Claude-Michel Schönberg delivers his Cameron Mackintosh Inaugural Lecture

Claude-Michel Schönberg, this year’s Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, recently delivered his Inaugural Lecture. He addressed over 200 people who gathered in the Bernard Sunley Lecture Theatre at St Catherine’s to hear him speak on the topic of Creation and Immigration.

The central theme of his lecture was that culture, which he described as the manifestation of all human achievement, has benefited from the free exchange of ideas that immigration has enabled over the generations. Innovation in the arts has been spurred on by exposure to different worldviews, and has stopped human creativity from stagnating. He also shared his own experiences of working in the world of music and theatre. “I was born a composer”, remarked Claude-Michel as he recounted his early interest in music, which later turned into a successful career as a pop singer after forming a rock band at university. He later went on to compose the music for the hit musicals Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.

As part of his professorship, Claude-Michel has run workshops with students who are creating their own musical projects. It has given them a rare opportunity to have their work critiqued by a master in the field. At one of the workshops, which took place a few weeks before he gave his lecture, he listened to a song from a production written by Oxford students Annabel Reed and Leo Munby (from Harris Manchester and Wadham Colleges). The song from their show, Stop, tells the story of young woman suffering from depression who is contemplating an important life decision about seeking help. “We performed a belty ballad in front of the man who wrote I Dreamed a Dream thinking ‘this has got to be good’”, joked Annabel, who was pleased with Claude-Michel’s positive feedback. “We feel really inspired to write more. He made it clear that we need to dramatically justify our choices – that is already leading us in what we have yet to write.” The workshops covered a number of disciplines and were open to composers, performers and writers. “It turned out to be a collection of interesting insights from a master storyteller, and, the end of the day, storytelling is central to all of our pieces”, commented Leo. “It was really helpful to hear feedback on how characters should be developed and for the benefit of the audience.”

Claude-Michel will be facilitating two further workshops during his tenure, giving more students the opportunity to benefit from his experience and wisdom. The Chair of Contemporary Theatre, established at St Catherine’s College through a grant from the Mackintosh Foundation, aims to promote interest in, and the study and practice of, contemporary theatre. Claude-Michel is the 25th person to hold the Professorship. Previous Visiting Professors include Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, Michael Frayn and, most recently, Simon Russell Beale.

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