‘I yearn for the end of that summer and the Autumn of 2013. Those were the days that a man in his late 50’s could enjoy a few casual glances and a briefest of smiles. Barely a few years ago, but in reality decades away. Our world seems changed. And I fear habits are repeating.’ This mysterious comment on an otherwise deserted online forum by someone called Francis Pottinger is a melancholic note about the kind of lifestyle that Simon Arrowsmith and John Myatt, creators of a new musical at The King’s Head, are trying to capture in their new production Something Something Lazarus. Told in the form of a fantastical cabaret show, the piece is set in the hour before the cabaret bar Midnight Sun opens. The forum is only one of the several online mediums the company uses to extend the experience of the audience beyond the stage. There are twitter accounts and in-character Soundcloud music offerings, and for those who supported the company’s fundraising campaign there was an interactive game.
Simon, who wrote the music, runs a company who specialise in transmedia and storytelling for corporate clients and has sought after ways of extending the story beyond just one evening in the theatre. He is convinced that “stories start before people enter the theatre” so together with Grow the Story they have devised a world beyond the stage. Using the tools and techniques of transmedia storytelling, the company has created a set of subplots, contexts and enhanced motives through websites, social media and blogs. On various interlinked websites audiences can discover the pun-laden show history of the diva called Vee who set up the cabaret Midnight Sun, or it can dive into pictures of butch policemen kissing next to Taylor Dane videos or listen to own demo tapes on the private tumblr of a sex-positive young gay man called Jay. “We’ve tried to appeal to a number of specific audiences: queer, theatrical ‘insiders’ and cabaret lovers”, he says and adds that it’s not an “‘everyone sings their feelings’ show.” Because the songs are introduced as part of a rehearsal process they take place in the world of those characters. “They use their music to remind, persuade or harm one another. It’s their lifeblood.”
A day writing tunes, mopping up more messes. Now to work and an evening her majesty giving it a bit of vocal welly. https://t.co/Jz69lJBt5j
— Della (@dellacupidtown) January 20, 2016
A tweet that is part of the transmedia work around Something Something Lazarus
The inter-textual nature of the work means that an audience member can engage with just the live performance, or they can enhance that experience by exploring an online world. “This has proved exciting for our actors, as the online stories give them clear ‘fixed points’ in their character’s lifeline, but not too much that they can’t bring their own interpretation to the roles,” James explains.
But the production process itself is also taking place partly in the digital realm. A big challenge for the team is the fact that they are geographically spread-out, with all of them travelling for other work. Instead of delaying the progress of the piece and trying to fit meetings around busy schedules they have opted to rely on technology, using free tools like Slack, Trello and FaceTime/Skype to project manage the process. They’ve brought in director Dan Phillips (Safe Sex, On Tidy Endings) whom they’ve met at Devoted & Disgruntled 8 fairly early on in the production process. “It means going into rehearsals we’re completely clear on how the show works, what it’s about, and why we’re telling the story in this particular way. We’ve definitely built a working rhythm which means when disagreements arise we are able to tackle them head-on.”
A Soundcloud music sketch of a musical within the musical ‘created’ by one of the characters.
And to get a new musical put on in London as a complete newcomer to the musical scene definitely has its challenges. Both John and Simon have had pieces professionally performed in the 90s/00’s but they admit that they needed the energy and focus of outsiders to help navigate that world. “Musical theatre is a surprisingly formal business. We approached a number of different organisations and individuals for support and we didn’t get it and I think it’s because we made the assumption that they would see what we see in the work. But unless you present your ideas clearly and professionally people just won’t get it.”
Dan, the director, became their driving force to get the piece to workshop and ready for a full production. His previous work with King’s Head Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher enabled the team to pitch the piece for a late night slot that would complement their Spring season, based around the unifying ideas of an upright piano and the power of music to change. “Fortunately by the time we shared the idea with Adam and the King’s Head we’d had plenty of practice in refining our pitch! Musicals, at their best, are a collaborative art form. The input from the full team has not only shaped the show, but shaped the way we work and develop future projects: from marketing, to rehearsal process and ticket sales. Every small set back is a notch on the belt that means we know to be aware of it next time.”
Something Something Lazarus is at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, running from March 8th to April 2nd. For tickets visit www.kingsheadtheatre.com and for more on the show visit the production blog on: http://brokencabaret.com/production-blog/