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University Centre Shrewsbury’s Musical Theatre Co-Programme Leader and composer Sarah Taylor Ellis has received a Discovery Grant from Opera America to advance work on her composition The Trojan Women, while another of Dr Ellis’ compositions, the feminist rock musical These Girls Have Demons, was selected for Pittsburgh CLO’s New Musicals Weekend.

“I am so grateful to have the support of these venerable arts organizations. Their backing makes it possible for new work to be developed and heard,” said Ellis.

Opera America, the leading champion for opera in the United States, started an Opera Grants for Female Composers programme six years ago to reverse a trend that found fewer than five percent of the organisation’s grants for repertoire development had been awarded to female composers. This year, the organisation received 50 applications, with seven composers being selected.

“These grants have invigorated our art form with new works that display the extraordinary skill of their composers, as well as a diverse range of artistic sensibilities,” said Marc A. Scorca, President and CEO of Opera America.  

The Trojan Women, composed by Ellis with libretto by Ellen McLaughlin, is a new chamber opera adaptation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy which gives voice to the plight and strength of women ripped from their war-torn homes, both then and now. The grant will fully fund a reading of The Trojan Women in London this August.

Pittsburgh CLO, one of the most influential regional theatres in the US, created a programme, Spark, to help incubate and provide a launching pad for new musicals. Ellis’ These Girls Have Demons was selected to participate in the Spark Festival in 2018 and was again chosen in 2019 to participate in the theatre’s New Musicals Weekend. After a week of developing the musical with director Ellie Heyman, musical director Rodney Bush, and a talented local cast, the musical was performed twice for the public. 

“PCLO believed in our show when all we had was a blurb and an opening number!” said Ellis. “It is rare to find such wholehearted support in the early stages of writing a new musical. Demons has rapidly developed into a wild, exciting musical monster with PCLO, and we can’t wait for next steps.”

The darkly funny musical, with book and lyrics by Meghan Brown and music by Ellis, is about four teenagers who find themselves accidentally possessed by demons – beasts that unleash all the rage, sexuality, and sheer feeling the girls have been socialized to repress.

With Nicole Wellings, Dr Ellis is the Co-Programme Leader of the University Centre Shrewsbury’s new Musical Theatre programme, which has just completed its first year.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more intellectually engaged, talented, and collaborative first-year cohort,” said Ms. Wellings. “They have truly set the standard for future years!”

During its inaugural year, UCS’s Musical Theatre programme has had many exciting adventures from Theatre Clwyd to Storyhouse and the West End. After studying Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company in-depth and learning a few of the show’s ensemble numbers, the students saw the musical performed in the West End and had a private Q&A with the music director, Joel Fram. The students participated in Master Classes taught by West End professionals such as Alex Young, who critiqued each of the student’s audition songs and provided feedback and practical techniques that continue to deepen their performances. The students also had coffee with Tony Award-winning choreographer and native of Shrewsbury, Gillian Gregory. The students finished their year by performing a full-length musical, Gone Missing by The Civilians at Theatre Severn.  

UCS’s Musical Theatre degree has proven to be popular with an increase in applications of 21 percent from its first year. The Musical Theatre Department is holding a Master Class workshop this summer for prospective students that is already fully subscribed.

The University Centre Shrewsbury is a unique partnership between Shropshire Council and the University of Chester.  Now in its fourth year, the University offers a high quality education through 15 undergraduate degrees and ten postgraduate degrees in one of England’s finest medieval Tudor towns.  


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