Reflection on being part of the Ten Minute Musicals Project: January 2017. By Peter Cox

When I first saw the publicity for this exciting project it hit a nerve with me: I just ‘got it’. Immediately. The concept, the possibilities and potential, the achievability. The lot! I saw it as a kind of ‘Blind Date’ for creatives. No preconceptions. No planning. Just turn up. Meet. Create. Perform! Having now done it I’m delighted that it turned out to be exactly what I’d hoped – stimulating, challenging, productive and fun.
In a measured but passionate process, led by Angharad Lee and Becky Davies of Leeway Productions, five writers and five composers, all strangers to each other, were encouraged to leap into the darkness. To generate and share ideas, to explore them collaboratively – then move on from them as they evolved. To go with the creative flow to see where it led us. Our only goal was to have something to put in front of an audience two weeks later. Crucially, it didn’t actually matter if we fully engaged with the process but didn’t end up with a performance – a ‘product’. This ‘right to fail’ was a hugely refreshing professional development approach that has become less common with the rise of today’s ‘outcomes’ culture across society in general.

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Week One was spent exchanging ideas, words and musical motifs with composer Matthew Holmquist. We live seventy five miles from each other so we worked by using email, WhatsApp and by sharing audio files to explore themes, character and story.
On the second Sunday of the three we were joined by our two singers who brought with them fantastic skills as well as contrasting voices, professional backgrounds and singing styles. Our workshop venue, Porter’s, was like an old Victorian Schoolroom with a range of different voices, lyrics, instruments and musical theatre styles competing for attention in every corner. Rather than being distracting it generated a buzz. This creative camaraderie reminded us how important it was to zone in on our own work, while being acutely aware of the diversity of imaginations being given free rein around the room.

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Throughout Week Two we were formalising words on the page and growing the melodies, harmonies and the mood of the piece. Our goal now was to have a strong foundation to work on and edit from on the final Sunday – performance day. Our ten minutes would be made up of two solos, some linking dramatic dialogue and one duet.
And then finally it was Rehearsal and Performance Day – spent exploring and learning the music together, editing the text to a bare minimum for maximum clarity, musicality, power and effect. And of course, rehearsing but not over rehearsing. And then we were on – one of five vastly different Ten Minute Musicals that generated every response you could wish for from an audience – ranging from absolute guffaws of laughter to breath-holding wrapt attention.

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In overview the Ten Minute Musicals Project gave me freedom to experiment in a safe and supportive environment. It gave me an opportunity to engage my under-used poetic / dramatic ‘writing muscles’, the ‘creative me’ that gets crushed by the endless process of writing project proposals and grant applications that can be heart-achingly soul destroying.
And finally, if I had to choose what I thought was the best thing about the project, apart from the opportunity to work with passionate creative individuals, the thing that was most special for me was actually getting something completely new from initial idea to scratch performance in only three weeks. I’d happily do it again tomorrow!

 

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