I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
Sally Dexter and Liza Pulman performing in the showcase rehearsal for I Capture the Castle, Drury Lane

Sunday, 23 August 2015

I Capture the Castle Workshop at the RNT Studio

This week Steve Edis and I have a workshop of our musical adaptation of I Capture the Castle at the Royal National Theatre Studio directed by Brigid Larmour with associate director Shona Morris and musical supervisor Catherine Jayes.  We will have fabulous actors drawn from three shows on at the National: Three Days in the Country, Warhorse and the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. It will be wonderful to be working on the show again and be back at the studio where our very first musical workshop took place

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Blackamoores by Onyeka

Last weekend I went up to Stratford to see the work two of my collaborators had been doing over the past few months.  Steve Edis had composed the music for Trevor Nunn's wonderful and hilarious new production of Volpone and Brian Protheroe was playing Brabantio in the ground breaking Othello with Lucian Msamati's black Iago,  also Brian gave us a stupendous Aragon in The Merchant of Venice.

I was lucky enough to go to a debate at the theatre about whether Othello is a racist play. The much adored Hugh Quarshie, who plays Othello was on the panel, along with Lucian Msamati, academic Onyeka Nubia and Celia R. Caputi.

Onyeka let us into some of his store of secrets, uncovered after 23 years of research into the black inhabitants of Britain during Tudor times. To order your own signed copy of his book go to the website here:  Blackamoores

One of the most interesting things that came out of the discussion was that during Tudor times black people were not thought of as a race, the Tudors thought that dark coloured skin was only because of the sun.  Shakespeare would not have thought of Othello in the way we do now because for him there had been no slavery, no Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. It was such a curious thought and now I wish I could see the play again just to see how I felt about it knowing that.

Casting for the National Theatre Studio

RNT Studio

Sitting at a beachfront table at Meltemi Cafe on the tiny island of Patmos, in Greece, I found myself glued to my laptop hungry for moments of wifi so I could access the internet.  I was collaborating on casting for a workshop of I Capture the Castle at the National Theatre, and the heat was on.  This is the musical that Steve Edis and I wrote, based on Dodie Smith's wonderful novel about first love and the power of inspiration.

Sometimes it doesn't matter that you have to work when you're on holiday, not when there's such an exciting event coming up in a few weeks!!

Five of us collaborated over the casting and now I'm waiting to see what happens and who these absolutely new interpreters of the show will be.  

This is going to be a time of exploration, showing Brigid Larmour our Director and Shona Morris the movement director the new songs Steve and I have written and trying out a new version of the show I worked on at the Hosking Houses Trust Retreat a while back.  The two directors work really well together, producing incredibly exciting work at Watford Palace Theatre.  The most recent show they collaborated on was Timberlake Wertenbaker's new play Jefferson's Garden.

When I walk into the studio in on 24th August I will remember sitting under the palms on that beach on Patmos!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Tiny Shows - Big Gestures

Big Gestures for Tiny Shows with Jennifer Toksvig

Over the Weekend of the 13th and 14th June I worked on an immersive Tiny Show Project with The Copenhagen Interpretation and Women Who Write Musicals.  It was led by the creative genius that is known as Jennifer Toksvig.  Above you can see her explaining.  She had to do quite a bit of explaining  about the process at the beginning but once we all got it we flew with it into the world of immersive theatre, creating Tiny Shows on the theme of Cinderella, for an audience on the Sunday afternoon.  The pressure was on but some beautiful tiny moments of theatre emerged from it.

When we arrived on Saturday morning we had no idea what any of this was really about.  When I left on Tuesday evening I had written two songs and found a new writing partner!

One of my favourite photos of the weekend, Composers Olly Weeks and Sayan Kent
Opera singer Belinda Evans and Olly Weeks performing our number Perfect Girl
about the guy who wants to be a Fairy Godmother!

Here you can see some of the ideas for shows under the titles of Tension and Transformation!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Our Day with Claude-Michel Schonberg

Suzanna Kempner, James Meunier, Steven Edis, Teresa Howard and Claude-Michel Schonberg
Claude-Michel Schonberg
It isn't often you get the chance to spend the day with a superstar, a creative superstar who is taking the time and trouble to actually listen to your work and give you his pure golden nuggets of wisdom. On the 8th of June Steve Edis and I, along with seven other MMD writing teams got the chance to do this with Claude-Michel Schonberg, best known for writing the book and music of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables with book and lyricist Alain Boublil.

This was truly one of my best MMD moments so far, and I will never forget it!

We chose two scenes with songs from our Pre-Raphaelite musical Possessed and they were beautifully performed by Suzanna Kempner and James Meunier, who we have known since our first workshop at the RAM.  Above is a photo of us, rapt, listening to the master's every word.

