To the Stars
My introduction to musical theatre composition came via a perhaps unusual route: the pitbands. My school did Guys And Dolls when I was 13 and the bassist dropped out last minute, leading the conductor to ask me to cover. Armed with the oldest and grottiest keyboard the school owned, I ventured forth into the pit, and I haven’t looked back since. Cambridge and CUMTS have given me the opportunity to play in countless pitbands in a huge variety of musical styles, and there is nothing more exciting than sitting in the pit, hearing the audience arrive, and knowing you are about to create a magic they can find nowhere else.
I wrote my first musical (if you can call it that) at school. Sixteen Years was an absolute mess - I can’t look back at it without cringing - but a necessary first step. Every new show allows me to explore something new and better than the last - it isn’t about perfection, it’s about telling a story in the most real and sensitive way you can. For me, that is through music.
Halfway through my first year at Cambridge, I wrote a standalone song, Someplace Safe, for a bar night. That song developed into a chamber musical, Life With You. I asked the wonderful Charlotte Husnjak if she would direct it, and a year to the day after that first song was written, we found ourselves performing a sold-out run at the ADC’s Larkum Studio. Life With You meant so many things to me - it solidified that this is something I want to do with my life, it gave me the confidence that my music might be worth listening to and my story worth telling, and above all, it gave me a family of wonderful performers and producers with whom I will be great friends forever.
This has been such a common thread in almost every show I have worked on in Cambridge Theatre - family. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have met so many kind, funny, and insanely talented people whilst here. From the chaos of the 24 Hour Musical - an annual feat where a team of writers and composers create a musical from scratch overnight, to be performed just 24 hours after the theme is announced - to my stay at the Fringe as Rust’s AMD, I have found friends for life.
Coronavirus has taken theatre in all sorts of ~unprecedented~ directions - the company of Survival Strategies, originally intended for the 2020 Fringe, did not meet each other until the week before curtain up. Writing the music for such a tight knit group of characters was incredible fun, and seeing it come to life on the ADC stage was wonderful. Lockdown recordings were plentiful over the summer as well - the wonderful people of Cambridge Theatre gave me the gift of seeing my ultimate villain song, Think For A Minute, come to life. When I wrote that in my last year of school I could never have imagined how wonderful the performance (and eyeliner!) could be.
Astrid is an altogether different beast from my previous work. I remember being very nervous to ask Helena to co-write it - we’d only worked on Rust together at that time, and I must confess I was still intimidated by the giant of theatre that sat before me in that café! I knew it was not ideal timing, and I knew the ADC didn’t normally programme student-written mainshows, but Helena took the leap of faith with me, and Astrid was born.
Writing this show has given us the opportunity to take some universally human themes, and throw them into the most hostile environment we could muster. Set entirely in space, Astrid is a science-fiction musical featuring three female leads. There is no romantic plot - something Helena and I were really keen to avoid - and our leading ladies are allowed unapologetically beautiful and heartbreaking moments. As a woman in the largely male-dominated world of MT writing, I am so excited to see this story have the space and platform that the ADC mainstage will allow it, and I know Helena feels the same.
I am indebted to CUMTS and the whole theatre community for allowing me the environment and support I needed to develop as a composer and writer. It has been the most magical thing to watch my work have life breathed into it by these talented people, and it means the world that they have trusted me to create for them. I am also forever grateful to Helena for the inspiration, grit, and warmth she brings to every project fortunate enough to have her at the helm. We have laughed, cried, and everything in between over Astrid, and I am so excited to take it to the ADC and to watch the Mara set her course for the stars.