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New British Musical - ‘Feelgood Academy’ by Steve Jones

Outline

‘Feelgood Academy’ is an exciting and magical new British stage musical. The original idea was hatched in 2011 and by early 2012, the musical team was together working on songs and compositions. By mid 2012, the book writer had been found and work started on the story and characters. Towards the end of 2012, a Director and a fundraiser were brought into the team.

2013 was a busy year of script and song development, reads-through, auditions and rehearsals. By the end of Summer we even had a plan in place for a showcase run to bring in Producers and further investment.

It’s now early 2014 and Feelgood Academy is having a three performance showcase at a theatre in London. The time between the key creative team being assembled and a showcase being put on will be roughly 20 months. It might only be taking place in a 200 seat theatre in Stratford but it’s happening and we’re making it happen.

Do you want to do the same? Do you want to write a stage musical and get it on in a theatre? Well read on, because this is our story.

The Team

As the creator of the original concept, Penny Lane has sung professionally all her adult life. She was the house singer on Terry Wogan’s lunchtime TV show. She composed songs for Billy Ocean and Gloria, Gaynor and she has sung with legends including Cliff Richards, Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett. Penny was not, however, an expert in writing songs for a stage musical.

Glenn Keiles is a composer who since the early 1990s has written over 400 compositions for film and TV. He has worked on movies directed by Ridley Scott and Alex Proyas and numerous TV documentaries and dramas. Glenn was not, however, an expert in composing for a stage musical.

Steve Jones doesn’t even work in the entertainments industry but has a day job in marketing. He did write the book for a stage musical based on the invention of fast food in the USA, but  this is only his second stage show book. Steve was not an expert in writing the script for a stage musical.

Towards the end of 2012, Karren Brooks met the creative team through a mutual contact and came on board to bring in the finance needed to put on a showcase of the musical to see how it played and to give invited Producers and investors an opportunity to see it. Although Karren had been involved in raising money for film companies and an on-line music business, she was not an expert in the stage musical business.

Remember this when you get your team together.  You can’t write music within knowing how but you don’t have to be an expert. The more experience you can get in your team, the better but every experience is a learning experience, so even if you start knowing nothing, you’re just going to have to learn quicker.

Basically, when bringing a stage musical to life the only people guaranteed to make it fail are the people behind it. So when creating a stage musical rule number one is:  Never give up.

The Process

We  started with a simple outline and a handful of songs. One in particular had significance to Penny and was destined to create a few structural problems later. However, the creative team developed a process that worked along these lines:

  • The initial outline was taken away and developed
  • A new story outline was created
  • The outline was agreed
  • Existing songs were positioned within the outline and places for new songs were identified
  • New songs were written as the book was developed
  • A number of drafts of the book were put together and the songs refined
  • Songs were recorded by various potential performers
  • Drafts of the show were recorded in reads-through
  • Video of each reading was watched back and analysed
  • Characters were analysed and developed
  • Spacing between songs was looked at
  • Introductions into songs through dialogue and action were considered
  • Character motivations, story arcs, realisations and lessons learnt were understood and developed
  • Dialogue was developed for each character’s individual voice
  • All songs, dialogue and action were developed to avoid cliché and obvious elements

So when creating a stage musical rule number two is:  Never stop re-writing.

The Problems

As I write this article, Feelgood Academy is about to start rehearsals. We have paid a deposit on our theatre but our fundraising is behind schedule. In fact, we might have to delay booking rehearsal rooms.

If you’re going to write a stage musical, there’s probably only one certainty and that is that things will go wrong. We have developed a 30+ page fundraising proposal and brought in someone to specifically go after investors but we’re still behind.

We have taken holiday from day jobs, given up paying gigs, worked evenings, weekends and the early hours of the morning and we’re still playing catch-up. We’ve looked for Production Assistants to help and we found the perfect person. But they introduced us to a team who could help even better than a team we’d already spoken to but not signed up. Suddenly, we’re making tough business decisions that affect not just business people but friends who were giving their expertise for free.

