Students Fabienne Tyler and Gabriel Towell went to meet ‘superstar’ lyricist, Sir Tim Rice.
BY KATE NEWTON
Budding actress, Fabienne Tyler and backstage wannabe, Gabriel Towell travelled to leafy west London to interview Sir Tim Rice for Moving On magazine. They asked him for a few tips on the best way to start a career in live theatre – both onstage and behind the scenes.
Luckily for them, Sir Tim is very well-placed to answer their questions. For those of you who may not be familiar with his name, you’ll certainly have heard of some of his work. Sir Tim wrote the words to Sir Elton John’s score for Disney’s The Lion King cartoon film and the West End stage musical. You may have seen, or appeared in, a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat which was the very first musical Sir Tim wrote with his then partner, the composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Rice and Lloyd Webber went on to write Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Chess together – Madonna famously starred in the title role in the film version of Evita. Most recently, Sir Tim wrote the lyrics for From Here To Eternity the musical based on the book of the same name. Set in Hawaii in World War II during the run-up to the attack on Pearl Harbour, the show is currently on at The Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End.
Fabienne asked Sir Tim what his next project might be. He replied that he hadn’t got anything specific lined up and that he fancied some time off. He added that he would be spending some time reworking From Here to Eternity and thinking about new productions to take on tour. Sir Tim asked Fabienne what she hoped to do in the future. Fabienne replied that she was applying to university to study acting. Sir Tim’s advice to her on the subject of audition technique was to do something funny or wacky to stand out from the crowd! Fabienne said that she had had an audition earlier that week, at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, based at Sir Paul McCartney’s old school – where she was one of 2,000 applicants for only 38 places. Unfortunately, she’d had to perform some really serious pieces at her interview! Sir Tim wished her luck in getting into college and with her acting career and added that he thought that going to university or college to study drama was a great idea – actors need proper training and three years spent learning your craft makes a lot of sense. He also said, drawing on his own early experience, that there is still an awful lot of luck involved in achieving success in the theatre, no matter how much training you’ve had or talent you have to offer… No change there then!
A-level student, Gabriel Towell was next up to talk to Sir Tim, who asked him what he fancied doing in the future. Gabriel said that he’d already been quite lucky as his dad worked in the theatre as a Production Manager. He’d been inspired to follow in his footsteps, backstage and behind the scenes, after doing a week’s work experience in a theatre. Sir Tim said that sounded great and asked Gabriel whether he’d be going off to university to study, like Fabienne.
Gabriel said ‘no’ – he had decided not to go to university but would be taking a year off then trying to get a job and work his way up the ladder in the theatre business that way – by learning on the job. Sir Tim agreed that unlike acting, where opportunities like rep’ theatre are increasingly rare, for jobs in technical theatre and stage management, young people would probably be far better off working at the coalface and gaining real-life skills and experience. Following this route would be more likely to give Gabriel the advantage – three years real experience or three years at college, asked Sir Tim – who’s going to get the job?! Gabriel agreed and said that’s definitely what he’s decided to do when he finishes his A-levels and leaves school. Sir Tim wished Gabriel the best of luck, too.
When asked to what extent he himself gets involved in the technical and production sides of a live theatre show, Sir Tim laughed and said that he really preferred just to write the musical – then walk away, leaving the staging and all the other stuff to be done by other people – until it was time for him to turn up again on the opening night! He said that he is kept informed of the basic plans but prefers to leave the decisions to the show’s producer and director respectively. He said that he had been involved in producing his own work on a couple of occasions but that he had never directed anything of his own or anyone else’s.
Sir Tim’s views on how technology is used in the theatre these days were interesting. Do digital projections make things harder? Easier? Do I care?!!! Yes! I think it’s great that the theatre has embraced technology. However, you can have access to the most modern, state-of-the-art equipment in the world to help create a show – but that’s not what makes it a hit. You’ve simply got to have a good story to start with! For example, Joseph works – whether it’s being put on by kids in a tiny school hall (which is exactly where it’s first ever production was put on!) or in a West End theatre with professional actors and all the lights and equipment you’d ever need.
After posing for some photographs in his garden, Moving On’s student interviewers, Fabienne and Gabriel thanked Sir Tim for his time, for his sound advice and for the chance to quiz one of the most well-known names in British musical theatre.
Sir Tim Rice is hoping to record the cast album of From Here to Eternity, before the show closes at The Shaftesbury Theatre.