Andrew has written to WhatsOnStage requesting they recognise musical direction in their awards programme. Below is the letter he has sent. Please do comment below so responses can be forwarded to WhatsOnStage.
5 November 2014
Dear Laura Norman,
c/o WhatsOnStage Awards
I hope this e-mail finds you well. Firstly, may I take the time to congratulate and thank you for so many of your wonderful events that I have always had the very great privilege to attend. I can’t think of a single occasion that hasn’t been packed with fellow industry professionals thoroughly enjoying your hospitality and celebrating recognising industry professionals and their productions on behalf of the UK’s leading website for the theatre industry.
It’s a testament to you, when I think of the various websites and award ceremonies that have all fallen into obscurity over the years due to subjective politics, weak branding, lack of passion, financial difficulties, poor planning and ultimately failing to keep objective, high standards and keeping two fingers firmly on the dynamic pulse of the theatre scene. WhatsOnStage is a watertight brand with a delicious array of products on offer. It is a beacon to other organisations for rewarding excellence as well as a model that so many have tried to copy and failed in doing so. However, I want to bring your attention to a crack, that if not repaired, may breach your reputation and ultimately make many question your intentions when it comes to celebrating excellence in theatre that seems to be a total contradiction to everything I have just praised you for in the above paragraphs.
I have been following my friend and professional colleague Mike Dixon’s social media campaign to have you recognise Musical Directors and Musical Supervisors in the WhatsOnStage Awards. However, I am horrified to learn that even with someone as well respected and influential as Mike, that you are not planning to add the category to your already reduced categories, because of audience engagement.
Nearly every time I look at Twitter, I see different people of all walks of our art-form crying out to you to ensure that the vital work of these extraordinary creatives is recognised. From actors to directors, designers to theatre marketing professionals. The reason, because they know the value of a musical director and supervisor. Only the other day, I tweeted that I was going to support Mike in his campaign to get you to instate the category. Within 24 hours it had been re-tweeted 57 times and continues to rise. His own tweets are already reaching the high hundreds and there is a very bitter taste in many a person’s mouth that you don’t feel that a musical director or supervisor is worth recognising in the genre of musical theatre. Surely this is preposterous? That is like running an awards ceremony for the medical profession and thinking that nurses don’t count compared to doctors.
I will not patronise you as others have done on-line and take you through the various processes and input that a musical director has when creating a musical. But, what I will point out to you is this. As a director, it’s ultimately my job to facilitate a piece in collaboration with my producers, writers and creative team. In many ways, I suppose what you see and witness as part of any of my productions is my final vision, but it must be facilitated by those I am working with, be it my cast, creatives or writers. But on a musical, it is the musical directors job to be my ears from day one. To hear things that I might not be aware of. To consider style, dynamics, interpretation, orchestration, techniques – the list goes on. Indeed, it is their job to turn a collection of notes into a symphony of musical excellence, whether that be from the first music call to the final performance, whether that be helping an actor sing a correct interval to ensuring the orchestra is working together in harmony. It is an epic journey that without a talented and dedicated music professional at the helm, can only lead to disaster and fundamentally, lead to no music whatsoever – something I’m sure you will agree is obviously essential in any musical. I’m also sure you’ll agree that to be ‘the ears’ on a musical is just as vital as it is for a director to be ‘the eyes’. It is an essential partnership not dissimilar or any less valued than a director’s relationship with his designers, producers or other key creatives.
I implore you to recognise musical directors and musical supervisors as being just as integral in their artistic contribution to a musical as any other core creative team member. Their artistic facilitation is not only important, but essential. I will, of course, continue to support all events that WhatsOnStage produce, however I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable attending one of your events if I thought that your opinion was that directors weren’t worth recognising in the creation of a musical. It would be very difficult to happily celebrate with fellow industry professionals with a glass of wine at an event where I felt you didn’t think I was worth anything. I must say it will be difficult to attend the launch party for the WOS Awards knowing that you think so little of one of the hardest working members of any musical creative team. I will be shocked if any musical director or supervisor will attend with the furore these enlightening events have revealed. Please acknowledge this is a mistake and one that can easily be rectified.
