This week, Peter Whittle, playwright, musician and Chair of Chudleigh Writers’ Circle tells us about a a recent workshop he’s attended on producing musical theatre. And we also bring you news of some upcoming productions that Peter is involved in.
“I have been reminded once again in recent days how narrow minded I can be. Part of the deal for attending a workshop on ‘How to make a musical’ at the RSC theatre in Stratford was to attend a performance of The Boy in a Dress which is a new musical based on a children’s book by David Walliams. Normally I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to see this, thinking it just wasn’t my type of music theatre or story. How wrong could I be? It was a fabulous production.
The workshop during the day itself demonstrated how the creative team work together on such a piece to bring a show to life, looking at the various elements from set design, vocals, dialogue and staging. Much of the time was spent with the choreographer. Again, this doesn’t normally come into my field of interest. I’ve never liked discos and broadly speaking have two left feet and a rather inflexible hip.
Yet it was fascinating to hear how she sets about staging a scene. The starting point was always what is this song trying to convey, why is it placed at this point in the story and what are the words saying? In true workshop form, we were invited to form small groups and invent a suitable setting and think what gestures would typically occur in that context.
For instance, the first number was about establishing a world of ordinariness. Our group decided we were working in an open-plan office. The gestures included lifting a cup of water by the cooler and pressing the button on our monitor screens. These small gestures became the basis of a dance routine covering three to four minutes of music. They were the alphabet that could be repeated or enlarged or cascaded to form words and patterns of movement. The starting point then was not to select formal established dance routines with existing ballet or pop dance steps. The routines grew from this alphabet of small gestures chosen to convey the essence of a song’s meaning and the part it plays in telling a story.
As mentioned above, the workshop was capped by being able to see the finished result in the real production itself during the evening. Both the musical director and overall stage director made very much the same points. That is, when embarking on learning a new song or directing a new scene each considered what the essence of the song or piece of action was about and what was the main beat of the story at that point. They would then compare notes with each other and invite the cast to take part in generating a shared understanding. In essence the creative team worked together successfully because they each respected the written word, be it dialogue, story telling or lyric and made sure that this formed the basis of whatever they created in their specialist area.
I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and found it has renewed my interest in collaboration and the power of more than one mind working on a project. And needless to say I will do my best to try and stop being so narrow minded – although I don’t think I’m ever going to warm to techno-beat, garage and drum & bass music.”
There’s a double bill of short plays at the Ice Factory Studio Theatre in Teignmouth between Wednesday 11th and Saturday 14th March. Breaking the News, written by Peter Whittle, runs for 30 minutes and is about a family prone to avoiding tricky topics. The second is Love Me Tender, following a community after a pit closure. Further details can be found by clicking here. Tickets are £10 (01626 778991) or can be bought online with a 10% commission added from Ticketsource.
Following this run, the plays will also be performed at The Shaftesbury Theatre in Dawlish on Friday 20th March 20th as part of TADDfest 2020, (Teignmouth and Dawlish Festival of One Act Plays). There are no details online, but the box office number is 01626 863061.
The next production from Peter Whittle’s company, Arne House Productions, will be Le Coq Au Vin in Chudleigh Knighton in June. Details to follow.