INTRODUCTION: The ‘D’ word.
As I mentioned throughout my application, I feel like that being drawn into the issue of diversity has always been an inciendury one for me. This is mainly because of my own story in relation to personal identity which means I don’t fit into any particular or assumed demographic, because my story is so unique. That in itself is something I don’t need to go into, but the issue as a whole and how it relates to me professionally is something I can’t ignore in the current climate.
So I wanted to just expand on that a little more before you read further about my project.
My first professional job was Assistant MD on Little Shop of Horrors for a rural regional theatre. There are 3 POC characters in the cast and without exception whenever we as a group walked around the community and even within the theatre, we’d hear ‘Oh! I thought there were only three of them!’. Nobody could contemplate the thought that anybody could be there in any other professional capacity. It was of course offensive, but mainly mind-boggling. And that was the first precedent set for me as a young artist.
Early in my career as a visiting artist and practitioner, I was frequently employed to faciliate enormous educational projects that took Opera into the most challenging and under-resourced boroughs in London. One residency run of a projects would engage 20,000 students over the project period. I did four seasons of this.
I saw first hand, without having to articulate or allude to anything, what the impact was of someone like me standing in front of a room full of primary school students in Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Clapham Park and teaching them Mozart, Leoncavallo & Prokofiev.
In my professional capacity, I will never accept a position, a job, a commission or any accolade that I feel is offered to me out of a quota-filling necessity. I never have, and I am offered them frequently.
I am not interested in urban stories, making a ‘particular’ type of work that pigeon holes me because of the colour of my skin. I actively push against that which has been a career-defining choice in itself.
I regularly get asked questions like: ‘Can you write a rap?”; ‘Can you recommend some Caribbean/African drummers.” “Looking for black singers – do you know any?” ‘Need an onstage MD for our Cuban Musical – are you interested?” and my only consistent response has been to find new ways to consistently generate my own style of genre-bending, contemporary, challenging, engaging and thought-provoking work that bucks every stereotype you can think of, both in terms of Musical Theatre itself, and in terms of what the perceived place for people like me should be within the industry and the music business as a whole.
That’s the impact my work does, can, and will continue to have across the board with the right support. My artistic existence should be helping to keep the conversations open & helping to push things forward to a place where hopefully the conversations themselves become unnecessary, but I need projects like this for it to be able to do so.
IN THESE WALLS
Gentrification is coming. It’s bulldozing the lot of us. It’s like a bulldozing tsunami. On one corner of one street in one family run coffee shop called The Butterfly, there’s two hours to go. But the people are not going to go quietly. There’s a totaliser up. There’s a display board of lots of photos – we don’t really see in detail (at the end they get shown as slides). There’s been a campaign. They’re worn out. It’s the last hurrah. They have two hours to go. The diggers are already outside and this colourful bunch of protesters stage a final sit-in in the hopes of reversing the decision. There’s the family who run The Butterfly, There’s a conflicted Local Counseller, who also happens to be a resident. There’s an elderly pensioner who’s lived in the area for the whole 90 years of her life.
And there’s someone, who arrives, right at the last minute, from out of town, who wants to lend a hand. Not everything is as it seems though; not everybody is being totally honest about which side of the argument they’re on. And then The Butterfly itself starts to tell us some things…
‘In These Walls’ (Working title) is a real-time immersive musical set during the last two and a bit hours in a coffee shop during a peaceful sit-in being undertaken by the owners, some of the patrons, staff and customers who are trying to prevent it from being demolished to make way for a high-speed rail link. The piece is performed in multi-role (similar in feel to Jim Cartwright’s ‘TWO’) and as we meet various people we being to realise that some of them are from different decades and periods in time and are connected to many of the previous incarnations of the building. (It might have been a tavern in the 1600’s, a barbershop, a 60’s jazz club, a hipster delicatessen and so on). As the clock ticks away and time passes moving us slowly towards the final deadline, these people intimately share their stories and we experience (as customers in the cafe ourselves) the emotional effects that urban regeneration has on us all, Bricks and mortar hold so many stories, connections, ties to communities, people, memories, our sense of belonging, individuality and mortality. What happens when they get taken away or reduced to dust?
A note about my plan for the R&D process:
My thought-process behind writing the first half of the first act along with the story board, are as follows: IN VERSIONS was a one act musical took me 5.5 weeks to write in full, therefore I know the time scale of 3 weeks to write half an act is more than realistic in terms of my pace and ability when I’m given the chance to focus on my writing. Essentially though, what I’m trying to do is garner producer and/or venue interest and full-commission support and I know from my vast experience, that partners are on the whole more likely to get on board with a project during it’s early stages – if too much is already written or set in stone, they are less likely to take a risk with something as they want to be as instrumental in a new piece’s development as they can be from the get-go.
