By Francis Matthews
A few years ago, members of the MMD board set out to write a mission statement. What in a few neat words was Mercury all about? Where – as Stephen Fry might have said – did it place its dainty foot on the ascent of creative heights? There was much discussion, and everyone agreed that the statement should indicate how challenging (or maybe we should allow ourselves to say ‘difficult’?) it is to write a musical, and what a solitary occupation it can be. In our pondering vein, striving to convey the essence of the creative process – we noticed that families of metaphor kept noisily attracting our attention. One of the most insistent was the metaphor of a journey. Writers might know their final destination but have no idea of the route they would take to get there (or the reverse); they might think they know where they’re off to, but stopping-off points suddenly grab their attention and prove more interesting; turbulence; lack of attention from cabin crew; the exhilaration of discovery; the delights of adapting a travel plan. A friend of mine set off for New York last week. He arrived at Heathrow in good time, which was fortunate, because he discovered he was flying from Gatwick: good destination, but he was starting from the wrong place (maybe that chorus of singing estate agents wasn’t such a great opening to your show about the Highland clearances). The love affair was another family of metaphor – you fall head over heels for a subject; spend a lot of time together; have great days, tricky days; don’t want to see anyone else, then feel suffocated; worry that it’s just about the sex; worry that it’s not ‘about’ anything; and of course have visionary intimations of paradise. Then there was the metaphor of the family itself: bringing up baby; the light touch and the firm hand; realising the thing you’ve created has a life of its own; anxiety about what its turning into; elation as it finally learns to walk.
In all of these, we know that some kind of help or support is very useful. Sure – there are creative supermen who labour alone and produce monumental work in lonely garrets, but I’m not sure many of these are writing musicals. The musical needs to involve so many people in its life – cast, director, choreographer, musicians, arrangers, musical director, producers (let’s not forget them), backers, audience – complete solitude doesn’t seem like the right environment for success. The journey is more exciting in the company of someone who shares your enthusiasm, travel agents can be useful, guides, consulates, language schools… If you’re in love, a good friend and confidant can be essential, or at the very least a book of poetry (maybe not Philip Larkin). And people turn in every direction for ideas and tips on how to stop little Freddie strangling the cat.
Mercury is there to help and support, and as I look back at the year’s work – I’m wildly impressed at what the small but dynamic team who run the organisation have achieved. Victoria will update you on all of that, but I want to assure you that the three people who occupy that tiny garret (we call it Lesley) in the heart of the west end – never stop imagining ways in which to support the immense pool of talent represented by our membership. Talks and masterclasses, nuts and bolts sessions, placements at theatres, showcases, an amazing website, information galore, networking opportunities, development opportunities…. As Mole said to Ratty that first day in the boat – stop, stop, this is too much.
Mercury only exists to serve the membership, and – as a board – we are most grateful to the members, who inspire us and our creative management to find ways of helping YOU make ‘that musical’ as good as it can be.