It wasn't just the chance to listen to Claude-Michel talking about our work, it was also riveting listening to him talk about the work of the other writing teams: Adam Ford and Kitty McDonald; Craig Adams and Andrew Doyle; Alex Loveless; Rebecca Applin & Susanna Pearse; Scott Gilmour & Claire McKenzie; Mel Lawman & Matt Finch; Catherine Macdonald & Adam Ford; Jake Bringer & Pippa Cleary, many of whom are dear writing friends and colleagues. It was a particularly intimate day, our work was exposed, Claude-Michel was inspiring, with razor sharp insight, and we all felt very close by the end of the day.

Below is a picture of Victoria Saxton, the new Executive Director of MMD, who helped to make the day possible.
Victoria Saxton, Chief Executive of MMD 

Teresa Howard, Chaude-Michel Schonberg & Suzanna Kempner

Wednesday, 3 June 2015


Blue Silk Dress by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Tomorrow I have an exciting day of dramaturgy on our Pre-Raphaelite musical POSSESSED with John Sparks from the New Musicals Inc. Academy in LA.

In the evening Steve and I are rehearsing with performers Suzanna Kempner and James Meunier for the Masterclass we have next week on scenes and songs from POSSESSED with Claude-Michel Schonberg.

It will be interesting to see what these very different feedback sessions will bring to the show.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Where Are the Woman Who Write Musical Theatre?

A wonderful article from The Stage by MMD's New Executive Director Victoria Saxton

Victoria Saxton: Where are the women who write musical theatre?

The cast of Fun Home, written by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. Photo: Joan Marcus
The cast of Fun Home, written by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. Photo: Joan Marcus
Victoria Saxton
Victoria Saxton is executive director of Mercury Musical Developments and a librettist, lyricist and dramaturg. She gained an MFA in musical theatre writing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and also trained at the Royal Court Young Writers Programme. She leads an MA course in musical theatre writing at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in addition to reading musical theatre script submissions for the National Theatre. Her work has appeared in venues across New York and London.
by  - 
In October 2014, critic Mark Shenton wrote an article for The Stage in which he asked why there was such a paucity of female writers in musical theatre.
For me, Shenton's article was a call to arms. Gender inequality in theatre is a hot topic. Yet, in the many conversations, articles, conferences and statistics highlighting the gender imbalance facing women in theatre today, musical theatre is often ignored. More specifically, the issue of women writing musical theatre is often ignored. The moment I finished reading Shenton's article, I sent it to every female composer, lyricist and librettist I knew.
One of these writers was Jenifer Toksvig. Toksvig set up a Facebook group as a place for us to connect and to see how many female musical theatre writers might be out there. As of May 2015,Women Who Write Musicals has more than 300 members from across the globe. The only criteria for membership are that you are female and you write musicals. In June 2015, we will be holding our first event, Tiny Shows, in association with the So and So Arts Club in London.
The speed at which Women Who Write Musicals has grown demonstrates that there are, in fact, many emerging female musical theatre writers. They simply lack a platform. Furthermore, it suggests that the question should not be 'Where are the women who write musical theatre?' but instead 'Why haven’t you heard of those who do?'
I am a librettist and lyricist who trained at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts under an array of incredible female mentors and teachers such as Sybille Pearson (who wrote Baby), Polly Penn (Bed and Sofa), Mindi Dickstein (Little Women) and Rachel Sheinkin (Spelling Bee). The programme itself is run by Sarah Schlesinger, herself an award-winning librettist and lyricist.
The average person in the street would struggle to name a famous female musical theatre writer
Historically, aspiring female writers looking for role models and mentors have had a harder time. That's not to forget or negate the pioneering work done by the likes of Betty Comden, who won numerous Tony Awards for shows such as Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town – currently playing to rave reviews on Broadway. Nor should Dorothy Fields (Annie Get your Gun, Sweet Charity) and Mary Rodgers (Once Upon a Mattress) be overlooked. But if you ask the average person in the street to name a famous female musical theatre writer, I wager they’ll struggle.
But the landscape is shifting. In 2013, Cyndi Lauper became the first female to win a Tony Award for best original score without a male writing partner. This year, both Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron are nominated for their groundbreaking musical Fun Home. If they win, they’ll be the first all-female team to win for best original score. The last time two women were even nominated was back in 1991, when Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman got the nod for The Secret Garden.
On Broadway, then, history is being made. As Shoshana Greenberg points out in her articleKeeping Score, “For the first time in history, three female composers have written a musical score in a single Broadway season.”
Tesori is no stranger to Broadway. Her musicals Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline, or Change and Violet have been pioneering. Alongside writers such as Lynn Ahrens, Winnie Holzman, Marsha Norman and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (of Frozen fame), Tesori demonstrates it is possible for a woman to forge a successful career writing musical theatre.
In New York, there is a clear movement to champion the work of female writers, from new websites such as The Interval, which profiles female writers to the Lilly Awards Foundation (composer Georgia Stitt is on the board) and venues such as Prospect Theatre which recently held a gala to celebrate women making musical theatre.
In the UK, the statistics don't paint a pretty picture
So, how and what are we doing in London? The statistics I could find don’t paint a pretty picture. Only a quarter of the nominees for the Olivier awards for best new musical and best musical revival over the past two years have had either female creative or writing teams. Since 1979, there have only been 20 new musicals nominated for the Olivier Awards that include a woman in the writing team, and only four of these have won. As Rachel Bellman of Pitch Perfect points out, “All four were co-authored by at least one man and all four originated in America.”
In February, I became executive director of Mercury Musical Developments, a membership organisation dedicated to developing new musical theatre writing. In partnership with Musical Theatre Network we are part of Arts Council England’s national portfolio. MTN is run by the dynamic Caroline Routh and chaired by Jodi Myers. MMD’s chairwoman is renowned musical theatre agent Caroline Underwood. Yes, we are all women.
It was, therefore, something of a shock to discover that only 29% of MMD’s 400 members are women. These numbers, however, do not match what I see happening around me. At our masterclasses, an equal – if not greater – number of women attend. Out of the three finalists for the 2014 S and S Award for best new musical, two were all-female writing teams and the 2013 winning show, Forest Boy, was composed by Claire McKenzie. Out of the 23 songs shortlisted for 2015, Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Award 11 were written by women.
In the UK alone, I know many talented female musical theatre writers: Sue Pearse, Rebecca Applin, Ella Grace, Christine Denniston, Jennifer Green, Caroline Wigmore, Pippa Cleary, Jenifer Toskvig, Claire McKenzie and Jennifer Lee for a start. So perhaps the relatively low number of female MMD members reflects the fact that emerging female writers in the UK don’t have the role models, as they do across the pond, to convince them that writing musicals is a viable career option?
When I wrote my first musical, aged 17, a friend said to me, “This is just a hobby, right?” I was too embarrassed to argue. Now, however, I would have no such qualms. MMD plans to lead the way in providing the support networks needed to nurture female musical theatre writers. I hope that in the next year we will be able to partner with venues to produce cabaret and gala events similar to those happening regularly in New York, to showcase both emerging and existing female musical theatre writers.
Indeed, I am optimistic about the future. The new musical theatre I see being created (albeit mostly fringe work) doesn’t reflect the depressing statistics frequently touted about the gender inequality facing women in theatre. In large part, this is due to an exciting emergence of female producers, directors and artistic directors with a passion for making musicals. From the hugely successful Sonia Friedman (who recently announced a commitment to commission 15 new musicals over the next five years) to Danielle Tarento and Katy Lipson, to Josie Rourke, Maria Friedman, to up-and-coming directors Lotte Wakeham and Kate Golledge. Writer Teressa Howard (who is an MMD board member) believes that “it’s no accident that the two shows I currently have in development have female producers.”
As lyricist Mindi Dickstein said to me, “My personal hope is that we can get to a place where it stops being a question. Where parity just is. Women, like all artists, must make good work and pursue every opportunity to be heard and seen.” Perhaps, then, the real question is not even “Why haven’t you heard of us?” but “When will this stop being a question at all?” Ladies, it’s time to be heard. My name is Victoria Saxton, and I am a woman who writes musicals.
Victoria Saxton is executive director of Mercury Musical Developments