What about selling enough tickets? What about getting all our cast to rehearsals? What if someone is sick? What if the sky falls on our heads?

Suddenly, writing something fun that was designed to entertain a few people has become a business with tough decisions. But we’re still only looking at three performances in a 200 seat theatre to encourage further investment and development.

Imagine what it would have been like if our goal had been a thousand seat theatre or a tour or The West End.

Writing a stage musical will always be a difficult business because it’s the business of creativity for presentation to a paying audience. The different sides of the brain involved in being creative and being organised and business-like don’t always mix well.

You can get help with Production in the same way that you can hire a Director or a Lighting or Sound Engineer. But where does the money come from, or is it all done on favours, or a share of the company you created to produce the show?

These are all questions to consider at the beginning of the project and we will be developing a check-list of things to consider at various stages of the process. However, it’s rule time again, so when creating a stage musical rule number three is:  Problems will happen and they’re just hurdles to get over, not obstacles blocking your path completely.

The Show

At our showcase, we will invite Producers and Investors and we’ll kidnap them to get them there if we have to (not really!). But if they don’t come, we’ll also video each show with three cameras so that we can edit a full show together from the best performances.

We will then have something to send out to amdram groups, use on the internet and generally promote Feelgood Acadmey with.

The final rule before a list of less forceful suggestions in our advice list below is simple to say but difficult to adopt because it could mean you have to step outside your comfort zone. But think about this. Is writing a stage musical outside your comfort zone? Is getting investors involved or putting together presentations outside your comfort zone? Could you audition cast members and tell the ones who didn’t make it the bad news without stepping outside your comfort zone?

If you’ve decided to create a stage musical, forget about comfort zones and just go for it. That will mean you can deal with rule number four for creating a stage musical which is: Never miss an opportunity.

Advice

The following list is comprised of ten recommendations and pieces of advice based on our experience of creating Feelgood Academy the Musical. We hope it’s useful when you put your stage musical together but why not keep a list of your experiences and pass that onto someone else who plans to be as incredible as you.

  1. Don’t let too many friends and family know too much about what you’re doing in the early stages. Unless they’re in the business, they probably won’t understand why you’re doing it and will probably not be encouraging.
  2. Make sure that everyone in your creative group knows that any recommendation, comment or advice is designed only for one purpose and that is to improve the show. It’s not personal.
  3. Take a break. Regularly. Tired minds do not create as well as inspired minds.
  4. Love what you’re doing. If you find history boring, would you want to devote so much of yourself to creating a historical story?
  5. Always think of the audience. Would they understand? Are you giving them enough information? Are you giving them too much information? Are you boring them? Are you telling them lots of jokes in a tragedy or no jokes in a comedy?
  6. Understand marketing and get good at it or hire someone who can do it for you.
  7. Don’t become trapped by something you like that no-one else does. If you can’t cut something from a song or the script (and use it in the next thing you write instead!) when everyone else thinks it’s bad for the show, then you’re being precious and petty and narrow-minded and completely human but you have to give it up. The only alternative is to think of something better.
  8. Try and get people involved who love the idea, enjoy working with you, can commit to it, have a genuine skill or experience that will benefit the project and then... DELEGATE! Make sure that whatever it is that you do well is done as well as it can be and let others do their things.
  9. You will never have enough time so don’t put anything off until tomorrow. One day you will have run out of tomorrows but still have loads to do.
  10. Enjoy it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Feelgood Academy will be presented for three performances in March this year at Stratford Circus in East London.

Tuesday 25th March, 2014 – evening show

Wednesday 26th March, 2014 – matinee and evening shows

Final details for box office contact and ticket pricing will be available on the website which is as www.feelgoodacademythemusical.co.uk where you can sign up to receive the latest news about the show and details of how to book tickets when the box office opens.

Steve Jones