Musical Theatre Darkroom

Two people standing at a keyboard, laughing and pointing out towards the camera.

The Musical Theatre Darkroom is an artist development programme, delivered by partners from the Musical Theatre Development Consortium, that supports the generation of original British musical theatre productions destined for midscale touring.

The project brings together experienced musical theatre practitioners and those new to the form to collaboratively interrogate traditions, models and approaches to making musical theatre.

For more information, please contact Rosie Kelly

Photo © Helen Murray

What is the Musical Theatre Darkroom?

A group of 9 men and women standing together in a group, looking directly at the camera.

Produced by China Plate, Royal & Derngate, Musical Theatre Network and Mercury Musical Developments – the Musical Theatre Darkroom is a groundbreaking laboratory programme launched to feed the wider consortium ambition to develop and commission original new musicals for mid-scale touring.

It seeks to support the widest range of styles and experimentation within musical theatre as an artform – celebrating the potential of the sung word to tell stories in accessible, contemporary, relevant and exciting new ways

In 2019, drawing inspiration from the best in British practice, alongside a wide range of American musical theatre residency programmes, the consortium drew upon their wide range of experience to curate a series of residencies and development processes designed to both challenge established artists and discover diverse new voices.

The development support offered was bespoke, recognising that different writing teams required different kinds of support, and delivered in two main strands.


As part of the consortium’s commitment to championing diverse voices within mid-scale musical theatre, Strand One was targeted specifically at new musicals developed by BAME/PoC* artists.

We selected three musicals / writing teams to a weeklong workshop-residency held at Royal & Derngate in July 2019. The workshop-residency was led by composer Fred Carl and lyricist and librettist Robert Lee – both experienced musical theatre practitioners and specialist tutors from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

Selected writing teams/musicals were:

  • Lakesha Arie-Angelo and collaborator Dominique Le Gendre – Runaway Bay
  • Omar Baroud – After Elijah
  • Charlie Westenra, Darren Clark, Michael Henry and Juliet Gilkes Romero – On Hostile Ground

The project culminated in the opportunity to pitch brand new musicals to venues and commissioners at the UK’s leading musical theatre showcasing event, BEAM.

“This was THE BEST residency I have experienced and probably the best learning/ studying experience I have ever had.”Dominique Le Gendre (Musical Theatre DarkroomArtist)

“The Darkroom residency was a hugely rewarding experience. I learnt a huge amount from the process, Fred and Robert’s teaching and from the other wonderful creatives we shared the residency with.” – Charlie Westenra (Musical Theatre Darkroom Artist)

“I strongly believe the effect of this course will have a long term impact on my working process.”Michael Henry (Musical Theatre DarkroomArtist)

(*This terminology reflects wording used by China Plate and partners during the planning and delivery of this project.  China Plate is currently developing an Anti-Racist Policy which amongst other things is reviewing the language used by the company in relation to ethnicity. BAMER/PoC are not terms that China Plate now use)


Aimed at developing original British musicals (not adaptations or jukebox musicals) this strand offered bespoke support as part of a yearlong development cycle that could resource any of the following:

  • Writing commissions
  • Dramaturgical support
  • Table reads
  • Mentored development residencies
  • Development workshops (actors, musicians, directors, MDs)
  • Scratch performances
  • Industry presentations
  • Pitching or performance slot in BEAM 2020
  • Producing support

Stand Two supported the development of Gin Craze! by April de Angelis and Lucy Rivers and will culminate in a production at Royal & Derngate, Northampton in June 2021.

    Mercury Musical Developments logo

Musical Theatre Darkroom Participants 2019
Photo © Royal & Derngate


Musical Theatre Darkroom 2016

A group of participants wearing headphones, walking down a narrow corridor, which is lit up pink and purple.

A Musical Theatre Darkroom pilot took place in 2016, bringing together four experienced theatre makers who were new to musical theatre and four experienced musical theatre makers to take part in a six month development programme. The initiative was based on our Darkroom artist development programme, which has run since 2004.

James Hadley, Executive Director, Musical Theatre Network said “Musical Theatre Network is excited about the growing interest in musical theatre from more experimental artists, acknowledging that commercial West End musicals are only part of as broad an artistic spectrum of musicals as there is of music or theatre in general. Musical Theatre Darkroom is a catalyst for new creative dialogues which will hopefully speak in new ways to audiences who might not have listened in previously.”

The Musical Theatre Darkroom 2016 was led by China Plate and the Musical Theatre Network, in partnership with Royal & Derngate Northampton, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Harlow Playhouse and Farnham Maltings’ greenhouse initiative. The project was supported by Arts Council England and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Previous participants:

Bola Agbaje
Katie Lyons
Ella Grace
Tim Sutton
Craig Adams
Pippa Cleary
Caroline Horton
Rash Dash

Blackout by Katie Lyons & Ella Grace
Photo © Zbigneiw Kotkiewicz