Welcome Message

As you may know, this blog started life as a resource aimed at the members and Alumni of Birmingham University's Guild Musical Theatre Group.















Since then, I have realised that a great many artists I know could use a serious resource for discussion and debate of the major issues.















So, I open this network to any and all arts professionals who would like to use it. Over the years, I have seen some awe inspiring performances and productions by a great many talented and high ranking individuals, whose knowledge would be an asset to the artistic community. I invite these individuals and others to come forward, so that their achievements may be celebrated.






If you would like to write articles or make comments on this blog, please let me know. My contact email is on the link. Membership is free, and there are no obligations. Existing members are free to write as and when they want.








Its is also easy to forget, that we don't often have a chance to discuss or to think about the most serious issues affecting the arts. Despite all the progress made by online networks like Facebook and Twitter, there still needs to be a place where opinions can be viewed, and I hope that this will be such a place: a neutral ground, where all are welcome, and where knowledge can be shared.















Artists of all disciplines, I hope that this will assist your development and further networking. May this resource serve you well.















Best Regards,















James Megarry















Founder















Friday, 11 January 2019

Student work experience: Performing Arts

Student work experience in the performing arts is important. But how can we avoid undermining the work of paid professionals while giving students the work experience they need, as volunteers? Here is a solution.

In my amateur dramatic society s last show, two of our backstage crew were students, using us as their work experience. It was win win for everyone. They got the experience for their degree/apprenticeship; we got an extra pair of hands to help behind the scenes.

We always talk about giving young people their chance; and at the same time, we want new people to come in with the passion for the arts: rather than expecting the same people in amateur societies, to do the same tasks, show after show. Student work experience in am dram societies is a way to do both.

Of course, the usual rules should apply, as for on stage performers. All under 18 s should be invited to apply to drama societies' youth sections, where they can be properly supervised. All 18+ students can help the adult societies. In either case, it s a chance for these young people to find opportunities.

In fact, I believe that amateur dramatic groups around the UK, could make long term arrangements like this, with local drama schools and universities. The Federation of Drama Schools and the National Operatic and Dramatic Association could work together, to form a strategy to make this happen UK wide.

And the same arrangement could be tried in other countries.

So that s my suggestion for an alternative source of voluntary work experience for arts students: try the am dram groups.

It can be win win for everyone.

#studentworkexperience #performingarts

Monday, 16 July 2018

What Members Want - Results of the Creativity Survey

For members of the Creativity Performing Arts Group, who have participated in our survey, the consensus among participants, is they want the following services from our group:


·         Guidance and online support

·         Networking

·         Business Support

·         Partnerships

·         Marketing and promotion

·         Fundraising

·         Education

·         Campaigning and lobbying for the arts

·         Workshops and Conferences

·         Webinars

·         Showcases and Community Engagement

In response to these requests, I have the following suggestions:

Networking

For networking, I think that Linkedin is a good starting point. I have personally introduced some members to one another, based on their requirements, and members are quite welcome to approach one another for connections. Members have also indicated that they are prepared to use Facebook, hence why I have set up a Facebook page for Creativity:

https://www.facebook.com/Creativity-Performing-Arts-Group-625380381164918

Guidance and Online Support

Participants have said they would like online guidance, problem solving and promotion for members. For example a shared page for Frequently Asked Questions may be useful for members to contribute questions and answers to. This is why I have pushed for a team blog, where members can promote their businesses, share ideas, and solve problems together. A resource that is uniquely focused on the needs of our group would be a good plan in the long term.

But the best way to start is with an existing respurce, and having spoken to one media expert in our group, the following platform has been recommended:

 https://medium.com


Conferences and Workshops
Members have requested that we hold conferences and events: which is why I had pushed for the Zoom conference. As it turns out technical issues prevented members from coming together to discuss face to face, which was a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, as most members are in agreement, I will continue to arrange conferences, through Skype and other means, so that we may build towards Webinars and other resources.

