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Singer, songwriter, actor, writer and producer Tori Allen-Martin is passionate about new musicals. Having formed Interval Productions in 2009 she has produced five musicals, four of them brand new works. No stranger to the challenges involved in finding an audience for new British musical theatre, she's confident that that audience does exist.
“I'm always really amazed how nuts everyone goes when a new Broadway show comes over and people go crazy and it sells out in two minutes” she comments. “When we say we've got a brand new British musical, it's original, it's not based on anything, it's a London story – no one seems to care. That really frustrates me.”
“I think the support from 'the gatekeepers' isn't there yet for new material” she continues. “The only way to get heard is to get it on its feet and prove to them that there is an audience, and here they are. I think we need to do more to nurture and grow brand new work, and that's what I love about The Bunker.”
Having already worked on an earlier version of the musical under the name After The Turn which premiered in London to great acclaim, Muted has been developed further into a brand new musical, running at one of London's newest venues that's particularly supportive of new writing.
“They're so supportive, and I've really felt that they want to hone new work, and that's why we were desperate to collaborate” she explains. “People must support them because I think they're the only venue who are really honouring the growth of new work. Quite frankly, we're one of the only teams doing it, but if this doesn't work there's nothing left to do it again. We've already put in our own money that we don't have, so I hope this pushes through and inspires other people and we can get a hub of new writers”.
Rehearsing Muted is a collaborative effort and Tori explained how in order to succeed each of the team have had to leave their egos and personal opinions at the door.
“It's a really open room, it's lovely to have that freedom to put your stamp on it rather than being told where to stand and what to do. There's honestly zero ego which in this industry is difficult to come by. It's really a place where you try stuff and if it doesn't work then we fix it. I do think that collaboration is how you get the best work, because one pair of eyes you get too attached to stuff – I think it's much healthier to do it this way.”
Revisiting a work that has already enjoyed a degree of success can be equally challenging and I was interested to hear about the process of developing the musical further.
“It's really nice to go back to it with new eyes and because all of the cast are brand new even if I wanted to do it the old way I couldn't”, she laughs. “It's such a cool experience to revisit something with fresh eyes, and it does feel like a completely new piece which is really cool. The changes are for the better, it's a much better piece all round, and we're really lucky to give it another bash.”
The process of working out what material needed work, what could be thrown out and what was to be kept was helped by the feedback the show received the first time around.
“We were really brutal, we got rid of a lot which was hard because you get attached!” she commented. “There were things that we knew definitely worked and songs that we knew people loved and were close to. One girl got some lyrics tattooed on her so we knew that song couldn't go anywhere! Our fabulous director really helped to put it on its head. We worked with Gary Lloyd the director and choreographer who saw it initially and loved it – he gave us great feedback and actually came up with the name – we needed one word, really snappy. It was trying to hold onto the bits that were really special and what was at the heart of it, then leaving our own personal opinion and ego at the door.”
Throughout the process the Muted creative team have involved fans of the show using social media and the internet to help build a support base, something that has been vital in their crowd sourced fund-raising which has been necessary to get the piece off the ground.
“It's really necessary to engage with the audience,” she explains, “I genuinely think it's better to workshop material when it's a bit raw, that's always been our ethos. It's not perfect but get on board, give us your feedback, talk to us in the bar afterwards. The beauty of us engaging with the fans of the show is that we can speak to them directly – they then feel that they have a bit of ownership on it and they'll support you and see you through. I think it's necessary these days because producers and investors won't listen until you've proved yourself, but it's also beneficial to the work – so it's win-win really.”
Whilst engaging with audiences early on is the ideal scenario, it's also extremely difficult and producers find themselves walking a thin tightrope.
“We don't want to go down the crowd funding route again if we can avoid it, only because there are only so many times you can beg without becoming irritating. This is a last ditch attempt for us, we really want to lift the company. It is very necessary but it is a challenge – the hardest thing is always getting the money, and it's still a battle three weeks into rehearsal. We're still scared and trying to get the money. You've just got to take the risk – you can't ask other people to believe in it if you don't take the risk yourself.”
Tori is passionate that London audiences support new work, encouraging others to collaborate and get their work out into the world in order to be seen.
“As long as it's genuinely your passion, never give up” she states. “Really believe in yourself and the people around you. Support each other and share the shit out of your friends work. Don't share Beyonce's video – she's fine – share your mates. Keep banging on doors, they will say no, but get it up yourself. Wherever you can. You can do things on a shoestring – if the piece is good then you can do it without a fancy set and lots of money. Get it up, get it on, film it – the internet is right there. Do it yourself and force people to listen.”
Muted runs at The Bunker Theatre in south London from 7 December to 7 January 2017.