Composer opportunities to open up in Musical Theatre

Thursday, 12 Nov 2015

Only a month ago, a unique group of committed stakeholders got together in Melbourne for the first Musical Theatre Symposium intent on driving innovation, opening opportunities and advocating for the industry that, as audience numbers report, is loved by almost as many Australians as contemporary music.

We chatted with the chair of the Symposium, Margot Fenley, Head of Music Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts, about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of this trail blazing project.

Margot said, “The issues had been brewing for a long time. There is a deficit of national support at every level and the music theatre industry needs to be strategic in addressing the problem, given its breadth and significance. As a profession, the music theatre industry has no peak body, so the stakeholders who attended the Symposium unofficially pledged to become just that. We had we had good representation of the many stakeholders come along - composers, funding bodies, companies, producers, writers, training institutions, large theatre groups and boutique theatre groups. I was surprised and delighted by the buy-in and optimism from all levels and all sectors in that group of 50.

“The findings from the Symposium was unanimous, that what was really missing was bespoke training and mentoring for composers and others at all stages of development. We looked to the success of the film industry program of tax offsets and this is also on the table."

APRA AMCOS composer Peter Rutherford, the current Children’s Musical Director on Matilda welcomes mentoring. He said, “When I started out, I looked for mentors and didn’t know where to start. As a composer for musical theatre, you have to be very self motivated for a long time and it can be lonely. Theatre companies can fold before your work even makes it to stage. A mentor could walk you through that process and open doors at the right place at the right time.”

In the last year alone musical theatre experienced a 52.6 per cent increase in revenue due to the number and calibre of performances, which included Grease, Les Misérables, The Lion King and Wicked.

Jason Marriner of the Marriner Group, which operates four of Melbourne’s major theatres, said, “It's a little known fact that more Australians go to see a musical theatre performance than go to the races each year. It's a $320+ million industry.”

“We developed a plan to establish a $1 million dollar fund for the development of 10 home-grown musicals. The fund is more about getting talent from the campuses of arts colleges onto the main stage,” Jason said.

“The idea is to have more Australian composers, actors and performers develop new Australian work. The initiatives that arose will provide the incentive and motivation to write for musical theatre.

“Generally, you need a producer with deep pockets or one who champions your piece in fundraising circles. Even when the production is an overseas-born one, like Les Miserables, you will still require local composition, arrangement and refinement and this is where the talents of Australians can be nurtured."

Speaking to Richard Watts of ArtsHub, Jason said, “I think there needs to be a way where shows can be work-shopped professionally without necessarily cutting corners through the process – give the work the ultimate opportunity to be seen and judged in its best light… (to) create a process for a new work to essentially be born.”1

Margot Fenley will have more information on opportunities from this new national initiative as it develops.

 [1] Richard Watts, ArtsHub, Towards new Australian musicals, 28 September 2008

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