If your argument is about audience engagement. Then I ask you to check Twitter, the other e-mails you must have received and the other recesses of the internet from those effusively demanding you to reconsider your decision. But not only that (and perhaps this is my most important point). Please understand that sometimes the right thing to do is not always the most popular. Musical Directors and Supervisors must be recognised and to not do so sets a precedent that maybe others will follow that they are somehow not worthy of recognition. Do the right thing and be the beacon that you so often have been and instate the category, rather than being concerned about the amount of clicks you might receive on-line and the extra admin the award might take up. Please be the organisation that does the right thing, rather than the popular thing and listen to what your audience is asking of you.
I look forward to hearing you response and to help prove to you that audiences will be engaging with this subject, I will be publishing this letter on-line and feeding back any comments or other audience engagement points so you can see just how important this decision really is.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my views. I very much look forward to hearing from you.
After six days Andrew sent a follow-up e-mail.
Dear Laura Norman,
c/o WhatsOnStage Awards
I wanted to write to you to see if you had received my e-mail sent to you six days ago about my thoughts concerning the recognition of musical directors and supervisors in the WhatsOnStage Awards. It took me quite some time and consideration to write to you and I would have hoped that you might offer me the same courtesy in a response.
I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts and hopefully finding a way of beginning a dialogue to ensure these vital creatives are recognised in your excellent awards.
Thank you for your email and very kind words about our organisation and the WhatsOnStage Awards.
Having followed the Twitter conversations I know that my full correspondence with Mike Dixon is available online to read and in all honesty, there is nothing further that I can say. I fully respect your opinion and that of Mike Dixon but I believe that there is nothing to be gained in entering into further correspondence (especially via social media) as we have all made our respective positions clear.
Thank you again for taking the time to email me.
Thank you for your response. I wondered if perhaps you might be free to have a meeting and discuss this further. I’m not really sure where WhatsOnStage stands by not wanting to endorse such a vital and equally exciting category. The only thing I know is it is due to audience engagement, however with these recent events it’s very clear that your audiences (of which I count myself as too) are just as insistent as the more vocal members of the industry who are trying to convince you to change your mind.
Above all else, I really hope you can see instating this category as a force for good rather than just trying to curtail a frank and thoughtful conversation.
Please let me know when we might be able to meet and why after stating audience engagement is the reason for not pursuing the category, they are being ignored when the earlier caveat is obviously not the case.
I look forward to hearing from you.
On 11 November Andrew and Mike created a petition via Change.org to petition WhatsOnStage to acknowledge musical direction in their awards programme. The petition can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/whatsonstage-awards-to-recognise-musical-direction-in-the-whatsonstage-awards
Here is the letter from Andrew and Mike to Laura Norman after receiving 500+ supporters in less than a week.
Dear Laura Norman,
C/O WhatsOnStage Awards
We hope this e-mail finds you well. Both Mike Dixon and I wanted to write to you to inform you that less than a week ago, we created a petition to collect together supporters that agreed in our standing that you should make a change and recognise Musical Direction and Supervision in your WhatsOnStage Awards. This will of course be known to you as the website Change.org has been e-mailing you on behalf of every single one of these 500+ people that have taken the time to give you their opinions and names to this very e-mail address.
In accordance with the historical tradition of petitions. We would like to deliver all of the signatories and their comments to WhatsOnStage personally so you can consider these insightful views from a vast cross section of hundreds of people from your own audience base, theatre professionals and a whole host of those passionate about musical theatre.
Please can you advise a convenient time and date for us to deliver this data in person. This could be a great opportunity to have a discussion with you and to hopefully make a very positive change in your wonderful awards and satisfy all of us who are so passionately crying out to you to make a change and recognise musical direction in musical theatre.
This debate should not boil down to who wins, but fundamentally what is right and what your audiences want you to do. How wonderful would it be for us to message all of those that are supporting this campaign, that you have listened and decided to support these vital members of the musical theatre creative team. How sad and destructive it would be if you decide to just send these hundreds of e-mails to your trash folder with considered comments and to not find the time to meet with the two of us who only want you to that you can be better than what you are currently offering.
Please advise a date and time when would be convenient to deliver a hard copy of our findings and moving forward, let’s find a way so we can work together for the good of all Musical Directors and Supervisors working in musical theatre.
Andrew Keates and Mike Dixon