Theatre Rights Worldwide  

Susan Elkin went to the UK offices of Theatre Rights Worldwide five floors above Regent Street to talk to TRW vice president, Drew Baker, about licensing and performing musicals.

If you have written a musical – perhaps for your own students – then maybe you’d like it to have an afterlife in other schools. If so you need someone to manage the performance rights for you. Or perhaps you and your students want to do an established show such as Grease, The Addams Family, Spamalot or Priscilla Queen of the Desert, in which case you need to buy a licence so that its creators get paid.

And if you’re in a school which doesn’t have, or can’t run to paying for, a live band, then you probably want backing tracks. Theatre World Rights can help with all this and more. “We very much want to find and license new British musicals”, says Drew Baker, TRW vice-president, which is why he’d be delighted to hear from any teacher who’s written one.

Drew trained as a performer with London School of Musical Theatre and trod the boards, mostly in opera, for several years. Then he took to directing. So how did he get into licensing and rights management? “I was directing a production of Zanna, Don’t! which is a TRW show. CEO Steve Spiegel – who normally runs the company from America – happened to be in London and came to see it” recalls Drew. “After the show we got talking and he said he wanted to open a London office to extend into Europe the company he’d founded in 2006 after 25 years of heading up Music Theatre International.”

“And some will be ripe for development. We want to work with authors and help them to create or complete good musicals.”

The conversation soon developed into a tentative sounding out because Steve was looking for the right person to run a London operation. The call came in April last year and Drew opened the London office in September 2017.

“It’s only a year but we’ve already grown so much that we’ve moved to the larger top floor from where we started two floors down” he chuckles. Later he introduces me to the seven staff he now has working for him.

TRW has main offices in New York City, New Jersey and California as well as its new venture in London. “And there are sub offices in every continent all over the world” says Drew. Because it’s now established in Britain, TRW has recently launched a new division called “The British Musicals Collection” and is actively encouraging musical theatre writers to get in touch.

“Since we made the announcement 66 emails with proposals have arrived in my inbox”, Drew says, adding that he’s hungry for more. “Of course, I know as I work through them that some of those won’t be suitable for licensing,” he continues. “But others will be. And some will be ripe for development. We want to work with authors and help them to create or complete good musicals.”

I query the word “author” which I associate mainly with words, but Drew explains: “For me it’s a general term which includes composers, orchestrators, song writers, librettists, book writers – anyone who is inventing a musical” he says, observing that sometimes a musical is a solo effort and a single individual has done everything him or herself.

Some of the shows which TRW licenses are big West End shows such as We Will Rock You of which, Drew predicts, there will be huge numbers of amateur performances in the next year or two.

Then there are the shows for young audiences such as Anne of Green Gables and Pinkalicious.

When Steve was with MTI, which is now part of Cameron Mackintosh’s business, he developed the idea of school and youth group versions of big shows – now quite an established resource. He has carried the concept over to TRW whose school editions include All Shook Up, Memphis and Curtains. “They come complete with performance tracks, guide vocal tracks, a director’s guide and 30 student scripts,” explains Drew.

He wants to expand the “young@part” list as TRW calls it. “We make putting on a show as affordable as we can for schools”, Baker says, “Not every primary school has, or can afford, a live band”. He adds “We do everything we can to accommodate low budgets but on the other hand we also have to make sure that authors get their royalties”.

So how would Drew describe the crux of what TRW does? “We become the adoptive parent of the musical. It’s our job to grow it and nurture it” he explains. “Shows need as long a life as possible and there are some amazing writers out there creating amazing work but there was no investment in longevity. I love new writing and I want to see and hear much more of it. I would even advise people to think about licensing and to get in touch while they’re still writing. We can often make a suggestion about cutting this bit here or adding another character there, which could make a real difference to the show’s success.” 020 7101 9596