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Tag Archive | "Westendproducer"

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Feature: Stage One – Funding the future producers

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Harriet Stevens

Stage OneLast month, Stage One, a charity funding body that supports the work of emerging theatre producers, announced the latest recipients of its £50,000 and £25,000 Start-Up Investment Fund.

Stephen McGill and David Hutchinson were the winners (respectively), and these sums will be used for the upcoming productions of The Pyjama Game (West End transfer, co-produced by McGill) and Avenue Q (UK tour, co-produced by Hutchinson).

As, for me at least, the role of the producer is a little elusive, I wanted to find out more about the role in general, what drove McGill and Hutchinson towards a career in producing and how they got to where they are today.

McGill explains his perception of the role of the producer: “I suppose the general perception is of the cigar smoking, Dom-drinking West End Producer – who I follow on Twitter and is hilarious! – but in reality, the producer is responsible for most aspects of a production, from the administrative side (which includes budgeting, financing, negotiating contracts, marketing and press of the production) to the creative side (collaborating with writers, directors, actors, musicians, stage management and technical crew), to create a show which hopefully everyone is proud to be part of.”

For Hutchinson, “essentially the producer brings everyone together. It’s their original idea and they conceive of how it could all work as a whole production. They’re the risk taker. They have to have the belief from the beginning.” Hutchinson explains how “risk is a big word in theatre at the moment. I hear it at conferences and in arts discussions all the time.” Hutchinson describes the types of risks that producer is taking as being both financial and creative, as not only are they playing with huge amounts of money but “it only takes one flop to put theatres off your work; one bad show, one project that is under par…” As Hutchinson will be using his Stage One funding to finance a regional tour of the puppetry musical Avenue Q he tells me how, particularly in recent years, there is even more risk associated with regional theatre: “Regional theatre is in crisis. The only way we can rebuild it is with funding people [like Stage One] who are taking these kind of risks”.

Both McGill and Hutchinson agree that the funding provided by Stage One is a vital support network for emerging or early-career theatre producers, and both are thrilled to have received the funding for their individual projects. McGill tells me that “Stage One has been crucial to my development as a producer. As well as nurturing and developing my skills through the New Producers Workshops, the advice and support of established producers is there to ensure the next generation can come through and hopefully continue the success.” And it would appear that Hutchinson is also grateful to Stage One for more than just the financial support as he explains how, aside from the monetary boost, Stage One adds a level of credibility to the project which Hutchinson calls the, “second wave” of securing funding, where the backing of Stage One “really makes everything more concrete as now, as we’re applying for more funding, we already have the cast and have started with rehearsals, as well as having secured some tour dates”.

Although both are now well stuck into their producinf careers, neither McGill nor Hutchinson came to the world of performing arts with this intention, as both initially trained as actors. McGill explains how he came to producing when, “during a particularly long ‘dry spell’ between acting work I was fortunate to work as a production assistant on the transfer of Jersey Boys into the West End. It was so exciting being part of a big production from the first rehearsal – which was my first day on the job – through to previews, opening night and beyond. I learned a huge amount in regards to the work that goes on behind the scenes to get such a big musical on stage and it was as rewarding, if not more so, to be part of the production side of the show.”

Hutchinson tells me how, whilst he was training at LIPA, “we had what they called ‘management classes,’ and they were the first lesson the morning after the weekly ‘£1-double-vodka-red-bull student night’ and everyone would sit there, head in hands, but I was completely fascinated. I graduated knowing that I wanted to produce. But I consider the actor training as a tool. I think it’s important to know how to talk to other creatives and I know that I can speak to actors on a level. It’s a tough career and I respect that; I don’t think that some producers have that understanding.”

Hutchinson believes that the best way to learn is by doing things yourself and that, specifically with a producer, this comes from initially working on small scale or fringe shows where, due to budgeting, there really is no choice other than to take on a vast number of different production roles. But all this experience will eventually pay of as, as Hutchinson puts it, “you realise after doing all of these things yourself that you need to build a team where you can find someone who specialised in all these different areas, but then when you are working on this kind of larger-scale production and you need to speak to a technician and want to use the right vocab, or you’re asking someone to design a lighting plot, you can – because you’ve done it before.”

