Stuart Hendricks brings the theatre to us
Music Theatre International Australasia
Music Theatre International Australasia
How did you become the Managing Director at MTI Australasia?
I gained a Bachelor of Music Education at the University of Melbourne and supplemented that with qualifications in Arts Management and Business. In 2002 I was offered the opportunity to establish the theatrical licensing division at Hal Leonard Australia and I helped to grow that part of the business from scratch until it became the premier licensing agency for musicals, plays and classical works in Australia. One of the catalogues that I represented in my time there was MTI’s, and when MTI decided to establish a direct presence in Australia, I was invited to take the role as Managing Director of MTI Australasia.
What does musical theatre mean to you?
I grew up in a household where we were always playing and listening to music. My musical training encompasses a wide variety of genres from classical through to pop, but musical theatre has always been my passion. I think that musicals are often under-estimated as an art form. Although they can be funny and even frivolous at times, they’re often challenging and thought provoking, and are just as likely to be filled with deep pathos, joy, exuberance and passion as they are with humour. Some musicals are clearly of their times while others are timeless.
Although they represent the most high-profile part of your job, MTI is about much more than blockbuster first-class touring productions, isn’t it?
Yes, MTI is all about enabling as many theatres to perform as many shows as possible and to enjoy the shared experience that is musical theatre. The large professional productions in iconic venues were the ones that captured my own imagination as a child, and today they continue to keep the public’s interest in theatre alive and they inspire the next generation of performers. But those performers usually begin their journeys in local community theatres and school halls all around the country, and in many ways the most rewarding part of my job is helping non-professional groups such as schools and local community groups to choose and mount their productions. These groups do what they do for the pure love of the art form, and I find that dealing with them is intrinsically rewarding.
Presenting a musical production isn’t an easy thing to do, is it? How do you teach and empower beginners to successfully do such a complex thing?
MTI has pioneered an innovative series of musicals known as Broadway JuniorTM. This is designed to make some of the most successful musicals in history – from Disney favorites to modern works – accessible to primary and middle school age kids. They're official, abridged, 30- and 60-minute musicals which are designed to meet the energies and attention spans of younger performers. They’re written in keys that are appropriate for developing voices, and come with a variety of resources which can include rehearsal and accompaniment CD’s, directors’ guides, and choreographic DVDs.
Even though the BROADWAY JUNIOR collection has been established to enable teachers with no theatrical training or experience to mount a production, we’ve learned over the years that we can do even more – especially given that less than 18% of government schools in Australia have dedicated music teachers.
Our Junior Theatre Project is designed to empower teachers and theatre practitioners as well as inspire and develop young performers. One of the main components of this project involves running workshops for teachers. We impart skills, and teach best practices so that anyone can mount a production. I’ve been involved in running these programs for hundreds of teachers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington.
Can you describe a problem that we’ve helped you to solve?
Fundamentally, my main responsibility is to negotiate and issue licence agreements on behalf of the copyright owners which grant producers the right to put on their shows. Before working with the lawyers at EPIPHANY LAW, I used to have an overwhelming number of precedents for countless different circumstances and various ‘riders’ that catered for exceptions to the standard scenarios. My staff and I would pick the closest agreement and re-work it to suit the particular situation. This was often time-consuming, and there were risks in making amendments in this way, as we don’t employ in-house lawyers.
Today, the situation is totally different. The number of agreements has been streamlined, and they’ve been drafted so that the key commercial terms which vary from licence to licence have been separated from all of the legal detail. They’ve also given us options to accommodate common variations. The agreements were drafted to be compatible with our company’s enterprise software so that they can be populated with available data automatically. All of these improvements make the agreements much quicker to amend, easier to understand and less risky to use.
What have you learned about the legal aspect of your work after working together over the last few years?
Although I’ve dealt with lawyers for a number of years, it was the lawyers at EPIPHANY LAW who gave me my first real introduction to plain English drafting. This is drafting using ordinary English words and various drafting conventions.
Plain English agreements are easier to understand than those written in ‘legalese’. I’ve been involved in negotiating lengthy clauses in legalese agreements only to discover that both sides thought it meant completely different things. To use a basic example, our old agreements used to be between the ‘Licensor’ and the ‘Licensee’. I’d receive executed copies from producers who’d signed in the spot meant for the ‘Licensor’ instead of the ‘Licensee’ a surprising number of times. This suggested to me that our agreements weren’t being understood, and that’s never a great thing. The simple change from the ‘Licensor’ to ‘Hal Leonard’ or ‘MTI’, and the change from the ‘Producer’ instead of the ‘Licensee’ means that this misunderstanding no longer occurs. Small but significant improvements like these run all the way through our agreements.
Would you say that both of our organisations share a commitment to empowerment?
Yes, I would. The need to empower has been the driving force behind both BROADWAY JUNIOR and the Junior Theatre Project, so that is really fundamental to our business.
When performing their work, the lawyers at EPIPHANY LAW take the time to explain why they’ve included particular clauses, and why they’ve been drafted in particular ways. In this way they have helped me to develop my own skills, and I see this as being an essential component of empowerment.
Also, having a well-designed suite of readily-understood agreements that are integrated with our processes and IT systems has helped us manage our relationships with our producers more effectively and has enabled us to be more efficient in what we do. This in turn lets us get on with the parts of our roles which we truly love.
What have you found to be the most surprising part of working with us?
This might sound a little strange, but I really like how normal everyone at EPIPHANY LAW is. I’ve dealt with different lawyers and law firms over the course of my career and many of these firms operate quite differently from any other industry that I know of. In contrast, it feels like I’m dealing with like-minded people when I work with EPIPHANY LAW which is really refreshing.