Katy Lipson, producer of From Page to Stage at London’s Landor Theatre, talks about the future of musical theatre in the UK.
Over the years, I have dedicated a lot of time and effort to new musical theatre. Primarily, this is because I love the genre – but also because in the material I see everything that has always made musical theatre so thrilling. The pieces sometimes push the boundaries of theatrical possibility in exciting ways. They find new angles to approach classic stories, and are a bastion of original scriptwriting. They can connect material, the performers and the audience in ways which no other medium can.
Of course, from a producer’s perspective, musical theatre can be attractively lucrative and grosses a large percentage of the West End’s total box office takings. Everyone is always hungry for the next big hit, and vying for the necessary investment to make it possible. New musical theatre, then, is more than a passion for me – it is surely the future of commercial British theatre and it is in our interests to help it thrive.
It was for these reasons that in 2013 I launched From Page to Stage, a festival of new musical theatre in conjunction with the Landor Theatre in Clapham, south London. My goals were to showcase the amazing breadth of writing and performing talent in the genre, to provide a great opportunity for audience development, and to create a future for some of these works. Following a hugely successful event, I am currently in the process of putting the finishing touches to the 2014 season which opens next week.
From Page to Stage 2014 runs from 10 February–9 March and will demonstrate the versatility, depth and marketability of new musicals. I am excited to present two brand new musicals – one American and one British – in fully staged productions for full six-day runs. Olivia Thompson and Chris Whitehead’s Before the Night is Through interrogates the delicate balance of relationships between guests at a lavish showbiz party in 1935, whilst Beth Blatt and Jenny Giering’s The Mistress Cycle visits 12th century China, Renaissance France and contemporary Manhattan to explore what being a concubine really means.
As well as fully staged productions like these, From Page to Stage provides a vital opportunity for musicals in development to be tried out on a paying audience. I’m pleased to showcase three very different productions from the 25–27 February, performed by one repertory cast: Dancing Shadows by playwright Ariel Dorfman (music and lyrics by Eric Woolfson), Nicola Jane Buttigieg’s Beowulf in Soho and Caroline Wigmore’s Van Winkle: A Folk Musical. As well as giving their creators a great opportunity to test the water, showcases are great for audiences too – giving a sneak peek into the creative processes behind some of our favourite theatre hits.
The season is completed by three staged readings: Stephen Cole and David Evans’ Merman’s Apprentice (featuring Tony Award-winner Elizabeth Seal, David Burt and Kim Criswell), Simon Warne and Andy Collyer’s Claus – The Musical, based on The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L Frank Baum and Charles Miller and Tim Sanders’ remarkable adaptation of Rebecca West’s novella The Return of the Soldier.
I am opening the season with a launch night with several composers and a piano hosted by writer and performer Tamar Broadbent, followed a few days later by a special preview screening of Big Society: the Musical (followed by an exclusive Q&A) which is set to hit our screens later this year.
So what does From Page to Stage’s broad array of shows and formats hope to achieve? There are primarily three things in mind.
First and foremost, I want to give audiences a chance to appreciate the amazing wealth of talent on their doorsteps. By having a range of product in one place for an extended period of time, From Page to Stage encourages audiences to dip in and out, to see musicals in a new and exciting light, to understand the diversity and dynamism of the genre.
Second, I want performers, writers and composers to be noticed. I received more than 120 submissions for the season this year and the standard was extremely high. We are lucky to be surrounded by a wealth of talented people and From Page to Stage will give them a chance to meet producers, programmers and artistic directors from major companies and venues. I want the season to be a catalyst for the expansion of new musical theatre into the dramatic mainstream and I am looking for opportunities to find commercial and regional partners for the future of some of these works.
Third, I want to decentralise musical theatre. According to Arts & Business, London receives philanthropic arts donations equivalent to £41 per head; the rest of England receives just 0.84p. The geographical discrepancy in Arts Council funding (some of which I have been lucky to receive) is widely acknowledged. Of all this money, only a small amount is for musical theatre. Hailing from the North West, I can see the potential of regional growth and have therefore invited representatives from venues across the country to the season. The response has been positive. From Page to Stage can bring this exciting new material to hungry new audiences – audiences I used to be part of!
Musicals are a big business. They hold increasing cultural importance. Through From Page to Stage I hope to help secure their future in Britain’s theatrical lifeblood, bringing the best emerging talent into the mainstream for all to enjoy.
* From Page To Stage runs at the Landor Theatre from 10 February–9 March. www.frompage2stage.com