Creative anxiety and those pesky vampires in Plan Z Theatre's [title of show]
I'll be the first to admit that ordinarily musicals aren't my thing. I used to think of them as cute and childish - the kind of theatre you could take your nan to. While some musicals might fit that mould, and your nan might well appreciate the humour in [title of show], there's certainly more to Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's musical than my narrow-minded stereotype.
A fellow creative friend gasped at me recently when I told her I’ve never heard of [title of show]. To be fair, she has just graduated from drama school so girl’s got the advantage.
If like me, your musical theatre knowledge isn’t distinction-worthy, [title of show] is a loud, quirky and gloriously camp play about four struggling artist friends living in New York. In the early 2000s, writers Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell wanted to submit something to the Musical Theatre Festival in New York but, with no ideas, they chose to write a musical about themselves writing a musical.
With all the creative anxiety, confidence ‘vampires’ and mistakes along the way, the play is a refreshingly truthful and uplifting look into the reality of trying to keep your head above water as a creative in a city like New York (read, London).
With runs off and on Broadway, and internationally, the play has rarely if ever been done in the UK. But, now taken on by Canadian theatre company Plan Z Theatre and directed by Eleanor Felton, [title of show] enjoyed performances at Moors Bar in Crouch End as part of the Camden Fringe Festival from the 7th-10th August.
Anyone who sings, acts, dances, writes paints - or does something that your great uncle wouldn’t consider a real job – can relate to the burning creative insecurities explored in [title of show]. The fear of the blank white page is one that I relate to every time I go to write a blog post; while ordinarily, my mind is overflowing with words, for some reason that empty white page makes me forget every word I’ve ever come across except maybe yes, no and nice. Not great for a writer.
In [title of show], this blank-paper anxiety manifests itself as Hunter (played by William Tippery) dressed as an empty page singing (and repeatedly swearing) at Jeff (played by Kieran Parrott) while he tries to think of an original musical to submit to the festival in three weeks’ time. With the help of their two friends Broadway-actress Heidi (played by Charlotte Denton) and ‘corporate whore’ Susan (played by Alyssa LeClair), the four characters expose the clichés of struggling city-creatives whether you’re the semi-successful Heidi or the sold-your-soul-to-pay-the-rent Susan.
In an energetic and enjoyable analysis of the musical stereotypes I am guilty of believing, the four performers disrupt the clichés whether it is eradicating any non PG subject matter from your art or having to kill off a few pesky creative insecurity vampires.
So, forcing musicalphobes like myself to rethink our preconceptions, there’s an uplifting truthfulness to [title of show] and thanks to the hard work of the cast and crew, the complicated harmonies and funny, energetic performances melt together into a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Speaking to artistic director Eleanor Felton after the show, I asked her more about Plan Z as a theatre company:
Plan Z Theatre started at Vancouver Fringe in 2015. How does the move to London feel in comparison to Vancouver?
In some ways, Camden and Vancouver are very similar. Fringe is always friendly and you meet lots of like-minded creatives. Vancouver seems be on a different scale. In Vancouver, Fringe events are mostly all in walking distance of each other but in London, everything’s so spread out. Vancouver feels a lot more compact and intense.
On your website, Plan Z describes itself as ‘uplifting the voices of those fighting to be heard’. Why do you think that’s so important?
I could talk about this for days! It’s something I really care about. In another of our shows ‘Still the Kettle Sings’, we built a show around the real-life stories of women in our grandmothers’ generation as we found so many really interesting stories had just never been told.
You’re also having a relaxed performance for adults with Autism. Do you feel like creating that space for them is along the same lines?
Definitely! It’s creating a space that allows adults with Autism to feel welcome and safe. The Arts shouldn’t just be for certain groups.