Host Luisa Lyons chats with Marc Teitler and Tim Phillips, the composers of the smash-hit British musical The Grinning Man.
Filmed live at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016, The Grinning Man is a dark and visceral musical based on Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughed. Topics include the development of the musical, Marc and Tim's initial resistance to releasing the archival footage, how the musical came to be filmed with motion capture, and more!
The Grinning Man is currently available to stream on demand from the Bristol Old Vic. More tickets and info here.
Follow Marc Teitler on Twitter.
Follow Tim Phillips on Twitter.
Filmed Live Musicals is the most comprehensive online searchable database for musicals that have been filmed live on stage. Visit www.filmedlivemusicals.com to learn more. 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.
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.
Rate this podcast!
Luisa Lyons: LL
Marc Teitler: MT
Tim Phillips: TP
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!
[00:00:27] The Grinning Man is a dark and visceral, irreverent British musical with music and lyrics by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, a book by Carl Grose, and directed by Tom Morris, who also contributed lyrics. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel The Man Who Laughs, the musical first opened at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016, where it was a smash hit. Described by WhatsOnStage as “the best British score in years,” the musical was nominated for an Off WhatsOnStage award for Best Regional Production. In 2017, The Grinning Man transferred to the West End, where it ran for six months at Trafalgar Studios. Captured during its run at the Bristol Old Vic, the musical is now available to stream on demand. Today, I’m delighted to be chatting with the show’s composers, Marc Teitler and Tim Phillips. Welcome, Marc and Tim.
TP: [00:01:15] Thank you very much!
LL: [00:01:16] So first question, what made you fall in love with musical theatre?
MT: [00:01:22] I think West Side Story was probably my route in. I saw that as a child and it kind of offered an experience you couldn’t get anywhere else, and I think that became my benchmark. I’m not sure it is quite my favorite musical anymore, but it was definitely my way in.
TP: [00:01:43] Yeah, I feel the same about Phantom of the Opera. That was my childhood. I just enjoyed that you could make fear come alive onstage, and I guess romance. Both of those elements in a really exciting live experience.
LL: [00:01:57] Marc, when you saw West Side Story, was it the filmed version or a stage production?
MT: [00:02:03] It was a filmed version. Yeah. Which actually I don’t think I like much now. I still love the musical. I’m not crazy about the film. I think they never cast Tony right whenever I see it.
LL: [00:02:22] Are you looking forward to the new version coming out soon?
MT: [00:02:28] That’s a Spielberg film, isn’t it?
LL: [00:02:29] Yeah.
MT: [00:02:30] Yeah, I am. I’m really excited to see what they do with that. Apparently it’s… Obviously, it’s quite difficult to get the rights to the musical without Jerome Robbins’ choreography, which I think is what they’ve done.
TP: [00:02:45] Really? They’ve managed to do it without the choreography?
MT: [00:02:48] That’s what I heard. If anyone can, Spielberg can, I suppose.
TP: [00:02:55] Well, that’s a bit strange. With that show it’s like doing it without the lyrics or something. It’s an intrinsic part of it, is what I mean.
LL: [00:03:03] And Tim, was Phantom of the Opera onstage or a filmed version?
TP: [00:03:08] Yes, onstage twice. I saw it in Vancouver and then I saw it in London, yeah. I was a big fan for a while.
LL: [00:03:16] Did either of you grow up, or in recent times, watch filmed theatre or filmed musicals, filmed on the stage?
TP: [00:03:25] Can’t say I watched any filmed theatre at all until I moved to London, and I was 18-plus, I guess. I never really saw the point. Where I grew up, we didn’t have any access to theatre. It was outside of Vancouver in a small town. So I guess I saw theatre as an only live experience, and my experience of filmed theatre would’ve been… Well, I wouldn’t have heard of it, for one thing. But it would’ve seemed like, “Why? What’s the point” sort of thing.
LL: [00:04:02] I’ll be interested to see if that has changed.
TP: [00:04:04] Yeah.
MT: [00:04:06] And I think, to be perfectly honest, The Grinning Man is the first ever musical I’ve seen filmed as a stage show. I don’t know if I ever knew about that as a possibility, other than, I suppose, for archive purposes. I’d never thought of that as a valid and entirely unique medium by which to enjoy theatre. Which, obviously, the current situation sort of opened up that door.
TP: [00:04:35] Yeah, just to jump in on that, that’s true. I don’t think anyone thought… Well, or a very small number of people might have seen it as its own form. Because there was the stage musical and then there was the film of the stage musical, and the filmed stage musical would’ve been sort of a halfway house of… I think it was considered getting the benefits of neither, really. Neither form correctly, at one point, until the pandemic.
LL: [00:05:07] Yeah, the pandemic has definitely shifted. It’s been a big change in the industry as a whole. For me, it’s very exciting.
TP: [00:05:15] Yeah, you must’ve… I mean, your subscriber base must’ve gone up a lot as well.
LL: [00:05:21] So, previous to the pandemic, my database on the website had about 200 shows, and I had another kind of 150 that I was working on to get into the database. And now there’s close to 500 that I’m working on behind the scenes that aren’t on the website yet. It’s just absolutely exploded because A, people are filming new content, and B, people are making content that was previously filmed and hidden away in a vault, made it accessible to people, which is…
TP: [00:05:50] Like ours!
