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

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!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Back in The Room

I am back at the Hosking House Retreat writing a new show.  Follow my blog - From the Room HERE 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

MMD Executive Director Job Vacancy

Neil Marcus has now Left MMD and they are looking for someone to take over his job.  Could you be the right person?

Mercury Musical Developments is looking to recruit an Executive Director to be responsible for the strategic and financial development of the organisation.

Mercury Musical Developments is a membership organisation dedicated to developing the craft of writing book, music and lyrics for musical theatre and has been in existence for over twenty years. In partnership with Musical Theatre Network it became an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation in April 2012, and the two organisations work very closely together as a result of this partnership. NPO status has recently been renewed for the joint venture for a further three years.

The successful candidate will be a self-starter with excellent fundraising and networking skills and a track record in financial management. He/she should have strong communication skills and a passion for and knowledge of all types of musical theatre, in particular new work.

Salary £38,000 (pro rata three days per week)

The deadline for applications is Monday 29th September 2014

Mercury Musical Developments strives to be an Equal Opportunities employer.

For more information and for an application pack, please email martin@mercurymusicals.com . Please feel free to share this email with anyone you feel may be interested in this position.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Louise House

Louise House - Forest Hill

Some years ago I tried to get Lewisham Council to help me turn this wonderful old building, flanked on either side by the red brick swimming pool and library, into an Arts Centre for Forest Hill.  It had once been an Industrial Girls Home where young women turned out by their parents or found wandering the streets were housed.  They were sent to school nearby and in the house they were taught to wash clothes and learn how to be maids.

The upstairs dormitory bedrooms still showed how the girls were watched like prisoners: a woman who they would call "mother" slept in a tiny bedroom beside their dormitory room and there was a window through which "mother" could watch what they were up to.

I read some of the letters that accompanied the girls when they were deposited at the home and they were heartbreaking.

The Arts Council told me that they wouldn't be able to fund the project unless Lewisham Council put funds into it as well.  All I managed to get from Lewisham was the promise of a peppercorn rent, but the rest I would have to manage.  I couldn't fund the project myself and was busy with my new musical and soon realised that I would have to step back or the project would take over my life.

I have just been invited to the launch of the Louise House Arts Centre!! It is on Sunday 6th July between 11am and 1pm.

It is going to house artists studios and the basement is later going to be turned into a cinema!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Hosking House Residency!

I'm so delighted to have heard that I have the possibility of a residency in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Hosking House! The residency includes three months at this beautiful cottage on the Square in Clifford Chambers -  just off Duck Lane.

A room of my own, away from the bustle of London life, to just focus on my writing.

I feel immensely lucky!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Lionel Bart Memorial Masterclass with Cathy Jayes

Stephen Sondheim's Roadshow at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2011 - Cathy Jayes as Musical Director with Director John Doyle and cast David Bedella, Gillian Bevan and Michael Jibson
Musical Director, arranger and composer, Catherine Jayes is going to be hosting the next Lionel Bart Memorial Masterclass on June 11th at the Club Theatre, RADA Studios, 16 Chenies Street, WC1E 7EX from 7.30-9.30pm.

I am so delighted about this.  I first met Cathy through Steve Edis - they had spent many happy summers working together at the Open Air Theatre Regent's Park during Ian Talbot's time there as artistic director. We were lucky enough to have her as our musical supervisor for the I Capture the Castle showcase at Drury Lane.

Cathy was the Musical Director/Supervisor - Merrily We Roll Along - Menier/West End.  Musical Director on Gypsy, High Society and Fiddler on the Roof (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Guys and Dolls and Sweet Charity (TMA Best Musical Production) (Sheffield Crucible), many productions at the Open Air Theatre including The Pirates of Penzance, Kiss Me Kate, The Boys from Syracuse (Olivier Award Best Musical Production) and The Boy Friend.

MD/arranger on Animal Farm (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Merrily We Roll Along, Carmen and Irma la Douce (Watermill), Amadeus (Wilton’s Music Hall). As Composer His Dark Materials and Hapgood(Birmingham Rep and tour), The Duchess of Malfi, Troilus and Cressida, The Changeling and many more for Cheek By Jowl; The Mandate (National Theatre Cottesloe), Great Expectations (RSC), The Letter (Wyndhams), Arcadia (Bristol Old Vic), A Midsummer Nights Dream, The Comedy of Errors, The Merry Wives of Windsor and many more at the Open Air Theatre.

Films include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Delovely.
Catherine is an Associate Director of Cheek by Jowl

I can't wait to hear her feedback on the songs some of the MMD writers are going to be presenting.