Back in 2003 I had an idea to create a new and original musical with an independent female protagonist and an uncompromising and complex gay relationship at its heart. It took four years to write, and once finished I sent if off to producers and venues.
But… The feedback was always the same; there was a very limited audience for new writing, original musicals and shows about same-sex relationships. No one was interested.
Now it’s 2017, and we’ve currently toured Miss Nightingale five times. We’ve played to more than 50,000 people in over 30 venues and we’ve become one of the most successful totally original British musicals of the last decade. In fact, last year we were one of The Guardian reader’s ‘Top 50 Shows of 2016’. And we’re just about to start an eight-week run of the show at The Vaults in Waterloo, London. But we were only able to achieve all this because my husband and I decided to set up Mr Bugg Presents and produce the show ourselves.
We think of ourselves as ‘Artisan Producers’. Like many other people of our generation working in other industries, we’re using new technologies and new opportunities to exploit gaps in the market that are not being filled by bigger, more conventional companies.
We have been lucky enough to work with a number of co-producing venues along the way: The Lowry, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich (NWT), Cast Doncaster and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Some of these venues have provided investment (notably NWT) and some provided in-kind support. We did also receive a small ACE grant for our third tour. But we have always shouldered the lion’s share of the financial risk. We also did all the tour booking, all the production and financial management, and led on the marketing campaign.
We discovered that, contrary to what we had been told, there was a significant appetite for new musicals outside of London. And it’s so good to see attitudes changing in the sector, with more producers and venues successfully presenting new musical theatre work.
Audiences loved that our show was totally original and not based on a film, book or back catalogue of existing songs by a famous artist. They also loved the fact that our show dealt with challenging themes in a disarmingly enjoyable way (with a lot of VERY rude jokes!!). And because Miss Nightingale was challenging audience’s preconceptions of what musical theatre is, we were able to draw in new audiences to the art-form. Time and time again we received comments along the lines of, “I don’t normally like musicals, but I loved Miss Nightingale.”
The secret of any Artisan business is to keep the business model streamlined and to continually push against the limits of your expertise. (That said, we made a conscious decision from our first fringe production back in 2011 that Mr Bugg Presents would always pay people the going rate or above.) By doing this we’ve kept ticket prices affordable. This is a huge bonus for venues, and makes audiences feel confident in taking a risk on seeing a show that they might not have heard of. In fact, our audience insight of Miss Nightingale at the New Wolsey Theatre showed that we had the greatest crossover of any show they had ever staged – drawing in audiences for drama, new writing, comedy as well as the musicals audience. We’ve also been incredibly successful in attracting new attenders to venues, particularly young people.
But the best thing about being ‘Artisan Producers’ is that our business is driven by heartfelt passion and a deep sense of personal commitment. This shines out through everything we do as producers and venues and audiences respond from the heart.
Miss Nightingale the Musical is produced by Mr Bugg Presents and will be playing at The Vaults Theatre, London from 30 March to 20 May.