These kinds of workshops offer students a unique opportunity to work closely with writers and gain first-hand experience of fleshing out characters and situations that have not yet been performed. In turn, writers have an opportunity to hear how their words and music actually sound in a studio space and to see how characters develop in the course of a rehearsal period.
Here, student Joel Best shares his experiences of being one of the first performers to bring the musical to life.
As part of the New Musical Theatre Performance module we, the second year musical theatre students, were given the opportunity to work with Dougal Irvine, a professional writer/composer, on a project to workshop a new show.
The piece, The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat, is based on the book of the same title by Eric Idle, which was itself based on the poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear. The show will be performed at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in the spring 2017, so it was incredibly exciting to be the first group of performers to put the brand new work on its feet, prior to it being seen by an actual audience.
The musical mocks the nonsensical writings of both Lear and Idle, creating a plot in which the Owl and the Pussycat are forced to save the world from two looming dangers: an impending comet, and the Firelord (a fictional Marvel Comics character) - a double punch. The musical style of the piece varied from indie-style duets such as One of a Different Kind, to rock-esque ballads such as Firelord Song - and we performed all this with only an acoustic guitar and piano.
As a performer, this was my first time workshopping a newly-written musical, which meant that I had no idea what to expect. There was no previous performance to influence my acting choices and I had to work on impulses, simply from reading the script.
Keeping an open mind allowed for originality to pour through. I cleared all previous conceptions and ideas about The Owl and the Pussycat, read it through with fresh eyes, and tried to create the images described during the opening number in my head. Our learning was not only derived from the feedback given specifically to each of us throughout the process, but also came from listening to the feedback given to peers. I gained immense development as a performer myself, and the group's ability to work together as an ensemble improved enormously too.
The overall experience from this, for me as a performer, has been extremely beneficial, and that development wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been given this opportunity.
Joel is pictured above standing in the centre of the back row.