Please join me in welcoming 4dancers new Intern and Contributor Jessica Wilson to the site. Today she’s sharing some thoughts about what brings success in musical productions, based on her experiences in London…and she’ll be joining us from time-to-time with posts here on 4dancers…
by Jessica Wilson
London’s West End is currently in a state of flux. Musical productions continue to close, making way for others to take their place, for sometime only weeks at a time. At first, this local circumstance appears to be one alone; however, it may be that this occurrence extends further outside of London, nationally, and perhaps even internationally.
Focusing on London primarily, it is vital to draw attention to the fact that the shows closing are generally those which are not based on an existing concept such as a book or film, whereas those that survive are based on an existing commercial success.
In September of this year, Alistair Smith in The Guardian online wrote of “home-grown” musicals such as Betty Blue Eyes, featuring a pig that is being illegally reared to ensure the local dignitaries can celebrate the Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. As one of the shows to be closing imminently, Smith conversely argues that this is not the beginning of the decline of the British musical, citing many alternative successes as Ghost, Billy Elliot, and Matilda. However, Smith does not identify that all of his examples are based on a previous success – be it a Hollywood film, the story of a British mining town or a popular children’s book – despite the productions’ origins. There are musical productions waiting left, right and centre ready to fill previous show’s shoes and they are less and frequently original conceptions for stage.
The correlation between a show’s origin and its success rate appears irrational. Whether a show is “home-grown”, its content relating to that of its surroundings, or a production of far-off wonder, it bears no relation on how long it will stay running, which is additionally independent of how much an audience appears to love it.
Smith argues, for example, that Betty Blue Eyes was critically recognised as a success, yet its old-fashioned style was unlikely to appeal to audiences outside of the musical theatre market. Generally speaking, recent musicals that have surfaced in the West End have struggled despite rave reviews. There has been a lack of subsidy and investment in musical theatre writers; government support for other commercial hits such as War Horse has not reached far and wide in the arts sector, specifically the West End, where it appears that productions are abandoned in their struggle. As an extension of previous points surrounding success, this results in an even higher level of competition between performers, fighting for what are perceived as successful roles in successful shows. We must ask, success due to what exactly?
Consequently, this begs the question of how commercial factors affect shows’ successes. Should producers, and indeed performers, alter their principles in order to appeal to the majority of audiences’ ideals? Arguably a certain amount of performance relies on popularity in order to be a triumph, yet another key element of the mix is of course originality, to maintain freshness within the industry. This only further emphasizes how unpredictable a show’s success can be.
Some productions have achieved this through employing well-known celebrities to entice audiences: British examples include those in Sister Act, Legally Blonde and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, examples which are also applicable internationally. Of course the main aim of a production company is to profit, largely from ticket sales. Whilst stars undoubtedly increase the sales and popularity of a production, it is arguable as to whether this may just replace the pure talent the show was intended for. What now for the thousands of performing arts students, desperate to achieve?
This phenomenon is both unexplainable and unjustifiable. Who is in a position to decide these fates, which are, bottom line, people’s careers and passions. Ultimately, they are viewed as unworthy, tossed aside the moment something newer appears.
What do you think? Is this type of phenomena common where you live as well? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comment section below! -Catherine
BIO: Jessica Wilson is a Contributing Writer and Intern for 4dancers and also a final year student at Middlesex university in London, studying Dance Performance. Jessica reviews London shows for the Society of London Theatre’s initiative for 16-25 year olds, TheatreFix, writes features for A Younger Theatre and blogs for Cloud Dance Festival, with additional press responsibilities. She has completed many marketing internships, the most recent at English National Ballet.
Jessica has also previously interned for SOLT, East London Dance and the ISTD dance examination board. Jessica is a National Youth Dance Ambassador for Youth Dance England, focusing on young people’s access to dance. She is extremely passionate about opportunites for young people enabling them to succeed and hopes to continue advocating this in the future through a variety of means.
Jessica writes about dance for 4dancers, assists with interviews and handles a variety of social media duties for the site.