LL: [00:05:52] Exactly, yes!
MT: [00:05:54] The other interesting thing is, for example, I watched Romantics Anonymous on the Bristol Old Vic’s website. And again, and it’s interesting, because suddenly the stage… The film… I don’t even know what you call it. Filmed stage musical? Splits off into something that is effectively a recording of a past performance, or something you can watch live as well. And I found it interesting. I’m not sure how much I enjoy the actual filmed live performance, because there was no audience present, living in the pandemic. It felt strangely like being at a performance where no one’s turned up at. But what’s interesting is that when there are audiences, back in theatres, will it be the case that filming will also be possible with live audiences? And you certainly have an entirely new audience watching simultaneously through a screen.
TP: [00:06:53] Yeah. Well, having an empty room always changes the way the performers respond to each other and just the way they perform.
LL: [00:07:03] Oh, yeah. I have deep feelings about having an in-person audience when you’re filming, because is it really theater if you’re performing to an empty room? It’s TV. So yeah, lots of distinctions to be made in there.
[00:07:19] So let’s jump over to The Grinning Man. I understand that it was inspired by the silent movie poster?
TP: [00:07:26] Yeah, in part. I think Marc, you saw that poster on somebody’s wall in Berlin, didn’t you?
MT: [00:07:34] That’s right. And Tim and I, at the time, were sort of looking at various different projects, and we wanted to find something that was out of copyright, so we then discovered that that was based on a book, and got very excited after reading the book. It’s not an easy read, as a book. We saw a lot of problems in it. I think one of the chapters seems to be about 40 pages of hierarchy in the House of Lords. Not much fun. But I think buried in it, we thought there were some really interesting archetypes, and Carl Grose, who’s the book writer, also is very humorous, so he was able to sort of bring another layer of humor to the piece. It is there, but in a much more muted form.
LL: [00:08:23] What is it that drew you to the themes in the book and its… People have described it as a dark fairytale. Is that what drew you to it?
TP: [00:08:32] I think the freak show element of it absolutely drew us into it. One of the… It was just an area we were interested in, from a previous collaboration based on the Massacre of Margarita as well. I think Marc and I felt that we had a language for tackling the sort of macabre elements of it. And we knew we wanted a love story. We thought that was important for the musical that we wanted to do, just because it’s such an important element of so many musicals. I think certainly in the back of my mind, and also all three of us when we had our first meeting, Carl and Marc and I, discussed Phantom, and we were all at various points big fans of that show.
MT: [00:09:16] Yeah, that’s true.
TP: [00:09:17] I think there’s a sort of Gothic romance of that was partly what we were going for. It became a very different thing. It started off, I think, much more as a kind of a Les Mis thing in our heads. I suppose it was crystallizing as we went along. But what Carl certainly brought to it was the element of making it much more of a fairytale, and also modernizing the material a lot, really cutting out the sort of boring historical tome-yness of it. And then the fairytale aspect just comes also from the way that Marc and I collaborate together. The musical… The way we develop our themes tends to be starting with a very simple nursery rhyme type of theme and really stretching that in different directions and seeing how much mileage we can get out of it. We took that approach with this. So it also coalesced into a Gothic romantic fairytale.
MT: [00:10:23] I think also there was an attraction to character as well. I sort of think in the case of The Man Who Laughs, I felt that Grinpayne was just… We both sort of understood that there was natural music in that world. The themes are very heightened. The dilemmas are very sharp. The idea of someone who’s revolted by his own appearance seems to be something that we came across in a couple of the ideas that we had. So there were themes that we were interested in looking at that also seemed to all come to life in that story.
LL: [00:11:00] How much of it was developed through workshops and how much were you just writing on your own or together and then working with actors?
TP: [00:11:11] In the first instance, Marc and I got together for a period of, I can’t remember, maybe three weeks, three or four weeks, and just freewrote after reading the book. So we came up with themes and thematic material, most of which ended up being the principal themes of the show, but in different places to where they were originally intended. So a lot of stuff was sort of written in abstract, essentially, and then we pinned it onto characters or scenarios after the fact.
And then actors didn’t really come into it for quite a while. We then went into a series of workshops with Carl and Tom. I’d say we did at least two of those, didn’t we, Marc, before we had a reading.
MT: [00:12:01] I think it was, yeah. We did a couple. We did one which was just very simple, working out what the basic treatment and outline of the piece was, narratively. What we were gonna change, what we were gonna scrap, et cetera. And then another one which was a bit more at the piano, working out how songs worked. And then I think there was a further workshop where we introduced actors.
TP: [00:12:21] I think we did a reading at the end of the second one, maybe. Something like that. But yeah, we put together a lot of stuff first, and then heard it, read by a group, which included Julian Bleach, actually. He was at the very first table read and never left.
LL: [00:12:38] It’s so glorious that the capture shows him so beautifully. Something I’m obsessed with with the score is how high it is, and it just keeps getting higher and higher and higher and I feel like the Act One finale is like this transcendent… We break the rafters now.
