In 1985, Stiles and Drewe were the recipients of the inaugural Vivian Ellis Prize for Just So. Winning the prize introduced them to many leading lights of the musical theatre world, whose advice and support in championing new writing became so important to them.
Anthony Drewe, George Stiles, Vivian Ellis and John Hosier (1985)
Credit: PRS for Music archive/Doug McKenzie photography
Since 2008, Stiles and Drewe have recognised new musical theatre writing via their annual 'Best New Song Prize'. From 2016, the broadening of the Stiles + Drewe Prize to include the new 'MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award' will offer the musical theatre writing community greater financial and in-kind support via its two arms:
1. The ‘MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award’ - an award given to a writer or writing team, centred around a one week writing retreat and culminating in an industry showcase presentation the following year. The Award is generously supported by Music Theatre International (Europe).
2. ‘Best New Song’ – recognising an outstanding song from a new musical, offered in conjunction with the Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Award.
From 2016 Stiles and Drewe, along with a panel of judges will give the ‘MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award’ on an annual basis. The award is fully funded by Music Theatre International (Europe), the world’s leading theatrical licensing agency.
The winning writer or writing team benefits from bespoke mentorship and support over a 12-month period. This includes:
1) A fully funded, one week development retreat to work on the winning musical.
2) Guaranteed free access to MMD’s monthly Advanced Writers’ Lab.
3) Participation in two Progress Labs. In each of these, the Mentorship Award-winner will present a section of their musical and receive feedback from MMD peers and a panel of professionals.
4) Access to work shadowing opportunities – either on a Stiles and Drewe show or with alternative industry contacts (subject to availability and production schedules).
5) After 12 months, the above culminates in rehearsal provision for a workshop with an industry showcase presentation at the end. This is with a professional cast, Director and MD.
The ‘Best New Song’ is awarded on an annual basis. 12 finalists have their songs performed by students participating in the Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Award. For the last 8 years this has been at a gala held at a West End Theatre.
A panel of judges, including Stiles and Drewe, award the ‘Best New Song’ and the winner receives a prize of £1000 to put towards developing their work.
All 12 finalists have access to a Feedback Lab, hosted by Stiles and Drewe after the gala. They are also invited to be audience members in the two Progress Labs for the Mentorship Award-winner.
How to Submit:
Whilst there is no entry fee, writers must be members of Mercury Musical Developments (MMD) to enter the Stiles + Drewe Prize as this organisation administrates the prize for us.
Entry Requirements for the MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award
We ask writers or writing teams to ensure they meet the following entry requirements:
• Entrants must be resident in the UK*
• Entrants must have written a full first draft of the musical entered
• Your musical cannot have had a professional production
Initially, we require the following as one document in PDF format:
1. A synopsis no longer than 500 words
2. A full character list
3. A full track list
4, A completed cover sheet and check list
• From the draft of the musical, entrants must submit three songs. Two songs should be submitted in the context of their scenes. A lyric sheet should be submitted for the third song. The maximum page limit for all of this material is 20 pages. The selected scenes and lyric sheet should be in PDF format.
• MP3 files and PDF sheet music (piano and vocal arrangement) must also be submitted for all three songs.
• Entrants should highlight on the accompanying cover sheet which of the three songs they want to be considered for the ‘Best New Song’. The entrant can select one song only for consideration. The song must be suitable for performance by one singer, either male or female. Songs should be able to be adjusted to comply with the latter.
• All material should be presented anonymously, save for the accompanying cover sheet.
• If the musical contains any copyrighted material, please submit proof that the underlying rights have been secured. If the musical is wholly original or based on material now in the public domain please submit a signed letter stating this.
• The judges may ask writers to produce a full draft of their musical in PDF format at any time.
Entry Requirements for the Best New Song
We ask writers or writing teams to ensure they meet the following entry requirements:
• The song must be from a musical, although the musical does not need to be complete. Stand-alone cabaret songs will not be accepted.
• The song must be suitable for performance by one singer, either male or female with piano accompaniment only. Songs should be able to be adjusted to comply with the former. Duets or ensembles are not eligible.
• The song cannot have been included in a previous professional production.
• If you are part of a song writing team, at least one of you must be a paid up member of MMD.
• Writers can submit a maximum of 2 songs; either written solely by themselves, two songs with the same collaborator or two songs with different collaborators.
• Songs must be submitted in mp3 format
• In the subject line of your email please detail S&D Best New Song, Song Title & Show Name.
