Host Luisa Lyons chats with Eliza Jackson, an Australian producer based in the UK whom The Stage recently listed as one of the Top 100 Theatre Makers of 2020.
We chat about making the switch from acting to producing, the joys and challenges of producing virtual theatre content during the pandemic, paying artists during lockdown, the future of streaming, what it means to make theatre during this time, and Lambert Jackson Productions streams of The Last Five Years, Songs for A New World, [title of show], and the upcoming I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.
Australian born Eliza trained in Musical Theatre at the prestigious NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney. She moved to London in 2012 and since then, has worked in the theatre industry both on and off stage.
In 2018, Lambert Jackson Productions was born and their first project was to take Eliza’s one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show, The Voice Behind the Stars received 5-star reviews across the board and was then toured around Australia with much success. On her return, she took on the role of Creative Director of Lambert Jackson full time.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change will stream at select times between January 28-30, 2021. More info and tickets available from the London Coliseum.
Filmed Live Musicals is the most comprehensive online searchable database for musicals that have been filmed live on stage. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support the site at Patreon. Patrons get early access to content, no matter how much you pledge. Visit www.filmedlivemusicals.com to learn more.
Filmed Live Musicals is created by Luisa Lyons. Luisa is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com or follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
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Luisa Lyons: LL
Eliza Jackson: EJ
LL: [00:00:04] Welcome to the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, a podcast about stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. The Filmed Live Musicals website contains information on nearly 200 musicals that have been captured live. Check it out at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. And now, on with the show!
[00:00:25] Welcome to episode 14 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast! This week’s guest is Eliza Jackson, an Australian actor now based in London. Eliza founded Lambert Jackson Productions with musical theatre recording artist Jamie Lambert in 2018. In the past couple of years, Lambert Jackson have produced a wide range of critically acclaimed concerts, including “There’s Nothing Like a Dame -- 100 Years of Women in Musical Theatre,” “Main Men of Musicals,” “West End Women,” “Love at the Musicals,” and the UK concert premiere of Doctor Zhivago starring Ramin Karimloo. During 2020, Lambert Jackson produced the online concert series “Leave a Light On” and several virtual productions, including First Date with Samantha Barks and Simon Lipkin, The Last Five Years, Songs for a New World, and [title of show]. Their work throughout 2020 led them to be included in The Stage’s Top 100 Theatremakers of 2020 list. At the end of January, Lambert Jackson will stream a new virtual production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Welcome, Eliza.
EJ: [00:01:27] Thanks so much for having me! I’m so excited to chat with you.
LL: [00:01:30] Very excited to talk to you about everything that you have been up to in the past year, which is a lot.
EJ: [00:01:36] It’s been busy!
LL: [00:01:39] But to start off with, what made you first fall in love with musical theatre?
EJ: [00:01:42] Well, from age three, I told my mom that I wanted to be a ballerina, so being the brilliant mom that she is, she enrolled me into the local dance school, which actually specialized in music theatre. And I quickly figured out that I absolutely was never going to be a professional ballerina, as much as I hoped I would. And the school offered really amazing different classes in singing and acrobatics and theatre dance and all the different things, and so obviously I just became obsessed with all of it straight away and had to be enrolled in every single type of discipline.
[00:02:25] And so basically from about age five or six, I was like, “I’m gonna be a professional actress. I’m gonna work on the West End. I’m gonna be on Broadway. This is my life.” And the lady, Sheryl, who ran the dance school, her daughter at the time was working professionally in music theater in Australia, so she would come in and out of our lives doing classes here and there and masterclasses and things like that. And I was like, “You’re living my dream. That is what I’m gonna do with my life.” And my mom was super supportive. She’d take me to all the shows when they would come to town. I mean, as you know as an Aussie, there weren’t a whole heap of musicals, but the couple that came to town every year we’d go and see. And it was kind of just who I was from a very early age, so yeah.
LL: [00:03:12] When did you become aware of the West End as something that you were aiming for?
EJ: [00:03:18] Well, this same daughter of my dance teacher, Katie, she moved over to London during my childhood and she worked over here on the West End in some shows. And she was just my idol, so I was like, “Well, if she’s gone to London to be in this magical place called the West End, then that is also what I’m gonna do.” And I was really lucky to travel a lot as a child. My parents kind of took my brother and I all over the world, super spoiled, super lucky. I remember the first time we came to London I was about eleven, and one of the first things I did was go and see a show, and Mom took me to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It was one of the greatest times of my life. I still remember it vividly. There was actually a costume mishap that… What, she’s not a duchess, she’s the… Can’t remember her role, but she had like a halter neck dress on, and she was doing her big solo number and the strap broke and flipped open and she didn’t have a bra on. And I mean, everyone just lost it. And I have such a vivid memory of the whole show, but specifically of that. And she just absolutely cackled with laughter, and I was like, “Oh my god, she’s having so much fun.” And things go wrong and it’s the best thing ever. And I was just like, even more so, “This is what I have to do with my life.”
LL: [00:04:32] I love that she was able to laugh through that.
EJ: [00:04:34] Oh yeah, no, I actually should look up who the actress was, because…
LL: [00:04:38] You’re probably working with her now!
EJ: [00:04:41] I mean, we might just be the greatest full circle moment.
LL: [00:04:45] So when did you move to the UK from Australia?
