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.