From a small show in a studio theatre to a national tour receiving critical acclaim, effective networking helped alumnus Matthew Bugg (BA Music, 1998) turn his 1940s musical Miss Nightingale into a hit.
With the show embarking on its second UK run and Matthew due to promote it in the US and Australia this autumn, he has some sound advice for fellow alumni on the value of building relationships.
‘I became good at networking through necessity. People think it is something you either have or you don’t but actually it’s a skill you can learn,’ he says.
‘If you’re speaking to someone new at an event you’ve got to see it as a relationship, not a sales opportunity, and like any other relationship it’s all about finding things out about the other person and engaging them. If you look after somebody else, they will look after you, even if the conversation only lasts five minutes.’
Written by Matthew, Miss Nightingale tells the story of feisty northern singer Maggie and her refugee songwriter George, and has been described as Noel Coward meets Cabaret in World War Two.
Hard work, resourcefulness and creativity go hand in hand with networking for Matthew, who spent 10 years getting the show onto the stage. Success came when he decided to take a risk and go it alone; he even learnt to sew stage curtains from the internet to save the cost of getting them made.
‘I had a few very lucky breaks early in my career, as I got my first musical director’s job while I was still an undergraduate at Birmingham. But then things plateaued; I had plenty of work but my career wasn’t progressing the way I wanted it to.
‘I realised that my work was the same standard as everybody else’s but I needed to become better as playing the game and spending as much time into promoting myself and my work as I did being creative. That can be hard if it’s not in your nature.’
‘Thanks to a huge amount of risk and bravado, we now have funding for a second tour. I’m delighted because, as an original British musical that isn’t a film adaptation or a compilation, the show is unique.’
Matthew believes it was his personal approach to relationship building that led to this tour being funded by several different partners and the Arts Council. For example, venues hosting the production received a chocolate nightingale and hand written letter alongside the information they requested.
‘There’s such a proliferation of digital material that sometimes it’s nice to do things differently. Although a strong website and social media presence are important, if you send someone a letter and gift then follow it up with an email, they are much more likely to open that message,’ he says.
As Matthew looks to promote the show internationally, his networking skills will again be invaluable and his final piece of advice is to be yourself.
‘There will be no point playing the Downton Abbey card in the US when I’m a northern lad,’ he says. ‘You need to have integrity and believe that the right people will respond to you.’
Miss Nightingale is currently touring 14 UK venues, including the MAC in Birmingham, until 3 May. Learn more at www.missnightingale.co.uk.
Competition: For your chance to win a pair of tickets to the show at the MAC on Friday 11 April, send the name of the actress who plays Maggie in Miss Nightingale, along with your name, address and degree details, to firstname.lastname@example.org by noon on Monday 7 April. Terms and conditions apply.