• If shortlisted you will be required to provide a synopsis of your show detailing where the song appears and how it functions.
• Due to the volume of submissions, neither Stiles and Drewe nor MMD are able to give individual feedback regarding the final selection.
• Entries must be submitted via email to email@example.com. This should contain a Dropbox link which gives access to all the necessary files/documents listed above. For the ‘Mentorship Award’ this should also include the completed cover sheet and check list. Full details on how to label your music files and PDF documents can be found on the cover sheet.
• Please note, if you do not submit via dropbox or label your files correctly we will be unable to download your application.
If you have any questions about the submission process please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Submissions open: Friday 5th February 2016
Submissions for the Mentorship Award close: 23.59 on Sunday 13th March
Submission for the Best New Song close: 23.59 on Thursday 17th March
Finalists announced for Best New Song: Friday 15th April 2016
Mentorship Award and Best New Song winners announced: Sunday 15th May 2016 (at a West End gala – details to be announced).
*Please note that international members of MMD may submit for 'The Best New Song' only. Please email email@example.com for the ‘International Submissions’ form and cover sheet.
RHYS: Back in 2011, after a long night of performing out on tour, I went looking online for a bedtime story. I was hoping to find something to quietly lull me to sleep, ready for the full day ahead.
I found The Wicker Husband, a short folk story by Ursula Wills-Jones and, far from nursing me to bed, it set my imagination racing. The early hours of that morning were spent reading and re-reading, turning over the story's themes, characters and simple effective plot - convinced that this would make a beautiful piece of theatre. When I eventually drifted off, I dreamt of the Wicker Husband himself - a masterful piece of work, built of wicker and weave.
I have a strong background in puppetry. Years ago, when I was a confused teenager in the Forest of Dean, struggling to decide what to do with my life, I was lucky enough to see a touring production of Kneehigh's Fishboy. At the time, Kneehigh were a much smaller outfit, and this show of theirs was a very simple affair - just three actors and a puppet. But despite it's simplicity, the storytelling was exquisite and the puppet boy who led the story captured my heart and has stuck in my memory ever since. It was this moment when I fell in love with what puppets could do. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to work with puppets on a number of occasions through training and my professional career.
The morning after my dream of the Wicker Husband, I didn't know quite how to turn this simple story into a show, but one thing was certain - the Wicker Husband had to be a puppet.
But at that time I had no idea how to go about adapting The Wicker Husband for the stage. I wrote a few scenes, plotted out some back stories and tried (in vain) to piece together some semblance of a plot which would hold together for the stage. In all my failed attempts to make some headway, I kept coming to the same conclusion: this needed music. This needed to sing.
My own experience of songwriting is pretty limited; It mainly consists of drunken parties, floating eagerly on the sidelines as someone more talented than myself (usually my brother) strums away on a guitar or tinkles some keys, perhaps throwing in a harmony line here and there. How frustrating to realise that the story you want to tell requires a skill you don't possess.
So The Wicker Husband sat on a dusty shelf in the back of my mind for a few years. Every so often I'd lift him down, brush away a few cobwebs and see if I was any closer to bringing him to life. And every time I'd put him back again with a "maybe someday".
There was an evening long ago, when I lifted him down and shared his story with a director friend of mine, Charlotte Westenra. “How do I make this happen?" I asked. "I'm not sure", she said, "but I'd be much more interested in working on that than some crusty old Greek nonsense!". And though I put him back on the shelf that night, little did I know that Charlie had seen The Wicker Husband's potential and would quietly lay the foundations for what was to come.
But in the meantime, I found Darren...
DARREN: I met Rhys when he auditioned for The Grumpiest Boy in the World back in 2013. I had written the songs for this show by Finegan Kruckemeyer and Paper Balloon Theatre. My first impressions of him were of a fellow of unusual energy, humour and warmth, and I’m very pleased to say that in coming to know Rhys through our collaboration on The Wicker Husband that these first impressions were exactly what Rhys is to his core. In the time I’ve known him Rhys has shown extraordinary skill in acting, puppetry and writing and I’m very grateful that he entrusted me with writing the songs for this project.
It happened like this. We were in a pub in Oxford, having just finished one of the first shows of The Grumpiest Boy. We were sitting outside, it was evening and the outside heaters were on. There was a general lull in conversation and Rhys began to tell me about this story called The Wicker Husband and how he had wanted to turn it into a play for ages but hadn’t known how. He asked me if I would have a read of the story and see if there might be a life for it with some songs.