EJ: [00:04:47] I was 21, so it must’ve been almost nine years ago. And yeah, I moved over to do a kind of postgrad course with my best friend Tina, who I’d studied at NIDA with in Sydney, who you know as well. Our mutual friend. And we moved over to do a postgrad course in London, which was kind of like an accelerated professionals course to meet other professionals here, other performers, but also work with a lot of musical directors and directors and people in the industry. Which was brilliant, kind of exactly what I needed to throw me in the deep end here.
[00:05:27] And I very much moved over with the aim of being a performer. Things have changed a lot in those nine years, but I definitely did try to be a performer, and had mild success with it for a little while until I kind of decided that, as much as I loved performing, it just wasn’t gonna be exactly what I needed it to be. And then it kind of led me down this kind of producer path, and I’ve landed here in this job that is just better than anything I could’ve ever imagined. I’m just super grateful, weirdly, for the journey. Because also, having been an out-of-work actor and a struggling performer and things, Jamie, my business partner, and I have both kind of talked about this, so I’m totally going off on a tangent, but we’ve both talked about the fact that we know what it’s like to be a performer, so hopefully that makes us slightly better producers, because we kind of know the struggles and the hardship and how you want to be treated as a performer and that you’re not just a thing, you’re actually a human being with feelings and your own faults and emotions and stuff, so anyway, yeah. Long story short.
LL: [00:06:41] I think that’s really important, because you understand what it’s like to be on the other side of the table.
EJ: [00:06:47] That’s exactly right. And even for little things like audition processes and things, it’s easy to just think of these people as another number or something coming in and singing a song for you and being like, “Ah, no,” or “Yes, no, whatever,” and just ticking off names. But seeing them come in and actually remembering and knowing that feeling so well of how daunting audition experience is and things like that, it’s something that Jamie and I, we just think it’s super important to keep in the back of our minds at all times, that actors are people and have emotions and they need to be looked after.
LL: [00:07:26] We sure do! Auditions are horrible!
EJ: [00:07:33] The actual worst. 100%.
LL: [00:07:36] I challenge anyone in other industries to continually have to interview for their jobs every few months.
EJ: [00:07:44] Put themselves, their hearts and souls on the line all the time. It’s too much, yeah.
LL: [00:07:50] So you had started this theatre company, it was really at its beginnings, and although you had already achieved a lot with the concerts that you had produced, talk me through 2020. As best one can.
EJ: [00:08:06] Yeah, as you said, we’d started the company, I don’t know, a year or so before, and we’d done some great stuff, but relatively small-scale in the grand scheme of things, with the hopes of very slowly but surely building up the company to become, I don’t know, the next Cam Mac, Sonia Friedman, whatever. But taking our sweet old time about it. Cause we were still learning what we were doing and what was working and what wasn’t and things. But we basically saw Broadway shut, because Broadway shut before the West End did, so we kind of had a week, ten days’-ish notice that it was looking pretty grim and the West End was probably gonna shut as well.
[00:08:43] And it was actually Jamie who came up with the idea that we needed to do something to keep people in work. That was kind of our main driving factor behind the “Leave a Light On” series, was to keep… I mean, we’ve got so many pals. All our friends are all brilliant actors and brilliant performers, and chatting to all of them, they were like, “What are we gonna do?” for the three weeks that we thought were gonna be our time off work. I think we all knew in the back of our minds it was gonna be a bit longer than that. Maybe not quite as long as it’s been, but definitely knew it was gonna be a longish period of time. So first and foremost, it was about keeping people in work. But it was also keeping us in work, Jamie and I, doing something, keeping focused, having a reason to get up in the morning. So yeah, Jamie came up with the idea to do this “Leave a Light On” series, which was at-home concerts with music theatre stars, and also rising stars and graduates and a whole range of different performers from across the UK.
[00:09:50] And initially, the plan was to film it. We collaborated with the Theatre Cafe over here, which is this really gorgeous, fun theatre venue right in the heart of the West End. And we were gonna film the shows from there, cause this was at a time when we all thought, “Okay, the West End’s shut, but we’ll probably still be able to travel for work and record in certain places and things like that.” So we filmed the first day of three different artists at the Theatre Cafe, and then that night we were told everyone had to stay home. And we had already announced this whole season of something like 21 different stars. And we were like, “What are we gonna do?”
LL: [00:10:30] Wow.
EJ: [00:10:31] Yeah!
LL: [00:10:32] This must’ve come together in minutes, how to get several of these people on board and scheduled and…
EJ: [00:10:36] It was literally insanity. So we were ringing people being like, “Can you do it from home?” And then people were like, “Okay, let’s give it a go,” with less than 24 hours’ notice. I mean, it was actually chaos. And then all these different people, we’d announced a week or two of two or three artists a day, and then all these different people were like, “I’m sick, I can’t do it,” all these different things. Life is happening, “I’m now living with my parents, I don’t have a space to film for you.” Because we’d started the process with the shows being entirely live. Not filmed and then streamed as live, they were actually livestreamed. So that goes with so many issues, particularly internet connection. That has been the bane of our existence. So every time someone was streaming, it was like Jamie and I on tenterhooks being like, “Is this even gonna go out live?” And then obviously other people’s internets having issues connecting, all this stuff.
[00:11:38] But we ended up doing a season of 72 different shows across a period of around two months or so. We had some of the most incredible talent and, as I said, some faces that everyone knew across the world and we had people tuning in from Japan, Australia, the States, all over the place, which was just so cool. And then some people that were lesser known, but did some of the most beautiful at-home shows I’ve ever seen, people like John Owen-Jones, brilliant, known for Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis, things like that. He ended up doing this incredible concert in his living room where he had some disco lights and he tacked up some… One of those slash curtains that are kind of [crosstalk 00:12:24-00:12:26]. Everyone just went to so much effort to make it feel special and like a proper show. I mean, we had a couple people who watched every single show.
