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Guest Blog: Bella Bevan On Creating A One-Woman-Musical

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Better Than Sex: The Story of Mae West is showing at the Camden Fringe

Guest Blog: Bella Bevan On Creating A One-Woman-Musical

Ever gone to see a one-person-show and thought "I could do that"? No? Well you're much smarter than I am then. The truth is that although this type of show may look casual, relaxed and well... small, I can assure you that it is by no means a small feat.

In fact, it's been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life - and that's just the performing part. I haven't even begun to talk about the creating and the producing of it.

Yet as I am about to begin the third run of my one-woman musical Better Than Sex: The Story of Mae West at the Camden Fringe Festival, I am reminded that performing this show is also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Incubation

Let's start at the very beginning, shall we? Emily Hutt is not my romantic partner, but is my partner in every other sense of the word when it comes to this show. Together we conceived this child that is Better Than Sex (which we fondly refer to as Mae) and have soldiered on through the ups and downs of raising it.

We met working front of house at Matilda the Musical just as I was finishing up on a show as assistant producer and she had just completed a new play about a female pirate that she wanted to take to Edinburgh. Naturally I jumped at the chance to produce it. Emily had recently moved to London from Cork in Ireland and I not much earlier had immigrated from Melbourne, Australia, so we had a lot in common. What was most obvious though was our equal passion and aspiration to pave out a theatre career in The Big Smoke, with tendencies to set ambitious and borderline unrealistic goals for ourselves - a pattern for years to come.

Yet miraculously in six months we were able to raise the funds and pull together a play of ten cast members for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe. And instead of napping for the next six months afterwards we used the overwhelming inspiration of the fringe festival to start creating a new show. Its purpose would be to draw upon and showcase my skills as a musical theatre performer whilst feeding our mutual obsession with femme fatales of the silver screen. Thus a one-woman musical about the life of Mae West was born.

Putting it down in writing

Guest Blog: Bella Bevan On Creating A One-Woman-Musical It was decided that Emily would write the script and I would source and arrange the music that Mae made famous. Mae took over our lives as we consumed the endless amounts of works on her and by her. The more we learnt about her, the more convinced we were that his woman's story needed to be told. I think this part was the most fun and it helped that we were blissfully unaware of the hurdles to come. Our first read-through left us feeling proud, but of course two and a half years on we are still making edits.

Bringing her to life

Now came the staging. Emily always does a fantastic job as director, with her astute attention to detail and rigorous documentation. But every run there are new complications that arise with the change of venue and each time we inevitably (and probably stupidly) get more ambitious with the staging. To stop a one-person show feeling repetitive and well... boring, we incorporate spotlights, sound design and voiceovers to aid in Mae's storytelling.

This causes a good deal of stress in tech, and changes always have to be made depending on what the venue has to offer. Also, being a musical always brings complications in terms of sound, as the acoustics just won't cut it for most locations. Usually around this time somebody cries and I kick myself for believing I could do this.

Bums on seats

Guest Blog: Bella Bevan On Creating A One-Woman-Musical This is where my role as producer really takes a step up, right about the time that rehearsals are getting very serious. Only a raging lunatic would think they could juggle both... calmly, anyway. With our tiny budget we don't have the option to rely on names to sell tickets or giant banners on the A1 or videos interrupting your YouTube surfing.

Instead, I'm on the hoof flyering and meeting people, outreaching and networking. It seems to be a common misconception that producers just fund the show - and sometimes they do - but my job is to source the money, budget it, and to organise, organise, organise everything from schedules to rehearsal spaces to printing sheet music.

Showtime

Now I can finally breathe a sigh of relief as all that's left to do is the real magic: going out there to tell a story and sing my heart out. Of course, I'm not going to lie to you or myself by neglecting to mention that the moment before I go on stage I have a rush of terror as I realise I need to go out there and entertain everyone for a whole hour, alone. I suddenly remember I have no breaks and there is no one else to blame or lean on if I unexpectedly forget my next line. But that adrenaline is a godsend as it gives me the unnatural amount of energy I need for this show.

There is no better feeling than witnessing the audience respond to your performance of your creation. I experience such an incomparably strong connection and intimacy with everyone in that theatre. When the run is over, I feel I like I can finally relax for the first time in months - which lasts about a week before I start itching to begin the maddening process all over again.

Better Than Sex: The Story of Mae West runs at the Cockpit Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe Festival from 12-14 August

Photo Credit: Hana Kovacs (performance shots) & Lacey Ruttley (rehearsal shots)

Guest Blog: Bella Bevan On Creating A One-Woman-Musical


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