Digital Scripts and Scores  

Enhancing their services, Susan Elkin enquired about the launch of a new app by Music Theatre International, offering an interactive digital rehearsal notebook specially tailored for the UK.

Anyone who has ever put on a school production of an established show will know that the first thing you have to do is to find out who manages the show’s rights and then negotiate with whoever it is. In a nutshell, the system means that if you stage a version of Little Shop of Horrors youbuy a licence so that Alan Menken and the estate of Howard Ashman get a small payment in acknowledgement of your using their work.

“a lot of people don’t want physical books anymore. They want their scores and scripts on a device and our app allows them to do that conveniently with everything in one place”

Enter Music Theatre International. It was founded in the USA in 1952 by Frank Loesser and Don Walker. Today the London office, which licences over 5000 productions a year, operates in a European market from Iceland to Israel. The companies range from schools and amateur societies to professionals and reach an audience of over 6 million people every year.

I’m talking to Ryan Macaulay, MTI’s Director of Operations, Education and Development at the London HQ which is in Fitzrovia. “We control the rights to Broadway classics such as Guys and Dolls and Westside Story, contemporary hits such as Mean Girls and Waitress, the works of Stephen Sondheim, Cameron Mackintosh-produced hits such as Les Miserables and Miss Saigon and Disney titles such as Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid” Ryan tells me with a cheerful grin.

Of course, anyone wanting to stage any of these shows has to pay a licence fee. “We work extensively with the education sector and do everything we can to make the licence as affordable for schools as we possibly can, but we also have to generate the income which keeps our writers going” explains Ryan.

“We have, for example, a range of youth versions of big shows for secondary schools and youth theatres”, says Ryan citing Les Miserables as an example. “The score is simpler and some of the keys have been changed to accommodate young voices, but few audience members will notice the difference.” These versions are always prepared with the full involvement and approval of the writer.

MTI’s Broadway Junior series offers shorter versions – 60 or 30 minutes – of some shows for primary schools. “In this case you get everything you need for £495 including backing tracks, because few primary schools can rustle up an orchestra and some don’t even have a music teacher” says Ryan, adding that the package is designed for use by any teacher and includes, for example, a video of a choreographer at work so that the user can see how to do it.

There is now a new service which Ryan and his colleagues are very excited about. Digital Scripts and Scores is powered by Production Pro and is an app available to all MTI customers. Already well established, tried and tested in the USA, it has now arrived in the UK and is tailored to meet the needs of British users. It’s effectively a digital rehearsal notebook.

So how does it work? “Well, a lot of people don’t want physical books anymore. They want their scores and scripts on a device and our app allows them to do that conveniently with everything in one place” explains Ryan. “Every cast and crew member can have a digital MTI script and piano score. Then script notes can be shared with everyone in the team with research and references linked directly to appropriate characters and scenes.”

He continues: “If you want to you can post and update recorded video footage of choreography, blocking and music rehearsals. In short it means you can all easily access any bit of information you may be looking for via computer, tablet or smart phone – and it’s all there in one place.” He then chuckles and points out that this app saves many hours of rubbing out at the end of the show when you have to return printed materials in a “clean” condition.

Another example of MTI’s commitment to education is the Junior Theatre Festival it runs annually at the ICC in Birmingham. This year on 21 May, over a thousand children and young people will be involved, coming in 34 groups from all over the UK and in a few cases from mainland Europe to give ten-minute performances. “It’s not a competition and the emphasis is on working together and sharing work” says Ryan. “But it is adjudicated by top theatre professionals so that each group gets constructive feedback about their performance.”

Music Theatre International, 12-14 Mortimer Street, London, W1T 3JJ