[00:12:38] And something that we’re really proud of is that every single person who was a part of it, so from the artists, obviously, to the streaming service to the Theatre Cafe to us to the MD who recorded all the tracks, every single person got paid for their time. And that’s something, for Jamie and I, we were just so, so proud of, because at the beginning of the pandemic, particularly, there was quite a lot of free theatre that was available, and that is incredible and I think that’s so necessary and I think it is important that theatre is accessible to everyone, but at the same time, what was really important to Jamie and I was to prove that all these people need to work. They need to work to be paid money to be able to pay their bills, but they also need to work to be given a purpose, to be getting up in the morning and singing their scales and learning new repertoire and thinking creatively and putting together a show. So that was my first couple of months of lockdown, which was mental and amazing.
LL: [00:13:48] So what experience had you had with streaming before all of this?
EJ: [00:13:54] None. We had not streamed anything yet. When we first came up with the idea, we collaborated with the Theatre Cafe, and they had done some streamed stuff before. So they had a streaming company that they worked with, who were brilliant, and we did all 72 shows with them. Even through the chaos, everyone kind of still loved each other at the end, which is saying something, because it was the most stressful situation ever. But yeah, it turned out to be this really magical experience for everyone, and I think a lot of people were really proud to be a part of it.
LL: [00:14:36] Was the streaming service helping artists set up at home? Would they send out kits or just providing, like “Here’s a list of things you need to set up”?
EJ: [00:14:47] So everyone just used their smartphone, which, we’re so lucky that this pandemic happened, for many reasons, now and not ten years ago, least of which the technology now is pretty incredible. So everyone just filmed on their smartphones. Quite a few artists had their own sound setups and things at home, just from self-tapes and voiceover work they might do and things like that. But even still, the ones who didn’t made some proper magic with just using their iPhones. But yeah, the streaming service would ring each of the artists in the morning and basically set them up with how they needed to stream directly and kind of walked them through the whole process of how they were gonna connect everything. I feel so sorry for some of the artists right at the beginning. They were really our guinea pigs for how the whole process was gonna work. A lot of the streams started with “Is this on? I’m really hoping that everyone’s there and watching! Hi!” But then we kind of got the hang of it after a while, and by the end we had it quite down, which is good.
LL: [00:15:59] My mind is just exploding right now, thinking about the logistics of all of it, going from the Theatre Cafe, being in person, you can communicate with people, to suddenly lockdown got very strict and you weren’t allowed to travel, you had to stay home, what that changes. And like you said, internet connection. We can’t control it!
EJ: [00:16:23] Yeah, every artist would have an internet connection test with our streaming service the day before, but internet is very fickle. It likes to change its mind within an hour, but let alone overnight. So there was definitely some challenges, and there were some people who thought they’d gone live, hadn’t gone live, performed a whole show… It was so dramatic. And obviously Jamie and I and the Theatre Cafe, this was our heart and soul. Our whole lives were revolving around this series at the time. And it would break us when something would go wrong. But everyone managed to come out with a happy ending at the end, so that was good.
LL: [00:17:11] And you provided so much joy to people in providing new original content and these beautiful concerts, and you’re employing artists.
EJ: [00:17:23] I mean, it was a massive win on so many fronts, and Jamie and I, I think, were just super lucky to get in as quickly as we did. Cause I think a lot of people had these ideas, but we just kind of threw ourselves in the deep end right at the beginning and worked it out as we went, which obviously meant that we didn’t sleep for two months, but it did also mean that we beat a lot of the competition to get there first. So many people have done some brilliant at-home theatre concerts and series and things now, and I’m so supportive of all of them. But it was kind of great to get in there first and show people that it was a possibility, and equally that people really wanted and needed entertainment that was not just Netflix or something that was filmed years ago.
[00:18:17] I think people also loved the fact that things went wrong and people had deliveries being delivered mid-show and people’s cats walked in and boyfriends would walk in and be like, “Oh! Oh, sorry! You’re filming!”
LL: [00:18:33] “You’re doing the thing! That’s now! Okay.”
EJ: [00:18:36] “Sorry, I’ll go.” So yeah, I think it’s quite fun to see people kind of get through those obstacles and things. And also, people love seeing into people’s lives. Everyone had to film in their living room or their bedroom or their kitchen. I mean, some people were lucky enough to have a big garage or something where they could film, but most people filmed in their home space. And especially some of the bigger artists that we had involved, like Rachel Tucker and John Owen-Jones and, I mean, we had a huge range of incredible talent, their fans just loved the opportunity to be able to see into their world a little bit. Yeah, so it was just really cool.
LL: [00:19:19] Oh, that’s just so beautiful. It’s so uplifting during what was a really crazy, scary, overwhelming time.
EJ: [00:19:26] Particularly that first few months, I think it was just so unknown what was happening, and it really was scary and a lot of people felt quite isolated, I think, artists and audience members alike. And I think it was a real way of connecting people, especially in our industry. We had decided, with the “Leave a Light On” series and with subsequent shows, that we would have dedicated showing times instead of having it available on YouTube or another service where you could just watch it whenever you want. We actually quite liked the idea that we could have a shared theatrical experience, so in that way we could kind of help with the connection, kind of, of our audience members. We’d tweet about it and everyone would be sharing tweets and Instagram posts and everything and it felt kind of like this shared audience experience, which I think was really important, especially in that really crucial scary time at the beginning, when we just had no idea what was happening.