TP: [00:12:55] Yeah. Well, we wanted to give him a superpower. So the idea was that he’s so kind of hobbled that we agreed that quite early on we wanted him to have sort of a super voice. And partially because when we’re working together, I tend to test the songs, and I have a pretty high range, so it just felt like the right thing to do, didn’t it, Marc?
MT: [00:13:20] Absolutely. And the thing that I think I’m not sure does come across, correct me if I’m wrong, in the recorded version is just how loud he is without a microphone. That’s sort of another Julian Bleach superpower.
TP: [00:13:33] Oh, I thought we were talking about Louis. I think she means the Grinpayne…
MT: [00:13:40] The labyrinth theme?
TP: [00:13:41] No, the singing, the vocal pyrotechnics. Specifically the range of the part.
MT: [00:13:49] Yeah, I mean, he’s absolutely crazy. He seems to be verging on being a bass and a countertenor. But Julian Bleach does sort of also fit that description in his own way as well. He managed to surprise everyone quite a few times with how improbably high he could sing.
LL: [00:14:09] And what you’re speaking about also, about Julian Bleach’s loudness, his energy just leaps off the screen. That very opening bit where he’s walking onto the stage and addressing the audience. Having never seen the show live, I’ve only seen the capture, to me, it’s so deliciously theatrical. I can feel like I’m in the room with him and I know what it would feel like to have him talk to me. And I’d be a little bit scared, to be honest!
TP: [00:14:42] Did you see it live ever?
LL: [00:14:44] No, I was in the US already when it had opened.
TP: [00:14:49] Yeah, he has that… I mean, he’s an extraordinary actor. He can be very frightening and fun at the same time and sort of comedic and tragic. He’s really, yeah. He’s a livewire.
LL: [00:15:04] And obviously bringing in Tom Morris, you were going to have puppetry as a part of the show from early on. At what point did you realize that puppetry was gonna be an essential part of the show?
TP: [00:15:18] That was one of the things we were looking for when we… We knew Tom was gonna direct the musical before we knew what the musical was. We did a couple of aborted previous attempts to do a musical, but the team was already sort of assembled. So we knew Carl was gonna write it, we knew that Marc and I would collaborate on the score, we knew Tom would direct it, we just didn’t know what it was. When we found The Man Who Laughs, it had the character of Mojo and it had the obvious difficulties with his disfigured face. It’s probably one of the reasons why it hadn’t been made into a musical before, is a lot of people were looking at us going, “Well, how is he gonna sing if he has no face?” Which we…
MT: [00:16:07] And that did keep us up at night for a while.
TP: [00:16:15] It was… Can he even sing? Does he not sing? Maybe he doesn’t sing. Maybe he’s a puppet. But yeah, the puppetry was definitely something we saw being the wolf, so. There were a few things that needed to be in the story in order for us to sort of greenlight whatever the musical we were gonna create would be, and this book had it all.
LL: [00:16:40] So you’ve written the show, you had several workshops, and then it opens at the Bristol Old Vic. And at some point during that run, the show is filmed?
TP: [00:16:52] Yes. I believe that… We’re not really sure when that was taken, because it was a live capture they did for archive purposes, so it was probably later on in the run, come to think of it. I think the London one was done during a preview, but yeah, this capture was later on in the run. So it was shot in hi def. The intention was just for us to be able to look back on it and remember what we did and, hopefully, remember that some of it was quite good.
[00:17:28] And then after the pandemic hit, Tom said, “Bristol would like to release a number of shows from their catalogue. What about The Grinning Man, because it was such a hit there?” We said, “Absolutely no way, all we have is an archive video and no.” So they said, “Well, how about we give it to the people who filmed it, because they seem to think that they have enough in the tank, as it were, to be able to zoom in, to be able to make it less than just somebody with their iPhone at the back of the stalls sort of thing.”
MT: [00:18:05] They recorded it on four cameras.
TP: [00:18:12] So they were able to convince us that the sound was also quite well-recorded and everything had been done really well, something we weren’t aware of. So yeah, they took it away for a week or two, something like that, and came back and yeah, we were all really floored by how well it came across, actually, and what we had was much better than what we knew we had.
LL: [00:18:36] Okay, so first of all, shoutout to Bristol Old Vic and TV Production Partnership, who filmed it, for deciding to film an archival copy in hi definition with four cameras.
MT: [00:18:51] Quite impressive, isn’t it?
LL: [00:18:52] I mean, most people who film their shows will just stick an iPhone at the back of the theatre or get it from the sound booth, so the foresight to have a beautiful capture like that, even if it wasn’t edited five years ago, that’s a message to creators out there: Even archival copy can be decent quality.
TP: [00:19:13] Yeah.
MT: [00:19:14] Yes, that’s true.
LL: [00:19:15] Can you tell me more about your resistance? Why did you initially say “No way, don’t put it out there”?
TP: [00:19:21] Well, because I think there’s a tendency in theatre sometimes to put things out because you have them and not because… I mean, Marc and I want to be very protective of the work. We want it to be the best possible quality, so if there is gonna be a release of any type, then it should be thought through in advance, primarily. So not an archive that’s released, but something that is planned and filmed for release.
