… What does it stand for?
As an acronym, nothing.
As a collection of the most passionate and committed people from all over the country, it stands for all things NEW MUSICAL – a two day gathering of writers, composers, lyricists, actors, directors, producers, programmers, representatives from regional theatres, arts professionals and industry-based musical theatre lovers who all came together at the Park Theatre to share and hear work across the spectrum of British Musical Theatre. A bit like Cannes – for musicals.
And the results were astonishing. Around fifty writers had a platform to share their work in either a 25 minute rehearsed reading or a 10 minute pitch. So in the space of a day, you could see twenty to thirty presentations of work in progress at various stages of development. It’s similar to the NAMT festival model (more acronyms, anyone?) – except this one took place all under one roof in two extraordinarily inspiring days. Developed and curated by the wonderful teams at MMD and MTN (I promise to stop with all these letters very soon) – Victoria, James, Sarah and Martin, it was a celebration of the range and power of British writing talent.
We suffer from a misconception that there isn’t enough new work being written – BEAM smashed that idea into pieces, filling all three spaces at the Park with the most brilliantly diverse material that proves musical theatre is alive and well in the UK, thank you very much. A rock musical about the Brontë sisters? Sure. A true stories piece about people all over the UK being made to give up their allotments? Currently in development, half in the rehearsal room and half in the vegetable garden. A beautiful adaptation of the Virginia Woolf short story Kew Gardens? Keep your tissues handy. A retelling of the Notting Hill Race Riots with a live skiffle band providing the 1950’s musical context? Right there, banjos and all.
One of the great things about BEAM was how celebratory it was. Someone remarked in the closing session that often we come to learn about new writers and their work via competition – exciting, and great for generating buzz – but I don’t think anyone was prepared for the level of support and positivity surrounding the Park Theatre this week. It’s unusual for writers and directors to spend time like this with each other – the nature of our work can make us solo flyers – and I particularly loved collaborating with my colleagues Lotte Wakeham and Adam Lenson in the opening panel discussion. Individually we are marvellous. As a team… UNSTOPPABLE.
Victoria and I first started discussing BEAM about six months ago to devise some ideas about format and structure. Our initial curiosities were about the best way to deliver the material that allowed the audience that key into the work or the writer – so that their unique voice and personality could come through and let the audience see both their current piece and the potential of what else they might write in the future.
It became apparent at the pitching days how open to ideas and input the writers were, with many expressing a frustration at not having collaborators or external eyes/ears to bounce ideas off. These were quite hardcore days in which writers had exactly ten minutes (rigorously controlled by the iPhone timer) to sell their idea and to be specific about what help/ support or showcase they thought would be most appropriate. We could have filled the spaces at the Park several times over with the amount of work currently in development.
Lotte, Adam and I then worked with many of the writers to develop and polish their pieces and pitches – I can’t speak for the other two but I learnt masses about my own approach to selling an idea as a result. I spent a lot of time working with Tamar Broadbent on her musical The List – appropriately first up in the main space on International Women’s Day, featuring a line up of kick ass ladies giving it large about female empowerment.
In the closing session, someone remarked that BEAM might be looked back on as a Woodstock moment for British musicals – with the driving force being that every single attendee passionately believed in musical theatre and a bright future for our writers and makers.
So what did we decide? It’s too early to tell – we stopped short of going round the room and pinning colours to the mast as our counterparts across the pond are said to do in their own closing session. We talked a lot about Hamilton and the fact that there’s no similar model for starting small and building bigger and bigger here. We considered what the scope of ‘musical theatre’ might be and agreed that a view only on the traditional West End was too narrow. We debated our audience for new musicals and how to build a loyal returning audience who will support new work when they haven’t heard of it. We made introductions between theatres and writers who might be a good fit for each other. We riffed on ideas of how to reduce the cost of developing and producing a new musical without compromising quality. We drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of brownies and chatted about this and everything else – it was like a giant press night party without the warm wine and pressure to impress each other. And we were all on the last tube home. Winner.