[00:20:28] And also, most of our artists, they really opened up about how they were feeling about lockdown and how they were struggling or weren’t struggling or things that were helping them stay motivated and stuff. At a normal cabaret show, the patter can be… You can draw on so many different things that happen in your life and things, but this, a lot of people talked about just their experiences of that period of time, and I think that was really helpful for a lot of people to hear that someone that they idolize or really respect and look up to is actually really struggling as well, and that this is a song that helps them get through it and that’s why they’re gonna sing this beautiful ballad or uplifting Whitney Houston pop number or something. So that was pretty cool, too.
LL: [00:21:16] What was the process of shifting from the “Leave a Light On” series to producing entire musicals?
EJ: [00:21:24] So Lauren Samuels, who’s a brilliant British actress over here, she is quite a good friend of Jamie and mine, and it was actually her idea. She came to us with the idea of doing The Last Five Years, which is the brilliant Jason Robert Brown classic, and she brought the idea to Jamie and I just when we were wrapping up the “Leave a Light On” series. And we were like, “Okay, it’s brilliant, but we just can’t wrap our heads around it, at all.” How technically this can work, we’d just done 72 shows and we were exhausted. I know that sounds stupid, cause we weren’t performing in them in any way, but it was just such an emotional time. And she was like, “Guys, I’ve got it. You just need to trust me on this. Can you just help me get the rights? I will look after everything in terms of direction, casting, everything. All right?”
[00:22:15] So for the first week or so, we kind of just left her to it, and we were like, “Let’s just see if she can even… If she’s got this. We’ll leave her to it.” And we were so lucky that Jason said yes to us during a virtual production. He’s been incredibly supportive, particularly of our company, but of all theatre around the world with his work and giving people quite a lot of free reign to play with his material during this crazy time. I mean, there’s been quite a few writers, rightly so, I have absolutely no problem with this, but a lot of writers who are like, “Actually, I don’t know if my show would work virtually,” or “I’d prefer it just to stay in a live stage world.” But Jason was kind of a bit like, “You know what? Just give it a go! See if it works.”
[00:23:07] So Lauren came back and she was like, “I’ve found the perfect Jamie, I’ve got this idea. I think we can really do this.” And we were like, “Okay. Throw caution to the wind, let’s do it.” And threw ourselves kind of crazily into this whole new mad world of creating a whole project without the two artists ever having met before in real life. I mean, genuinely I think she’s just a genius. This is… So Lauren is a fabulous actress, but she had never directed before. She had just come up with this brilliant idea, before anyone else did, and was just like, “Just trust me, I think I can direct this as well.” We were like, “You know what, go for it.” This is a production of The Last Five Years that was recorded entirely in two separate spaces. They never met, they recorded both in their houses. And she directed the whole thing via Zoom, which is just outrageously intelligent, and then they edited it together beautifully, and it was a huge success, so much more so than I think we ever gave her credit for, cause she was just so sure it was gonna work, and she was just absolutely right.
[00:24:22] Because I think we’d gotten to a point with our at-home concert series that people loved it, but people now needed something more. They wanted stories and they wanted characters and they wanted just something more that they could grab onto rather than just a cabaret in someone’s living room, which is so fair enough. We were a few months in now. We needed to up the ante. So yeah, she came to us with that brilliant idea.
[00:24:48] And then off the back of that, a brilliant director, Séimí Campbell, got in touch with us. He was like, “I saw your Last Five Years. I could do that and take it up a step.” We were like, “Yep, cool.” And he’s like, “I know you’ve just done a Jason Robert Brown show, but I think I can do it with Songs for a New World.” And we were like, “Ooh, but we’re gonna look really dodgy doing two Jason Robert Brown shows back to back,” and we spoke to Jason about it, and he was like, “I love it. Go for it. Just have fun.” And we ended up getting the most exquisite cast together. We would never have managed to get that cast in one room for a live show. It just so happened that… I mean, Rachel Tucker was meant to be on Broadway in Come From Away, Ramin was meant to be in Japan doing, I don’t know, something over there. All of them were meant to be all over the place doing different shows. Cedric Neal was meant to be in something in town on the West End. And Rachel John had just wrapped Hamilton, and she was gonna have a break. She was playing Angelica in Hamilton over here. It just should never have happened in real life, but we just magically got this wonderful bunch of actors together who were kind of happy to throw themselves into this mad world. Again, the cast and creative team never met in real life, and they spent hours and hours on Zoom learning the material and learning those mental harmonies. I don’t know if you know Songs for a New World well, but the harmonies are insane!
LL: [00:26:26] Jason Robert Brown’s music is not easy! It’s notoriously difficult!
EJ: [00:26:30] Yeah. And if you’re trying to learn that without someone right next to you singing that, it’s just this crazy experience. We were just so lucky that these four and our beautiful music director and his whole team could work magic and make it all come together. So that was our second virtual full theatrical piece that we did. And again, that was filmed entirely in their own houses and then spliced together.
