Tech Blog: You Can't Stop The Beat

Summer 2009 was to prove to be a slight departure from the normal summer show routine, although it certainly wasn't planned that way. You Can't Stop The Beat was a concert, held in a combination of Heslington Church and St. Lawrence's Church featuring songs from musicals. The slight twist was that the programme was taken from mostly new, or less known musicals, so out went Phantom of the Opera and Cats that featured in our last cabaret show and in came Avenue Q, Jerry Springer: The Opera and Parade. With no props, no lighting and sound provided by a few standing microphones and a PA, YCSTB was one of the simplest shows technically - and bizarrely managed to spin a profit. With that in mind, this post is just going to document what happened up until then, as it's worth looking at.

The 2009 summer show looked like the most hotly contested in a long, long time, with four groups pitching for shows. The first came in the form of someone wanting to take the songs from We Will Rock You and put it together with a brand new story "hopefully written by someone in comedy soc". This seemed odd, as that would just be a new Queen musical, but Freddie Mercury had been dead 18 years by this point, so it is feasible that first year University students may not have heard of Queen (blasphemy, surely). Anyway, this guy didn't turn up so while it was my favourite concept, it didn't get off the ground. Next was Tom Strazewski, a returning member from Ruddigore's chorus, who pitched Snow White a mostly original musical based on the titular fairy tale set in prohibition-era New York and with songs taken from the Great American Songbook. All in all, this was a promising idea and most people warmed to it. The third came quite out of left-field in the form of Emma: The Musical. Based on the Jane Austen novel of the same name we had no idea about the music, and the guy pitching it only wanted to musical direct, rather than direct the rest of the show. This was turning out to be a very good year for new musicals, but unfortunately on the summer show time budget, they're mostly unfeasible. In the end, the society opted for the safe option of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

However, this decision was fraught with a big problem from the start. Following some close calls with copyright over the last few years, the musical director for Joseph was adamant that we secure the rights to it before performing it. This was done, but was then refused; although Joseph is free to perform, this only applies to church groups and primary schools - of which we certainly don't count. I can't remember if permission was outright refused or if they just demanded something silly like £20,000 to do it, but either way, the project fell though. Shortly after the MD withdrew support, so did the directors and we were faced with improvising something with about a week to go before term started again. In short, we decided to go back to the cabaret concept, with Mark Pim directing the music (and doing a great job at short notice).

In addition to this faff, there were also issues with venue. The Alternative Rooms Sub-committee for Evaluation (ARSE) report basically said that the only usable room on campus was L/028 but this was before the opening of YUSU's new bar, The Courtyard. Taking up the whole of the old Langwith bar and the lower JCR, The Courtyard basically covers one whole entrance to L/028 - the entrance most convenient for us to use as an entry and ticket station for the room. This proved a multi-fold problem as YUSU also had block-booked L/028 for large events every weekend (giving them up a week or two in advance if there wasn't an event) meaning we couldn't confirm use of it and The Courtyard always runs a sort-of formal evening event on Fridays and Saturdays - so even if we were in L/028, we'd have a combination of Courtyard noise and traffic to compete with, as well as taking out our only useful entrance/exit and fire escape. In short, the opening of The Courtyard pretty much destroyed our ability to use the room for performances. With the only remaining alternative, G/Hall (now J/Hall), already booked, we were a bit stuck for venues. With some good luck we managed to get St. Lawrence's and Heslington Church to perform in, while off-campus and so incapable of attracting a large audience, they were the best available.

So, YCSTB was still a modest success (most successful failure, perhaps?), but only because we didn't really spend any money on it. However, its biggest success was curbing the creeping cost and stress of putting on a full scale production in far too short a time.

See also:

You Can't Stop The Beat

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