been a finalist three times, winning runner up one year and also winning the MTI Stiles & Drewe Mentorship Award for The Wicker Husband last year, all of which have been valuable experiences getting my work performed to a wider audience).
When I arrived at BML for the first session I had no idea what to expect. I would say there were roughly 16 of us. All nervous, most of whom did not know each other, but a couple who did. We had been set a task of writing a lyric to an existing tune and as each one went round the group I had a horrible sinking sensation. Everyone had stuck exactly to the notes as they were written and consequently the course leader (the incomparable Mark Warman) was able to play and sight sing everyone's work back to them. I however, had completely bastardised the tune, adding in extra notes where it suited me and thus it was completely impossible to sing for anyone but me. Sheepishly I did just that. Everyone laughed at the implied innuendo in my dirty little lyric, including Mark, who after laughing promptly added afterwards that my lyric was of course a 'complete abomination.' But he said it with such warmth and good humour an d in a way that would become a hallmark of my experience at BML.
I have been a part of BML for over three years now. I am still friends with many of the people I met in my first year, all of whom are talented songwriters, supportive classmates and have grown along with me in terms of craft and knowledge of the industry. And the great thing about BML is you never have to leave. Once you complete the second year you are invited to be part of the Advanced Composer/Lyricist Group, and you can remain a part of it forever. The BML community grows larger and stronger every year. In addition the MMD community and the BML community overlap in every increasing ways. Over the last few years I know of several members including myself who are getting their shows put on West End, Off West End and Off Broadway as well as national UK tours and regional runs and international productions.
Now, those early directors and companies who I hooked up with have gradually built their professional reputations leading to my songwriting work on several national tours. Several shows continue to tour over the years, leading to royalties and regular fees. A couple of great things that came out of my less than happy experience of being fired from Fantastic Mr Fox was that I got an agent who now deals with all my financials and I met some wonderful writers who are now my friends. Producers and Venues continue to see my work regularly on tour and as a result I have received more offers of work.
The result of all of this is that I now earn about 85% of my living purely from songwriting (not musical directing or teaching or workshop leading all of which are wonderful but too exhausting and divert my musical attention from the thing I really love). The other 15% comes from a fairly stress free administration job which offers regular and flexible work.
When I say my 'living' I am a 36 year old man without any children, a girlfriend who doesn't mind living like a bit of a pauper and approximately £2,000 of savings and a yearly income of approximately £20,000 per year. It's not much obviously but it's enough. My main expense is eating which I love to do and I live from hand to mouth. I worry about how I'm going to eat fairly regularly but I consider this a small price to pay and strangely enough the jobs always seem to come along...
I guess to conclude, this is what I would take away from it:
WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
1. Early on in your career, maybe say yes to pretty much anything, you never know where it's going to lead or who you're going to meet.
2. Get in on the ground floor with talented folks. GO see lots of theatre. Talk about what you do. That's how people will find out about you.
3. Join a community (BML or MMD). This is really important. These people will pick you up when you are down, they will train you and love you.
4. No one will hire you right off the bat if you haven't done anything before. Make your own work and get people to come and see it.
5. Build a website, it's free and you never know who might see it.
6. Don't feel bad that you don't have a music degree. Use it to your advantage. Be different and bold.
7. When you get fired, just keep going.
8. Get a part-time job with flexibility if you possibly can, use your current connections to do it.
9. Enter competitions, but try not to be disappointed when you don't win, they'll lead to other things.
10. Learn your craft in amateur societies. You'll learn about all aspects of theatre-making, not just your own.
In writing this I realise I have left out huge portions of very important events including important people and important shows, but hopefully this will give you a little idea of the strange, twisted and bizarre path that a career as a Composer & Lyricist can take you on.
A ladder to the moon? More like a weird labyrinthine staircase to the moon... I can almost smell the cheese...
HOW DO YOU SELL A PIECE OF NEW MUSICAL THEATRE?
I ask this question because there's at least a couple of new musicals coming out over the next month, in particular The Superhero by Richy Hughes, Joseph Finlay and Michael Conley and one of my own These Trees Are Made of Blood by Amy Draper, Paul Jenkins and myself.
So how do you sell it? Well, shit. I don’t know. I just put that title up so people would read the blog... interestingly there are some parallels with that and selling new musical theatre... an element of trickery and deception perhaps?