Hutchinson assures me, however, that even further up the career ladder, the job of the producer isn’t necessarily all glitz and glamour, and those intending to shoot for a career in producing should be prepared for a difficult journey. “We all want to dive in straight at the West End, but you have to start small and then you can up-scale. It’s a real slog. I’ve had five years of battling ‘no’s. I’ve been driving vans down motorways at midnight, washing and ironing costumes because the stage manager’s off sick, so don’t think it’s going to be glamorous!”

But it seems that at the end of the blood, sweat and tears that a producer has to put into realising that initial vision that they had for a show, all the work can pay off when the show is performed to an audience, as McGill expressed: “for me, the best part is seeing the production you’ve worked on for months – or maybe years – on stage in front of an audience for the first time. I love the journey a show takes from page to stage and it’s so exciting to finally be able to share it with an audience.

 

Stage One supports new theatre producers with industry-led training workshops, bursaries, apprenticeships, start-Up investment, mentoring and advice. For more information see the Stage One website.

Harriet Stevens

Harriet Stevens

Harriet is an applied theatre practitioner working with young people in London, and a recent MA graduate of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is hugely passionate about theatre and live arts, and spends much of her free time seeing as much theatre as possible.

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The Wicked Stage: are talent shows the way forward for new musical theatre writing?

Posted on 05 June 2013 by Sarah Green

talent show

I have written before about the lack of new writing and especially of shows for the younger generation. However, with X Factor musicals and Britain’s Got Talent entrants, is there now a new way of getting work shown?

The ‘traditional’ way, if there is such a thing, is to have a producer fund the show that you and your fellow creators want to achieve. However, tradition obviously works best when you have something classic to sell such as Cats, or familiar music like Mamma Mia. Hence why young shows and their young writers can struggle to get their work performed, which was demonstrated by the short run of Loserville.

For young shows now, there seems to be a shift towards utilising what our likes and habits are and what forums we use. Good old @WestEndProducer last year held a Search for a Twitter Star, using social media such as Twitter and YouTube, and culminating in a live show in London. This time the search is for new musical theatre writers. Given its online nature this has, of course, appealed to younger writers. The live heats and finals are once more judged by West End performers, critics, agents and writers, and the final is being held on 21 July at the Soho Theatre. Of interest to this search, and also more generally, is the use of YouTube and the way that a simple video can go viral. It is always unpredictable who may see your video: Jessie J started with YouTube videos, for example, and I especially admire Laura Tisdall for what she has achieved. For her musical, Beyond The Door, she was able to get West End performers such as Hadley Fraser to sing the songs, which she then uploaded to YouTube; Hadley’s video has now broken 50,000 views. I know my musical theatre friends and I have all found Laura’s work separately and then shared it on forums such as Facebook and Twitter. Laura was a runner-up in her heat of the Search for a Twitter Composer, but this just proves what talent there is out there.

Chasing The Dream, written by Pete Gallagher and Danny Davies, entered Britain’s Got Talent this year and has reached the semi-finals (N.B. this post was written before the results show aired): it is the first time a musical has featured on the live shows. It is, again, a brilliant chance to be seen by the ‘right people’, but it is also connecting with an audience that may not usually lean towards musicals, and for whom watching this episode of BGT will be an introduction to the genre. However, Matthew Hemley wrote in The Stage recently about how the need to enter reality TV talent shows does “speak volumes about the state of the industry right now for writers of new musical theatre shows”. I must admit that I much prefer these examples as they are being driven by young people, as opposed to Simon Cowell’s X Factor-inspired show I Can’t Sing. This seems a pure money-making attempt and a pandering to the audience of the TV show, rather than exposure for the art form or an opportunity to develop new musical theatre writing.

So I wish all the luck in the world to the finalists in West End Producer’s search and to the cast and writers of Chasing The Dream.

Image: Talent Show

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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The Wicked Stage: Is it fair to attack fans of musicals?

Posted on 29 January 2013 by Sarah Green

Wicked stage Sexton

Most of the musical theatre community was shocked and appalled by David Sexton’s recent article in which he attacked not just the genre of musical theatre but the people who enjoy and work in musicals. There have been brilliant responses by @Westendproducer and Lyn Gardner and I don’t wish to add to their good work, but I did want to take this blog as a chance to voice my concern over one line of Sexton’s article: “They [musical theatre fans] just want to be pumped up with emotion by any means, lacking perhaps any interior life of their own.”

