Still championing on the Fringe…at my age! Most of my 58-year-old contemporaries are either rich/famous from their creative decisions and brilliant positioning at the centre of the storm, or they have given up years ago and got a real job. There are very few of us still thinking we are 30-year-old fringe champions, whilst looking forward to the free bus pass which will enable us to get to the fringe venues we can’t afford to travel to…without trudging through sand.
Very occasionally us old/young odd things get awakened to the sheer amount of stuff which we seem to have been involved in. The death of the “Father of the House” MP Sir Gerald Kaufman caused me to write a quick Facebook post today which reads as follows:
“The new musical theatre business in the UK (and maybe even the US) owes a debt of gratitude to MP Gerald Kaufman who died this week. In 1988 he wrote a big article in the Guardian, commissioned as part of our very first weekend in celebration of the musical at Buxton Opera House which I conceived with Keith Warner James Holmes and the Gemmells (musical theatre community company legends). It was the start of a spark.”
The article helped me make the case to the Daily Telegraph and the amazing Michael Kennedy for the art form of musical theatre. They didn’t sponsor my project. I carried on and just 4 years later we mounted the first international Festival of Musical Theatre, sponsored by BNFL, where we showcased/produced 19 new musicals in 6 weeks, and completed a study of 491 new musicals from 16 countries, hosted the first international conference on musical theatre, and mixed musical theatre with hot air balloons. Throughout that time Gerald was a support for our cause, and a regular visitor to the Opera House.
Enormous thanks to Manchester Evening News for recognising the festival and giving the theatre (and me personally) an award for the event of the year. I treasured that recognition in the 10 years it took to get everything moving again after an abortive attempt in Oxford for 1994 championed by Judi Dench, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and the late great Martin Tickner.
Gerald’s Guardian article lit a spark which, in time, engendered a charity I started, New Musicals Alliance (NMA later part of MMD), the Month of Sundays writers courses we ran, a series of TischNY/NMA London courses for writers & international conferences I created, the Theatre Royal Stratford East collaboration with Tisch, Youth Music Theatre UK (YMT), (nearly the commercial r&d unit New Musical Development – but noone thought there was a hope for developing new musicals then), Musical Theatre Matters which I formed whilst at Cameron Mackintosh, The Cardiff festivals of musicals, The Edinburgh Fringe Musicals Awards, Musical Theatre at George Square, Perfect Pitch, the Highland Quest for New Musicals, the first agreement by Arts Council London to include Musical Theatre in their budgets, and from that the ongoing funding of Musical Theatre Network, Mercury Musical Developments, PerfectPitch Musicals, plus many new works which have been championed by some of those who remain from the above list.
Thank you Gerald. RIP.
A week ago someone who is now lauded and applauded as a theatre director said to me “I really appreciate those chances you gave me. I guess the challenge is how do you quantify the brilliant work you do, when funders etc must want to see immediate returns? I can understand that must be so frustrating.” Well as we all know politics, funding, and success are appreciated if they are quick (preferably within the space of one parliament, or one tv series). For me the success of what I invented in 1988 with Roger Haines and others is still not really appreciated.
I have just watched a heartfelt interview with Justin Hurwitch, the composer of La La Land who worked with his co-creator, the director/writer Damien, for over 6 years to make this piece. It was turned down by major studios and they had to go off and make a different movie, Whiplash, before they were taken seriously. Do watch https://vimeo.com/204250157
My life is taken up working with writers, creators, choreographers, producers, directors, and all creative beings who are at the stuck place that college chums Damien and Justin were at 6/8 years ago. I love that life, but at times I could help them move so much faster if I had someone like a Gerald Kaufman, or a major institution, who just noticed what I, and so many people like me, do in coffee shops. It would fun if someone with influence/££ said every good boy deserves favour, and offered a few notes in harmony to make the early stage r&d have support. I have suggested it to so many venerable bodies…and I continue to make the offer.
With or without that support CGO, and people like us, will continue to see whether we can offer the Damien’s and Justin’s of this world a quick cup of coffee, a bit of encouragement, and a few connections – so the path takes less than 6 years.
Thank you Gerald for giving me a powerful spark – a feature in the Guardian did us proud in 1988, and 4 years later a project launch on the Today programme set the Musical Theatre festival alight. As we head into the 40th anniversary of that first article, your legacy of support for one individual still cause flames of new creativity to alight. Thank you.
I’d be delighted if someone reading this blog thought they could provide the next spark – now that would be exciting.