AGM 2016 – Chair’s Report

December 8th, 2016

By Francis Matthews

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m Francis Matthews – chair of this august society. Thank you for coming along, and representing all the members who aren’t here. We like to think they’re all too busy with productions of their latest work, and I for one am comforted by this thought.  Is it fair to say that the only threat to our members’ professional ambitions are George Stiles and Anthony Drewe – two of the founders of Mercury – who by the end of next year will have a show on at every theatre in London.  Victoria will tell you that as a result of this, we are increasing our outreach to regional centres.

I’ve been involved with Mercury for more years than I care to recall (I remember Noel Coward as a fresh-faced recruit), and I’m delighted to say that the organization has never been in such rude health. We are amazed and impressed and grateful that we now have 437 members. Our ability to advance the cause of musical theatre, and create an environment and mood where your work can be heard, appreciated and enjoyed has a great deal to do with the size of the constituency that we represent, and of course the commitment that you all show to Mercury. Our funders and supporters continue to be delighted and slightly flushed by the high levels of participation we enjoy, by the willingness of members to put themselves forward in competition, and by the enthusiastic and helpful response you’re generous enough to give us about the classes, workshops and events which Mercury organizes.  So the first point I’d like to make is that we have an excellent membership in terms of quantity, quality and commitment. Without you, without them, Mercury is nothing.

Even WITH them – it’s a chilly world without funding. Your subscriptions and contributions of course provide the invaluable basis for the services and events that we provide. But we have been able to achieve so much more as a result of the funding we receive from the Arts Council. Their officers have engaged whole-heartedly with Mercury – always ready with advice, solutions, and support. And of course – money. As Woody Allen said – ‘Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons’.  Actually, MMD and MTN our sister organization are a bit of an ACE Officer magnet: one of our officers switched sides and is now the excellent director of MTN – with the result that we now know what all those forms actually MEAN.  Our great gratitude and appreciation then to the Arts Council, and to the other organizations and individuals who have given us grants, gifts and donations.

Our board contribute their time and expertise freely and with great generosity.  John Cohen hosts our meetings at Clintons in Drury Lane, providing us with a comfortable and elegant board room, and (I may say) an excellent selection of biscuits and soft drinks. Oh – and of course – essential legal advice (why did I think of the biscuits first?). Roger Fairhead has taken over from Tony Bogood as our financial watchdog – and devotes more time to our accounts and our bank balance than he should (you have a family to think of, Roger!). A particular thank you to Joanne Benjamin for her courageous management of the S&S awards this year.

Lastly – I cannot adequately thank the team that runs Mercury. Victoria Saxton – the Artistic director, Sarah Crook – membership manager, and Martin Jackson – administration manager.  A long list of adjectives should be nailed to their office door – enthusiastic, resourceful, tireless, inventive, thorough, friendly, funny, knowledgeable, well turned out, clean, tidy and an ornament to any social gathering.  The board and I actively look forward to seeing them at our meetings.  Victoria has more ideas and plans than we can keep up with: her imaginative pursuit of good schemes that benefit our members is remarkable – as is her pursuit of funders, supporters, speakers, workshop leaders, theatre managers, producers, and quite a lot of the time – her chair.   I do not know where Sarah gets her energy and focus. Many of you will have experienced her talents first hand. She has masterminded and nurtured the increase in our membership, and every day does sterling work looking after member’s interests, listening to their concerns, directing their enquiries where they will be best answered.  Martin handles a great deal of the extensive administration involved in being a funded membership organization, and does so with a commitment and enthusiasm for which we are endlessly grateful. And he is everywhere… turn up to the reading of a new musical at a primary school in Devises and there he is. Or the preview of a new musical in the west end (inevitably by Stiles and Drew) and it is his foot you will tread on as you arrive late to the middle of row H.

Like many of you and of our board – I spent half a day at this year’s BEAM event at the Park Theatre. I was bowled over by the wealth of talent, the originality and invention on display, the numbers of people, the effortless organization involved. If Mercury did nothing else except this showcase of – what was it? – 40 musicals, it would have justified its existence ten times over. SO MANY directors, composers, writers, lyricists, producers in one place,  all listening, applauding, networking, discussing, performing. It was genuinely thrilling. I’d like to finish by congratulating you and everyone who makes that event possible, and this organization possible.

Fantastic. Well done.

And now – Victoria Saxton – to say something of what we’ve been up to, and what’s coming up….