I’m so thrilled to have been asked to be ‘Head of New Work’ for the National Youth Music Theatre. NYMT is a company that is very special to me and has been a huge part of my life over the last almost-decade. I’ve been trusted with the development and premiere of an incredible catalogue of New British Musicals, many of which have gone on to have further life in schools and youth groups across the UK and beyond – as far as China!
Under the stewardship of Jeremy Walker, NYMT was able to offer commissions and premieres to an incredible line up of British writers – my first NYMT project was with Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary whose musical ‘The Great British Bake Off’ has just played to great acclaim in the West End. Under the new leadership of Adrian Packer, Alex Sumner Hughes and Chris Cuming, NYMT hopes to continue supporting and championing large-cast unknown British work by the next generation of MT writers.
(Quick shout out to Benjamin Till, Dougal Irvine, Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, Ethan Lewis Maltby and Jenna Donnelly , Richard Hough and Ben Frost, Henry Roadnight and Adam Johnson, Eamonn O’Dwyer and Helen Watts, Carl Miller and Marc Folan, Timothy Knapman and Lawrence Mark Wythe, Stuart Matthew Price, Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie aka ‘Noisemaker’, Alex Parker and Katie Lam, Jordan Li Smith, Kit Buchan and Jim Barne who’ve partnered up with us over the last decade!)
The economic landscape for MT writers can be so tough – new work without a known title is risky, and so writers are often advised to keep cast sizes small. It seems almost impossible for emerging writers to write a large-cast musical and have it premiered with a professional company, but this is where a partnership with NYMT can play a role in encouraging writers to be ambitious, bold and brave in their vision for the work.
The young people’s responses to the pieces we’ve workshopped over the last 8 years have been instrumental in driving the next phase of development. It’s been fascinating to discuss world building in a group, and for the voices of the company to become part of the DNA of what we see on stage. One memorable discussion was a debate about whether to gender swap Red Riding Hood and her love interest, Chip (in Growl, by Timothy Knapman and Lawrence Mark Wythe) so that Red was played male, and Chip as female. We’d identified that the other fairy-tale characters were subverted – Vegetarian Loveable Wolf, for example – but Red was very on-the-nose. The group were so split – based on the lyrics of Red’s unrequited love song, it felt very ‘female’ – but the group wanted to dig into that. What does that mean? Why can’t a male bare their soul? Why are we more used to women doing that in musicals? We had two pairs of young people play the roles in both variations and kept taking the temperature of the group as the week played out. It was a great way for them to discover more about the nuts and bolts of what makes a musical work – how information unfolds and how an audience relate to what’s they are watching.
Looking to the future, NYMT is excited to continue working closely with writers to develop exciting new writing voices. We plan to workshop and develop at least two new pieces in 2024, as well as offering a musical theatre writers course for the first time. We will do our usual call out for new works in development to workshop with the company in 2024, and this year for the first time the selection process will include a readers panel of young people alongside the creative and executive team.
Email things to us – invite us to things – let us know what’s going on and how we can partner up. There’s no particular style/ subject matter we look for – just pieces that speak to the world we live in, in which the music is the right level of challenge for our astounding young performers, with some good challenging roles and opportunities for meaningful ensemble work. Beyond that – young people can do EVERYTHING that adult actors can do, so really – the Sky is the Limit! #welovenewmusicals