Writing around 30-40 minutes worth of material, gives myself and the director enough to test out the concept with in the rehearsal room, which of course we can video record and document for feedback and development purposes, but prevents us from writing ourselves out of the prospective partnership conversation. It gives me more to talk about during my BEAM pitch itself and in the surrounding conversations that might happen from a networking perspective, as we will have practically tested answers to many of the questions we are likely to face.
I’ve been interested in the impacts of urban regeneration for a long time. As I passed my 21 year mark as a Londoner, I found myself retracing lots of steps, old haunts and places that meant something or which had connections to my own personal story and was suprised to find that whenever a building/site/route through town had gone, changed, been rennovated or was different, I really felt a palpable sense of loss in terms of my identity and the symbolism of what all those places had meant to me throughout my own evolution.
As a musician, I was distraught to read of the demolition that was to befall parts of Denmark Street in the wake of Crossrail and I started to research other stories of where capitalism, commerce and industry seemed to bulldoze its way through communites often leaving them with an irreperable sense of loss.
Quotes from my research:
Sometimes entire blocks have been flattened, sometimes fronts have been allowed to remain, propped up by girders and awaiting incoming flats or boutiques, the old facades acting like a kind of wallpaper for shiny new interiors. The usual vocabulary of planning seems insufficient. This isn’t regeneration, it is devastation; buildings aren’t being developed, they are being demolished and something alien raised in their place.
The developers argue they are bringing in money and cleaning it up, but the atmosphere and environment is being killed.
Unprotected entirely are the Korean cafes. The redevelopment has already seen them off. The campaign began too late to save them.
Crossrail has been culturally devastating,” says artist Cathy Ward, a local resident. “Those streets around St Giles felt like the deep veins of the city, those connecting historical veins that we’ve had for centuries. It’s extraordinary that they survived but now they are being erased, these places that hung on and housed extraordinary little businesses. We had no idea developers would be able to buy up a chunk of land and do whatever they want with it.
Attempts had been made to subdue St Giles before, when it was one of the most notorious of the slums known as rookeries. The Irish poor here were immortalised by Dickens; Hogarth’s famous satirical illustration Gin Lane depicts the squalor of the St Giles poor’s addiction to the spirit. Roads were driven through here in the 19th century but an outlaw air remained, even when Centre Point was plonked on top in the 1960s, like a wind-channelling watchtower.
Although my research has initially focussed on stories from London, this is a universal problem and as such IN THESE WALLS will be set in a fictional city that could be anywhere.
My initial thoughts regarding casting are that it will be 2F, 1M. One of the female parts will be for an actress of colour.
The core parts for the three characters will be a family, the proprieters of The Butterfly cafe – mother, son and daughter.
In 2018 for my Zedel’s concert, one of the four world premieres I wrote for the event was called THE DELI. Whilst it was only ever meant to be a stand-alone song, the story of it massively contributed to my growing interest in this whole subject; how buildings can mean something to us – especially if it was where you met your best friend, or future spouse, and they lose their life in some way…
I then decided to expand up the themes of THE DELI, and started to explore the ideas and structure for IN THESE WALLS . And I’m excited that it happened that way.
THE DELI will form half of my BEAM pitch purely because it was mainly the power/quality of the song that got me into BEAM in the first place. However, I want to make sure that you make note of the fact that the writing/creation of the song itself has definitely not been included in the project plan or the budget, in correct accordance with your guidelines about not being able to fund work that has already taken place, as I don’t need it to be – it is already done.
The 30-40 minutes of material I will write, develop and workshop during the R&D will be, as stressed, completely new. In fact THE DELI doesn’t appear in the story arc until much later in ACT 2, so it doesn’t even apply for the first section of the first ACT which is what we’ll be working on for the R&D section of the project.
The new music produced during/for the R&D will, as outlined, then appear as part of the fuller programme of my work at Zedel,s, thus giving potential partners access to more of the show than my initial ten-minute pitch will allow for.
Here is a demo of THE DELI for you to listen to. Enjoy.
ZARA NUNN: LIVE AT ZEDEL 2018
I made my debut at The Crazy Coqs, Live at Zedel on Thursday 8th July 2018.
It was the first time I’d ever curated and performed in a night that entirely featured my work, and it was the first time I’d attempted to do so within a cabaret context and at such a high-profile venue. We sold out bar eight tickets, two of which I’d been holding back until the last minute for VIPs.
Along with songs from my existing catalogue at the time, my second PRS Award (an achievement in itself that is noteworthy – funding from The Open Fund is extremely difficult to get and I’d managed it twice in consecutive years) funded the writing, orchestration and world premiere performances of four brand new songs written especially for the event. You can see three of them here:
FINE | words & music by Zara Nunn
MY SISTER & ME | words & music by Zara Nunn
THE OTHER SIDE | words & music by Zara Nunn
IN VERSIONS a new musical 2017
IN VERSIONS takes a playful, abstract and intricate look at personal identity in order to challenge the assumptions we make about people based on what they look like/what they say. We meet six seemingly non-related characters whose stories start to become intertwined, negligibly at first, but as themes, words and images start to cross over, we realize there is something bigger going on. We start to see glimpses of their increasing anxiety as jarringly loud interruptions mixed with a disconnected voice from somewhere outside of the place they are in start to occur more and more frequently.
