I can’t quite believe that we’re coming up to the end of week three already? Where does the time go? Our first years have settled in really well, that is despite the barrage of mental and physical challenges that we’re throwing at them every single day.
So far they’ve had a surprise audition with award winning Producer Danielle Tarento (I like surprises…it keeps everybody on their toes, and replicates the industry, you just never know what’s around the corner! If setup correctly they can also give you a confidence boost as you realise that you can deal with anything), they had to sing in front of the entire college (but to keep things fair, our 2nd years have had to sing in front of them too), and then on Wednesday the entire college (plus 22 ambassadors) got to go down to Wembley and appear on the MOBO awards.
Of course that’s the joy of The MTA, an opportunity like that comes in and we can cancel the afternoon’s classes instantly and allow them to make the most of these amazing opportunities. I love being able to facilitate these one off events that sometimes come in at the last minute. The last one was a few years ago – and it was for the entire college to sing behind Kathryn Jenkins in the Palladium. All of the staff are always confident that we can make up any time lost, because we all fundamentally agree that we shouldn’t deprive our students of these once in a lifetime opportunities.
Finally on Thursday, they got to observe a masterclass with the American composer Georgia Stitt. This neatly brings me to the other hot topic of the blog, a subtle segue if you will.
In a recent blog Mark Shenton posed the question “Why is there such a paucity of female writers in musical theatre?” Of course, being a composer/lyricist who also happens to be female my initial reaction was to be quite cross that the question had even been asked. I knew of lots of women beside myself writing MT, what was Mark going on about? Then one of those women, Jenifer Toksvig sent me an invitation to a FB group cunningly entitled ‘Women Who Write Musicals’, and within a week the group already has over 200 members! Seemingly Mark’s blog had gotten a lot of people thinking….predominantly the ‘women who write musicals’!
From Mary Rodgers through Jeanine Tesori, via Marsha Norman to Betty Comden, there has in reality always been a female presence in musical theatre, but compared to the men it’s always been in the minority. Strange really, as music is a genderless art form (I would suggest).
As a young female MD starting out in the late 80’s, it was unusual to see another woman MD’ing’ a show. There were lots of men, but I could only name Caroline Humphries, Kate Young, Kate Edgar and Sarah Travis off the top of my head, as regular contributors to the MT scene at the highest level. I remember at college being short listed for a MD position, only to be told by my lecturer that while I was by far the strongest candidate, there was an issue insomuch as I was a woman! However in fairness to that lecturer, when I pointed out that I wasn’t aware that we had to conduct with a <insert a suitably crude word for the male appendage>, he quickly relented and gave me the ‘job’.
As a professional MD I’ve been in the pit only to hear deps comment out loud that they didn’t realise that it was going to be a female MD with an air of concern. Or after one particularly tough production, one of the musos came up to tell me after the run had finished, that they thought that I was going to struggle…but they had to hand it to me, even though I was a woman I had managed to do a great job!
Fortunately there are now lots of female MD’s, I’m thrilled to have mentored 3 of them myself (to a greater or lesser degree). It’s no longer a surprise to go to a show and see a woman leading the show from the pit. Hell Sarah Travis went on to win a Tony award for her work…the first woman to win a Tony for Best Orchestrations, for her stunning work on Sweeney Todd.
Sarah is also a composer of some note… which of course brings me back to my initial point.
Mark is wrong – there is not a paucity of female writers, however he is right insomuch as they are less visible compared to the men. His blog (along with the FB group), made me realise that it was our responsibility to get more visible. We owe it to our work, but we also owe it to the little girls currently playing the piano, learning their scales. They need to see that anyone can do anything these days. They need to see that gender plays no part in music. They need to see rôle models ahead of them that can inspire them to do anything they want to do – even compose a musical if they like.
I don’t think that my gender plays any part in my success or failure, but I might need to shout a bit louder for a while until I’m heard. Like my students – it’s nice to be surprised by a revelation.