MT: [00:19:52] And it comes to define it. If you have one performance and that particular performance isn’t a great one, lots of people feel that they’ve seen the show, and it’s not the show that you think they should’ve seen. That’s the first thing. Secondly, we weren’t convinced necessarily about sound. Sound is, obviously, very important. And I think I, personally, I’m not sure if you shared this prejudice, I think at the time, and I’ve obviously changed since then, I was slightly of the view that you’re kidding yourself if you imagine that you’ve really experienced a theatre show without being part of the audience live. I sort of think what’s the point of theatre if there isn’t that sense of being in the room and that being a one-off thing? And that’s what makes it interesting, because I was a bit more hard-line about that. I feel like I’ve softened a little bit over the past year.
TP: [00:20:50] Well, and there’s also another key consideration was that that production of The Grinning Man changed significantly when it moved to the West End. And we’re about to publish, globally, the West End version of the show with Concord Theatricals and Samuel French. So we were thinking… I guess our thinking was do we want to release a more of a beta version of the show? It was solved pretty easily through discussion and we just said, “Well, we’ll clearly label it as the original Bristol production and then people will know it’s not the same one.” So that was fine, actually. We just had some reservations about A, whether the quality would be good, and B, whether it was okay to release that version. In hindsight, I’m really thrilled that it’s out, because I think it plays really well and anything… It’s still 95% the same show, so yeah, I think anything that gets it out there makes it look good and will only be a good thing for the continuing life of The Grinning Man.
MT: [00:22:02] And there are a couple of moments I really love in it which weren’t in the West End version. We wanted to make it tighter, more concise, and I think we did the right thing, but there are moments where I think I personally loved Julian Bleach’s puppet show. That didn’t make the West End cut.
LL: [00:22:22] I love his line at the end of it. “It’s not as easy as it looks,” or something to that effect.
MT: [00:22:27] “Puppetry: It’s not as easy as it looks.”
LL: [00:22:29] So good. Were you given a copy of the final cut before it went out and given sort of a veto?
TP: [00:22:39] Yeah.
MT: [00:22:40] Yeah.
TP: [00:22:41] We didn’t have to use it, thankfully. Just to reiterate, we were very impressed with it when we saw it, so it was a nice surprise.
MT: [00:22:51] Yeah, I mean, I was, I have to say, very, very surprised by how well they’d edited it. Because Tom also slightly undersold. He said, “We will go away, it might not be full bells and whistles.” But actually what I saw seemed to me, compared to what I was expecting, full bells and whistles.
TP: [00:23:07] Yeah.
LL: [00:23:09] When I read that it was an archive recording, I was like, “This cannot be an archive recording. It has bits of the audience and it’s got different angles and there are close-ups and the sound is really good.” It is not your average archival recording.
MT: [00:23:20] Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what you would add. Maybe a drone or something in the theatre. Wouldn’t work for safety purposes, but.
LL: [00:23:28] A camera on a Grinpayne puppet or something for perspective.
TP: [00:23:31] Exactly! Well, I think you might have another archive recording or a couple of other shows to cut into if there’s an error or something. That’s probably the only way it could potentially be improved. But I’m not complaining.
LL: [00:23:51] So the film, you allowed it to be released to the world and Bristol Old Vic streamed it through their new site, Bristol Old Vic At Home, in July 2020, and the stream was viewed in 52 countries and had tens of thousands of views, and then it was released again in November and it’s now available until the end of April. What has been the response for you as composers?
TP: [00:24:17] We haven’t really heard yet, because they’re waiting to tell us how many people have downloaded it and all of that. But yeah, there were 125,000 views of the free stream when we put that out in June, which is what… Yeah, we did it in stages. I guess we agreed that we would do the free stream for a week, and I think Bristol were saying, “We’d like to do that as a test to prove to you that there’s enough interest to do the paywall stream.” And they did.
MT: [00:24:50] The other thing that’s great, yeah. So this is perhaps not answering properly your question, because my answer would be the same as Tim’s, but I suppose another thing that’s been great about having this out is that it keeps the show alive in a way that we weren’t expecting. It does seem to me that there’s been a lot of excitement around it. Lots of people have watched it. And the hope is, especially if we’re launching, as Tim said, Concord Theatricals have taken on the worldwide rights, I imagine it can only help with getting the word out and reminding people of the show.
TP: [00:25:26] Yeah, I’ll just touch on, it is in development in several other forms in terms of having a future life. We’re just trying to keep the fire burning, and this is all part of that.
LL: [00:25:42] What is it like to revisit it four or five years later after that initial run and to see it again in this way?
TP: [00:25:53] It’s sort of a strange mix of nostalgia, thrill… It’s always nice to see something you did a fairly long time ago now and realize that you did quite a good job. And it shoots you right back into the room, because it’s like you’re there again as soon as you’re watching it. I remember anonymously sitting in the audience many nights watching the show and… Yeah, it’s a strange feeling.
MT: [00:26:24] We all knew you were there, Tim. We all saw you.
LL: [00:26:28] Marc, did you have a thought about that?
