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UK could ‘fill every stage’ with British musicals – Beam:2016 conference

Tamar Broadbent at Beam:2016 Tamar Broadbent at Beam:2016
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The UK has the talent to fill “every stage in the country” wth work from British composers, without the need for American imports.

This was one of the conclusions of Beam:2016, a two-day event held at the Park Theatre in London, aimed at showcasing new musical theatre. It was jointly organised by Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Developments, and more than 40 new musicals were showcased and pitched to producers.

At a discussion session to conclude the event, which will return in 2018, producer Jim Zalles, from theatre company Theatre Bench, said: “This event has proven that we have more than enough talent to fill every stage in this country with new work by British, emerging artists. We don’t need to import the latest trend from America. We can do British work in the theatres in this country, and that is what we should be doing.”

However, Zalles suggested that one of the biggest challenges was audience development. He claimed that when he staged a new show, the company struggled to get audiences in for the first two weeks of a run.

“That is where we, as independent producers, need support: getting audiences to take a risk on something interesting and new and different,” he said.

Kerry Michael, artistic director of Theatre Royal Stratford East, also spoke at the event, and revealed that his venue had recently had three musicals that failed to get a West End transfer because of the high ticket prices in London.

“We would have to put ticket prices up to a certain point and that would have taken away a whole kind of audience who would come and see the show,” he said, and questioned whether audiences in the West End were getting more diverse.

He added that venues should define their own success and “unlock themselves from the ecology of thinking bigger is best”.

Peter Rowe, artistic director of the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, used the event to urge venues to make better use of a show’s acting company to develop new work during a long run.

He said there was “spare capacity” to workshop new shows with performers that are resident with a theatre for a run, and highlighted how the venue’s composer-in-residence had been able to workshop some ideas with a company staging a pantomime at the theatre.

“I often think that when you put on a musical, after press night… there is some spare capacity to try out new material. It’s something an acting company is keen to do,” he said.

Musicals that were pitched or showcased at the even included Wasted, by Chris Ash and Carl Miller, about the Brontes, and The List, written by Tamar Broadbent.

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