Archives for posts with tag: NYMT

Right, sorry about all that, Ridout is back. I’ve been hoarding all-things-theatrical in my head for the past month now and I have finally found the time for it all to spill out onto a page. I bought a new notebook (I thought a new notebook would help) and sat down and just wrote. It was pages of absolute ramblings and will inevitably still read as ramblings despite my best efforts to hone it all in. So here is one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks: (just three little words…) new musical theatre. Ah, I almost had you there didn’t I? It’s not a post about those three little words or inspired by a topless man playing guitar. Sorry. I’ve been surrounded by new musical theatre writing recently and I don’t know if it’s partly down to the Christmas spirit, but I’m feeling ever so hopeful for the future of musical theatre. I strongly believe I was born in the wrong decade and wish I was in America during the ‘Golden Age’ but I’m similarly passionate about what lies ahead for our ever progressing industry. I have been comforted by what I’ve been lucky enough to be privvy to recently and so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you so we can leave our longing for the twenty-teen’s answer to ‘Showboat’ behind us.

I’ll start first by saying that back in May I was thrown into panic mode when a visiting director at school told us that musical theatre, as an artform, was dead. It wasn’t a point that was open for discussion, it was a statement of fact. I had nothing to retort, I just sat with arguments swimming round my head that never found the courage to leave my mouth. Everyone that did jump on modern musical theatre’s defence was shot down by the ‘Golden Age’ trump card. Yes, perhaps we’ve moved away from sweeping Rogers & Hammerstein overtures to pop megamixes but it’s not dead. My beloved art form is not dead. The direction of our industry has been out of our, albeit jazzy, hands for a long time now. It has to answer to what the general public – the bums on the seats – want and unfortunately that isn’t what it used to be but why does that have to be negative? I know that my taste (I adore a good revival) isn’t the same as everyone else’s. There has to be room and, most importantly, support for the new – someone has to pave the way for the future of musical theatre. In every other walk of life, letting go of the past is advocated so why do we need to strive for a dated style of writing in our industry? My belief is that all the creative talent required for a new golden age is out there, it just isn’t receiving the support it so deserves – people just don’t know it’s there.

This was drawn to my attention recently when I sang at a fundraising gig for Pitgems Creative Theatre Company in November. The founder, Emma Trow, is a composer/director/tutor/wonderwoman who made the company in order to create a platform for new work – admirable, I know. The fundraising gig was taking place so that all the profits from a forthcoming production can be donated to the National Aids Awareness Trust – even more admirable. Naturally, a lot of people wanted to help this cause and a huge amount of talent rocked the boat, quite literally*, in Vauxhall that evening. It turned out to be an evening of education for me due to the amount of new material that was performed – including original pieces from Emma Trow and the fabulous Tamar Broadbent, amongst many others. I laughed (hard) at some, nearly cried at others and still find myself humming various tunes from those talented composer’s creations. As Sondheim rightly says through his lyrics in ‘Merrily We Roll Along’: “You need a tune you can bum-bum-bum-di-dum..” and there are an abundance of hummable musical theatre composers that just aren’t getting heard.

*it was on the Battersea Barge. If you’ve never been, do go – it’s a great venue.

I’m so lucky that my next involvement with new writing for the month was as a ‘public assessor’ for the Pefect Pitch awards. It sounds very official but it was just an excuse for me to sit down for hours and sift through lyrics, read book extracts and listen to some fantastic work by sixteen of the 318 applications that Perfect Pitch received. I was getting to know some incredible new work, like I had on the Battersea Barge, with the added joy that at the end of this process some new emerging talent would be given the opportunity to show their work professionally to a much wider audience through Perfect Pitch*. As an assessor I had to pick my favourite 3 submissions in each area (book, music & lyrics) and send them back for my choices to be matched up against others. The shortlist of 44 writers has now been chosen and I was thrilled to see writers I loved the work of and some friendly faces on the list. I am already eagerly awaiting the event on March 14th at the St James Theatre to see what the teams (selected from the shortlist) will pitch. Hurrah, some new writing is being given a foothold in the industry so more people can hear those hummable tunes! Obviously, Perfect Pitch aren’t the only people helping new writers (I could, or someone with more time than me could, write a book about the possibilities of exposure for new writers and the companies that are dedicated to helping them but I won’t be doing that. I’m sure you don’t mind.) but I was so pleased to be involved, even in the smallest capacity, so it had to be mentioned!

*more information on the Perfect Pitch award can be found HERE.

