Investors should look to emerging, home-grown talent for the next musical theatre money-spinner. Take a risk, says producer Andy Barnes – the pitch for a hit show might be languishing in your inbox as you read this article
Someone I have met once has just offered me $1 million. Sounds dodgy, right? Criminal, underhand, or, at the very least, made up. But no, it’s an actual, legitimate offer with a full set of six zeros.
The number of zeros is somewhat symbolic here as, sadly, it’s not destined to come out of a cashpoint in the near future, but instead has been offered as an investment in a musical I’m co-producing called Six. It’s still exciting nonetheless, and an incredible amount of money on offer for a show that only a year ago very few people had heard of.
To add some context, I’m executive producer (a grand title I gifted myself when I realised how much work was involved) of a non-profit musical theatre development company, Perfect Pitch. We work solely with emerging British writers and creatives to help develop new ideas for musicals through readings and workshops, forging partnerships with other cash-strapped – sorry, subsidised – companies and venues to try to make the musicals stronger and give them more chance of having a future life. So, basically, we work with unknown writers on new ideas, with unknown songs and a very limited budget.
To date, any monetary offer with more than one zero is still very gratefully received at Perfect Pitch and every penny is spent helping to evolve the next generation of young musical theatre writers. We’ve tried several initiatives over the years to raise funds to help take shows to production level: auctions, membership clubs, even pimping out our wonderful patrons Stephen Fry and Michael Ball to aid the cause. But, despite some small successes along the way, it transpires that the biggest incentive for helping people part with their money is to convince them they can make more of it. So, my business partner Wendy and I, with the support of a handful of investors who had followed our work with Perfect Pitch over the years, set up Global Musicals Ltd, thinking the name would make us sound bigger and better than we actually are and hoping it might convince other people to back us.
We all know producing theatre is high-risk. The warnings you have to plaster across any documents for investors are just one step short of the graphic images we see on cigarette packages – designed to put them off. But this article is not intended to bemoan the absence of support funding. There are some incredible people who, for many different reasons, open their wallets or purses to enable an artist they like to fulfil their dreams.
And we thank them. And so should you.
Whether an individual donor making a regular monthly payment to their local theatre, or the wealthy musical theatre fan who buys into a tax-efficient investment scheme (I recommend the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme), there is so much work available to us, the audience, as a result of their generosity and goodwill.
So, ‘What’s your point?’, I hear you cry as you run towards me with your chequebooks.
Well, about 18 months ago I went out to raise investment for Six. Along with Kenny Wax and George Stiles, we decided we would take a risk on Six, a new British musical – a student production at the time – that we saw in a hotel room in Edinburgh in 2018. I’ve produced a few shows over the years – all musicals – but I’m not a vastly experienced commercial producer. I didn’t have a little black book of investors to go to – just a handful of people I’d met over the years through other people. The money I needed to raise was not insignificant, but was certainly nowhere near a million dollars.
After months of meetings, cancelled coffees, follow-up emails, more follow-up emails, and a final ‘I’m not actually stalking you, but I just want to let you know I’m now giving up on a reply from you’ emails, I raised investment from just two people – neither of whom are from the UK.
Out of the nearly 40 people I spoke to, just two of them felt it was a good idea to back an unknown British show
Out of the nearly 40 people I spoke to or met, just two of them felt it was a good idea to back an unknown British show, by unknown writers, with no ‘star’ casting. I understand why. It’s risky, and when you’ve worked hard to earn the big bucks, you don’t want to give them away lightly. Neither would I. But nor would I finally reply to that email once I’d seen the show on This Morning and ask if it’s still possible to invest.
But, here’s my point: When we set up Perfect Pitch 15 years ago, there were a handful of small organisations backing new musicals. Mercury Musical Developments and the newly formed Musical Theatre Matters were the most profiled. But it’s a different landscape now. We’ve woken up and looked beyond the mega-hit as the benchmark and started to explore new ideas and new, relevant stories, telling them in new ways and in new places. At the heart of this work is a generation that has something to say and the talent to back it up.
The UK has initiatives for musical theatre writers that include From Page to Stage, Signal at the Hospital Club, Book, Music and Lyrics, the Other Palace studio, MT Fest and BEAM, which is curated by MMD and Musical Theatre Network, and they all continue to provide opportunities to find and support the new writers out there. And we need to invest in them, from the start.
I’m pretty confident I would already have $1million if I were given a buck for every time someone in our industry asked me where the ‘British Hamilton’ is. I’ll tell you where it is. It’s in a small hotel room in Edinburgh, or in a studio space in Victoria on a Tuesday evening, or it might be attached to that email in your inbox that you haven’t yet found the time to reply to.
You just need to be prepared to go and find it, then invest in it – before it’s a hit.
Six is booking until July 2020 at London’s Arts Theatre. Details: sixthemusical.com