As we near the end, our focus is pulled towards GRACE who tells the final story of a mundane shopping day getting interrupted by some teenage girls who racially abuse her in the street, which leads to a violent attack in a ladies toilet in a shopping centre. During the fall out from this, the other five work out that they are all different ‘slices’ of GRACE. These interruptions then turn out to be police radio, running water, footsteps on a tiled floor and the voice is that of the police officer who has found Grace. Up until then, the voice has been repeatedly asking questions such as do you know who you are, what’s your name and do you know where you are, but as things unfold in this surreal place we’re in, which of course is Grace’s unconsciousness, these questions seem to unnerve everyone or illicit responses at certain times, acting as catalysts for the stories to be told.
Funded by Grants for the Arts & my first PRS award, supported by the Old Vic Lab, I produced, composed, wrote, orchestrated and musically directed the world premiere industry showcase in March 2017. I managed a production budget of over £17.5k, for what was my first-ever self-managed project of this size. The project included production, casting, marketing and project administration all on top of the creative job I had to do in writing, orchestrating and MD-ing the entire piece itself. All in just under 6 weeks flat.
There was a cast of six, who were off-book in after just days of rehearsal time, and I put together a six-piece band, with me at the helm for whom I did full orchestrations.(Instrumentation: Piano/MD/Violin 2; Violin 1; Cello: Bass; Percussion; Vibraphone).
BATHROOM FLOOR from IN VERSIONS | words & music by Zara Nunn
CHANGE THE VIEW from IN VERSIONS | words & music by Zara Nunn
TALKING ABOUT ‘IN VERSIONS’ a new musical by Zara Nunn | filmed & edited by Zara Nunn
The first ever hotly anticipated BEAM event, happened in March 2016 was hosted by the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park. It was the first event of it’s kind in the UK – a two day industry only event that showcased 40 of the best new musical theatre writing talent and shows. As a relatively unknown writer amongst the MMD/MTN community at the time, not only did I get selected to take part based purely on the strength of a pitch that outlined my plans to write my first show, and didn’t even contain any of my music, but I was then only one of a handful of people that were asked to do something called a “Lights Up” Composer Platform during the event.
This meant that I could present anything I wanted to in my ten minutes, and it didn’t have to be attached to any particular show. It was simply about showcasing me as a composer & writer. This was a rare opportunity and so I firstly decided to include a standalone song of mine with quite a complicated and serious back story (Wishing Well Carousel), and then in order to demonstrate complete contrast, I wrote a meta-comedy cabaret piece in complex multi-part harmony (It’s All About Her) especially for BEAM.
Wishing Well Carousel was inspired by the first two scenes of the play BULLY BOY by Sandi Tokskig, which tells the story of an investigation into the conduct of a young private who is accused of throwing an eight year old boy down a well during a firefight in the middle East.
My pitch went down a storm and I was approached by many people during the event, and afterwards, as a result I had:
Meetings with three independent producers, a director, was Ione of only 8 invited artists to take part an ACE Funded Musical Theatre Writing Residency, was approached by the business office of Stiles & Drewe and invited to submit an entry for their new mentorship award. that had an approaching deadline as they would love me to submit something. I also secured Agent Representation.
As I mentioned in my application, though these outcomes were all good in and of themselves, ultimately they didn’t lead to anything as I didn’t have any structured plan, solidly tested new material ready to go or a desired career trajectory in place.
This time I do
MUSICAL THEATRE ON VIDEO and ONLINE
The addition of video and digital content to my online presence as an artist is something I really started to spend time on from 2016 onwards. Whilst my Youtube channel is still in relative infancy, in comparison to my Soundcloud page (which I’ve had since 2013), I’ve already been able to see the remarkable impact that online video and audio content has not only in terms of audiences engaging with me and my work, but also in the way it is definitely helping to generate commissions, sheet music saels, work enquiried and a wider (global) reach for my work in general.
In fact my current producers, the Roald Dahl Story Company, engaged me after being directed to my work on my YouTube channel, and in the Autumn of last year I was approached about a potential commission for 2020 purely on the strength of the work of mine that this academic’s students had engaged with and been inspired by online.
So when I talk about my online audiences, it’s not just a sideline for me, I take it very seriously and spend a great deal of time curating quality content to distribute through these channels. And capturing/distributing examples of my live performances are an enormous part of this.
Here are some more examples, including some more of my cabaret work and a song I’m performing myslef. Thanks for watching.
CERI WITH A C | words & music by Zara Nunn
WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS | words & music by Zara Nunn
THE SONG OF US from GENESIS INC. | music by Zara Nunn | words by Jemma Kennedy