Spotlight: Sara Eker

December 20th, 2018

How long have you been a member of MMD?
Only about 2 years, with my writing partner, Giles Fernando, and they’ve opened so many doors for us already!

How and when did you start writing for Musical Theatre?
Only about 2 years ago. I’ve been working as a pop music writer for about 20 years, having hits with, amongst others, Atomic Kitten, The Honeyz, Dannii Minogue, and selling about 4 million records around the world. Giles is a very old friend of mine, and is a wonderful playwright. He asked if I could put some music to one of his plays. I couldn’t see how it would work with that particular project, but we started looking for something else we could work on together. I’d been writing a lot of country music, which I love, so we wrote a country musical, ‘Country Dream’, which we were lucky enough to showcase at The Theatre Royal, Stratford at BEAM 2018, with the help of MMD!

What are you working on at the moment?
We are still doing some more work on ‘Country Dream’, and we’re going to Nashville in the New Year, to work with some people on it over there.
We’re also working on our Spanish pop musical, ‘Barcelona’, which we’ve just showcased at The Criterion in Piccadilly, thanks to the lovely Greg Mosse there, who does so much to support new writers. We also have a TV musical we’re working on, and a couple of new ideas we’re starting in the New Year.

Do you have a regular writing routine – a time of day when you write best?
As I have a 9 year old daughter, we try and write between 10am – 4pm, before I go and pick her up from school! Giles knows an awful lot about the psychology of creativity, and apparently 5-6 hours at a time of concentrated writing is the optimum time for your brain to produce it’s best work! Any longer, and your brain becomes less productive! We also break up the writing sessions by going for a walk and brainstorming as we’re walking. The exercise creates good blood flow to the brain, again making the time more productive!

When you have a new idea for a show, what is the first thing you do?
We normally start with a brainstorming session, work out a rough sketch of the story, and pick a style of music we’d like to have running through it. I enjoy writing with a specific music genre in mind. I.e. country music, or Spanish pop music, for our last 2 projects. Then we do a massive amount of character development – we’ll write back stories for each of them, and work out their character traits. Once we really know the characters, it’s much easier for Giles to start working on dialogue, and for me to start writing the songs the way the character would sing them. We usually just start at the beginning, and get rough drafts of the script, and songs for each scene, and work through to the end. Then we just keep re-drafting and re-working songs till we’re happy with it all……!

What aspect of the craft is most challenging for you?
Coming from a pop background, making the songs expositional enough has been challenging for me to get my head around, and making sure each song takes the character on a journey, but still keeping the pop sensibility that I enjoy listening to! Also, it takes a huge amount of time to write a whole musical, so you really have to keep the momentum and excitement going through that process, and just seeing it through to the end. But I massively enjoy the process, and working with Giles is a huge load of fun too! We’re good at helping each other along, when we get a bit stuck!

What do you do when writer’s block strikes?
We’ll go for a walk, or jump on my trampoline in the garden, or have a change of scene. If we’re just doing script work, we often work in cafes, so we’ll have a walk to a different cafe if we get stuck. A little break and some exercise usually gets us going again!

What one piece of craft advice would you like to share?
Coming from a pop background, I always try and make the songs hooky, and hope the audience will walk away remembering at least some of the songs! Also, be really critical, and not too precious about the songs. Sometimes we’ve written a whole song, and just thought, you know what, it’s just not good enough, and we throw it away, and start again! It helps to have basic recordings of all the songs on a playlist, and listen through to them. The strong ones will stand out, and the weaker ones just need to be got rid of!

Which musical theatre writer has had the biggest influence on your career?
Through MMD we’ve been lucky enough to have Masterclasses with Claude-Michel Schonberg, writer of (amongst other great musicals) Les Miserables. Also with Dan Gillespie Sells (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), and Stiles and Drew. All have been massively inspiring! Also love the way Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow have written, ‘Six’. It’s such a great piece of writing!!

If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change/improve in the sector?
Would be amazing to have more funding available for new writers!

What are you listening to on your ipod at the moment?
I’m LOVING the soundtrack to “A Star Is Born”, some amazingly moving songs on it!

What is the best thing about MMD membership?
MMD have really given us huge amounts of encouragement and support to keep going! We’ve met lots of other MMD writers, at socials, like the Open Mic we hosted. They really create a community of writers, who can all support and encourage each other. Through MMD, we’ve showcased at BEAM, had some amazing Masterclasses, and had one of our songs in the final for the Stiles and Drew Best New Song Prize at The Savoy. We’re hugely thankful for all the opportunities they’ve given us in the last 2 years!