This week, my client Nick Winston had Loserville, a brand new British musical that he has choreographed, open in the West End. Nick and I began working together over two years ago, and this is a big moment for him, where he finds himself emerging as one of our hottest home-grown choreographic talents.
Mark Shenton recently wrote:
Nick Winston, earning his dues in regional theatre, is fast turning into one of best stage choreographers we have. Really wonderful work!
— Mark Shenton (@ShentonStage) December 2, 2011
That statement highlights that Nick’s current success was not earnt overnight.
So how does one become a West End choreographer? It was a question I asked myself when I opened the creatives division of our agency seven years ago. In all honesty, when we started, I wasn’t really sure how, but there was one way to find out: to just go for it.
Our agency was originally underneath the umbrella of the production company Cole Kitchenn Ltd, who produced and managed West End plays and musicals. I was working in the production department with Guy Kitchenn (now executive director at the St James Theatre), and it occurred to me how well placed we would be to represent creative talent (directors, choreographers, designers, musical directors etc).
We needed to ensure a fair distance to avoid conflicts of interest, so I stopped working for production and opened the agency as a separate limited company – but there’s no question that we were sometimes uniquely placed to make creative suggestions, either on in-house projects or through our producer contacts.
Lizzi Gee for instance, who has since become a leading choreographer, secured a role as musical stager on Daddy Cool at the Shaftesbury, when she was working as a swing on Mary Poppins. While only Lizzi’s talent meant the director and producer agreed to offer her the job, the opportunity we found her fast-tracked her career progression: she’s now working at the RSC.
After that first success, I was emboldened to develop this arm of the business, and I looked at the agencies out there. While there weren’t (and still aren’t) many that specialise in this field, the few that existed were doing very well, but I felt that there was probably room for someone new.
One of my biggest thrills to see someone create new work on the London stage, work that has come from their own imagination
But I would say that it was the hardest area of the agency to evolve, partly because whereas for actors, we suggest them for roles to a casting director, usually upon receipt of a breakdown, with creatives they tend to be booked by word of mouth or on past relationships – and so new opportunities don’t arrive on your desk automatically very often.
I began by signing talent, all of whom were dance captains, or assistant/associates at that point, but who I believed could choreograph in their own right. Over time, they each slowly but surely moved up the ladder. Besides Lizzi, I represented Andrew Wright from the point where he was still performing to the moment where he was booked to choreograph Singin in the Rain, and I’m proud to have been a part of his journey.
Those early successes helped attract other established talents. The creative list expanded to include directors, musical directors, designers and the final stage of our evolution was when the whole agency became part of the ROAR Group, which linked us to a broadcast and branding agency and helped offer a 360 degree service across not just theatre but also television and other mediums. This helped attract such talents as Arlene Phillips to our agency, whose theatrical productions are performed all over the world, while her broadcasting career continues to flourish.
It remains one of my biggest thrills to see someone create new work on the London stage, work that has come from their own imagination – and there is no better vindication of what one does as an agent than to help a client realise that.
For Nick, Loserville is the culmination of years of work, but it is also just the beginning of what I know will be a long career. I also hope that the stories I have cited, all of whom began as performers, inspire many of you, the readers, to pursue any creative ambition you might have, however outlandish they might seem today. They did it – so why can’t you?