[00:27:01] Séimí, who was our beautiful director, and Danny Kahn, who was our editor, they worked together for hundreds of hours editing it together, but just with some really brilliant topical references to make it make sense. So it was set with a backdrop of 2020 as the world behind it, so there was the Black Lives Matter movement, protest footage, and there was some footage of Trump and his crazy administration, and there was footage, obviously, of all the beautiful theatres shut down and Shaftesbury Avenue being completely dead with a tumbleweed going across it. So it was so topical and relevant and poignant and incredibly now that it just blew up. It just became something so much more than we ever could’ve hoped it would be.
[00:28:12] We were so impressed with how The Last Five Years did and how brilliantly that came together that we kind of expected Songs for a New World would be similar and that it would be really loved and it would be this beautiful piece, but it wouldn’t snowball into this incredibly huge, incredible… I don’t know. It kind of became Lambert Jackson’s ultimate piece so far, and actually we were really lucky. We had a couple of months where things started opening back up in London and we were lucky enough to be able to produce a two-show run, “run,” I say, in inverted commas, of a concert version of the virtual piece that we did at the London Palladium, and it was just the most… I don’t know, one of my most cherished days ever, getting… We only had a half capacity, that was all we were allowed in the London Palladium, so just over a thousand people for each of the performances. But getting people who had seen our virtual production, from all over the UK, into a room together… Most of these people are avid theatregoers who hadn’t been to the theatre in, I don’t know, six, eight months at the time, together. It was like a rock concert. It was the most electric, ridiculous energy I’ve ever experienced. And so it was just a proper magical moment.
[00:29:50] So that was our second virtual production. And then we’ve kind of just been lucky enough to, almost every month, do another full-scale musical, but performed virtually. And it’s just been a really insane process, but amazing.
LL: [00:30:09] What restrictions did you come across? So here in the US, there are lots of restrictions around Equity and the contracts and who is allowed to stream and where they’re allowed to stream and who gets paid for what, how much. And so there hasn’t been as much commercial-scale streams of shows, because they’re not allowed to stream them. So what challenges did you come up against, either with actor contracts or rights, like you mentioned earlier that some writers don’t want their shows performed virtually, and streaming rights as well? What were those barriers?
EJ: [00:30:51] So it definitely was a challenge, especially at the beginning, even getting a hold of any of the shows to be able to make them into virtual shows. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of writers just weren’t up for that. So we kind of had to think outside the box for some of our shows, things that… From the beginning, Andrew Lloyd Webber said he wasn’t gonna have any of his material made into new streams. There’s been a few, like Sondheim, he’s now let a couple of pieces be made, but he’s been very specific what they are, how they’re done, things like that. And I understand that they have creative integrity, they need to look after their pieces, and I so understand that. But we were lucky, as I said, with Jason that he kind of was happy to let us have a play.
[00:31:39] And we were equally lucky with our contact at MTI, which is one of the big rights licensing companies. Seán at MTI has been one of our biggest champions, and he really pushed some of the writers and their lawyers and all of the people that look after them to be like, “This is the way forward for this period of time. Please just let this happen.” We were really lucky in that sense, and we had Seán’s back, and MTI kind of behind us, and from that, we got Concord, which was another rights licensing company, that they kind of got on our side as well. So in that sense, we were really supported, because we just had these people that were really fighting for us to be able to continue theatre.
[00:32:29] Jamie and I also have quite an amazing relationship with… At the time, it was a relatively small bunch of actors’ agents. That’s now blossomed into a pretty amazing relationship with a whole heap of different agents. But some of those agents, at the beginning, let us use their incredible talent, and they were like, “Okay, if you look after our artists, we know this is not a normal Equity situation, but let’s just make sure everyone’s looked after and paid to an extent that we’re all happy with. This is not normal times, but let’s give it a go.” And because we had those core agents from the beginning really on our side, they were able to talk with their artists and kind of get them onside as well.
[00:33:31] But I think one of the things that was just so important was, by this time it was the summer. We’d already been in lockdown for a few months. Everyone was bored out of their brains, and just needing to be creative. So in terms of contracts, nothing is how we would work, usually. And we literally say that in offer emails to our artists and to our creative teams. We go, “Look, if this isn’t for you, that’s absolutely fine. And this actually isn’t how we would usually work. But is this something you’ll come on board with for this, this, this, and we can discuss this, this, this in the future?” And it’s actually been a really rewarding experience, because so many people have just been like, “You know what? Let’s just give it a go.”
[00:34:19] And in so many ways, it’s become such a rewarding experience for all of us, not only in the sense that we’ve made money and every single production that we have produced has made money, and that means every single person on the team, including the whole creative team, the artistic team, everyone, has walked out with a good chunk of money in their pockets. But also it’s been rewarding because these people who live and breathe theatre have been able to actually do what they love and get paid for it because it’s what they do! It’s not a hobby. This is their actual livelihood. For example, Songs for a New World, Ramin and Rachel Tucker both have kids! They have families to support! And a lot of the others we’ve worked with over this period have partners, have parents, have kids [crosstalk 00:35:13-00:35:15] Exactly right!
LL: [00:35:17] Groceries.
EJ: [00:35:18] Yeah. And I’m not exactly sure of the situation in the States, but over here there was quite a long period of time before the government even discussed the arts and this two-point-something billion pound a year industry. So yeah. To answer your question, it’s not a normal way of working, but it’s a way that we’ve found works and kind of supports everyone in a really kind of wonky, weird way.
LL: [00:35:53] Do you think going forward that streaming and digital productions are going to be a part of theatre even when theatres reopen?