All participants to the survey said they were prepared to travel to events in other countries, which means it should be quite possible for our group to host international events for members in the near future. In the early stages, I believe one of our members’ venues will need to play host. (If you would like to volunteer your venue for a workshop or conference, please message me or the group on LinkedIn.) The host could book a slot, and cover the overheads of the event; while attendees would need to cover their travelling expenses. Eventually, we could devise a subscription service to cover both these expenses, but I believe this is the best arrangement for now. 

And, because we are connected to people around the world, venue owners of our group should consider creating an international touring circuit for their artists. I believe that there is serious potential for this to help many of our members' performers.

Fundraising

Funding and fundraising are also hot topics for our group: indeed, one of our members is in the process of raising a large scale investment for an important project of hers. There are many tried and tested methods of fundraising, and access to funding, that our members can advise on. What I also think would help is asset-sharing. If we view our group as a giant production company, we will see that there are many resources held in our members venues and companies that could be used effectively to save on overheads.  For example, physical assets like costumes, scenery, lighting and sound rigs, and many other assets, could be exchanged, shared and traded; if we coordinate our efforts and make formal agreements between members. I understand that members' business interests, contracts and logistical issues may make this difficult; but I urge members who are looking to save resources, to consider working with one another, as a solution.
Campaigning

Our international membership makes a strong case for lobbying, for members’ artistic causes. I am glad to see that members like the idea of campaigns and lobbying for arts issues: including the place of arts in education. I personally want our politicians and my fellow businesspeople to respect the arts, and wholeheartedly agree with campaigning and lobbying for this in the long term.

The Next Steps

Having taken all of the above into account, I believe we should start making small steps to make this happen. For example, members are welcome to access the links on this article, to post content and get exposure. I will also push for another conference for members to discuss face to face with one another, and agree on what we will do next. If you have a date in mind for this, please contact me, and we can set this in motion.

Small steps make big strides. Let's begin. 

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Plan So Far


Welcome, members of the Creativity Performing Arts Group! Creativity is the driving force behind every artform, and so I hope our group's name will give it the purpose it needs. Our group is now global, with members from many different countries around the world.
And as our group continues to expand, our members have unique perspectives and a multitude of skills to offer. And so it makes sense to use these skills, as we build our group into a full scale network. To this end, you as a member, are more than welcome to contact and to network with fellow members, to share connections, resources and ideas. For example:
Writers – the plan is to set up a team blog for members, to post articles about performing arts issues. Also, in the spirit of an arts group, a newsletter to our members would be a good idea. For now, we will use this blog to post articles to. Think of it as a rehearsal space for the main event: this being a full blown Wordpress blog or similar arrangement. 
Media and social media professionals – with our group members based in many countries worldwide, it is only fair to have updates from each part of the world. And with so many arts events worldwide, we can put together a global calendar, of our festivals and showcases. With your many skills and knowledge, we could also set up new social media groups, such as connections on Skype to talk face to face, or even a WhatsApp group for instant messaging.
Teachers – many of our members like yourselves teach for the artistic professions, and at least one has mentioned he is looking for teaching opportunity. So I think it is worth setting up a Teachers’ group, for education in the arts. If you teach, then there are many fellow teachers here to build an 'Arts Ed' group with.
Leaders and Organisers - The ultimate goal of our group, is for it to become a self-sustaining network for the arts, run by all, for the benefit of all. While there are many groups for the artistic professions on Facebook and Instagram, I still believe that there needs to be a bigger presence here on Linkedin, to shape the business perspective of those who fund our members’ work. 

Here is one example of a platform we could use to make that happen: http://www.globalvaluexchange.org/
I also believe that we can learn a lot from professional sports, to engage the fans in such a way as to give the arts the dedicated following that it needs. Your ideas and suggestions on this are more than welcome.
Conclusion
As our group continues to expand, there are many networking opportunities to share and exchange connections, ideas and resources. And by utilising our members' many skills and much experience, we can build many new resources, to create a great network for the performing arts. 
Let's do this!










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Friday, 2 March 2018

Dead Horses: When to Quit

For those of us who are driven to succeed - especially with our creative projects, there is always the question of when to quit. When do we know that a project clearly a bad idea and how do we know when to move on?

There are many examples of projects that failed, whose makers should have seen it coming but who didn't. And Spider-Man:Turn off the Dark was just one such example.