I read the story in about ten minutes sitting in my flat-share in Brixton (it’s not long, just a short fable) and immediately saw it’s potential not only as a play with songs but as a fully fledged musical. The original story is sharp and full of a black humour, but at it’s heart there is a deeply moving narrative about the nature of love. My guitar was sitting next to me on the chair (as it often is!) and I couldn’t help but start writing songs for it. The story itself was full of dense/complex ideas and emotions but they were encapsulated in the simplest of phrases. Often the hardest work of a lyricist is boiling the feelings and emotions of character down to their most basic form. Ursula’s writing did this in spades.
But also her story conjured an atmosphere, one that I felt would be enhanced by music inspired by the Celtic and English folk idiom. Folk music had long been one of my great musical loves and here was the opportunity to bring together my love of theatre and folk to tell a rich, detailed and beautiful story. I wasn’t about to pass it up.
RHYS: I'd almost forgotten that I'd sent Darren the story. He promised me he’d have a read and I left it at that. A week later I got a message saying:
"Yo dude, haven't been able to help myself and have been writing songs for this already."
It had only been a week, and he'd already been writing songs! I was intrigued to hear what Darren had made of it. I must admit I was nervous. This was a story I'd held close to my heart for so long; what if I didn't like what he'd come up with?
I climbed the stairs to Darren's studio a few days later with trepidation. He let me in and sat me down. He talked enthusiastically about the story, about it's characters and how it jumped out at him with extraordinary ease . He picked up his guitar and began to tune up. Nervously, I set my phone to record and sat back to listen to the embryonic beginnings of The Wicker Husband, a new British musical...
DARREN: That was the beginning of a collaboration which has been a true joy to be a part of. We worked on it when we could, we talked about the story endlessly, we changed characters, we invented things, we went deeper and deeper into the world of the songs.
RHYS: Working with Darren was an entirely new experience for me. In a sporadic series of coffee shop meetings and visits to his studio, we slowly picked through the source material - sketching out ideas and sharing epiphanies with great excitement. Eventually, once the groundwork had been set, we realised we needed an outside eye to guide us - someone who shared our enthusiasm for the project and who could help us explore with actors, musicians and puppeteers the theatrical language we were imagining.
DARREN: Rhys asked me if I would be interested getting a director/dramaturg on board and suggested his talented friend Charlie Westenra, who had been making a name for herself in new musical theatre. We all met near my studio in Waterloo and it became immediately apparent that Charlie was the right person for the job. She already had a deep knowledge of the story, she had vision, talent and a superhuman energy and drive which spurred us on to continue working on the show.
RHYS: Since that long-ago evening when I first introduced her to the idea, Charlie had already approached Purni Morell at the Unicorn Theatre with a view to a workshop. "How many people do you think you need?" Purni had asked. "A cast of twelve, a full band, a chorus, puppeteers…”. "Come back when you have something more realistic", Purni had replied.
When Charlie told us we needed to strip back our idea, and find a way to tell the story with fewer people, it took a little while to absorb. This was a big story, and tailoring it to a small cast would take work. Ironically, we have since come full circle andThe Wicker Husband has once again grown in scale and ambition. But if it hadn't been for Charlie and Purni's suggestion to strip it back in this way, the main characters would never have developed the way they have. At one point, we were discussing a cast of five, pushing us to the limits of what we could achieve theatrically. This forced us to accept a clearer narrative, and every sub-plot to serve the story to its fullest. Without this, I honestly believe The Wicker Husband wouldn't be in the strong place we are in today.
DARREN: Along with Producer Matthew Schmolle, Charlie arranged a week's workshop at the Unicorn Theatre. We applied for Arts Council Funding and were hopeful for a successful bid. We received news a few weeks prior to the workshop that we would not receive funding. It turns out that this was the best thing that could have happened. We all called in favours from our talented industry friends. Over the course of a week, nearly 40 puppeteers, musicians and actors popped in for whatever time they felt they could give us to help us discover the language of the piece. It was inspiring and felt like a very special week culminating in a showing to invited industry friends.
RHYS: The feedback from that week's work was overwhelmingly positive. Despite only presenting the first few scenes of the show, it was obvious that we were heading in the right direction. We had a clear understanding now of how the actor-musician band would play into the story, the kind of puppetry language we needed and - with Charlie's incredible understanding of structure - the necessary moments we needed to hit along the way. We finished that week in a buzz of excitement, shared by all of those who attended. We were on the right path.