EJ: [00:36:02] We’ve talked about this a lot, actually. I think streamed theatre will never be able to take the place of live theatre entirely. There is something really special and emotional and beautiful about being in a theatre with other human beings, and that will never change. But I do think there is a huge place for streamed theatre. I think it’s so important that it is… The best thing about streamed theatre is that it makes it accessible to people around the world, people who can’t travel because they live on the other side of the world or because travel is not as easy for them or they’re not very well or it’s actually too expensive to get to London or to their main hub city that has theatre. And then pay the travel costs, pay the hotel cost, and then pay the pretty extortionate, on the whole, ticket prices to see these shows.
[00:37:02] So I think in the future, what would be brilliant is to be able to have an offering of both, so you can go and see a live show, but then there is the opportunity to watch a streamed production. And we have quite a few one-offy kind of shows coming up later on in the year, where we’re hoping we’ll have at least a socially distant audience in there, but then also streaming the show live. So having people sitting at home at the same time watching it as the people sitting in the audience in the theatre. And I think that is the way forward, and I think, if anything this pretty crappy time has taught us, it’s that theatre will continue with whatever circumstances are happening around us because it is kind of such a lifeblood for so many people. It’s so important to continue. And if we can do everything we can to make it accessible to every person around the world, then I think that’s our job now.
LL: [00:38:13] That is music to my ears! When you did [title of show], can you talk us through that process and… I’m really interested in the camera setup and what the filming of that production was like.
EJ: [00:38:29] Sure. So [title of show] was, I think, our fourth virtual show, and again we just got the most outrageous cast, who we would’ve never gotten together in one room. And we talked a lot about where we wanted to film it, because we filmed it in collaboration with the London Coliseum, which is one of the most beautiful theatres, probably, in the world. And then film it on the stage! It’ll be beautiful! And we are lucky to be able to… We’ve just filmed I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change on the Coliseum stage. But for this, we were like, “It doesn’t make sense! This is a group of actors who are writing a show. There’s no way they’re on the London Coliseum stage yet, right?” So we used their brilliant rehearsal space and filmed the whole thing in there.
[00:39:19] And we had a full professional team in, so it was actually the first time that we had brought in a completely whole professional videography team and sound team and full lights and everything. We had done First Date, the musical, just before [title of show], and Dean, our brilliant director, is also a professional videographer. So he kind of did a whole heap of everything, which, I mean, just insanely talented. But it meant that, because he was so kind of on it himself, we didn’t need to bring in a whole team. But because [title of show] is a completely different beast and we wanted it to be… Basically, every time we’ve done a show, we want it to be a step up from the one we’ve done before. We learn each time things that work, things that don’t work, and also audiences are getting a bit more savvy with what they like and what they don’t like and what they need now, which I think is great. But for [title of show], we ended up having the most brilliant videographer come in, who works most of his time for the BBC, so extraordinarily talented.
LL: [00:40:37] Up and coming.
EJ: [00:40:40] Yeah. And he brought in a full professional film system, and we filmed the whole show over two days, which, I mean, for a 90-minute show seems like that should be super doable and super easy. It was the tightest schedule. I was there cracking the whip, being like, “Time is marching on! We need to get this done! You need to be working faster.” And the whole team and cast were just amazing and just got it done. But yeah, it was brilliant, because we brought in a professional lighting designer and full-on theatrical lights, and we kind of had the ability to play a little bit more and make it slightly more theatrical than some of our other pieces had been, and had more opportunities to play with camera angles and editing and all of that. So yeah, it was a really brilliant experience, and actually quite a lot of that team that we used for [title of show] we brought on for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change as well, because they’re just bloody heroes.
[00:41:58] And one of the coolest things we’ve found, actually, over this time is that all of these exceptionally talented people, cast and creative team and technical team alike, they’re just so willing to go outside their job title. Everyone just is happy to muck in. Sometimes, before the pandemic, people would get very stuck in their roles, and they would say, “Look, this is my role, and I’m happy to do that, but I won’t step outside it at all.” But I think everyone knows that putting on theatre during this time is basically impossible, so everyone’s like, “You know what? You want me to move some lights? I’ll move some lights. You want me to do this? Yeah, I’ll do that.” Everyone has just been incredibly gracious with helping in every different way, and that, I genuinely believe, is the only way we’ve been able to manage getting anything out at all, is because everyone has kind of just helped out in every area, so… I’m thinking of this particularly for [title of show], because the rehearsal room is on the top floor, which is five floors up, and they have no lift going up. They only have a lift going down, so every piece of equipment… So the ground floor… You’re pulling a strange face.
LL: [00:43:23] Yes, I’m very confused. What lift goes up but doesn’t come down? Or vice versa?
EJ: [00:43:27] The ground floor, where you come in with everything, the stage is below that, so there’s a lift going down to the stage level. But there’s no lift going up to the rehearsal room that will… That makes more sense. I should’ve used more words. So every piece of equipment we use, sound equipment, lighting, set, everything had to literally be hoicked up five sets of staircases. And I had my whole team helping me. Everyone was just like, “Yep, roll your sleeves up. Let’s do this.” And yeah, Jamie and I are so grateful for everyone kind of just leaving their egos at the door and just making it happen.
LL: [00:44:16] That’s something I’m hearing a lot of. It reminds me of a company here in the States called Prima Theatre, and they were performing shows literally on the back of a truck bed and touring it around the town.
EJ: [00:44:34] That’s incredible.
