#5 - Lineage
Why it's important to show where shows come from
Shows don’t come from nowhere. They are touched by tens if not hundreds of people and organisations on their road to production.
But yet I have noticed that people love to act as if they were solely responsible for a show being made. It is rare to see every single person and organisation who brought a show into the world properly thanked and acknowledged for the journey a show has been on. Perhaps this is due to a need for simplicity of signposting, but more often than not it seems that this is based around a need for ownership.
Of course there are always bigger contributions and small contributions. But I think that sometimes in trying to highlight the big contributions that have brought a show to audiences, it often seems that people erase or forget the small ones. Perhaps they think that audiences don’t really mind how a show got to where it is. Theatre is after all a present tense experience. But this week I wanted to send a plea to everyone working in theatre to show the lineage of your show with clarity and honesty.
Thank every concert that presented songs. Thank every singer that sang those songs. Thank every person who read and workshopped the script. Thank every person who offered notes and advice. Thank every theatre that presented any part of the script to any size of audience. Thank the people who led the writers to the team. Thank the people who contributed financially. Thank the people who believed in something when it needed that belief.
Thank yous are free. Showing the arrows that point to you and that point from you is the least you can do and frankly it is the least everyone can do.
I am certainly not without my faults. I run a small company and have had to do a lot of self promotion to show people the things I care about. The types of new musicals I look to support are not always broadly accepted in either the commercial or subsidised landscapes and so I do a lot of shouting about the things I am doing and the work I care about. But I always discuss clearly and openly the lineage of the shows I am making and the writers I am working with. Whenever I present a song at SIGNAL (the concert series I curate) I always make a habit of saying where I met the writer: At what concert or event, at what show. I show my working. I say thank you. It is essential we know that none of us are on our own but that we are part of an ecosystem.
I have noticed that in theatre, people love to be involved with a new piece from the beginning because in some ways it makes this sense of singular ownership feel clearer and simpler. Indeed I have often fallen into the trap of thinking that I have to be there first so I won’t be unseated from the future or legacy of a piece. But here’s the thing, this selfishness or anxiety wouldn’t be required if people just said thank you and pointed to the people who have been part of a piece’s growth. If people looked to create honest extended families rather than look at the world of theatre as one of ownership and sole credits.
In an ideal world, pieces grow, and as they grow they need new partners, advisers, funders, venues, creatives and actors to join them. This newness shouldn’t need to erase what has come before but can join and augment it. Growth can happen because a table gets bigger and not just because someone bigger takes someone else’s seat at a smaller table.
When it comes to new writing I have also seen that there is a gap between brand new ideas and shows that are successfully onstage for long runs. People are anxious to take on shows that already exist or have been somewhat developed because there is a sense that there is already a legacy and a group of people whose work has to be included, internalised and acknowledged. And so often people look for shows that are new enough that they don’t have to share. But this often means that pieces that have been redrafted and workshopped already, get lost or don’t get the opportunities they deserve because of a desire for people in power to be able to say ‘this is mine’ more than wanting so say ‘thank you’.
Again I will say that my fear of not being thanked for my work has sometimes led me to turn inward and act more selfishly. It has made me think that perhaps I should be emulating those I fear and looking to make my work singular. But I realise this is because I spent years doing lots of things to help pieces on their way without receiving credit or thanks. And when people don’t get that acknowledgement of their part in the heritage of a piece, they start wondering how to make work where they won’t need anyone else to say thank you. As ever selfishness, leads to selfishness.
So here is my reflection. I am happier when I say thank you. I am happier when I acknowledge the many many people in my sector who I need to do my job. I am also happier when those people acknowledge and thank me. Gratitude works both ways, as does legacy, as does honest reflections on lineage.
So from here on I will be including a lineage paragraph on the website and in the programme of every show I am part of. Every single episode and interaction that has brought a show to now will be clearly and transparently mentioned. Shows don’t just appear from nowhere. They don’t suddenly arrive in the West End with only one producer and one venue to thank. They come from hundreds of tiny interactions. Hundreds of people’s belief and hard work. So from now on I won’t just be showing the final answer, I will be showing my working too.
Thank you for reading
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