Failing on a Grand Scale

At first, the Broadway musical, based on the Toby Maguire films of one Marvel s most iconic superheroes, seemed destined for success. Backed by Marvel, with music by Bono, and The Edge, and directed by The Lion King's director, Julie Taymor, it seemed like a start studded line up for a sure fire hit.

But instead, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, proved to be one of the most expensive musicals in Broadway s history, and also arguably one of the most disastrous, costing a staggering $75 million dollars and closing with a massive loss, and many injuries to its performers. And far from earning acclaim, the whole concept was seen as a bad joke: being mocked by everyone; from the cast of Saturday Night Live; to Marvel's own Deadpool.

So how could such a juggernaut of a project, have gone so spectacularly wrong? As many critics have said, there were many ways the project was set up to fail. The warning signs were there with the previews. Having 182 previews for one show, really should have flagged up that something was very wrong with this concept.

Then there was the choice of venue. Broadway theatres can allow for some spectacular performances. For example the dancers of Blast achieved some awe inspiring choreography when my family and I went to see their show. From 16 people catching flags in the dark, to a drummer able to make a drumstick levetate and play itself, through sheer skill,  their performances were superb and world class. But as specactacular as these feats were, they were achieved on tera firma. For high wire stunts you need an arena: as the many injuries to Turn off the Dark's stunt peformers went on to prove. Pity the proposed Las Vegas one wasn't used the first time round.

And then there was the storyline. Julie Taymor may have been an award winning costume designer and director for The Lion King, but as many have said; her decision to make the character of Arachne central to the plot of Spider-Man:Turn off the Dark, totally missed the appeal of Spiderman as a character. What Spiderman is really about, is the story of a young man finding his way in a tough world. All of us can relate to that. But by changing the emphasis of the story, she lost us the emotional attachment to the plot.

And the rewrites only made things worse. Like Martin Guerre, when you have an original concept you shouldn't mess with the formula. For example, the plot to kill off the Green Goblin at the end of Act 1, and then introduce not one but six Marvel supervillians in Act 2; was a complete overkill: and did not make sense, to audiences of the Tobey Maguire films. While im sure fans of the comic books would love to see Spiderman s enemies on stage, the fact remains that a comic book is not a musical. Getting all 6 supervillians into one act proved a logistical nightmare for all involved.

In the end, not even the appeal of Spiderman himself would make audiences come back, and the musical finally closed in 2014. In many ways, the flop of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, stands as an example; that bigger is not always better; that throwing more money at a problem is not the way to fix it; and that even the experts can get it wrong sometimes.

'Dead Horses'

Such a spectacular failure begs the obvious question: why on earth, would the show s producers keep on pumping millions of dollars, into something that was clearly a bad idea? Strange though this may seem, I know why they did it. Because when we think about it, what have we been taught our whole lives, when we take on to do something? Never quit, keep pushing on, don't take no for answer: and when you start a project, you finish it. We've become so used to critics and naysayers trying to tear our projects down, that when something really is a bad idea, we don't listen to them.

As motivational guru Paul McGee explains:

"Focus can lead to you being blinkered in your approach. Determination can result in a stubbornness to change, despite what the facts are telling us. Confidence could lead to a dangerous cocktail of arrogance and complacency."

And he gives the example of the Dakota Indians' proverb: "When you're riding a dead horse, dismount."

But of course, for reasons aforementioned, we don't do this. Certainly not for projects in showbusiness. I have not worked as a full time performer, but having watched my parents put together musical productions for 30 years, I know the emotional and personal commitments involved, to keep a musical running. No doubt the producers and backers of Spiderman Turn off the Dark felt this way too. As the saying goes: the show must go on. And we all do it. I once made the same mistake, letting one failed event turn into an obsession that wrecked everything for me and many others.

The Show That Was Not

It began as an idea I had, for my old student society to have a reunion. Our society was the university's musical theatre group, and one of the most successful groups on campus. Over the 30 years of its existence, talented students from all over the university had come to perform at our Deb Hall. And from hundreds of auditionees, an intense rehearsal schedule, and a meticulous backstage operation, we made sure that the standard of our shows stayed high.