LL: [00:44:36] It goes back to this almost medieval idea of theatre, where it’s just a group of people who care about telling stories, doing whatever they can, and surviving the plague to tell stories! It’s so elemental, and now, like you were saying earlier, with technology and smartphones we have a way of connecting with people beyond our town in a way that we never have before. And I’m hoping that the pandemic is showing people who were resistant to streaming theatre and filming theatre at all that it only opens the doors.
EJ: [00:45:19] That’s the thing. I mean, all of our live theatre that we’ve since put on sale for later this year, that we can hopefully actually do, it hasn’t taken away from people wanting to book those tickets. People are still desperate to go to live theatre. It’s not like people think, “Well, I can just sit at home and watch that, so why would I buy a live ticket?” Sure, there will be some of those people, but on the whole, for most people, it’s an entirely different experience. If they can be in a theatre, they will be. If they can’t be, then they’ll stream it. I think there’s a need for both.
LL: [00:45:59] Absolutely. And it’s like music concerts. The music industry were horrified by streaming and making music available cheaply online, and yes, record sales fell, but you know what went up? Concert tickets. Because people always crave the live experience. You’re preaching to the choir here, because for me, theatre… Yes, it is always best experienced live. Nothing will replace that. But it’s not harmed by capturing it on camera and making it available, whether it’s television, or cinema, or on the internet.
EJ: [00:46:43] Growing up as a theatre-obsessed kid who wanted to see every piece of theatre ever and just spend her whole life watching theatre, imagine being able… You were the same! Imagine if we could’ve sat at home in Australia and watched Broadway shows and watched West End shows! Or touring shows around the world! And even a really special piece of theatre that you want to relive. If you got to see it live, but then you just want to rewatch and rewatch and rewatch. Like heaven, that that’s now a possibility!
LL: [00:47:25] These kids today, they don’t even know!
EJ: [00:47:27] I know, they’re so lucky!
LL: [00:47:29] So can you give us details about where we can watch I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change?
EJ: [00:47:34] Yes, please do. I am genuinely mega proud of this one. I think, as I said before, we’ve learnt and grown with every virtual piece that we’ve produced, and we’ve gathered this pretty insanely talented team around us that can really bring these shows to life. So yeah. This one, for me, is the closest thing to almost being a movie musical. It’s that beautiful and that high-quality and that visually appealing, but it still has that really live theatrical essence, which I think is important. We’re not trying to recreate, I don’t know, La La Land. But it’s that really cool mix of both worlds, which I think is really cool and exciting. So yes, please watch it. It’s gonna be excellent. It’s streaming on the 28th to the 30th of January. If you go to the London Coliseum website, that’s where tickets are available. At the moment, we’ve only got four performances, which is 7:30 PM each night UK time, which I think is, what, 2-ish PM if you’re in New York...
LL: [00:48:51] 2:30 New York and… Oh, I can’t convert that in my head. 4:30 in the morning in Sydney.
EJ: [00:49:00] Yeah, 4:30 in the morning Sydney’s not that helpful. But we’ve got a matinee screening at midday, which I think is slightly more palatable to Asia and Australia.
LL: [00:49:16] We’ll have links in the show notes.
EJ: [00:49:18] Please do. And please watch it. The cast are insanely talented, the team behind it have really created magic. I am just about to watch the final edit, actually, and it’s just beautiful. We did release a video of Oliver Tompsett, he’s quite famous over here for We Will Rock You and Kinky Boots and a whole heap of wonderful shows. We released one of his big numbers. So go and check that out, because it’s so beautiful. I mean, what a heartthrob.
LL: [00:49:50] Cannot wait!
EJ: [00:49:52] The best thing about the show is, it’s basically a comedy. On every aspect, it’s a comedy. It will make you laugh a lot. But then they just throw in these really beautiful, poignant, emotional, captivating ballads that make you just stop and kind of reflect, so it kind of hits you in all the spots. It ticks all the boxes, really, for a show.
LL: [00:50:19] And I know you had quite a few challenges getting into filming when one of your cast members had to suddenly come back to the States?
EJ: [00:50:31] Our beautiful Trevor Dion Nicholas’s mother sadly passed away quite shockingly, and we were due to start filming that morning. I had my whole crew loading in, everything was being set up, my cast were on their way, and Trevor’s agent rang us and was like, “Trevor has to go back to the States,” cause he’s originally from America. “I’m really sorry, he’s devastated. He can’t do the show.” And we were like, “He needs to not think about the show at all and just go and look after himself and his family.” He’s an absolute sweetheart, he sent us the most beautiful apology message, which was just so unnecessary! We were like, “Trevor, this is just a show! It’s fine!”
[00:51:17] But we were so lucky, because Simon Lipkin, who’s probably one of the funniest people ever, he did, actually, First Date for us, with Samantha Barks. He, I think, was the most recent person to have done this show. But since he’s done it, it’s been rewritten. So there’s a 2018 version, and I think he did it in 2016 or ‘17, and it’s been completely updated. And by that, I mean almost every single word is different. The melodies are all the same, and the ideas of the songs are the same, but it’s very updated. It’s very now.
LL: [00:51:53] Wow.
EJ: [00:51:54] And he came in, I think he arrived at like midday, they did about five hours’ rehearsals, and then he did two full days of filming the next day and the day after. I mean, that is talent. And, I mean, the whole team around him, the other cast members, and obviously the creative team, were just rockstars for being able to get it done. You just can’t write that. But yeah, he’s perfect for the role. He smashes it, as Trevor would’ve done too, and we send all our love and thoughts to him. And it was, obviously, quite an emotional time for everyone, because everyone was feeling so much for Trevor and wanting to be there for him and everything, but obviously having a job to do and having to get on with the show. The show must go on, right?
