Last year, Tamar Broadbent’s song ‘17 Drafts’ won the runner-up prize and a special commendation at The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize 2013 which took place at London’s Garrick Theatre in conjunction with the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition (SSSSPOTY). For this year’s event, held at the same venue on 18 May, Broadbent has had an impressive two songs nominated out of a shortlist of 12.
Broadbent performed her debut solo show, Almost Epic, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. This was followed by a sell-out run at the Leicester Square Theatre. At Bristol university, where she studied English, she wrote and directed her first musical, Pierced. Her second musical, The List, is also in development. Jeremy Chapman caught up with the actress, songwriter and musical comedienne.
First of all, tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, your background, and the main influences from your teenage years, both for your comedy and your songwriting.
I grew up in Surrey. My parents are ex-hippies. We had jamming sessions on our electric guitars with my Uncle Bob most Sundays. My dad used to score songs like ‘Riders On the Storm’ for me when I was learning the piano as a seven year old. He had dreams that I would be a rock star. I started writing songs when I was 12. The first song I ever wrote, ‘Lucy’, received an Honorary Mention in the UK Songwriting Contest 2004. This encouraged me to keep going. I had a brief flirtation with a teen bop career when I was 15, performing a lot around Surrey and south London. Though my narrative-based, witty, yet heartfelt pop songs never went down that well at Battle of the Bands.
When I got to university, I realised that my songs were better suited to a theatrical setting, and I wrote my first musical, Pierced, in my final year. I got into Central School of Speech and Drama to study a Masters there, and have been writing and performing comedy and musical theatre ever since.
My sense of humour probably comes from a range of things: South Park was a favourite with my family. As was Wayne’s World, and anything with Mike Myers. My parents are both hilarious people. But mainly I think my particular sense of humour developed as a way of dealing with all the rubbish stuff that happens to you as a teenager. Heartbreaks, rejections, lost friends, being a bit different… that kind of thing. Nothing too serious. There was one particular time when I failed my driving test, got rejected from Oxford, and got dumped by my boyfriend on the day that my grandad died. That was a particular time when I thought, this is so bad, that it’s actually very funny.
Last year, your song ‘17 Drafts’ won you second prize and an unexpected £250 at the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition/Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize. What do you think the importance of the S&D competition is for aspiring and emerging songwriters? Presumably your exposure there has led to you becoming better known.
I think the competition is a fantastic opportunity for new writers to get themselves known, and to get their work seen by some highly influential people. On top of that, seeing your song performed in a West End theatre is amazing. I met some lovely people through the competition last year and thoroughly enjoyed the show. I am really looking forward to this year’s event.
‘17 Drafts’ was from the previously mentioned Pierced, a musical you were workshopping. What progress have you made with that in the last 12 months?
Pierced was in the final of the Leicester Square Theatre New Musical Project in February, where it was one of six shows to be given a professional reading and feedback session with a panel of high profile judges. This competition made me go back and really work on the show, re-write some of the scenes and get it into shape. It is now the show I have always wanted it to be, and I have never been more excited about it.
You have had two songs accepted for this year’s Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize. What inspired you to write them?
The two songs I have in this year’s competition are called ‘No More Excuses – (The Procrastination Song)’ and ‘Library Boy’. They are both stand alone songs. The former is about writing (or doing everything but writing) your dissertation, and I wrote it in 2012 when I was actually supposed to be writing my dissertation. I couldn’t think of anything to write, so I thought, why not write something about not being able to write something. A situation which I think pretty much everyone will be able to relate to. The song still resonates quite strongly with me, as at the heart of it is a fear of making all the wrong decisions in life, and a feeling of having no idea what you are supposed to be doing, or how you are meant to go about doing it. I still feel this way much of the time. As again, I am sure a lot of people do.
‘Library Boy’ is about fancying a boy in the library, and about Facebook stalking. How funny is it that you can convince yourself you love someone because they look steamy in their profile photo, even though you know absolutely nothing about them. These are some of the little things I love about the technological age. I probably wrote this song because I think everyone fancies people in places like the library, or cafes, or on the tube, but because we’re all so English, no one ever really speaks to each other. But what would happen if you did?!
What makes you so special, at least for me, is your left-field sense of humour which is like nobody else’s I’ve ever heard. Is that something you have developed through appearing at comedy clubs or are you naturally like that in real life?
Thanks Jeremy! This is what I’m like in real life. I often get accused of being crazy even though I’m one of the sanest people I know. I think everyone else is crazy..
I am still learning a lot about myself as a performer through gigging, and I know I will be for years and years to come. I just try and write what I find funny. If something makes me laugh at the piano, then I trust it. And when I’m writing musical theatre, it just has to be truthful. It can be anything, as long as it’s truthful.
What’s on the immediate agenda for you? Can you see yourself performing other people’s songs and maybe moving from comedy into the world of musical theatre?
At the moment I am predominantly interested in working on my solo career, writing and performing musical comedy. I think my work bridges the genres of comedy, musical theatre and cabaret, so at this stage I don’t feel the need to put myself into any one box, or stay there. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, for as long as I and the audience are enjoying it, and keep taking every opportunity that comes my way.
I was recently contacted by a producer from Lithuania who is flying me over to do my new solo show at an arts festival over there – this is an example of how I think you can never predict what’s going to happen! I’m really looking forward to it. So that is the next thing immediately on my agenda.
In fact, I leave The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize at the Garrick Theatre to fly there. I hope the show doesn’t run over, or I will have to sneak out before the end to get my flight! Of course, I would love to do more acting and to be in musicals at some point, and to write more musicals. But there is no rush, and at the moment I think there is still time for everything.
I am currently working on my new solo musical comedy show, ‘All By My Selfie’, for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August, and I am also doing previews in London and Brighton.
Which songwriters and comedy acts do you particularly admire among your own generation?
There are so many that it is difficult to narrow them down. In musical theatre, I love the work of Craig Adams, Dougal Irvine and Theo Jamieson. In comedy, Luisa Omielan, Bridget Christie, Revan and Fennell, The Horne Section, and many more. Some of my all time favourites are Joan Rivers, Bill Bailey, Steve Hughes and I’ve also recently discovered and come to adore Fascinating Aida.
The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize 2014 and the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition 2014 take place on Sunday 18 May at 3pm at the West End’s Garrick Theatre.
Readers may also be interested in:
Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year 2014 – News