MT: [00:26:32] I think for me, the primary feeling was one of nostalgia. I also think I was, as I sort of mentioned earlier, I’d forgotten some of the bits that I loved that we cut. And it doesn’t mean to say that I think we made the wrong decisions in cutting things, because I think to make a good show you have to cut bits that you love, and that’s just called focus. But I think I really enjoyed that, because when I saw the video, I’d got so used to the West End version that suddenly to be reminded of those other things that we’d cut that I loved on their own brought me a lot of happiness.
TP: [00:27:11] And it’s also very useful in terms of the future life, we might be able to sneak the odd three-minute scene back in, if we’re allowed.
LL: [00:27:23] A musical is never finished, it is only rewritten.
TP: [00:27:26] Exactly.
LL: [00:27:28] I was thinking of that phrase, I think it’s Shonda Rhimes says it, “You have to kill your darlings.”
TP: [00:27:33] Yeah.
MT: [00:27:34] Yeah, that’s true.
LL: [00:27:35] To let the show be what it has to be. But I think that’s so great, to be able to revisit those moments from previous runs and see how the show has evolved, too. I’m really curious, the show has been billed by Bristol At Home as a rare bootleg capture of the original Bristol version. And I’m curious why, maybe you don’t know, why they chose to use the word “bootleg” when it is a legitimate capture and it’s not an iPhone in the back of the theatre.
TP: [00:28:09] Well, I think that was their way of clarifying that it was originally not intended as a production broadcast, so just to make it feel a bit… Yeah, just to try and get across the idea that it was not intended for broadcast, but we’re broadcasting it, because it turns out it’s quite good.
MT: [00:28:31] Yeah, I think they’re just very wary of overselling it.
TP: [00:28:33] Yeah. Or saying it’s the definitive…
LL: [00:28:36] I think they undersold it.
TP: [00:28:38] Right, maybe. I think that’s better than saying it’s the defining, definitive version of the show, because that was the conversation we were all having at the time about how to announce it.
LL: [00:28:51] Something that I am very curious about, and I hope that more happens with it, in I think it was 2018, Andy Serkis with Imaginarium did a motion capture of the show. Can you tell us more about that?
MT: [00:29:05] I think Andy came to see the second to last show. It was certainly one of the last shows. Fell in love with it and, because he runs Imaginarium Studios, which is… At the time, I think they had a partnership with… Tim, I’m forgetting the details.
TP: [00:29:24] Magic Leap, an augmented reality company in Florida.
MT: [00:29:26] Magic Leap, that’s right. Yeah, so they were developing a technology which is entirely new for capturing live performances and turning them into, essentially, filmed versions of the stage show, but with a twist, which is that they would be projected into your own living room as three-dimensional figures. Possibly with… In a way, quite advanced, to the point where you could even walk around and you’d still maintain eye contact with performers. So they wanted The Grinning Man to be the product that they used to showcase the technology, which was great, because I think there’s potential for it to have life beyond that. But it meant that they were able to invest in motion capturing the whole show. And I know that some of the performers found it strange, because it’s a completely dead acoustic, so you’re performing to no one, without any ambiance at all in the room, sonically.
TP: [00:30:28] Yeah, wearing a skintight green suit or a skintight gray suit on a green screen, I guess. Yeah, it’s an experiment that’s still developing, is the short way of describing that long process. But essentially, Andy spent, I think, about a week motion capturing the entire show scene by scene, with everyone radio mic’d and singing, and Tom Deering, our musical supervisor, accompanying everyone, with the idea that it can be retrofitted with an orchestra and backgrounds can be drawn in or characters can become life-size or greater-than-life-size digital apparitions in the real world, if you’re wearing the right eyewear. So you can, in the same way that something will appear on your phone’s camera, if you’re… I don’t know if you’ve used augmented reality before, but essentially at the moment, you look through a camera and they will add, say, a Porsche or some sort of item to the real world that you’re seeing. What’s coming is that you’ll put glasses on and those digital objects will be overlaid into the real world.
[00:31:49] So obviously this could be very exciting for theatre because, apart from the obvious bringing a tabletop theatre into your living room, for example, you can bring the audience member into the show too, or have the show surround the audience member, or do it in unconventional places, or on the beach, or wherever. So that’s the road we’re going down with that, and it’s very exciting.
MT: [00:32:23] Yeah, and I think Tim implied that the difference between augmented and virtual reality is that you’re still able to see everything else. It’s sort of, as I think you said, overlaid. So you’re still present in reality. It’s not like when you put the glasses on you’re only seeing a film. That’s what makes it so interesting, I think.
TP: [00:32:42] Yeah, you’re seeing reality plus whatever the content creator chooses to add to reality.
MT: [00:32:48] Yeah.
TP: [00:32:49] Yeah. Funnily enough, the difficulty with it at the moment is sound, because a lot of the tech they’re doing is visual tech, and there’s a whole complicated issue not just involving the direction of the sound, but the quality of the sound and how, at the moment, the sound comes through little speakers on the side of the glasses, and that’s, long-term, not gonna be good enough. But there’s a long developmental road ahead with that. But what we’ve got in the tank, and we’re still discussing this, could be realized in a number of different ways, everything from a traditional animated type of film, because they can draw over top of the stuff that got captured, to everything in between, to a full-on augmented reality theatrical performance or… Yeah, there’s a lot we can do with it, and that’s what we’re discussing about how to take it forward at the moment.