LL: [00:52:49] This ties beautifully back to what we were talking about at the very beginning, where, as producers who have been performers, being human about it and not saying, “Who do you think you are? We’re filming today.” Because I’ve heard stories of, particularly older actors, whose parents died and they had to go and do a two-show day. There was just no space for them to take time off. So I think that really speaks to the strength of you as people and you as a company, that you really take care of people. And then the ability of Simon to step in and everyone to kind of come together, that’s theatre. That’s the essence. Show business is show business, but this idea of coming together to tell stories and everybody pitching in and doing what they can. That’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
EJ: [00:53:48] Yeah, I so agree with you. On that project, but also on all the projects we’ve done so far, we’ve been so lucky to meet and work with just the most beautifully genuine people. Obviously insanely talented and very good at what they do, but it’s been a hard time to be making theatre, and everyone has had to hold each other and kind of buoy each other up. There’s been moments in each of the productions where I’ve had actors, the team, calling me and being like, “We can’t do it. It’s impossible. It’s too hard, there’s just too much against us.” But then everyone kind of rallies together and it becomes this really connected on a spiritual level thing. Particularly my Songs cast, I mean, they will have a connection between them that will last forever because they not only did this virtual show together, they got to take it to the Palladium and do one of the only live musical shows that happened in 2020 in the West End, whilst being temperature-checked and having jabs left right and center to make sure everything was okay and having the stress of not knowing every single day if they’d be able to do the show and all the other things that come with it.
[00:55:15] It’s been a hard time, but a particularly special and also weirdly hopeful time, just to see how resilient people are, and particularly our industry. We have literally been battered, more so than most industries, and I think we’ve been… The only reason why we will come back from this is because the people in it are genuinely good, kind, beautiful, giving people, and I think we’re very lucky to be working in that kind of industry.
LL: [00:55:55] Thank you for all that you have done and that you are continuing to do. I know we’re running a little short on time. I could literally talk to you for hours.
EJ: [00:56:04] I mean, it’s been such a pleasure.
LL: [00:56:07] Oh, thank you. So I have some rapid-fire questions that I ask all my guests.
EJ: [00:56:12] Okay.
LL: [00:56:13] You don’t need to think about it too much. Whatever comes to mind, there are no wrong answers.
EJ: [00:56:18] All right.
LL: [00:56:19] What is your favorite musical?
EJ: [00:56:21] I’m gonna say Wicked. It’s the first one I saw on Broadway. I know it’s a boring answer, but it just means something to me.
LL: [00:56:26] No boring answers. I love it.
[00:56:29] If you have one, what is your favorite filmed live musical?
EJ: [00:56:36] Jesus Christ Superstar, the arena version that they did…
LL: [00:56:40] With Tim Minchin and Mel B?
EJ: [00:56:43] Yeah, 100%. Give me some Spice Girl Mary Magdalene any day.
LL: [00:56:47] No Mel C, not Mel B.
EJ: [00:56:49] Mel C.
LL: [00:56:50] Yes. And our very own Australian Tim Minchin.
EJ: [00:56:54] Who was an absolute rocker in it. I loved it.
LL: [00:56:57] Slaying as Judas. Amazing.
[00:57:01] Filmed theatre is not exactly live theatre, and it’s not exactly a film, so what should we call it?
EJ: [00:57:11] I don’t know. I don’t know, I’m not… Can I think on it? No, I’m not allowed to, am I? I’m gonna send you an email in a couple of days, and it’s not gonna help right now, but…
LL: [00:57:27] I know, this question is my favorite because it’s torture.
EJ: [00:57:33] I don’t know.
LL: [00:57:34] That’s okay.
[00:57:36] Where do you stand on bootlegs?
EJ: [00:57:39] Okay. As a producer, very anti the bootleg. I mean, mostly because it’s really distracting for the artists who are up on the stage. Also, they’re never good quality, they never show the shows well, and it takes away from people who could be paying audience members. If you asked me that as an eleven-year-old musical-obsessed girl in Australia, I would’ve secretly said I loved them, but don’t ever tell anyone that.
LL: [00:58:12] What do you wish had been filmed?
EJ: [00:58:21] I’m gonna say the version of Singin’ in the Rain that was on the West End when I first moved to town, and I don’t know why, to this day it stays with me as one of the greatest pieces of theatre. That and Inheritance. Did you see that, the play?
LL: [00:58:36] No.
EJ: [00:58:37] Two-part play, it was on here maybe two years ago and then it transferred to Broadway. Has to be one of the most harrowing, emotional, uplifting pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. I think maybe they’re making it into a film, but it’s not gonna be the same, you know what I mean?
LL: [00:58:56] No, it is not the same! Just capture the play, please. The stage show. Please! Oh, I have deep feelings about that.
[00:59:05] What would you like to see filmed in the future?
EJ: [00:59:13] I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to give away too many ideas, because we’ve definitely got some virtual shows in the pipeline, which aren’t the same, I know, as live filmed shows, but… Everything and anything, I’m up for it. I’ll watch it all.
LL: [00:59:31] Wonderful. Thank you so much, Eliza. It has been wonderful chatting with you today.
EJ: [00:59:36] You too, thanks so much for having me.
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