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The Musical Theatre Kit

In this blog, Neil Crossley examines the difficulties often met in the creation of musicals, and how the Musical Theatre Kit serves to meet a real need.

Published: 26 March 2018 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:29 PM

The creation of musicals can be fraught with difficulties, as anyone who has worked on them knows.

They can take years to stage, cost millions to produce, and commercial successes are in the minority. Against this background, the Musicians’ Union (MU) and The Writers’ Guild (WGGB) created the Musical Theatre Kit to help avert problems before they start.

The Kit is essentially a resource document which signposts the places where detailed information can be found from the two unions and professional associations, about each aspect of the production process.

A real need

The need for such a document was highlighted when the MU and WGGB both noticed that members were confused about which organisation to turn to for help.

“The WGGB were advising book writers, the MU offered advice to composers, and we would both advise lyricists,” said MU Assistant General Secretary, Naomi Pohl. “We realised it would be quite easy for people to fall down the cracks between the Writers’ Guild – representing script writers and the people who use words – and us who represent composers who write music. After discussions with the WGGB, we realised there was a need to be joined-up and ensure that any writer of musical theatre, whichever angle they approached it from, could access the same guidance. We also wanted to reach out to the industry, those who commission and develop new musicals.”

In addition to offering advice the Kit signposts a range of resources from the MU and WGGB as well as other organisations such as BASCA and Equity.

Common concerns

The most typical queries that the MU receives from members working in musical theatre concern copyright and collaboration, says Naomi. Subjects include how the rights income should be shared; who gets what credit; and whether actors and singers involved in a show’s development will receive a share of the copyright.

Such queries are addressed in the Musical Theatre Kit, which examines the collaborative nature of musical theatre, via book writers, composers and lyricists, or by a collective of performers and writers.

The Kit offers advice on copyright ownership, copyright merging and small rights issues, outlining key steps for writers as well as online resources and sample contracts. It also advises on working with the three types of source material: the original story; an adaption of existing material in the public domain that is out of copyright; or an adaption of an existing work that is still in copyright.

The Kit concludes by exploring the processes of writing and putting the musical into production. It is hoped that the Musical Theatre Kit will prove invaluable in encouraging and supporting writers of musical theatre.

Sharing the support

“The reason we started doing this is because it’s such a collaborative art form,” said Jenifer Toksvig, co-chair of Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s Theatre Committee and a writer of musical theatre herself. Jenifer was pivotal to the creation of the Musical Theatre Kit and said it was her own experiences in this area that prompted her to pass on her knowledge.

“It makes so much sense to us to just come together and make sure everybody’s getting the same good advice and support. I’ve had a career writing musicals and I never had an agent. I started just representing myself, so I learnt about contracts, I learnt about how the business works and then I wanted to share that information, so I joined the Guild as an active member because I just wanted to share that support.”

“We want to offer it to anyone who writes or develops musical theatre,” adds Naomi. “There’s no point keeping advice on best practice to ourselves. We want to demystify the process for everyone involved.”

Naomi hopes that the Kit will improve awareness of the process of writing or developing a new musical, along with all the rights implications and potential pitfalls. “I hope it will also improve practice in the industry,” she says, “and perhaps inspire some of our members who currently write music for other platforms to give writing a musical a try.”

You can download the Musical Theatre Kit or request it from your MU Regional Office.

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