LL: [00:33:43] The sound is something interesting. A little while ago, I chatted with an American actor and dancer who’s also an engineer, and we talked about virtual and augmented reality and the possibilities of how that could be integrated into theatre and what technology is available now, but we didn’t talk about how people are hearing sound, and I think that’s really interesting. I have visions that one day, someone sitting in Sydney could tap into a show in the West End and put on their goggles and it’s like they’re sitting there, and they can turn their head and see the theatre and experience the show. But what they’re hearing…
MT: [00:34:26] There’s binaural sound as well. In a way, the technology does actually exist, but it wasn’t necessarily something that people put at the forefront when they’re experimenting with these kinds of technologies. As Tim said, the focus is on the visual side. It would be fun to try and bring them together and to do a show that was AR with binaural sound, because sound makes such a difference as to how you perceive things visually as well.
TP: [00:34:54] Yeah, and we don’t necessarily realize that to the extent that we think we do. But yeah, obviously there’s a huge technological hurdle in terms of what people have available at home. So I think it’ll be a long time before… Like, we all carry around an iPhone now, but that took a number of years to become the norm. I think with augmented reality, you’ll see the same sort of adoption curve. It’ll take a while to… At some point, the dam will break, but I think we’re a few years away from that, and until then, it might be more specialized events, so we might go to an augmented theatrical performance, be given glasses and maybe a pair of headphones to walk around the room and experience it in that way. So I think it’ll be more event-driven to begin with.
MT: [00:35:47] What’s interesting about this though is that in terms of the filmed stage musical, the boundaries between that and a dedicated film adaptation are sort of being blurred and broken down through the invention and development of AR.
TP: [00:36:05] Yeah, it’s potentially very, very exciting, especially in terms of the kind of reach that shows will be able to get. It won’t just be the audiences who can get on the train and go to Central London who can experience the best shows. Theoretically, people all over the world would be able to tune in, so the West End becomes a broadcasting station to Planet Earth, and so does Broadway, rather than just a geographical location. Of course, the flip side of that is live tickets would become very much more expensive, I’d imagine, in that world, than they are now.
LL: [00:36:44] I’m very curious what the long-term impact is going to be. And on that thought, you have both worked in film and TV mediums. Do you think that the idea of filming shows, if it becomes more the norm, will that change the way that you write for theatre, with the idea that one day it could be filmed and distributed?
TP: [00:37:11] Yes.
LL: [00:37:12] In what way?
TP: [00:37:14] I think already soundtracks for theatre have become much more filmic. You look now as opposed to 15, 20 years ago, there are a lot more scores that sound like films rather than a small band of musicians in a pit sort of thing, and I think… I don’t think the forms are merging, but I think just an acknowledgment of the other form and the potential, especially for musical theatre, to genre-hop. So there’s absolutely an awareness, whenever you write a musical, that it could one day be a film, or…
MT: [00:37:54] Yeah, I think a lot of contemporary musical theatre already has quite a lot of influence from film soundtracks.
TP: [00:38:01] Yeah.
LL: [00:38:02] Aside from it being adapted into a movie musical, which is its own thing, do you think just filming a stage show, like The Grinning Man, if that had been intentionally filmed rather than for archival purposes and distributed, like the National Theatre does, if you know that you’re gonna write a play or write a musical that’s gonna be broadcast in cinemas. Will that change the way that you write for theatre?
TP: [00:38:29] Less so. I think much less so. I think it would change the way that you approach the capture, because you’d want to make sure that, for example, the pit players are going straight down into the tape machine sort of thing, or the digital recorder, rather than being content with a microphone out in front of them. It affects how you mix the sound production, essentially. So yeah, but I don’t think it affects how you write, no.
MT: [00:39:01] I think Tim’s right. I also think on some level, a part of me thinks not only would it not, but I don’t think that it should influence how you write. I feel like your primary duty is to make a great live experience, and then worry about creating ways of bringing that to life as a secondary concern rather than one that’s influencing the creative soup that goes into making a live show.
TP: [00:39:26] Completely, yeah. I just mean there’s always a knowledge that it could transfer, and I do think on some level that might affect the way that you… If you know the part’s being written for a man, it affects how you write the part, so same thing.
LL: [00:39:42] Do you think that allowing films, and I mean filming the live stage show rather than a movie musical adaptation, do you think that will be an intentional part of your future work?
TP: [00:39:55] I think it’ll definitely be something that is a much more important component along the journey than it used to be. So yes, I think probably early on we’ll all be having discussions about when we do the capture, because there’s now that knowledge that the capture might be the way that most people experience the show, and that’s definitely a new thing.
MT: [00:40:19] Yeah, and I have friends in different countries who I’ve talked to about The Grinning Man who were never able to come and see it, and they were delighted to be able to watch it. And I think my previous conservatism was, as I mentioned earlier, that if you’ve watched the film of the stage show, does that make you feel that you’ve now seen it and you don’t need to bother going and seeing it live? There’s a commercial question that’s worth consideration there. I’m not sure that’s true. My sense when talking to friends was actually it whetted their appetite more, and gave access to people that might not otherwise have access.
