I hosted the MMD new writers’ cabaret last night, which is a monthly event for new writers of British musical theatre. The evening gives writers the chance to try out new material in front of a supportive audience. I attended every session for a full year whilst writing Em. It was a fabulous way to force myself not to write “also ran” music. I tried my hardest to write a song each month which topped the last one, and I would learn a great deal each time about what I’d written based on the audience’s collective response.
The evenings were always well-attended and very lively, and, although I haven’t attended myself for a year or so, I was thrilled to be asked to compere last night’s.
It was a bit of a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants scenario, as I had no time to prepare any schtick, so was essentially merely saying, “this is x, who’s written a song called x, which comes from a show called x...” I decided to keep the writers on stage afterwards to ask them a little bit about themselves and what they were hoping for. Occasionally I’d try to throw in a bit of advice, as I was aware that I was perhaps a little bit further on in my career than most of the others... and I think we all have a duty in the industry to support each other where we can. Largely, my message was for them to keep on writing. There were lots of young writers there - and our industry’s future sits firmly in their hands.
The set up in the UK is not geared towards the nurturing of musical theatre talent. There’s an amazing 18 year-old writer called Charli who would benefit enormously from studying on a high-quality musical theatre writing degree course. There are many such courses in the States, where amazing musical theatre writers like William Finn and Stephen Schwartz regularly teach. You literally learn from the best. The UK doesn’t have any such courses, however. The only option for a wannabe musical theatre composer is either to train as a performer and learn his or her craft by osmosis, or to study composing as part of a classical music degree, where musical theatre is often looked down on. There are song writing courses for pop music and jazz in some institutions, but, so far, in this country, the only courses specifically for musical theatre writers, I believe, are very part time or postgraduate courses, and you can count them on the fingers of one hand. There’s one at Goldsmiths, but, when I last discussed it with someone who’d been on it, I was somewhat horrified to learn that it wasn’t recognised by the music department, which meant the students couldn’t use equipment or university practise rooms. The musical theatre writers apparently wandered aimlessly from classroom to classroom, carrying the course keyboard on a trolley. It sounded bleak and undignified. I’m sure things will have improved. They have to have!
Anyway, my great sadness last night was that there weren’t more people in the audience. This was not the bustling event I remember from the past, where sometimes I’d worry that there might not be a slot left for me to perform my song in. I think perhaps only 8 people performed, and very few writers had turned up merely to support. It’s made me resolve to go more often because I feel it’s such an important event. And if any musical theatre writers are reading this blog. Go. Attend. Show solidarity. Us musical theatre writers need to raise our heads above the parapet.