When planning to award a prize to help support a performing arts student starting out in the world of professional musical theatre, Stephen Sondheim asked us if the event could also be used to showcase the work of new composers and lyricists. ‘New writers’, he said, ‘don’t tend to get so many chances to show off their work’.
In 2007 we presented the first Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Award (SSSSPOTY). In the light of Sondheim’s wishes, from the beginning we have worked closely with Mercury Musical Developments (MMD) to showcase new writing. At the SSSSPOTY finals, as well as singing a song by Sondheim, the students each sing a new song by MMD composers and lyricists. A separate Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Prize is awarded to the authors of that song. The SSSSPOTY prize (a silver salver and a cheque for £1,000) is awarded to the student who, in the opinion of the judges, has given the best performance of their two songs.
In recent years it has been customary to have a runner up and this has now been formalised by the award of a prize to the student in second place.
From its inception in 1992, The Mercury Workshop was the only writer-based organisation in Britain dedicated to the development and presentation of new musical theatre. Established from a core of 11 students who worked with Stephen Sondheim at Oxford University, the organisation now has over 260 members. The Mercury Workshop grew into Mercury Musical Developments (MMD) in 1999, through a merger with The New Musicals Alliance. MMD is an integral part of the British theatre scene, providing a broad range of developmental and showcase opportunities. In 2012, partnering with Musical Theatre Network, MMD became a National Portfolio Organisation supported by Arts Council England.