TP: [00:40:59] Yeah, and of course hand in hand with that is we need to be ecstatic about what’s being released, so I think absolutely you’re gonna see a lot more interest in the quality of these types of recordings and the way they’re approached, and just how good they’ve become. Already, they’ve become much, much better than they used to be. I’ve watched archival theatre recordings that would put Rip van Winkle back to sleep. They’re… And I’ve done a number of them of stuff I’ve worked on that are just snoresville. And actually, for a very long time, the consensus was that theatre doesn’t work as a recorded medium. It just doesn’t work. And I think that’s completely changed. It’s kind of a quiet revolution that’s been going on in the past year. It feels like you’re in the right place at the right time with your project too, Luisa.
LL: [00:41:54] I hope so. The thing that’s fascinating to my history brain is we’ve been filming theatre since we invented cameras, and there has been a market for them since that time. The first Vitaphone shorts were Vaudeville numbers. And they may have been filmed in a soundstage, but they were stage pieces brought into a soundstage and captured on camera. And the irony there is that Vaudeville stars were scared that talkies were going to steal their livelihood, which it ultimately did, but historically, we have those people on record now, and if we hadn’t filmed them for Vitaphone or those shorts, we wouldn’t have a record of those people, and what has been filmed over time and the way it has been filmed has absolutely improved, and the last year has been a watershed for that. But the first broadcast of a West End show was 1939. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and then the war got in the way, and there’s a market for it.
MT: [00:43:05] I suppose some people feel that the beauty of theatre is precisely the fact that it’s one-off, that you know you’re experiencing something that no one else will experience again, and that is sort of an inherent part of the excitement.
TP: [00:43:20] It’ll be interesting to see if it goes back to the sort of exclusive live experience thing. I think with the relaxing of restrictions and as things go back to normal, touch wood, you might find a reversion to the old ways takes place, that people are much more reluctant to have things… Because the perennial worry is that they’ll drain box office from the actual show, and that is a real worry, because then shows become financially unviable. A lot of this release of footage has been out of necessity. Theatres are drowning, so anywhere they can scrape up some income has been a lifeline. So in the new world, it’s actually more like a cut-rate ticket, or it functions more like that, so I don’t know. You’d probably have to ask someone who knows more about theatre administration than I do. But it’ll be interesting to see if it sticks around as a really important component of, I suppose, marketing, or broadcasting, whatever you want to call it, of live theatre.
MT: [00:44:35] Or whether people get accustomed to a certain… I can’t help but think if people get accustomed to a certain quality of recording and capture, it might provide an extra layer of income rather than being something that detracts from theatrical income.
TP: [00:44:51] In the ideal world, I think that’s what would happen, yeah.
LL: [00:44:55] So this has been super fascinating. It’s very interesting to talk with the creators of the work and that you weren’t necessarily deeply involved with the capture of it, which is how a lot of people are going to experience this show for the first time, and your perceptions on what it is to film your work, too. It’s interesting to feel that resistance and the challenges and what you see as the restrictions. Is your livelihood going to be affected in the future by capturing theatre, which I don’t think it is. I think there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. But it’s really interesting to hear your concerns about it and why they exist.
TP: [00:45:40] Yeah, I tend to agree with you. I suspect it won’t be affected. In a perfect world, it would be enhanced, and more people would be able to enjoy the work. I think, Marc, we always saw The Grinning Man... We were making it as a theatre show, but I think we approached it… It feels like a world, not a medium-specific…
MT: [00:46:00] That’s true, and I think that there’s a question here as well, which is some shows might fare better than others, depending on their sensibility, and I think as Tim says, we’re both quite cinematic in the way in which we write anyway. I think there’s something very cinematic about the world of The Grinning Man, so it might be that some shows work better in that medium than others.
TP: [00:46:24] Yeah, I think that’s true.
LL: [00:46:27] Very interesting. I need to ponder that some more.
[00:46:30] So I have some wrap-up questions that I ask all my guests. To start with, what is your favorite musical?
MT: [00:46:39] West Side Story.
LL: [00:46:41] Back to the origin story.
TP: [00:46:43] Gonna go with Cabaret.
LL: [00:46:46] I like that. I’m guessing, cause you both haven’t watched, this has maybe changed over the past year, but do you have a favorite filmed live musical?
TP: [00:46:55] The Grinning Man!
MT: [00:46:57] Yeah, I’ve only ever seen The Grinning Man, so technically it is The Grinning Man.
LL: [00:47:03] I think that’s a perfect answer! We very briefly touched on this earlier. A filmed live musical is not exactly a film and it’s not exactly theatre, so what should we call it?
TP: [00:47:16] Flimsical!
MT: [00:47:21] That’s perfect. I love it.
LL: [00:47:26] That’s actually quite brilliant. A flimsical. That’s the best answer I’ve ever had to this question.
TP: [00:47:35] Excellent. Wordplay!