A few months passed and we found out that the Little Angel Puppet Theatre had granted us a few days free workshop space as part of their Incubate Scheme to develop new puppetry work. With the help of my long-suffering dad and the miscellaneous contents of his garage, I knocked together a very basic (but full size) puppet out of bits of wood and PVC piping. It was hardly the intricately woven masterpiece of The Old Basketmaker, but it served its purpose - and with a handful of puppeteer friends we explored what a full-size bunraku puppet was capable of. We're still a long way from our final puppet design which will combine the expertise of basketmakers and puppet-designers, but we owe an awful lot to these early experiments and the Little Angel's wonderful scheme to support new ideas.
DARREN: The Unicorn Workshop and Incubate spurred us on. We kept working on the show, but it was becoming difficult for us to dedicate any further time towards it without any funding. Charlie stepped in, once again, and arranged six fully funded days at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with the MA Musical Theatre Students. We workshopped Act One with twelve talented and dedicated students and with their help the piece finally began to take shape.
RHYS: The Royal Welsh College is where I trained as an actor myself. In fact, it was where I first met Charlie when she directed a student show back in 2009. The invitation to come back and run this workshop with their current graduating year was quite exhilarating. The students were open and excited by the prospect of working on a project so early in its development. Their attitude towards the project was incredibly refreshing. Later in the year we accepted a similar invitation from the Guildhall School and found the same degree of enthusiasm there. Working with students on this kind of work seems to be a mutually beneficial experience, a great way of tapping into fresh ideas, and we are indebted to the two schools for inviting us.
DARREN: We started a crowdfunding campaign which ran over a period of a month and suddenly this little story began to blossom as more and more people began to see the potential of the idea. Three hundred backers and £5,550 later we had gained not only some much needed cash, but also the attention of the musical theatre community. People who we didn’t know were talking about it and we were asked to do interviews with press about the process.
RHYS: The decision to crowdfund for The Wicker Husband's development was one I'd thought about several times over the years. Funding is such a tricky thing in the creative industries, and although there are many opportunities around, the competition is fierce. Crowdfunding, although not always a successful strategy, at least allows you to take control yourself. It was no walk in the park, and it takes commitment and time to run a successful campaign, but I'm forever indebted to all those who got behind this idea. I think it's a testament to the strength and creativity of our concept that we enjoyed such a buzz of excitement about where we are headed from such a diverse bunch of supporters. I am acutely aware that we would not have been able to do much of the work we have done since then without the help of all of our backers, our Wicker Family.
DARREN: I had entered songs in the Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize at the SSSSPOTY Awards previously in 2013 (finalist) and 2015 (runner-up). This year however, there was a new award on the table and it looked like it had come at the perfect time for The Wicker Husband. The Stiles & Drewe Mentorship Award provided development and mentorship over the period of a year for a brand new musical. Rhys and I worked round the clock to get the scenes and score in to a reasonable shape for submission. It was literally down to the last minute of the midnight deadline that I sent the final submission off and thought ‘Well, that’s that.’
We were delighted to discover that we had been shortlisted and then we were asked to submit the full script for consideration. Once again Rhys stayed up through the night making last minute additions and changes before it was submitted in the last minutes of the 9am deadline. In the intervening time we had also submitted applications to the Kevin Spacey Artist of Choice (finalist) the Jameson Bursary (shortlisted) and the Dunedin Operatic Executive Trust Scholarship (won). In addition to the shortlist for the Stiles & Drewe Mentorship Award, we discovered that one of the songs for the show would be in the final of the Best New Song prize.
RHYS: All these nominations were quite overwhelming in such a small space of time. We were thrilled and delighted to be in the running for such awards, but we continued to work on the show as much as we could with whatever time we could manage.
In particular, we arranged a week of collaborative writing on a retreat in the Forest of Dean. Our focus was the second act, which we felt needed the most work. Throughout the week, we created brand new songs, ripped apart the structure and put it back together again. Darren and myself are both firm believers that you should never hold on to material unless it serves it's purpose to the narrative. Being precious with your favourite moments can hold you back from discovering new ones. There were many discoveries made in the depths of the Forest of Dean, and I've no doubt that a little of the natural landscape we were working in seeped it's way into the piece.
But pretty soon it was back to London...
