"What we lose audiences massively with is that if we give seven shows a week, quietly three of them are so substandard that people say 'And now I won't go for three years'. What we need to do is put the performance level back on a structurally high level." One of the statements made by composer Jeroen Sleijfer during the lively roundtable discussion - without a table - organised by the M-Lab on Monday 26 September. With the question "Where will the musical be in 50 years?", she concluded the Music Lab's retrospective on 50 years of musicals. Hopeful but highly critical, a panel of experts looked at themselves.
Yes, in 50 years, the musical will still be there. But some problems need to be faced. "It's really going wrong in our industry," says Sleijfer "because of touring. You can deliver a wan product or a top hit, it doesn't matter. You go on tour. If you want the industry to be healthy, you have to go to a system of open-end theatres." These are theatres where a show is on daily as long as there is an audience for it. If attendance is poor, the show stops. Sleijfer: "And everyone will be happy about that. It is terrible if there is a poor product for years."
Liberalism is embraced by attendees. A performance has to prove itself. The fact that theatres buy up a performance in advance, thereby indirectly subsidising it, creates a perverse situation, Frank Sanders believes . Bad quality thus gets the chance to continue. "You cannot solve this gradually. Pull the plug on that system."
There is another problem with buying up a show in advance. Producer Fred Boot: "The theatres buy a title. Nothing has been written then. Then a show has to be made far too quickly. That's where things naturally go wrong." Add to that the fact that programmers mostly choose safe and prioritise known names rather than craft. And then add to that, says director Daniel Cohen, that there is too little passion on the creators' side. "A lot of performances are like eating Chinese food. You are hungry again after an hour. Spectacle satisfies you for a minute. In the end, it should be about a good story and interesting characters."
But where will the musical be in 50 years? Sleijfer expects there to be a divide. "On the one hand, immense entertainment shows where you get spectacle beyond compare, where you can see all the soapies you ever wanted to see, 3D projections on the back wall and everything fully automated. And on the other hand, small, truthful productions that really tell a story. The middle ground is disappearing. The so-so musical with just too little scenery to really impress and too little story to make an impression, we won't see those anymore."