LL: [00:47:40] That’s super funny. Did you say “filmsical” or “flimsical”?
TP: [00:47:44] No, flimsical, yeah.
LL: [00:47:46] A flimsical. I think it’s perfect, because it kind of encompasses what a lot of the industry feels about what this is.
TP: [00:47:55] We’re not sure if it quite works.
LL: [00:47:59] It’s flimsy, throw it away! That is brilliant.
[00:48:05] Where do you both stand on bootlegs?
TP: [00:48:09] I’m against bootlegs, because they… For the same reason that other content creators and copyright owners are. They make it impossible for us to continue to make a living.
MT: [00:48:25] Yeah, bootleg is premised on the idea that everything should be free, and it doesn’t take… It devalues the amount of time that you spend and the amount of risk that you take in spending that time working on something and trying to make something brilliant for people.
TP: [00:48:42] Yeah, and also I don’t think people realize that nothing’s… A lot of people do realize, but even a Google search is not free. They require access to your personal information, for example, which they then sell to advertisers, so yeah. I’m fairly anti-bootleg, I would have to say.
LL: [00:49:05] What do you wish had been filmed?
MT: [00:49:10] I never saw The Pillow Man. I always wanted to see that. I wish I had seen… I don’t think there is a film of that. I looked into it.
TP: [00:49:18] I was just thinking the same thing. It would be really cool to have an archive of every show you’ve ever enjoyed, wouldn’t it? Of the actual night you were there sort of thing.
LL: [00:49:29] Yes, oh, yes please. Dreams and wishes. Box set DVDs with… I have visions of big shows like… Hello, Dolly! comes to mind. I want every single woman who’s played Dolly, I want a box set with every version. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a box set of The Grinning Man, the Bristol Old Vic and the West End? That’s on my wishlist. Just saying, for future. If an audience of one can get her wish.
TP: [00:50:07] I’m glad you enjoyed the show so much! Having just seen it live, it’s really interesting that somebody who’s only experienced it that way can become a fan of a show that way, so that’s cool.
LL: [00:50:21] It was so exciting.
MT: [00:50:22] Can I ask you, is there anything that you would’ve done differently in the filming of it? Just curious, because you’re obviously very experienced. You’ve watched a lot of flimsicals. Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
LL: [00:50:33] I don’t think so.
MT: [00:50:34] Or would’ve added?
LL: [00:50:35] For me, it has all the elements that I love in a good capture. You get a sense of the space, you can see that there are shots of the audience. The storytelling with the camera is very clear. I’m never confused about who is singing or where the action is, and what I love about it is that it’s not too fast. It’s not frenetic. There’s not a million cuts for the sake of being filmic; it stays in one place and then it moves as it needs to, rather than being like, “We’re jumping all over the place because we have a thousand angles!” That makes me crazy when I’m watching a filmed live show. And also that it’s pulled back. So many times, it’s too close, and you don’t get a sense of the whole stage, and you really do in The Grinning Man. And you get the feel of it as an ensemble show. It’s not about one or two characters. It’s about these, what is it, fifteen people. And the musicians, too. You just get a sense of all of it, and that’s what I love about the capture.
TP: [00:51:43] And due to the West End regulations, or was it the size of the theatre? Some prohibitive reason. We couldn’t have them on the stage in the West End version, which was a real shame, actually. That was one thing I would’ve loved to be able to keep.
LL: [00:51:58] Very final question, what would you like to see filmed in the future?
MT: [00:52:02] Our next musical.
TP: [00:52:04] Yeah!
LL: [00:52:07] Can you share what you’re working on?
MT: [00:52:09] We’re currently looking at various ideas, and we haven’t fixed on one. I think we’re on the scent. I’m not sure we can say more than that.
TP: [00:52:20] I don’t think we can right now, but there will be a next one, and it will be very good. Especially the live capture!
MT: [00:52:30] We’re already planning it!
LL: [00:52:34] So for folks at home, The Grinning Man is available to view on demand via Bristol Old Vic At Home, and the link will be in the show notes. And where can we find you both online?
TP: [00:52:45] We’re both on Twitter, and that’s about the extent of my online activity. Marc?
MT: [00:52:54] Same.
LL: [00:52:55] And I’ll include your handles in the show notes as well so people can follow you and find you there!
TP: [00:53:00] Great, thank you!
MT: [00:53:01] Thank you.
LL: [00:53:02] Great. Thank you both so much for your time today. It’s been a lot of fun chatting.
TP: [00:53:06] Yeah.
MT: [00:53:07] Thank you, Luisa.
LL: [00:53:08] Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love and we’d like to thank everyone who makes it possible. Thank you to our patrons, Josh Brandon, Mercedes Esteban, Rachel Esteban, David Negrin, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, Al Monaco, David and Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist for your support. If you’d like to support Filmed Live Musicals, please like and review on your podcast app, find us on Twitter at musicalsonscreen, and on Facebook at Filmed Live Musicals. If you’d like to support the site financially, you can find us at patreon.com/musicalsonscreen. No matter what level you are able to pledge, you receive early access to written content and early access to this very podcast. Visit www.filmedlivemusicals.com to learn more. Thanks for listening.