We recently spoke to musical theatre producer Katy Lipson.
Last year Katy launched From Page To Stage, a competition to discover the best of new musical theatre writing, and she runs her own company, Aria Productions.
We put some questions to her and found out what audiences can expect from this year’s impending festival, what budding musical theatre composers should remember if they want to be part of it next year, and other reasons why you should head to the Landor Theatre to check it out.
Hi Katy. You’re producing From Page To Stage. Tell us a bit about it.
From Page to Stage is a season of new musical theatre, running this year at the Landor Theatre from 10th February to 9th March. The aim is to showcase the best upcoming talent in writing and performing, as well as the amazing breadth of musical theatre – that’s why over the course of the month we’re doing ten different events, from week-long runs of fully-staged musicals to showcases of musicals in development, to a preview screening of ‘Big Society: The Musical’ which is due to hit our screens later this year and three readings of new musicals. We want to help find the next big thing in musical theatre, and allow audiences to get a glimpse of it before they move on to full scale productions!
It’s the second annual From Page to Stage event. How did it go last year, and are you hoping it will be arranged every year?
Last year’s festival was great, a real success. I think a lot of people went away after seeing a show feeling really excited about the potential of new musicals, and that kind of reaction is a fantastic base upon which to build. Last year was slightly different in that I produced half of the shows in house but invited other producers and performers in for the other half. Events were more varied and they were more singer/songwriter nights and showcases of songs. This year the season is totally produced in-house from searching for the repertoire, finding the creative teams, raising the cash and casting the shows, as well as all the other general management responsibilities. As for every year – well, it’s certainly a project I love doing as new musicals are my main passion, but who knows what could happen in the next few years? I certainly hope it’s still going strong and we will see some of these shows on for full runs.
What sort of feedback did you get for the first From Page to Stage?
Importantly, it was audience feedback that was partly responsible for the first season. People have been asking why there wasn’t a venue dedicated to new musical writing – so we decided to give them just that! The reaction to the inaugural season was overwhelmingly positive. Audiences generally loved the mixture of formats, and the realisation that what they were seeing was totally fresh.
For aspiring musical writers, what sort of things do you look for in a successful submission?
There are two main things in my mind. Firstly, the story has to be engrossing. I want to feel compelled to listen, to watch, to engage. We’ve a whole range of stories this year – ranging from The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus to a wartime novella to a fictional tale about Broadway Star Ethel Merman – but their common factor is their ability to enthral. Secondly, I look for music that sizzles. It can be totally different from anything I’ve heard before, or have recognisable influences from composers we all know and love: but we all know that feeling when we hear something amazing, and suddenly all our emotions are involved in listening to it. I love that feeling, and so I look for that. It’s amazing how many people out there have the knack for triggering it.
Tell us a bit about the headline musicals in this year’s event.
We are producing two fully-staged musicals, one British and one American, each running for a full week. The first, Before the Night is Through, is set at a lavish 1930s party. A series of mishaps – along with the usual social claustrophobia you get at parties – creates circumstances both hilarious and poignant, shedding new light on characters and their relationships. The writing is brilliantly judged – definitely one not to be missed. The second headline musical is The Mistress Cycle, which examines the role of mistresses from 12th century China up to contemporary Manhattan. It’s ambitious, thought-provoking and pushes the boundaries of the genre. Though both performed solely on piano they couldn’t be musically more different!
What is your favourite classic musical (or top three!) and why?
I love most of Sondheim’s works but notably Pacific Overtures, Into The Woods and Follies and I love the score of The Light In The Piazza. I find it pushes the boundaries of contemporary musical theatre with links musically to the classical genre and in particular the impressionistic world of Debussy and other composers.
What do you like most about being a theatre producer and what are the challenges?
Theatre production is all about the pay-off. There’s nothing better than the feeling you get – a mixture of relief and euphoria – when a show comes together. Although you can never truly relax, you can sit back and thing “yes, I did that, and I’m proud of it”. I also really love the process – listening to exciting new material, meeting insanely talented people, and watching exciting things come together in rehearsal. For me, as for everyone in the arts, funding and raising the cash is always something we need to think about though carefully on every project. I’ve been hugely lucky to receive an Arts Council grant for the festival this year, and have been crowd-funding on Kick-starter too. Great.
The Landor Theatre has become very well known as a venue for new musical theatre. Why, and what makes it such a good venue for musicals?
Robert McWhir has done a great job of establishing the venue as a pioneer of musical theatre and new writing. He has directed and produced in-house a string of premiers Title Of Show and The Next Thing You Know/I Love You Because, not to mention the fringe premiere of Ragtime. It is a lovely little theatre which has a loyal following and a great name within the off-West End community. It is a great place to start a production off and I have a built a relationship at the venue and enjoy working there.
You have your own company, Aria Entertainment. What’s its remit and artistic policy?
Aria Entertainment specialises as a theatre production company with a large focus on musical theatre, and especially new musical theatre. From Page to Stage is often a great catalyst for work later in the year, and in future years. Another big goal for Aria is to bring established productions out to the regions. There is so much focus on London, but as a native of the North West I know that there are huge audiences around the country that are often bypassed. British theatre has so much to gain by bringing new, professional standard productions to places further than London on a more regular basis – and I hope Aria Entertainment will lead the way in that.
What are your ultimate ambitions for Aria Entertainment and for the From Page to Stage season?
Within the next ten years, I’d like Aria Entertainment to be a leading production company, championing the very best in musical theatre and bringing it to audiences across the country. In a sense, From Page to Stage is a microcosm of that vision – it puts on most exciting, original musical theatre. I’d like to see Aria bringing the sort of material From Page to Stage showcases and producing it on a commercially successful basis across the country by partnering with regional venues and other commercial theatre producers.
From Page To Stage runs at the Landor Theatre in Clapham from 10th February – 9th March. For more information and tickets visit www.frompage2stage.com.