Steve and I have been doing some development workshops on our new show (title to be released at a later date) at the Royal Academy of Music with postgraduate students: Paul Allison, Ross Barnes, Phillipa Cookman, Matthew Johnson, Suzanna Kempner, Tom Little, Becky Moult, Terri O'Brien, Stephen Sutherland and Alex Young.
We planned to concentrate on the first scene, including the title song, which is reprised throughout the show. This song is crucial to the show and needed a short simple lyric and melody which could be easily recognised in later scenes, but also needed a strong emotional drive in the middle section that would excite the audience and make them really connect with the main character. We also wanted to test out changing the sex of one of the characters from a woman to a man in later scenes.
At the outset we had a draft of the first scene, which had been tried out in a reading last June, some lyrics, some music and a sketched plan of where in the scene the song would be broken up into.
With fantastic feedback from the students and a week to do re writes and create the rest of the song music we have now come up with a first scene that got laughs, tells who everyone is and sets up the beginning of the crisis, which will steadily unfold.
In trying to find out whether it would work to swop one of the smaller roles from a woman to a man the students read the two scenes she appears in both as a woman and as a man. They then discussed this exchange and what it meant both in the musical and for them as an audience. We decided to bravely make the swop.
I hadn't heard any of Steve's music for the opening song until he played it in the rehearsal room, which was very exciting! After only a couple of rehearsals Suz sang it in her clear, beautiful voice - everyone was captivated. After playing around with where to divide up the song in the scene, the final division I chose seemed to work. As they were reading Steve also improvised where to put music under dialogue, setting up a convention to use for the rest of the show.
Something else that came out of the first weeks workshop was a stronger visual imagery for me and I invented a convention to make the band more integral as well as a projection idea which would make set changes easier. Hearing the musical read repeatedly by the students had helped it to come alive in a way that reading it out to myself at my desk could never achieve.
At the end of the workshop we had a final read through of the new draft of the first scene with Suz singing her solo. It was a great moment because the students could see where their collaboration had improved the scene, and we had that so essential feedback for the work we were doing.