“I couldn’t imagine never singing or performing again. It is my truest passion, and drives all the other projects that I attach myself to.”
People talk about being in love with the industry – an intoxicating and enduring love for theatre that might never be topped. Despite being best known as a musical theatre performer, Stuart Matthew Price’s love for theatre is about more than just saying his lines. As beautifully as he sings the notes, Stuart wants more. He wants to write the notes too, shape and change the industry, help it to grow. As he’s now working professionally as a performer, a producer (United Theatrical Productions) and a composer, it is perhaps fair to say that Stuart has landed a whole handful of roles – for where theatre is concerned, he wants to play every part.
Stuart’s new musical, Before After, had its first outing last week with a hugely successful workshop performance at the St James Studio Theatre. I was fortunate enough to take a look at this early presentation and catch Stuart afterwards, where he spoke to me about his past, present and future within Musical Theatre… but not necessarily in that order:
Where did you get the inspiration to write a musical about Amnesia, and what prompted you to use a non-chronological structure?
“I have always liked the idea of writing a musical love story between two people set on top of a hill. I have very distinct periods of my life where ‘gaining perspective’ was essential to coping with the troubles of day to day life. The key thing with Before After is the idea of somebody looking for something they’ve lost in order to find peace within the chaos of their lives.
I suppose the concept came from a series of brainstorming moments – trying to find an interesting way of writing a musical for just two people. Writing chronologically has been done (e.g. John and Jen). Writing backwards and forwards through time has been done (The Last 5 Years). Writing a kind of “sliding doors” idea is currently being done (e.g. If/Then). So coming up with an original way to tell a love story, on a hill, for 80-90 minutes was no easy task. So I explored the idea of having two love stories run alongside each other; this was a new approach that I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t want to have clumsy character/costume changes, which would inevitably add to the confusion, but I needed to find a way to allow us to believe that these two characters were falling in love twice. This is where Amnesia came in. The idea is simple enough, but conveying it is much more complex.
The genius that is Timothy Knapman (who wrote the book) cleverly constructed an easy flowing storyline based around my skeleton concept. As a result, Before After takes the audience on a roller coaster journey through their relationship…twice! Saying that, neither Before nor After are the same. There are twists and turns on both sides of the amnesia. They both make their mistakes, like in any relationship.”
What is it that you hope to achieve with the show, both in the short and long term?
“The whole purpose of this try-out workshop was to establish whether the piece worked, whether the concept was easy to understand and follow, then finally gain the feedback from the general public and industry professionals. It was very important to us that the Arts Council grant was used to gain as much insight as possible into whether a full production of this piece was worth taking the risk on, allowing the public to be a part of the early stages of development. So in that respect, our short term goal has been accomplished; we now have over 200 feedback forms to pour over and dissect, plus the confidence that we can move onto the second phase of the project. The show is already being produced in a full production in Tokyo, this coming November. After that, we will look to mount a UK production early next Spring and then look into further licensing options.
On a more general note, we hope that we have demonstrated how essential it is, when developing a new musical, to give the audience an opportunity to express their opinion. The Arts Council have been incredibly kind and generous on this project – there is some money there to support new writing and the arts. Hopefully this will inspire other new writers to get their work out there. It can be done!”
What does your love for theatre stem from? Who inspires you?
“I’m not too sure how to answer this one. I have always been front footed in life. (I was even born two months earlier than expected.) When you look at the greatest pioneers of theatre you’ll find that they were risk takers. With the current economic climate as it is, there aren’t as many people willing to take risks, but there is still a wealth of talent being created and nurtured. This is what motivates me to create. Be it as an actor, writer or producer, it’s rewarding to see everyone’s hard work realised in some way or another. I am inspired by everyone who is willing to share and collaborate with me. There is a new generation of theatre visionaries and it’s thrilling to be a part of it.”
Have you hung up your hat as a performer?
“A lot of people ask me that, and I think you know Miss Hardy that the answer is no. I couldn’t imagine never singing or performing again. It is my truest passion and drives all the other projects that I attach myself to. The truth is I love theatre. All of it. I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make a difference, make my own contribution felt, and this isn’t an opportunity that I’m willing to waste.”