Stage managers may be hidden but they remain crucial (your views, April 5)
I would like to reassure Barrie Stacey (Letters, February 15) that, evidenced from my many visits to drama school, conservatoire, and university stage management courses every year, the assistant stage manager role is alive and well and to be seen working on student productions and showcases across the country. Perhaps, in typical stage manager fashion, they are doing the job so well they are not coming to the attention of their casts.
ASMs are of course far from an endangered species in the industry. The SMA National Stage Management Awards individual winner in 2017, Sarah Coates, is an excellent ASM and was awarded our top award (nominated by her cast among others) for being so.
I sincerely hope students, actors and the industry at large might use this as their cue to take a moment to get to know the ASMs on their shows and learn about the valuable work they do.
Stage Management Association
Adult amdram deserves more
Andrew Lloyd Webber, quite rightly, laments the fact that some schools are charging their pupils to study music (Lloyd Webber: School wrong to charge pupils to take music, January 11). It is shocking that such a life-enhancing art form is subject to the whims of the marketplace in the education of our youngsters.
Learning, however, is not confined to the young. With an ever-ageing population, many adults are turning to music as a form of relaxation from the rigours of life. The majority of these adults are not professional musicians, but amateurs, I use the term in its purist sense – meaning people who are performing music for the love of it and not for financial gain. It seems to me that this sector of the population – adult amateurs – is at best forgotten or at worst actively discriminated against.
I am the chairman of an amateur musical theatre company with a membership of 100, ranging from ages eight to 80. We perform musicals in a 440-seat professional theatre to the people of County Durham – an economically deprived area. For many of our patrons, we are their only contact with live theatre, as the prices charged by professional companies are prohibitive. We want theatre to be as inclusive as possible and try to keep our ticket prices as low as possible, so that everyone can enjoy some wonderful works.
Unfortunately, we are prevented from staging many modern works as they are not available for adults to perform. They are, however, available for youth groups to stage Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera spring to mind.
At the theatre we use, there is a very successful youth group that is able to stage these shows, but we are not allowed to because we are adults. The youth group performs in the same theatre, will sell potentially the same number of seats, at virtually the same price as us, yet we are not allowed to use this material because of our age. This strikes me as totally wrong, especially at a time when we are supposed to be trying to show equality to all sectors of the community. Our audiences, which tend to be different to the youth group’s, deserve to be shown these works.
Education does not stop when you leave school, it is lifelong and everyone, irrespective of age, deserves, in a caring society, to have open access to it. A great help would be if the rights holders to many modern musicals would allow adult groups to perform their works. This would be a start for the silent majority.
Chairman, Durham Musical Theatre Company
Venues too small for new musicals
As you clearly state in your article (Richard Jordan: The UK’s disrespect for musicals is holding us back) we have talented writers in the UK but they don’t have the opportunities to exhibit their work in this country. However, it’s not the loss of various Arts Council England-funded programmes (as you argue) that is the sole problem.
Musicals are, for the most part, commercial ventures. In the US most of the home-grown new musicals started in the Off-Broadway houses, where they are funded using the standard commercial model and then moved on to Broadway after good reviews and word of mouth. In the UK our Off-West End system is not comparable. Most of the venues we classify as Off-West End would be classified as Off-Off Broadway in the US due to their seating capacity. Until we start building Off-West End venues with a reasonably commercial audience capacity (250-400 seats), where a producer at least has the possibility of breaking even, we have little chance of attracting investment and we will continue to struggle to produce new works.
I think you’ve rather summed up the problem the UK has with musical theatre by saying “a number of interesting UK composers and lyricists are coming through”. The big problem, as will have been noted by anybody who attended BEAM Festival, is that so often composers and lyricists think they can make a show without a book writer.
David James set up Book Music and Lyrics to address this issue but it still holds true that most musicals – many of which are by household names – that don’t work are poor not because they have bad lyrics, or awful music, but because the books don’t provide the structure in which everything else has the space to function properly.
Quotes of the week
“There is a stage in theatre when you start a new job and you look round the room and there seem to be these 12-year-olds that are the rest of the cast, but it’s also what’s good about acting – it keeps you young; that’s why John Gielgud was acting a few weeks before he died at the age of 96.”
Actor Antony Sher (Times)
“Leadership has changed in the last few years. Organisations function best when people are empowered. I’m reliant on their expertise and spend a lot of time listening. You have to be very clear about what you want, and the difference you want to make, but you can’t be arrogant.”
National Theatre of Scotland artistic director Jackie Wylie (Guardian)
“There is something about American plays that ticks the boxes for me. They tend to be dark, serious things but they always make me laugh. The thing I would like to do one day would probably be a Chekhov. I can do funny, but nothing sits better in my body than something that is depressing.”
Actor Patsy Ferran (Telegraph)
“Do a lot of meditation, therapy, checking in with yourself and being your own cheerleader. Get on your own side, because how can anyone else be on your side if team member number one is locking herself in the loos and not coming out?”
Actor Justine Mitchell on dealing with stage fright (Evening Standard)
“I was reckoned to be bright so I avoided asking questions in case I exposed my ignorance. I realised the unhelpfulness of this and it’s advice I always pass on to students. In reality the question is rarely ‘stupid’ and is often something that lots of others in the room don’t understand but are too cool or scared to ask.”
RADA director Edward Kemp (i)
“I was at the Bush at the time – in the middle of a massive rebuilding project. The next thing I knew, there was a piece in a paper saying I was a candidate for the Donmar. I did a total meerkat. I was covered in brick dust and hadn’t even thought of it until that moment. Then I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should give it a go.’”
Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke (Guardian)
“I lost all ability to do anything. My whole body shut down. I was terrified, so I got checked into the Priory because I became afraid to get out of my bed. I would get an Uber from the Priory to the theatre.”
Comedian Bella Younger on having a breakdown as she prepared for an Edinburgh show (Telegraph)
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