One of the people in the shortlist for the award is the fabulous Dougal Irvine who is responsible for the last bit of exposure to new writing I’ve had in the last month. We will be singing his song ‘We need Love’ from the (granted, not new) musical ‘In Touch’ at the National Youth Music Theatre Christmas Concert on the 21st*. In summer, when we were busy doing West Side Story, another third of the 2013 company were putting on ‘The Other School’ at the St James Theatre – a brand new show by Dougal and Dominic Marsh which was commissioned by NYMT. It was a storming success and is a show that you haven’t seen the end of yet. It’s had its youth theatre springboard and now it is going to fly (I don’t know how I feel about that metaphor but I’m rolling with it). Youth companies provide one way in which writers can get their (PG rated) shows on their feet** and this method proved very successful for Dougal. As I sat learning this new version of ‘We Need Love’ I was all too aware of his incredible writing talent and in that moment I concluded that the future of musical theatre writing is going to be just fine. Don’t worry Dougal, I’m not putting all that pressure on just your shoulders but that’s when the ol’ epiphany happened.

*Dougal is singing the solo and he’s rather good…just in case you wanted to come…click here.

**As alumni, I must tell you that NYMT has a new commission for the 2014 season to commemorate the outbreak of WW1. If you’re 13-23 you can audition for the three productions next year and the new commission ‘Brass’  will provide the opportunity to be part of an original cast. How bloomin exciting. Apply for an audition here.

So after the month I’ve just had, I know the writers are out there and I hope after reading about my month of blog absence you might go looking for them too. They can be found in small fringe theatres, cabaret venues, my recent research hotspot soundcloud and on good old Youtube. I won’t tell you where they all are though, as half the fun is finding them but start by searching the names mentioned above! Step into new territory and see if you like what you hear/see and please report back on any gems that you find.

To try and conclude my ramblings I’ll finish on this:

I mentioned earlier that I wished I was present during the ‘golden age’ of musical theatre but who says we aren’t? About two years ago now I read ‘Musical Theatre: A History’ by John Kenrick and I’ll always remember the introduction (I took notes on the entire book, don’t judge) in which he talks about how the ‘golden age’ is constantly being extended. It used to be thought to have ended in the 50’s, then the next generation of writers pushed it to the mid 60’s, and the next to the 70’s etc etc. It will always get pushed further so that the current generation speak as if the really good stuff happened about 30 years ago. I think I’d agree with that. After all, the 80’s gave us: Dreamgirls, Nine, Cats, Blood Brothers, Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage Aux Folles, Starlight Express, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods to name but a few. It was Sondheim vs Webber. It was glorious. I believe, and history proves, art always gets appreciated later down the line. In musical theatre, flops get a fanbase and revivals break records – as we saw this year with Merrily We Roll Along. It’s not dead, we just aren’t able to appreciate what is in front of us yet.

Happy appreciating the now and embracing the new!

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On the Battersea Barge with Emma Trow (left) and a brownie (right).

Dear new musical theatre writers:

“Just keep moving on. Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see…”

– Rebecca Ridout

In true theatrical style, let’s start at the very beginning.

Firstly, let me explain the title of my blog. Whilst in my final year of training at the London School of Musical Theatre (from here on in I will use the acronym LSMT) I got a reputation for always having the answer to any kind of theatrical trivia question. A phrase soon came about stating “When in doubt, ask Ridout” and it caught on pretty quickly. Inspired by this I then used it as a way of getting people to pronounce my name correctly (when in doubt, its pronounced ‘Ridout’) – two birds with one stone: a nice little nerdy reputation and a correctly pronounced surname! Then over the course of the year the questions that were asked of me developed from musical theatre trivia to…well…absolutely anything. You name it, I was asked it.

Therefore, I think “When in doubt…Ridout” captures exactly what I want this blog to be (questions about my life answered) However, I’m still unsure as to what content will fill it on a fortnightly basis! Sometimes it will be an insight into the highs & lows of being a new graduate, sometimes it will be me needing to tell you all to read/watch/listen to something and sometimes it will just be a way for me to let off some musical theatre themed steam. I hope all of the above will be worth a read though! It may occasionally be an inspiration and it may occasionally have the ‘Jeremy Kyle’ effect of making you feel better about your own situation (even if its a case of schadenfreude at my expense) but that’s all it needs to be.

So here goes everything. My first experience of highs and (a very big) low since graduating.