DARREN: When the day of the awards came around, our director Charlie had arranged a week of work on the show at the wonderful Guildhall School of Music and Drama, so regardless of what happened that day we were excited about the future of the show.
Rhys, Charlie and I sat together at the front of the stalls along with all the other finalists, many of whom I am very proud to call my friends. We nervously enjoyed the performances of the songs and waited for the announcement of the winners at the end. When Stiles & Drewe came on stage to announce the winners of their prizes I was nervous but resigned to the fact that no matter what happened here, we still had a great show to work on. When they started speaking about the show that had won the Mentorship, about it’s magical story, and it’s folk inspired world, I heard an intake of breath from Rhys beside me. When they announced that our show had won the award we couldn’t believe it but went up on stage anyway. And not only that but my friend, the brilliant Tim Connor was the deserving winner of the Best New Song Prize with a pair of cracking songs from The Heart of Winter. It had turned out to be a uniquely perfect day for myself, Rhys and Charlie.
RHYS: I didn't stop beaming that day. It was a long road to get us this far, and the support we've received along the way has been immense. But to be given the nod of approval from such greats as George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (and all the judges involved in the judging process) has been utterly transformational in the credibility of the project. The award itself consists of a series of dramaturgical workshops, guidance and support - but aside from this, we've been granted a platform on which to discuss the future of the production. We are all incredibly grateful for the opportunities it now presents.
DARREN: The most exciting part of the award so far has been seeing how enthusiastic both George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are to work on this show with us. Their energy and generosity has been so inspiring to us and we had an excellent meeting with them at the Jerwood Space along with their brilliant assistant Lettie during which we discussed the practicalities of the award. Arranging dates and flights for the writing retreat in France and beginning to talk about the various creative aspects of the show.
The Stiles & Drewe Mentorship Award will ensure that we are able to develop the Wicker Husband into the magical theatrical experience that we knew it could be back in that pub in Oxford in 2013. The experience, talent and generosity of George and Ants will help us create the show that we’ve always wanted to create as well as providing vital connections with the musical theatre industry that are so important to the success of any new work. We know that this year will be full of an immense amount of hard work, but we also know that it will be worth every minute of it to bring this show to life.
Previous winners of the Best New Song Prize:
2016: The winner of our inaugural Mentorship Award is The Wicker Husband by Rhys Jennings (book) and Darren Clark (music and lyrics).
(l-r) George Stiles, Rhys Jennings, Darren Clark and Anthony Drewe
2016: Tim Connor for “Back to School” from his musical Heart of Winter. A recording was released on the 30th November 2015 and is available to download via all major online retailers.
Winner Tim Connor with (l-r) judges Anthony Drewe, George Stiles, Lotte Wakeham, Don Black and Paul Hart.
2015: Richy Hughes and Joseph Finlay for “Don’t Look Down” from The Superhero. Since winning the Best New Song Prize, Richy’s first professional Commission Mr Poppin’s Penguins has been out on UK Tour, produced by Olivier Award-winning producer Kenny Wax.
From left: Richy Hughes, George Stiles, Grant McConvey (performer), Anthony Drewe and Joseph Finlay.
2014: Uniquely, Tamar Broadbent had two songs in the final in 2014 “Library Boy” and “The Procrastination Song”. The panel therefore decided to recognise Tamar’s overall work. Tamar has recently taken her one-woman show All By My Selfie to the Adelaide Fringe and her musical Pierced, which includes her 2013 runner-up song “17 Drafts” was performed at the New Musical Project.
2013: “That Once-in-a-Lifetime Feeling” by Tim Sutton. Since winning the Best New Song Prize, Tim has been nominated for the Olivier for Outstanding Achievement in Music for his role as MD on Memphis The Musical. He has also worked at The National Theatre as an MD on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and as composer and MD on The Amen Corner.
2012: shared between “Powercut” by Douglas Hodge and “Do You Want A Baby, Baby” by Dougal Irvine from The Busker’s Opera.
2011: Jointly awarded to Tim Sutton for “I Am” and Eric Angus and Paul James for “Kaboom! Kapow!’” from The Boy Who Fell Into A Book.
2010: Gwyneth Herbert has enjoyed a full production of her musical The A to Z of Mrs P at Southwark Playhouse featuring her winning song “Lovely London Town”. She is currently working on a new project with her writing partner on that show, Diane Samuels.
2009: Olly Ashmore for “Wake Up TV” from Hot Flush 2.
2008: Mark Allcorn for “My Turn Soon” from Singles.