AGM 2016 – Executive Director’s Report

December 8th, 2016

By Victoria Saxton

Fundamentally, MMD exists as a showcase and development agency. We are your champions and advocates to the industry, we are your personal cheerleaders in that we want to support and enable you to write your best musical and achieve your personal writing goals. I like to say that MMD is about craft, career and community and in the last year we’ve really tried to focus on making sure we provide support for you in those areas.

We’ve especially ramped up our main craft development arm which is our ‘Nuts & Bolts’ programme. We’ve had sessions on writing lyrical and musical hooks from writer and professor Rob Hartman, sessions on Bookwriting from NYU faculty member and playwright Sybille Pearson, MMD board member John Sparks and our own Eliot Davis. But ‘Nuts & Bolts’ not only covers craft basics – we want to give you a comprehensive over-view of the business and the history of the genre in which you work. We’ve recently finished a fabulous 8-week course on the History of British Musical Theatre facilitated by MMD member Sue Pearse, which included a guided tour of the V&A Theatre Archives. We have an incredible heritage and history of musicals in this country, which is often eclipsed by the work of our American friends, so I for one am proud to celebrate and continue enabling the creation of excellent British musicals via the work we do with you, our MMD members.

So,  in the spirit of furthering our knowledge of the history of our chosen medium – I thought I’d make this speech educational – as well as covering the required criteria of an AGM , so –hidden subtly within this speech are the titles of 11 British musicals. I’ll buy a drink for the first person to correctly guess all 11!

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly BEAM:2016 and the pitching days that led to the selection of the work showcased over two days at the Park Theatre.

We held over 14 pitching days at key producing venues across the UK from The Dundee Rep and West Yorkshire Playhouse, to Soho Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East. We saw approximately 140 pitches, the majority of which were done by MMD members.

I cannot tell you how much I admire every single person who came to those pitching days, some of you were literally shaking with nerves, there were tears, near fainting spells as well as laughter and cheer, it wasn’t all bad.  But to those of you who were shaking with nerves you are – in my opinion- the most courageous among us.

What we do is scary; exposing yourself and your work to an industry panel is really scary. To some of you it must have felt like a trial by jury – and I’ve never been more proud to be your representative than I was at the pitching days. And regardless of whether or not you had work presented at BEAM itself – I hope you’re proud of yourselves too – because you showed up. You had the courage to be vulnerable. And isn’t that the essence of being a writer, of what we do?

The two days at the Park Theatre, as Francis said, were a fantastic celebration of our community and, as one artistic director said “a game changer”. It made the industry sit up and pay attention to the incredible wealth of talent here in the UK. We were trending on Twitter for 2 days. And nearly two thirds of the writers who presented work at BEAM have gone on to have commissions, workshops and made useful industry connections. A recent success story is ‘Wasted’ by Carl Miller and Chris Ash. They pitched at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and as a direct result of that recently had a workshop production at that same theatre, and won the Kevin Spacey Foundation Award.

We will soon be announcing for the venue for BEAM:2018 so watch this space.

Other highlights of the year have included the expansion of the Stiles + Drewe Prize to include the Mentorship Award, sponsored by MTI Europe. The Best New Song Prize is still going strong, we had 128 entries – the winning song was Back to School from ‘Heart of Winter’ by MMD Member Tim Connor. As usual, the Gala, this year held at the Novello Theatre, was a terribly glamorous night, hosted by the utterly gorgeous Julian Ovenden. Oh how I wish I could refer to him as the boyfriend!

We received 59 entries for the inaugural Mentorship Award – the winning show was ‘The Wicker Husband’ by MMD Members Darren Clark and Rhys Jennings. The writing team spent a week in France with Stiles & Drewe, focusing on the structure of the show, and earlier this month had the first of two progress labs where they shared 30 minutes of material with MMD members, and received feedback from an industry panel – one of whom was composer Adam Cork who is a recent addition to the MMD Board. They will receive an industry showcase in April at the St James Theatre. Applications are now open for the Stiles + Drewe Prize 2017, so get writing.

2016 marks our last year hosting The S&S Award – ‘Here’ by MMD members Alex Young and Kate Marlais won the award in 2016 and this year they had their workshop week at Curve Leicester and will receive their industry showcase in 2017 in London. ‘Forest Boy’ (which won the award in 2013) is going on to great success – and was presented as part of this year’s New York Musical Festival.

