The session began with introducing ourselves, our relationship to musical theatre and why we were interested in this question. A wide range of topics and responses came up:
Questioning our prejudices towards musical theatre against other forms, and the curious way in which we consider music in theatre, or gig theatre as separate forms
Wondering how musicals find life in midscale venues
Asking why so many musicals are felt to be tacky or a fad
Questioning whether the musical form is capable of depth or as a light touch for mass entertainment
Interrogating accessibility and access to musicals
Interrogating the representation of disability in musical theatre. Jessie raised the character of Nessa in Wicked - a prominent disabled character that then goes on to walk - and the problematic idea that she is a character that wouldn’t actually be able to be played by a disabled actor.

We started with what do we feel are current blocks and barriers to engagement with musical theatre:

The idea of “female dolls” as being the archetype for female actors in MT. The necessity for a particular kind of body, the training in MT being so different to that of Acting schools. The treatment of female chorus as being solely for adornment, and there not being a diversity in bodies amongst female characters. 
Contemporary exceptions to this were &Juliet, Waitress, Hadestown. 

Concerns about plot sophistication - that MT tends towards superficiality. 
However, some pushback to this idea with the example of &Juliet - a show that maybe doesn’t have a huge in-depth exploration, but within its spectacle, has a wide variety of representation, attracts a young, diverse audience, with 1000 people a day seeing a characters that include a non-binary character. If Musicals are the first introduction to theatre for a lot of different people, is it okay that they are a lighter touch? 
Important questions about the types of audience - is a West End audience asking for something different to audiences off-west end, or outside of London?
How much musical work is being made outside of London?

Questions raised about how musicals are coded in a particular way. 
Example raised of how people are policed in Tina: The Musical - interesting to see how that is racialised. 
Is MT coded as a luxury, as a treat, as something that’s very spectacle driven. 
An example shared by proxy about director Steff O’Driscoll’s experience of being silenced by an usher for responding with enthusiasm to Hamilton that she was wooping and making finger guns - her enjoyment and engagement was policed. Are there spaces for people to respond to musicals as they want to. 

An interesting, optimistic response came out that pointed out that technology might be changing the way we engage with musicals. Tom raised the point that when he went to see Dear Evan Hansen, there were people who knew that show off by heart before seeing it - technology in this instance is democratising the process. Also, Be More Chill.
Technology can try stories out, and develop a hype and relationship before the curtain comes up.

The conversation then moved onto a big discussion about the dominance of the West End as final goal for musicals and how this might create a paradigm that is not helpful for other types of work. 

Do we need to unlearn the hierarchy of the West End
Can we create work that doesn’t actually want to “transfer”.
Do shows that create engaged fan bases in smaller venues risk losing that community with a much bigger scale transfer to West End that prices out the original fans in favour of newer ones that look and act and care differently than those for whom the piece was so magical.
Looking at the example of Emilia - a show that got a lot of press and hype and love but that closed early because it didn’t have that community in the West End.
Thinking about access - do certain venues have communities outside the theatre community. 

We explored the question about the producing model for musicals - the idea that maybe musicals are considered such a commercial money making process - “musicals are run by people who could be running Canary Wharf”. 
This was resisted somewhat as being an idea of Producers from the film “Producers” and that actually there is maybe a new wave of theatre makers that are looking at new ways of making the work. 

Questioned the notion that musicals necessarily have to be a more expensive version of theatre just because they involve more partners, thus creating the need for a “successful West End Transfer”. Perhaps difficult to maintain the integrity of the piece if always aiming for that as the end goal. Can we translate our expectations and create work with different destinations. 

“I’m working on a musical and I’ve just imagined it’s a 4 year journey - if I can make a theatre show in 4-5 weeks, why does it take so much longer to build a musical.”
Important question about what the core need for a musical is.
Are the standards higher?
Is it harder to change?
Are there scratch nights in musicals?
Is it harder to scale than plays. 

Who has the space to fail? 
Is the space to fail afforded to some far more than others?
Thinking about who gets to create work across race, gender, class and disability lines. 

There was a great conversation that began to question how we relate to musicals and the potential in supporting them:

Talking about how musicals are often people’s first entry into performing arts as audiences.
First exposure through school productions, pantomime, Disney films.
Being aware that it is therefore hard to create new demand in younger audiences whilst support for music and dance and theatre in schools is decreasing and numbers are dwindling in GCSE. Another barrier to the audiences of the future.
Pantomime as being a great example of an art form that has been liberated by lots of people who have had access to it - “Hackney knew they couldn’t just do any old Pantomime, they have to tailor it to their community - made new and more exciting art”

Exploring the boundaries of what is considered “musical theatre”
What is musical vs music theatre vs gig theatre?
Music is people’s way in, it’s not an intellectual thing, it’s more emotional.
Actor-musician courses are being introduced. People who can play instruments and act.
Is Amadeus, at the National, a play with a full orchestra, a piece of musical theatre.
Wise Children and Knee High have both created work that has loads of songs in it.
People have an emotional connection to musicals - this should be a positive thing. There’s something very wholesome in the approach that asks “how can we please an audience” - there’s a lot of power in that.

Going forward, thinking about the potential for technology to really unlock the form.
People can build relationships with musicals before they see the show.
They come back to see them to see different performers
People discover new work more from Spotify’s “New Musicals” playlist than they do usual methods.
Digital technology can unlock as they did 60/70s years ago with recordings and scores being released by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
SIX being considered as a good example of smarter attempts to make use of this:
instead of Tube posters, they haven’t used much printed marketing, but rather just Instagram and Spotify - creating a real fandom. They made a real effort to not drastically scale up. To keep ticket prices low.
They now have sing-a-longs of the musical.
Changing the face of marketing.
Thinking about how Virtual Reality might create new ways to experience music and the feeling of music. 
The VR Virtual Choir - people being able to sing together virtually and then stitched together in the show. They aren’t physically in the space because of their disability but they are present.
Could we live stream musicals, make use of NT Live model, and therefore widen access?
How can we use technology to build access into the heart of it:
Examples of Grey Eye and Ramps on the Moon
“Reasons to be Cheerful” - full integrated captioning and BSL. 

In terms of access, it was raised that venues of most musical theatre have built-in barriers to disability access in terms of their architecture. Smaller venues have even less money and no scale is tackling this.