Alumni of our society went on to have amazing careers, working everywhere from the RSC to London's West End. And so, one day while looking at the Alumni fb page, the idea came to me: why not get everyone together, and do a massive joint showcase, for a reunion? With over 30 generations of Alumni and a never ending number of talented students, it seemed like a match made in heaven. People always talk about opportunities, and yet one was staring us right in the face! I was brimming with excitement. What an event it could be - we had to do this!

It took 2 years of steady lobbying, before the student committee finally agreed to a showcase. But it was worth the wait. I was ecstatic, and sent invites to everyone. We had  Facebook group set up, and auditions that I attended. 600 people were notified. Official invites were sent through our Alumni magazine, and we even had a high standing member of the BBC on the guest list. The momentum was awesome, as we waited for the big event. And then it didn't happen.

Due to a double booking of the venue, the reunion had to be cancelled. We were all devastated. All that brilliant momentum and excitement went straight into a wall. After all the years trying to follow in my producer/director parents' footsteps, this could have been my chance. But with a heavy heart, I had to accept that the reunion was not going to happen.

And that would have been the end of it. Except that every time my parents did a show, it reminded me of what might have been.  To have come so close to putting on something that could have been spectacular, kept tearing away at me. We could have made a great event! Again and again, the idea of a joint showcase between the students and Alumni haunted me; and with the same message: it can be done. It can be done.

And so every year, I went back to try it again. But as with Spider-Man's producers, I kept trying to ride a dead horse. Time and again i would be told that neither the students, nor the Alumni wanted the event to happen anymore. But I ignored such comments as naysaying, and tried again and again to lobby both the society s student committee and my fellow Alumni, without success. My desire for a joint showcase had become an obsession. And my persistence only made it worse.

By the end of this sorry saga, my friends and I had fallen out big time, and a lot of students and Alumni were disappointed, frustrated, and disillusioned. My one last attempt came as a video blog, inviting all to take part. Thinking that enough time had gone by to try again, i posted my Vlog to the society s Facebook page, to see who was interested. And then all hell broke loose. The student committee were furious that I had overstepped the mark by trying to push something that hadnt been approved. They quickly blocked me from the society s Facebook page. Some of my fellow Alumni was also very annoyed, and threatened to block me on the Alumni page as well. It was painfully clear that no one wanted the event to haplem, and my persistence in pushing for it, made people want it less and less. And so I finally gave up as the last few fragements of the project s train hit the wall. It was a painful lesson to learn, but in many ways, and in the face of the need to succeed against all odds, it could happen again.

Conclusion

So the lesson to take away from all of this is: when do we actually know when to quit? In a world where we are taught never say never, and not to take 'no' for an answer: when should we realise that our project is not going to work?

I would say the best judgment to make, would be when trusted friends start saying an idea is wrong, and give detailed accounts as to why. If their facts check out, then it's probably time to change the plan. And if it still doesn't work, then it s time to call it quits.

'Dead horses' are everywhere. Let's not ride them anytime soon.

SOURCES:

McGee, Paul: How to Succeed With People, pgs 100, 103 Capstone 2013

Monday, 12 February 2018

Parents Who Perform - Supporting Maternity and Paternity Pay in the Arts

Maternity and Paternity Leave and Pay are essential, for full time professionals who choose to start families together, and artists and creatives are no exception to this rule. Working parents who perform for a living, should have the financial support, to balance a full time job, with full time childcare, so that they are can raise a family, while pursuing a great career. But this is not as straightforward as it may seem.

Going from contract to contract, it may not be easy to guarantee contractual maternity pay, without a steady paycheck from an employer in the performing arts industry. And in our Gig Economy, this lack of lonegevity may make it hard to plan for the future.

So the question remains: how to guarantee steady maternity/paternity pay - aside from the bare minimum state paid leave that the govenment can provide, and what performers and creatives can collect from their contracts? While i dont claim to have expertise in this area, there are i believe, two possible options available to working parents who perform for a living.

The first option is through union contributions. Regardless of your current employer, your trades union is one constant source of investment from yourself and other arts professionals. So it makes sense, to use it as such.