I pride myself on being a realist and also a fair human being. I do not mind if Sexton dislikes musical theatre because he has every right to his opinion. My brother also strongly dislikes musicals and despite what our banter on Facebook might suggest he would never attack me by calling me devoid of emotion for liking musicals. This is where I was caused the most upset by Sexton because, despite it being in an article for thousands of readers, I felt very personally insulted; this is an area of theatre I want to study at PhD level and to which I have invested the past five years of study.

Lyn Gardner made the point that this is a deliberately controversial article making a point of going against the tide of praise for the Les Miserables film, which is fine as newspapers need to guarantee readers and we know journalism can be a brutal place. Gardner also states in the article that “musical theatre occupies such a fragile place in theatre culture”. This is the crux of what really saddens me. Musical theatre is always hounded as the less important and less worthy branch of theatre. In Sexton’s view it also the lowly cousin of the just-about-tolerable genre of Opera.

Of course this is grossly unfair and sad for anyone working in a genre which requires a great level of artistry from writers and performers alike. So to hear that our form is “idiotic” is deeply upsetting. Musical theatre is an easy target because to many it seems so removed from life because of the singing and dancing (N.B. interestingly, not all shows use dance) yet I’m sure many ethnomusicologists would disagree. Music is and always has been inherent in our lives as humans so it makes perfect sense for us to enjoy it in our theatre, a fact proved by the popularity world-wide and box office figures.

In reality, and in academic life, I deal heavily with the prejudice facing musical theatre and specifically the twentieth-century construct of the ‘musical’. I like to imagine this is because it is a baby at less than 100 years old and that over time it will be more and more accepted as a legitimate form of theatre; I dream that it will be written about academically and appreciated for the work that goes into them. However, with writers such as Sexton getting such a soapbox to air their disparaging views it does seem like it will only ever be a dream.

Image: “A Chorus Line” at the Strand Theatre Thursday, March 24 (adapted)

 

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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The Wicked Stage: The future of musical theatre casting

Posted on 22 July 2012 by Sarah Green

In the past two weeks the process of casting in musical theatre has been well and truly turned on its head.

It started with @westendproducer‘s #Search For A Twitter Star (SFATS) final held in the West End – a talent show judged by agents, performers, directors and the public through YouTube and a live final. It provided the biggest and best exposure for many of these finalists, with the chance to perform in front of their peers and idols. There was also an announcement of the child and international winners the following night. One of the children has felt the benefit of this Twitter search already, with judge Gemma Lowry Hamilton, a theatrical agent, signing her up – Emily Carey recently started rehearsals for Shrek the Musical. It is only a matter of time before the adult performers also get their breaks. The whole project was so well received that there have been calls to make it a yearly event, with The Stage saying it has potential.

A week later and a second talent search was on our TV screens: the search for Jesus in the arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. There has been a lot of controversy about this one stealing work from trained professionals. However, some beady-eyed people noticed that many who made it through to ‘Superstar Island’ were professionals, such as Alex Gaumond (WWRY, Legally Blonde) and Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, Rock of Ages). In fact, many who went home in the early stages were young and untrained; the panel thought they wouldn’t be able to handle the role.

Even the final eleven is made up of people who have trained or worked for a while in the industry: Roger Wright (Lion King, Thriller Live), Niall Sheehy (Mountview, Wicked), Ben (Italia Conti, Grease) and David Hunter (LIPA, One Man, Two Governors). Many lamented that such leading men have had to go through this public audition hoopla but it was also praised. Despite this, the show hasn’t been pulling in the crowds; three million was the audience figure for the first shows. I wonder if we lose something through the TV – performers often sound out of tune but the judges say nothing. There is also discontent about the song choices with the contestants singing pop songs for a musical theatre role, but as JCS is a rock opera it does have more of a pop sound than other shows. Yet if @westendproducer was casting it I’m sure contestants would audition with musical theatre songs; the whole idea of his SFATS live final gives me hope that you can cast through a talent search without selling your soul to television.

Tompsett wrote a status/blog (9 July) on Facebook about how he feels: sadly he had pulled out due to commitments to another show (a move some other Jesus’ should have emulated). He said that these TV talent shows (like SFATS) breathe new life and talent into musical theatre and I find myself going against what I have ever said before and almost agreeing. I have friends struggling to break into the industry because they don’t have an agent so can’t get the big auditions and talent searches like this may be an option for them. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to come quietly – I still feel that the TV shows ruin the normal casting process and put trained professionals out in the cold.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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