On my first Monday morning as a graduate I had what you could call an exceptionally good day. I signed my contract with my agency, I went to the Tate Modern with some of my best friends pretending to be oh so cultured and finished the day drinking wine and rubbing shoulders with half the cast of Downton Abbey at Spamalot’s after show drinks for Hugh Bonneville’s debut. I felt pretty damn jammy. Life continued like this for two blissful weeks whilst knowing I was soon to start rehearsals for National Youth Music Theatre’s (from now on ‘NYMT’) production of ‘West Side Story’. High after high after high watching friends smash their professional debuts and thinking “that will be me soon enough” Then on the 3rd of August I lugged my suitcase (with pilates foam roller in hand) across London to head to Kent for rehearsals.

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Now I could write an entire essay on what an incredible experience ‘West Side Story’ was and what it meant to me as a performer. I won’t here though. If you’re interested though you can scroll back through my twitter (@beccaridout) and see what was happening and how blissfully happy it made me. My friend Amy replied to my tweets saying “Oh, are you enjoying your West Side Story experience then Rebecca? You should’ve said” and if you already follow me on twitter you’ll know exactly what she means. I was an incessantly happy tweeter. So I won’t bore you with it on here too!

The Saturday night performance of ‘West Side Story’ has now become what I’d like to call my “patronus moment” (just in case you aren’t a Harry Potter fan I mean one of the strongest, happiest memories you can recall). I was stood on the top of a shipping container on our incredible set and as soon as Amara said “Te adoro, Anton” I felt the vibrations of our 33 piece orchestra play out the closing chords of, arguably, the greatest musical ever written.

I think this photo shows how unbelievably elated I was – look at my little beaming face.

That was the ultimate high. In true dramatic fashion I do fear if it may genuinely be the ultimate high of my career. Not because I feel that my career won’t move onto bigger things than an NYMT production but rather because West Side Story is my favourite (and as previously stated, arguably the best) musical. It was a unique site specific production where we (or rather the creatives Nikolai Foster, Drew McOnie and Tom Deering) re-invented a classic. I can’t put it quite as eloquently as Mark Shenton did in his blog for The Stage so I’ll share what he thought:

“The joy of Drew McOnie’s work is that it is classically inspired, just as Robbins’ was, but also pulses and shimmers to its own distinctive vision, beautifully displayed by this eager young cast. There’s rawness and eagerness, vigour and danger in every step they take, and re-make; the usual critical language of dubbing it bold and breathtaking just won’t do. Instead, it does something even more vivid: it makes you look at the whole show in a new way.”

It really is going to be difficult to top that patronus moment I tell you!

Then after the high, as much as I tried to fight it, came the low. Hungover, I was driven back to London the following day (not helped by the bumpy road surfaces for miles stretching out of Manchester. I shudder at the memory) and BAM. Reality. I had a life admin to-do list as long as my arm and an insane amount of washing. I was no longer singing about a glorious place for us all or needing to have a dance off with someone over a small tiff. I had post-show blues. Then to add to this, on my kitchen table there was a letter from my school – it contained my diploma. Instead of being thrilled with my result I realised I had not mourned my loss of training because of the hiatus (remember? those two blissful weeks?) between graduation and ‘West Side Story’. These post-show blues then spiralled out of control because of combining with post-school blues. Ouch.

It’s been an emotional couple of days with tears springing out of my eyes at the most inappropriate moments (namely when I hear the words ‘somehow’,’someday’ or ‘somewhere’) However, as I learned from Uberfacts on twitter this morning: “Crying is good for your health – Flushing unhealthy bacteria out of your body, strengthening the immune system and relieving stress.” I’ve medicated my broken heart with 3 trips to the theatre in as many days, spending time in the sunshine and probably most significantly starting this blog. Rather than sitting down and thinking “I have nothing tangible in the future to look forward to” I’ve been thinking I have a great expanse of unknown in front of me in regards to my career and, to quote my favourite composer*, I am ‘excited and scared’ to start exploring it.

*I won’t say who it is, I’m hoping you’ll guess.

If you’ve got this far, thank you so much for reading this. I hope you return. Who knows what the next fortnight will hold but that’s the beauty of the industry. I guess any lessons from this experience to any newly graduated performer is to make sure you deal with any ‘no more training’ emotion before you may have to face post-show blues! Make sure you have tissues and friendly faces waiting for you when you return to normal life and if you’ve been away on residential have plenty of washing powder stocked up!

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Then when you’ve finished posing in front of a poster for a production you’ve just been in, giving it your best ‘sad face’, dust yourself off and step leap towards the next opportunity.

“Hold my hand and we’re halfway there, hold my hand and I’ll take you there. Somehow, someday, somewhere…”

– Rebecca Ridout