Interview – Andy Barnes on why Perfect Pitch is dedicated to new British musical theatre

Andy Barnes

Perfect Pitch executive producer Andy Barnes

When new British chamber musical The House of Mirrors and Hearts had its official opening at the Arcola Theatre this week, it was partly due to the backing of Perfect Pitch, the UK company dedicated to the creation and development of new British musicals.

Perfect Pitch executive producer ANDY BARNES took time out to give Musical Theatre Review contributor Fiona Orr an insight into how Perfect Pitch works as well as offering his thoughts on the current prospects for new British musicals.

When I catch up with Andy Barnes, he begins by filling me in on the background of Perfect Pitch’s latest project, The House of Mirrors and Hearts. I discover that the piece was originally performed in an earlier version at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010, and composer/lyricist Eamonn O’Dwyer went on to win the MTM:UK Award for Best Musical Score (the show also has book and lyrics by Robert Gilbert).

Perfect Pitch could see the potential in The House of Mirrors and Hearts for development, as could Katy Lipson and her up and coming production company, Aria Entertainment. Barnes tells me that this set up a perfect “meeting of minds”, and he is delighted to have helped “facilitate its flight” to the Arcola.

The House of Mirrors and Hearts has had its own special journey with Perfect Pitch, but to maximise the reach and quality of work developed by the organisation, there is an annual call to writers through the Award for Artists.

This attracted more than 200 applicants last year, with 44 projects selected for an ‘Open Day’ to make pitches to the industry at large. Perfect Pitch works with the artists to ensure that they are able to take advantage of such an opportunity.

This year sees the second Perfect Pitch Award for Artists, in collaboration with Theatre Royal Stratford East. Applications are being accepted to win professional development of a new piece of musical theatre, funded to the tune of £12,000. The applicants need have no previous experience of writing for musical theatre: the purpose of the award is to discover new talent and to generate new creative writing partnerships. This is an exciting, dynamic approach to developing new British musical theatre.

Grace Rowe as Laura and Gillian Kirkpatrick as Anna in The House of Mirrors and Hearts. Photo Credit Claire Bilyard

Grace Rowe and Gillian Kirkpatrick in The House of Mirrors and Hearts at the Arcola Theatre, London. Picture: Claire Bilyard

In recent times Perfect Pitch has been hearing from a number of theatre companies and producers that they are interested in further developing new work and have been asked to be kept informed when a piece is more ‘mature’ in its development.

In the meantime Perfect Pitch has been successful in securing funding from Arts Council England to undertake this challenging work, supporting raw talent and new ideas, helping put forward pitches to the industry at large, and also fully developing projects in co-production with established theatre companies.

Working with a broad range of partners, including production and theatre companies and a number of training institutions, Perfect Pitch is in a stronger position to advance good ideas to a meaningful stage of development. Often the ideas begin with either the plot or the score; Perfect Pitch suggests partnerships between librettists and composers to help take the ideas forward. The company’s sense of how people work and what interests them puts it in an ideal position to make sound matches between the artists.

Welcome as the revenue from the Arts Council England certainly is, Barnes discusses other means of raising funds to support this often expensive genre. The Perfect Pitch 250 Club is an innovative approach to garner both stakeholders in the company and in musical theatre as an art form: the aim is to find 250 people (no more than this number!) to donate £500 each to support new British musicals.

In return, these sponsors will gain an intimate knowledge of how a musical theatre piece comes to life. Backstage workshops and West End karaoke evenings are just a couple of the rewards on offer and the funds raised over the next two years will be wisely spent in developing emerging talent. Barnes tells me: “The fundraising aspect of Perfect Pitch is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s essential.”

Perfect Pitch now boasts a portfolio of 18 shows that will, in their turn, provide revenue through performance licensing. As well as feeding the appetite for new British Musical theatre here in the UK, the organisation has also exported some shows. One case in point is Through the Door, a show that was translated and adapted to suit Korean audiences. In a sense, Perfect Pitch has been ‘re-creating’ new work for fresh audiences.

Finally, we touched on current prospects for British musical theatre. Barnes believes that there is cause for optimism, but is cautious about getting too carried away. Theatre, he says, is in recovery and not yet out of the woods. However, the opportunities for new talent are slowly increasing and there is a more opportunities to explore creativity – both are necessary for new musical theatre to flourish.

Perfect Pitch – award information: www.perfectpitchmusicals.com/awardinfo.html

Information on 250 Club: www.perfectpitchmusicals.com/250club.html

The House of Mirrors and Hearts continues at the Arcola Theatre, London until 1 August.

www.perfectpitchmusicals.com/HOMAH/arcola.html

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