West End performer and successful producer Paul Spicer in conversation with Musical Theatre Review’s Lisa Martland.
Producer and actor Paul Spicer is all fired up. His latest project combines two of his biggest passions – nurturing the talent of others and introducing artists to contemporary musical theatre.
Since co-founding the Notes From New York series of concerts in 2003, Spicer has pioneered the work of up and coming composers, lyricists and librettists from both sides of the Atlantic, and now his production company Stage Acts Productions is launching a new summer course exploring contemporary musical theatre.
Alongside friend and actress Julie Atherton (described by one critic as the ‘Reigning Queen of new musical writing’), Spicer will be curating Onstage Acts – a summer course being run in London from 4-8 August – which will feature masterclasses from theatre practitioners who work in all areas of the industry.
“Onstage Acts is about rediscovering a love for performing, and unearthing new, relatable material in a creative environment,” says Spicer, and in what is quite an unusual move, he has opened up the course to professional musical theatre performers AND students training in the genre.
Spicer is also determined that Onstage Acts is not a run-of-the-mill experience and makes a lasting impression on all those that attend: “The course is designed to create epiphanies for people who have the ability to work with the incredible performers, composers, directors, casting directors, agents and producers we have onboard, and want to take advantage of the doors being opened to them.
“I have found this amazing rehearsal and performance space in Stoke Newington, it’s a bit like the set of Rent. The project has really ignited that fire in me again about introducing new material to artists and getting them to put their stamp on it. The week will culminate in a semi-staged showcase for industry professionals.”
The course is due to feature material from contemporary musical theatre composers such as Broadway’s Ben Pasek and Justin Paul (A Christmas Story, Dogfight), Emmy Award-winning Lance Horne and Gianni Onori, composer of The 8th Fold, the only British musical to be accepted at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival.
There is also a chance to work closely with creative teams from other companies. Confirmed so far are sessions with Intervals Productions’ founder and producer Tori Allen-Martin and director Adam ‘Bo’ Boland, and a masterclass with award-winning Donmar Warehouse composer in residence Michael Bruce.
Along with Jennifer Potts (narrator in UK tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), Amelia Adams-Pearce (UK tours of Spamalot and Hairspray) and Phoebe Fildes (original West End cast of Once), writer, performer and producer Allen-Martin was one of the major success stories when Spicer put together a similar course a few years ago.
“Tori cites the course as a real turning point career-wise. Her company Interval Productions has produced five musicals since 2009, three of which she has co-written. It’s great to have Tori and and director Adam Boland onboard.”
Spicer also relishes any opportunity to work with actress Julie Atherton: “We have collaborated since we were 18 and have an intuitive way of working. She is always supporting new work as a performer, she recognises it is the future of something.”
Contemporary musical theatre has always played a part in Spicer’s work as an actor and producer, not least in Notes From New York, a pioneering West End concert series which began by focusing on composers such as Jason Robert Brown, Andrew Lippa and William Finn (Americans songwriters dominated initially although the focus was widened as the project developed).
“Co-founding the Notes From New York concert series in 2003 was a pivotal moment in my life as a creative, not just as an actor. It began with our first show performed to an audience of 150 at the Arts Theatre and five years later we were producing a concert staging of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
“It was so interesting because we were trying to make new and contemporary musical theatre cool, and it wasn’t then. It was cool to see blockbuster musicals, not a two-hander in an intimate fringe venue. I wanted to make the material commercial to people who didn’t think they even liked musicals.”
In addition, during his time with Speckulation Entertainment, Spicer co-produced several commercial concert productions in the West End, beginning with the gala celebration of A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe and then on to the London transfer of Alan Cumming’s acclaimed show I Bought a Blue Car Today and Idina Menzel’s Royal Albert Hall debut.
After a break from West End projects he returned in March this year with Stage Acts Productions (and colleague Matt Firth) to present You’ll Never Walk Alone – The West End Unites for the Philippines, a one-night-only gala concert in support of the Philippines Typhoon Appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). The evening raised £15,000.
“It was a no-brainer when I got the call, I knew it would mean working 16 hour days for three months, but it was worth it. It also marked the first time the DEC had had a production linked to one of their appeals and our relationship with them continues. In an ideal world, I would love to put together a West End rapid response network under the umbrella West End Unites, so that when these kind of disasters take place, there is some kind of process by which Theatreland can react and raise awareness.”
Spicer’s own performing credits include leading roles in the London productions of The Witches of Eastwick, Taboo and Avenue Q, and if the right opportunity comes along and the scheduling is right, there is a chance he could be tempted back onstage.
But for now, the Onstage Acts summer course is very much where his focus lies: I’ve always felt passionate about giving people a voice, their first break, an opportunity, and I can’t wait to work with the next generation of performers during Onstage Acts, whilst simultaneously introducing them to brand new material.”
For more details, go to www.onstageacts.com