I’m acutally writing this post to organise some thoughts I have been asked to contribute to a forthcoming new book on musical theatre. This post could easily become a tome comparable to the eponymous ‘White Pages’ phone books of yesteryear if I’m not careful, as the magnitude of problem for Australian musical theatre writers is sizeable indeed.
If you consider that there is nowhere in Australia to study musical theatre writing whether as a school student or at the tertiary level, in an organised, systematic, manner, you get a fast walk-up to the ennui that perpetuates our educational institutions in respect to this shortcoming.
But, even if we did have organised training in place, who would teach it? Who has a track record of having written and had produced musicals on Broadway or London’s West End? Tim Minchin or Eddie Perfect? I don’t think so, even though these guys are brilliant songwriters.
You see, it isn’t about how a good a songwriter or composer/lyricist you are, it’s about how musicals are made!
And without that experience and knowledge, you just don’t know what the rules of the game are. And there are rules – a sort of unspoken code-of-practice that everybody in the industry understands but never quite articulates or clarifies to outsiders.
Just to be clear, if we are going to teach about how to write new musicals, the experienced production personnel that we do have in Australia; by whom I mean those directors, designers, choreographers etc. that have acquired their professional skill-set of musical theatre production through responsibilities in mounting the first Australian productions of successful existing musicals, re-mounts of long-standing works of the canon, juke-box musicals or adaptations to the stage from films, are not the right people to be in-charge of this teaching. Similarly, academics who teach musical theatre direction, acting or voice are, generally, equally ill-equipped.
The reason: to reiterate, because they don’t know what the rules of the game are for producing new musicals potentially able to be successful in New York or London. Frankly, it is the closest thing to a secret society I’ve encountered wherein, if you are not one of the ‘chosen few’, you are simply not in the game.
So who does that leave? According to my body count, that leaves playwrights and authors who actually write about musical theatre. Why? Because it is their stock-in-trade to know and cross-reference significant bodies of theatrical work. And it is from this cross-dimensional, comparative analysis of the canon where the roots of understanding, or at the very least, acknowledgement of the rules of engagement are derived.
Put another way, you need to know the repertoire, and, you need to know the how and why that repertoire got where it got.
To sidetrack momentarily – It is of constant amazement to me when I quizz young writers, how little of the repertoire they actually do know. My quizz usually goes like this: Continue Reading →