I’ve written here on many occasions on the subject of social media and how it is growing to become a useful and powerful tool for promotion and awareness in the world of theatre. The popular Twitter figure @WestEndProducer, who has gathered over 30,000 followers on the social network site through his wittily amusing tweets and wry insights into the theatre industry, used his influential presence to seize upon this growing phenomenon for the benefit of unknown talents who dreamed of a career on the stage. He created the musical theatre online contest Search For A Twitter Star, which looked for a leading man and lady to be potential West End stars of the future. Following video submissions which were uploaded via YouTube, entries were narrowed by a selection of industry professional and through a public voting campaign until just 10 contestants were left. The five guys and five girls then went on to the Final at the Lyric Theatre on 9th July 2012, attended by the elusive @WestEndProducer and hosted by Aled Jones, where they performed before a live audience and a panel of celebrity judges, comprised of Louise Dearman, Mike Dixon, Gemma Lowy Hamilton and David King. The eventual winners were Felipe Bejerano and Kara Bayer. They received industry prizes, which included Spotlight membership, and closed the event by singing respective duets with West End stars Jon Lee and Kerry Ellis.
The Search For A Twitter Star contest received over 600 submissions from people across the UK and @WestEndProducer’s original ‘glimmer of an idea’ took on a life of its own to become a huge sensation. Following that first success, he has created a new Twitter contest which follows the same format, but this time in a search for a musical theatre composer. Search For A Twitter Composer will seek to find, nurture and develop promising new musical theatre writers, helping them to be heard by the social media audience in an effort to bring further awareness to their work. More and more up-and-coming writers are turning to social media to promote their work and find followers to support it. As video and sound links to selections of their work are retweeted and commented on, songs can go viral and help the writer to gain recognition and cement a credible reputation in new writing circles.
As with Search For A Twitter Star this year’s contest starts off online, with musical theatre composers invited to upload a section of their musical onto YouTube and then tweeting the link to @WestEndProducer. Entrants have fifteen minutes to present examples of their work in whatever manner they choose, such as showing a selection of songs with a synopsis of the musical. There are already more than 100 submissions which can be viewed at www.westendproducer.co.uk and feature names which some may already recognise. Out of the entries so far, there are four entries in particular which I would say have a very good chance of becoming finalists in the contest: Christopher Orton, Chris Passey & Amy Carroll, Jake Brunger & Pippa Cleary and Laura Tisdall.
Christopher Orton is best known as the creative mind behind My Land’s Shore, the Welsh musical based on Dic Penderyn and the Merthyr Rising of 1831. A studio cast recording showcasing a selection of the musical’s songs was released by SimG Records last year, featuring the voices of such West End performers as Jonathan Williams, Kelly-Anne Gower, Killian Donnelly and Sarah Lark. The composer/actor has also worked on various other musical projects, mostly in collaboration with MLS lyricist/book writer Robert Gould.
Chris Passey and Amy Passey (nee Carroll) are the co-creators of the original song ‘Stagey and Proud’, which was first performed by Wicked star Chloe Hart at her 2012 solo cabaret and quickly became popular. Sheridan Smith gave the song a wider platform when she recently performed it at the 2013 Whatsonstage.com Awards. Chris Passey released his debut album Self Taught Still Learning in 2011, which featured songs from his concept musical Bridges and guest vocals by the likes of Kieran Brown, Liam Tamne, Mark Evans and Lauren Samuels. The newly-weds also composed the score for new musical The Good Enough Mum’s Club, which premieres at the Waterloo East Theatre this month.
Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary are a long-standing composing team who created the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival hit musical Jet Set Go! and the follow-up Edinburgh Fringe production The Great British Soap Opera in 2009. Amongst other projects, they also wrote an original composition for A Song Cycle for Soho at the Soho Theatre last year, which was subsequently featured on the SimG Records CD release. Supporter of new musical theatre writing SimG Productions introduced the duo at his Easter With…The Composers cabaret event at the Battersea Barge in 2012.
Laura Tisdall is most commonly associated with new musical The In-Between, for which she solely created. A concept album of the musical was released in 2012, featuring performances by such West End names as Hadley Fraser, Alexia Khadime, Daniel Boys and Sabrina Aloueche. Her first musical, Faerytale, was showcased by the Guildford School of Acting (GSA) at the Electric Theatre and she also wrote the music for Bill Kenwright’s The Haunting, which has just completed its third UK tour.
These are just a mere few of the hopeful composers who have entered Search For A Twitter Composer. The eventual winner will need to make it through to the two live heats of the contest, the first taking place at Soho Downstairs on Sunday 26th May 2013 and the second on Sunday 23rd June 2013. The remaining contestants will then go on to the live Final at Soho Theatre on 21st July 2013. @WestEndProducer has teamed up with Michael Peavoy Productions for the live performance events. The production company have showcased over 30 new composer’s work at the Soho Theatre and are avid supporters of new British writing.
Speaking about the new musical theatre contest, @WestEndProducer said: “’I often spend evenings relaxing with my Jean Valjean teddy listening to glorious musicals. And while I am always extremely thrilled to hear classic musicals, my passion has always been new work…now we want to push this new work and talent even further – by actively searching, supporting and helping new composers. It is particularly difficult getting an original musical off the ground – what with the costs of working with performers, and paying for workshops – and composers often don’t get the support they require.” He went on to add: “We want to find someone with an individual voice, a distinctive sound – with something exciting and groundbreaking to offer to the world of musical theatre.”
As a long-standing advocate of new musical theatre writing, I see this contest as a very positive move in increasing, not only support for new writers, but opportunities for them to get their work out there. An opportunity is exactly what Search For A Twitter Composer offers; it doesn’t promise West End success or to make the winner bigger than established composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is a platform for writers to showcase their talents and the importance of that should not be overlooked. As @WestEndProducer said, it is a difficult task to get a new musical to the stage if you don’t have a well-known name and the benefit of previous experience and success to help you on your way. I for one will be watching this one very closely throughout its various stages, and as well as seeing familiar faces I’ve backed in the past, I hope to discover some new talented writers in there as well. That is exactly what Search For A Twitter Composer is about after all. So I raise a glass of Dom to @WestEndProducer and I hope many more will join in to toast each and every entrant in the contest – I’m enormously looking forward to seeing how it progresses and just who will be the potential composing star of musical theatre’s future.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 9th May 2013