How do you get people excited about something they’ve never seen before? How do you convince people to spend their own money, money that they’ve earned and could very easily spend on wine (which virtually guarantees a good time) on a new show, made by people they’ve never heard of about something they have displayed zero interest in.
I thought maybe one way I could get an audience is by writing a blog about why you should come to my latest show, but hopefully there will be something useful in there for other people trying to put a show on.
As mentioned previously my latest show is called These Trees Are Made of Blood.
This is a new piece of musical theatre. It takes a long time, a lot of people and a good proportion of money to put together work of this scale. I’m relatively new to the professional musical theatre having only been paid for my work for the last five years. But I think that the musical theatre community in London and the UK is growing, largely thanks to organisations like Mercury Musical Developments and Book, Music, Lyrics which offer opportunities for networking and professional development as well as a vital support network of friends in the industry. But work requires more than the support of those who are trying to put work on the stage. It requires an audience of people who want to see the work for the work’s sake.
So how do you get them through the door when you don’t have a million pound advertising budget. To quote Tennessee Williams “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” During it’s initial run at Southwark Playhouse two years ago, the show eventually sold out it’s last week based purely on word of mouth. It wasn’t selling well initially… because at first glance it probably isn’t something that you would like to go to see.
What this new piece of musical theatre is actually about is the true story of the Mothers of the Plaza de Majo, a group of women whose sons and daughters were tortured, murdered or “disappeared” during the Argentinian Dirty War of 1976-83. Sound like fun?
The show follows one mother’s journey from housewife to activist revolutionary over a period of thirty years. For years, the Madres fought against the fascist dictatorship that terrorised Argentina in peaceful protest, demanding the return of their children. These women were beaten, charged by armed police on horses, threatened, imprisoned and some of their number were murdered and disappeared themselves. Their public protest was an incredibly brave act of dissent in a country too terrified to speak out.
Despite this, the popular uprising that these women began eventually led to the downfall of one of the most notorious dictatorships in South American history. By the end of the Dirty War an estimated 30,000 civilians had been tortured, murdered and disappeared by the government. It then took nearly forty years for the democratic government of Argentina to bring those responsible to justice. Many of those involved still wander free on the streets of Buenos Aires today, rubbing shoulders with the parents of those they murdered.
Some of the leaders of the Dictatorship, in particular General Videla and Admiral Masseras were eventually sentenced (following numerous pardons) for crimes against humanity. Videla in particular was unrepentant, claiming that he did what was necessary to save the country. He died in prison.
The whereabouts of the majority of the disappeared remains unknown. Many were drugged and thrown from planes into the River Plata where they drowned.
And then the producer asks: “But who is your audience? Why should Joe Bloggs come and see it?”
Well, it’s a good question. And one that I will attempt to answer as best I can…
WHY SHOULD YOU COME AND SEE THE SHOW?
We are living in political times. Donald Trump is attempting to run an autocracy in the U.S.A, the UK’s government hangs in the balance, with a potential alliance from the far right DUP currently on the cards and Brexit looms over the E.U. We are now seeing the workings of government being scrutinised by the public in a way in which we have never seen before.
In the 1976 the Argentinean armed forces overthrew the government of Isabel Peron. No vote was taken, no mandate was given. If anything, the current state of politics means that we should not take for granted the rights that we currently enjoy. They can easily slip from our grasp. Stories like that of the Mothers of the Plaza de Majo remind us that every one of us is responsible for our political life and that politics affects all of us even if we think it doesn’t.
…and then the producer asks: “But who is your audience?”
I know all sorts of people will berate me for my answer and it's probably one of the reasons I'll never work in advertising, but it’s really the only answer I can give.
This show is for you.
Here is the link to buy tickets for the show, please come along and support new writing and important stories...
It's Easter Sunday and our crowdfunding campaign has just 46 hours left on the clock. We really want to try to get to £5,000 so that we can give the production it's best chance of telling the story of the Disappeared in a way in which it deserves to be told. Most of you who read my blog already know the story of how the show came to be in existence, but maybe one of the things that you know a little less about is what goes on behind the scenes in the creation of a show like this. So I thought I might use this opportunity to share with you my own experience of showmaking:
The Shame of #Crowdfunding
My first experience of crowdfunding was with Rhys Jennings, my collaborator on the new musical The Wicker Husband which just had it's first reading at The Other Palace last week. We had reached a point in the writing process where we just simply couldn't afford to continue to live and work on the show without paying ourselves and the people who we needed to work with. Rhys suggested the Crowdfund and whilst at first my little brain was reluctant to ask friends and family for their hard earned money, so that I could blow it all on wicker dreams. I soon discovered something different.