If you perform full time and plan to start a family, i suggest petitioning your union to set up a maternity/paternity package, that you can contribute to, on a monthly, or bi-annual basis. Your union might consider talking to a big insurance company, to set one up a specialised collective savings account on your behalf.

The account would exist as a special 'pot' for you to cash in, if and when you have children. This would have to have large scale support to work, and would probably work best as a large scale collective investment, but as the larger arts unions already offer specialised insurance for performers, then they could consider this as well.

Your other option is to consider a maternity/paternity package, attatched to your pension 'pot'. While unlikely, it might just be possible that some of the big pension providers might be persuaded to offer this, as a special deal for their customers.

The savings option is the more likely of the two, as savings accounts - certainly in the uk - are tax free places, where you can put large amounts of money away for that important time in your life, when you decide to start a family.

Professionals in many other industries are supported as a matter of course, for their maternity and paternity leave. And if you perform for a living, you should have the financial support to do the same.


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Wolverine Sings Again

It s great to see that 'The Greatest Showman' - the latest musical biopic, telling the life of showbiz pioneer, P.T Barnum - has been so well received by the public. Hugh Jackman and a talented ensemble, certainly deserve some of the praise for this hit movie. But there is also the question of the concept itself.

I had thought that a 21st century audience simply wouldnt accept a cast of characters who spontaneously break into musical numbers. Sure, your typical squeeky clean MGM movie in the 20th century might do it: but would an audience allow Wolverine to burst into song?

Apparently yes. The Greatest Showman has been a big hit - not just with the musical theatre audiences, but with the mainstream public too. Zac Effron for one, has shown he can be more than eye candy, with some impressive dance routines - and vocals too. His duet with Zendaya - Rewrite The Stars, is the kind of song that makes a great chart hit too. And it s heartening to see, how a modern musical adaptation of a showbiz icon, has been a hit in our 21st century digital age.

Musicals are great on a stage, because the combination of live music, dance and theatre enhances the performance: an audience being so close to the action. But what about on a screen? Could the same energy translate to a great celluloid performance? And could it be as moving to an audience as a live performance?

Digital streaming of live performances has proved a surprisingly good at drawing in audiences who cant travel to the West End, Broadway (or Moscow in the case of ballet!) to see their favourite shows.

And come to think of it, the musical format has still been a huge hit with modern audiences, with films like Burlesque and 8 Mile, using musical numbers and dance, to tell the story. Then of course, there have been onscreen musical adaptations of Chicago Sweeney Todd and Nine, to name but a few.

I suppose we are so used to seeing music videos on our phones, that telling a story through song isnt so hard for a digital viewers to sit through and enjoy.

So modern musical adaptations do seem to work for a 21st century audience. The only question is: when will we hear Wolverine sing - again?


Sunday, 10 December 2017

Tim Firth is Right

Following Tim Firth's assertion in The Stage Magazine, that there should be more 'mid-scale' venues for musical theatre, I think there is a way to support this, from what was written elsewhere in The Stage.

There was an interesting article, by Phil Willmott, about the various schemes that are used to developing the next big musical project. Reading through the article, these schemes certainly do seem to offer a lot of good support. And so, the is an idea I'd like to put forward, that may allow one to help the other. My idea is this.

What if the leaders and organisers of the schemes mentioned below, came together and co-ordinated their efforts, to form a new mid-level musical theatre 'federation' of sorts, to develop - and to house - new to mid level musicals?

This may seem quite a tough challenge, but I believe that the combined resources of all musical theatre schemes, could more than fund and supply key mid-level venues around the country. After all, there are now numerous musical theatre courses being offered at universities and colleges, so the recognition for musical theatre as an industry are on the up. And this kind of collaboration, would create even more opportunities for musical theatre performers and creatives.

The schemes include:
  • Stiles and Drew Prize and Mentorship
  • Mercury Musical Developments and BEAM
  • Book, Music and Lyrics (BMI)
  • The Other Palace
  • New Musical Development Collective
  • Perfect Pitch
  • Katy Lipson, Aria Entertainment and Page to Stage
That is my idea, and scheme leaders who are reading this: if you pool your resources, you will more than achieve your aims.

Sources: The Stage Magazine, December 7, 2017 pgs 3, 24