At JFK airport waiting for my flight home and thought I would wrap up this American adventure with a quick blog about my experiences over the last few days. If I’m perfectly honest, my brain is practically empty but let’s see what it can manage.
The Festival began on Thursday, taking place over two full days during which the eight selected musicals were shown twice each. Each was cut down to forty five minutes and the cut had been approved by NAMT prior to casting. Most writers chose to do the same thing which was basically an abridged act one that would leave audiences wanting more, whilst giving a flavour of the storytelling, characters and style of the piece. I was lucky enough to catch all of the other performances except for Rob Rockiki’s Monstersongs because it was on at the same time as The Wicker Husband (fortunately it’s being performed at The Other Palace in London next week, so we’ll get to see it anyway. Also quick plug for Rob, please go, he’s just the loveliest man and such a talent).
It is always with mixed emotions that I see another writers work, especially when you are part of the same festival and all vying for the attention of a huge number of producers, venues and other industry folk who can potentially help you. There is a part of you that hopes that your piece gets as strong a response as others. It’s often harder (at first) to just sit back and enjoy the incredible work that is being shown to you, because there’s a part of you sitting in judgement. Fortunately the feeling of judgement quickly goes away when presented with work as varied and exciting as was on display at NAMT. The shows were all so markedly different that it was impossible to compare them really. Some were thrilling and bombastic, others were nuanced and delicate, some were otherworldly, some were very much based on real life.
It was utterly inspiring to see work of such high quality here, it made me want to work harder and be better but also made me feel very proud of the fact that The Wicker Husband was here and was part of it and that so many people were responding to the work in such a wonderful way.
I’ll tell you a little about how it worked… Rhys and I would go on stage at the start of our presentation and do a short ninety second introduction to the piece, then we would rush out into the audience to watch the piece from the stalls. Bearing in mind this is the first time I have stepped away from The Wicker Husband as a writer (I’ve always been playing guitar or doing something…) so that was a scary experience too. We'd then watch our incredible cast and band bring the whole thing to life. As soon as the showing had finished, whilst audience were still applauding Rhys and I had to rush out of the theatre and stand next to a small table out in the foyer which was full of information about our show including drop cards with our newly minted demos downloadable on them. There were email sign ups for people to write their details if they were interested in the show. After the first performance I was terrified as we waited by the table for the audience to start coming out. What if no one was interested? What if no one wanted to speak to us? We had been assured by NAMT staff that this would not be the case and as ever they were completely right. It was quite intense as people from all across the industry from Broadway and West End producers to University performing arts faculties lined up to shake our hands and talk to us, some hugged us and thanked us for the show, everyone wanted to know what happened in Act 2 and after about 20 minutes of spinning around, shaking hands, taking business cards and smiling most of the information on our table had disappeared. Ciera (The New Works Director at NAMT) came by after the crowd had disappeared and asked us to put any business cards we had received in a bag that she provided.
Needless to say, it was all pretty overwhelming, and ours was certainly not a unique experience as we could see after the other shows that there was plenty of enthusiasm for all the writers and their shows. It felt almost uniquely American, they wear their enthusiasm right out on their sleeve and are completely unashamed to tell you that they love your work. As a Kiwi and a Brit, I can certainly say that it was one of the most intense experiences of my career and I went to have lunch utterly exhausted.
From what I understand, Rhys was continually being stopped by people throughout the festival to tell him how much they had enjoyed the piece, my experience was somewhat different. I find such situations rather difficult, I tend to avoid eye contact and I suspect that I tend to put on a face which says “Please don’t talk to me.” It’s funny, I think I’m a natural extrovert but am not great at accepting praise and am not particularly good in huge groups of people. Large groups of 15-20, yes. Any more than that and I tend to hide away and get nervous. This is one of the things that I know I really need to work on, and I think I got better as the festival progressed and as suspected many people came up to me as well during the final party. Rhys couldn’t walk for more than a few meters without someone stopping him.
The second day was much of the same with similar enthusiasm for the piece together with a writers panel at the end of the day.
Then we were whisked away to a party, then an after party and then Rhys and I stayed out until 4am sitting in a small irish pub drinking and talking about the whole experience.
And now it’s all done. What happens next, who knows? NAMT will collate all the responses to the piece and let us know if people are interested and they will get back to us in the next couple of weeks. The whole event was just so immaculately organised by Ciera and the team at NAMT and we can’t thank them enough for having involved us in this years festival. Also a huge thanks to the British invasion that showed their support for us at the festival including Victoria Saxton, Andy Barnes, James Hadley, James Dacre, Lettie Graham, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe, Andy Chan, Stephen Greenhalgh, Mark Shenton, Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour. I’m sure there are other people that I’ve missed out, I hope they will forgive my completely dead brain if so.
That’s it fellows, I’m just about to board my plane and I’m looking forward to coming back to my lovely London and seeing you all soon. Maybe at Fanatical (the new musical by Matt Board opening very soon!). A massive thank you to our wonderful USA Wicker Family who brought the piece to life so wonderfully. Love you guys and couldn't have done it without you.