People were not only willing to support our project, but they were EAGER to do so. Some of them had been hearing about it for so long that for them it seemed like an opportunity to will something out of nothing. Which is essentially what (as creators of theatre) we do every day. That was a great first experience of crowdfunding for me. Rhys proved particularly adept at adapting himself to being a crowdfund master and really went full pelt. We successfullly raised over £5,000 for our project which has contributed immensely to the successful reading that we had last week.
So when I came to be involved in my second crowdfund for Paper Balloon's The Boy and the Mermaid, you would have thought I would have had less scruples than before about getting the word out to the people. But... as the build up to the crowdfund began, I found myself again wondering to myself "How dare you ask these people for their money. They've worked hard for it. And not only that... some of them have already supported your work. You can't ask them again."
But again, I stopped in my self-flagellating tracks when I found that not only were people happy to respond and give some cash, but that the people who had supported the previous crowdfund were supporting the new one as well, sometimes even more generously than they had before.
So, I started thinking about what it was that people are supporting when they give to a crowdfund. I have given money to a few myself, I would consider it far too hypocritical if I hadn't. And looking back at those projects I can see two different reasons for my donations:
1. I wanted to support the person's work, regardless of the project.
2. I wanted to support the project because I believed it to be important.
Looking at the people who have given money to my various projects, it's clear that there are some who support me primarily because they care about me and they want me to succeed in my endeavours (and in my mother's case, they don't want me to starve). Then there are others, who share on social media their own stories of the show that I am involved in and those people donate because they believe in the cause.
This led me to think a little about shame and vulnerability (I've been reading lots of self help books recently). It's interesting that I never feel shame when I am asking people to support a cause that I really believe in. For example, The Wicker Husband is a story about society pressure on people to look and conform to a certain "acceptable" norm of prettiness. The Boy and The Mermaid is a call to arms for small ones about the Syrian Refugeee Crisis, about how we should celebrate differences not vilify them. And my most recent crowdfund for These Trees Are Made of Blood is an important human rights story about state terror, disappearances and the power of indivduals to change society for the better in the face of incredible tyranny.
These projects I will talk about until the cows come home and I will never be ashamed of asking those around me to support them because I believe that the work is worth doing and important.
However, the problem with any work that you make in the creative industries is that it inevitably has a huge part of you inside it. And it's when I feel like I'm asking for money for people to support ME as a person that I feel shame.
For me, in this industry in particular, it grieves me to admit that alot of my self-worth is tied to money. I don't consider that to be my fault and I don't consider it to be unusual, having talked to many people about it. This is an asbolutely natural consequence of living in a capitalist society that rewards people with numbers in their bank. I am absolutely no exception to this. I really wish I was, but that river runs pretty deep.
This means that when I start asking people for money to support me, I feel immense shame that I am not good enough at what I do to be earning a living wage from it without their help. Of course that is simply just not true. I am good enough, I am a skilled musical theatre writer with plenty of experience but the fact remains that money is not always directly related to ability.
So in crowdfunding I have to split my personality in two. The part of me that feels shame that I am not succeeding I have to tell to "shut up and go and sit in the toilet and read a paper until it's all over." The part of me that believes in the project jumps into the fray with all guns blazing and demands to be heard.
I thought I would write about it here, not only because we are about £800 away from our minimum goal for our crowdfund and I'm shamelessly going to push it (Please donate whatever you can, it really means the world to us - note how in using "us" I am deflecting from the shame of using "me"!), but also because crowdfunding is here, it's here to stay and it's going to be a big part of our creative industries in the future and I believe that if we can get over ourselves, that can only be a good thing.
If you have a project that you are working on that needs to get the next step (despite our excellent reading for The Wicker Husband on Thursday we failed three times to get any funding from the Arts Council for it) then maybe go for a crowdfund. You've got to believe in the cause, in the story, but at the end of the day I've found belief in a cause will jump all over any shame you feel.
And if you so feel like it (and because I've currently locked my ego in the toilet) Please donate by clicking below. Either because you support me as an artist or because you believe in the work.