Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Music in Theatre: Lets talk about both.

Jack Drewry - 15 January 2017




Music in Theatre. A huge subject and lots to talk about. We started by writing our own agenda which included:

Sound Design + Music
Actor Musicianship
Music and Young People/Youth Theatre
Working with Musicans

People attending:
Tim X Atack
James Nuttal
Hannah McPahe
John Ward
Ian Harris
Katerina Pushkin
(if anyone was there who didn't write down their name please add later)

So I'll write this report going through the general discussion and how it emerged.

We started talking about sound design and how the roll of the sound designer is sometimes blurred with the job of the composer. We've found that they can often overlap. A nice distinction was proposed a sound designer works with other sounds and a composer creates sound/music themselves. A sound designer works with source sounds both found and constructed to shape them to the work. They are often working with other peoples music and have a more technical relationship to the production. Occasionally, being responsible for the technical specifications of a space. This can often be daunting when you're not as much of a traditional technician. Adrienne noted that some composers are often reluctant to call themselves sound designers because of a fear that they will be required to have a good technical knowledge of theatre sound. Tim was excited about the overlap between the two rolls and along with the other sound designers agreed that where budget allows it's more rewarding to be in the room during rehearsals rather than invited in towards the end of a process. This allows the development of the sound and music as part of the world of the story; an important stage in the development of a piece that can sometimes be overlooked. We talked about the importance of a composer and sound designer developing a shared language with the director from early on in a rehearsal process. Sharing music and playing each sound idea. Listening is the best way of describing but also using other ways to describe sound using colour can help create a language for that production. James noted that sometimes the ambitions of a production and what they want to achieve with the music are thought of after the casting of a piece which can cause a disconnect between what is possible and what is being asked for. There was a sense that the industry could go some way to catching up with what the artists know about the importance of integrating sound and music with the show from early in the process, but of course the economy of a project may not allow this. Adrienne and Tim noted that she prefers to be more involved in the process rather than just arriving at tech and adding sound FX later. It becomes the actors acting on top of the sound rather than integrating those worlds. It's important to find a happy medium between working in the room with the extra time and money that requires and just arriving at the tech with a box of sound FX.

We briefly talked about Equity and MU. The difference in the way they work with theatre musicians. MU requires musicians to be paid a lot more in the rehearsal process but Equity, who have just changed their rules offer additional money for extra instruments played in the production. We may need to follow up on the details of this but having up to 3 instruments is one fee and any on top of that are extra. There was an interesting debate about the need for this ‘instrument hire’ fee additional to the actor musicians pay. The upkeep of an instrument being covered. I noted that I need to be better at asking for this and making sure its included in the contract.

John from Dumbwise Theatre talked to us about actor musicianship and its importance as an emerging discipline in education and the wider theatre industry. The Rose Bruford course that was the first one has now been joined by another at Mountview as well as other courses around the country. The first book called Actor Musicianship has been written by the course director at Rose Bruford that is the first publication to outline the emerging craft. We talked about the strengths of having actor musicians in a production including their ability to incorporate music into the very fabric of the piece. We also talked about the problem of employing actor musicians and then expecting them to just play violin in the wings. Not what actor musicians want to do generally.

We moved on to talking about music technology and its use in performance. Tim noted working on a project recently where actor were expected to use music technology in a performance. Rehearsing without any prior knowledge of the software this was a challenge.


We talked about participation of young people in theatre and various approaches. Katerina told us about a company she works for in Birmingham that use music to engage young people. Jack outlined the Bristol Old Vic young company's history of workshops for music and theatre. We talked about the eduction of music and the importance of performance in the learning of instruments. This can be a barrier that prevents instrument learners picking up instruments in rehearsal rooms for youth theatre productions. Improvisation and jamming being a focus could be a helpful way to make it accessible.

We talked about the challenge of creating music in short development periods. Tim commented that without enough time to rework music you can end up with the first or second idea that is half baked.
We noted the phrase - “sound design is the last thing to be added but the first thing to be blamed”

Pup culture referencing in shows and its advantages and pitfalls.

The need to keep an ongoing dialogue going between director and musicians about the roll of music in the world of the play.

Gig Theatre - Gagglebabble Theatre and their approach to fusing the live gig atmosphere with the theatre storytelling and noting the way music and theatre environments influence the experience. ~ Expectations/rules of various venues.

Sleepdogs and their music orchestral shows going to as many music venues as theatre venues.

Support networks. The Ascociation of Sound Designers - we also noted that sound designers often think of themselvs as a totally different world and we wanted them to be part of the wider theatre conversation.

The Gathering a Facebook group to help artist connect with each other.


Thanks for everyone who came along. If you have any other thoughts please add them in the comments.

If you want to get in touch with me my email is jackdrewry gmail com.




Chris Grady

15 January 2017

Fascinating and rich stuff - thanks so much.
I am sure Musical Theatre Network - the assoc for people working with music/theatre as managers, producers, directors, agents, publishers etc etc will be interested to learn more around this. James Hadley is CEO
adrienne quartly

17 January 2017

Here's the link to the Association of Sound Designers:


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