This has also been a wonderful year for the Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer Scheme. Since we last met, Becky Applin finished her residency at Mercury Theatre, Colchester and New Wolsey, Ipswich. Her time as resident composer has been invaluable; not only because of the connections she made with various producers and directors but it has also (fingers crossed) led to a new commission and as a direct result of her work as resident composer, Becky now has an agent. Harry Blake has now started at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and we are currently shortlisting for the Royal Shakespeare Company. We now have theatres approaching us, asking if they can be a host venue. So, if our funders continue to give us more than half- a-six-pence, we hope to continue to run this scheme and include a pilot Resident Librettist Scheme in coming years.

And amongst those highlights, we continued to run the ever vital Advanced Writers’ Lab, and we hope to expand and create another Writers’ Lab for our Professional Writer Associates, as well as begin a series of Open Writers’ Labs for our Writer Associate Members. We also held our regular series of Lionel Bart Memorial Masterclasses – including fabulous sessions with West End MD Joel Fram and Director Kate Golledge – who you’ll hear from in a minute. Our masterclasses and seminars are a key part of how we develop your craft – and so we were delighted that Claude-Michel Schönberg again led two masterclasses with eight writing teams, a two-part masterclass that we now hope is firmly part of the MMD offering.

One of my personal highlights of the year has been the introduction of our MMD Writers’ Open Mic Night, held at the Phoenix Artist Club. Again, I’m always humbled and delighted by the bravery and sheer talent of our members. We will be continuing to host the Open Mic Nights next year, so please do come along; they’re free to MMD members and are a great way to connect with your community in a cheerful and safe environment. We’ll be hosting a special Christmas Open Mic on Monday 12th December so please join us.

Our aim this year has been to provide a member’s event every 4-6 weeks – well, I think we exceeded that. As Francis said, I have a lot of ideas, a fact which often tries the patience of team MMD – but if it wasn’t for the tireless work of team MMD in the shape of Sarah Crook and Martin Jackson none of these ideas would ever take shape. Over the past year they have gone above and beyond the call of duty, especially during BEAM when they worked tirelessly until the early hours in our little office, and the success of BEAM is in large part thanks to them. Martin is no hired man – he has a genuine passion and impressive knowledge of the cannon of musical theatre, he has a particular gift for castings so do ask his advice on that area if you need it. Likewise, Sarah has to juggle her roles with MMD and MTN, sometimes it must feel like a game of chess – but she always gives 110%. We couldn’t do what we do, and I couldn’t do my job, if it wasn’t for you two – so thank you.

Believe it or not, we’re currently in the process of applying for our next four years’ of funding from Arts Council England – which would cover 2018-2022. So, I’ve had to think a lot about what the future looks like for us. When filling out endless funding applications it can be tempting to wish one could sail away – but then I’m reminded of all the talent we have here in merrie England among our MMD membership and I wish so much for you.

In the coming year, as I mentioned, we hope to continue to expand and offer events to you ever 4-6 weeks – and importantly the events we offer are in direct response to feedback and the needs of our membership. The most frequently asked questions I’ve had from new members this year is “I’ve written a musical, now what?” – So we’re going to focus our winter programme of events entirely on the topic of “I’ve written a musical, now what?”. Details of this series of talks will be making its way to your inbox soon. Do keep an eye on your emails, this year we expanded our monthly ‘Spotlight’ piece into a newsletter which still contains a focus on two members, as well as updates about what’s been going on in our world and what’s coming up. Our use of social media has continued to grow and be a prime way in which we communicate with our members – as of this morning, we have 4,654 Twitter followers (this time last year it was 3,333) and our Facebook  page has 997 followers on the main page, and 223 members in our closed group. I  must confess we’re feeling rather proud of ourselves for live-streaming some of our events this year – as our techno know-how increases we hope to be able to record or live-stream the majority of our events, ensuring those who live outside London and our international members can take part in them. We’re also going to start revamping the backstage members’ area of our website – so do let us know what information you’d like to see there.

Next year we will be holding our industry conference at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith on the Tuesday 28th March. We want this to be a different type of conference; more practical, so it’s going to be made up of case  studies of  several new musicals, staged recently in the UK, discussing their business models and creative development with their producers and wider creative teams. There will also be an industry panel on audience development for new musical theatre productions – considering what success – current and future – looks like in this area. I do hope you’ll join us.

I also hope that over the coming year we’ll be able to increase the number of showcase opportunities for you all – especially in non-BEAM years. So at the moment we’re in talks with several fringe theatres and funders seeing how we can make that happen. As always, this is a team effort, we’re a community, so if you ever have any ideas or connections do please let us know.

It’s safe to say that ‘fings ain’t wot they used to be in the world of musical theatre. I for one think that historians will look back at 2016 as the year that saw the re-emergence and prominence of the British musical theatre, and BEAM and the work of MMD members at large, will be a key factor in that. MMD may no longer be in its salad days – after all we’ve been going since 1992 – but I truly believe there are exciting times ahead. Thank you.