Claude-Michel Schonberg Masterclass

Les Miserables

Steve Edis and I are having a private Master Class with Claude Michel Schonberg on 8th June. Seven other writing teams from Mercury  Musical Developments  have also won a place at this amazing event and we will spend the day together. So excited to be learning from one of the great legends of musical theatre who wrote book & music for Les Miserables and Miss Saigon with Alain Boublil. Hoping that just a little of the magic will rub off.

I have met Claude-Michel twice before and heard him talk with Alain Boublil about working together, but actually focusing on two songs and scenes we've written will be twice as exciting and not a little scary.  We are first up in the room as well!  

When he and Alain talked about working together I was astonished to see what a vibrant bond they still had after all these years, and what utter respect they had for each other - collaboration, when it really works,  is a very special connection.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

MMD Board Meeting

A very exciting MMD Board Meeting yesterday.

We welcomed in the absolutely fabulous MMD interim Executive Director Victoria Saxton who brings with her a wealth of contacts, experience and brilliant new ideas.

Looking forward to the MMD conference on 12th March and all the innovative plans for the future beginning to unfold!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Women Who Write Musicals

I am now back from the room and in my study at home. I miss the woods and the wide open fields of Stratford-Upon-Avon but have planned a trip to Cornwall, to do some research for one of my shows, to make up for it.

While I was away I was part of a flurry of excitement over the creation of a new creative group - Women Who Write Musicals! It was started in response to an article by theatre critic Mark Shenton about the paucity of women writers in Musical Theatre.  There is a link to his piece HERE.

Victoria Saxton and Jennifer Toksvig started the group which is now an international organisation and growing from strength to strength.  We are even hoping to mount our first event - Tiny Shows - in June.

Here is a link to Jenny Toksvig's site The Copenhagen Interpretation which has more information about WWWM. If you have written a musical please join us!