According to the immensely popular theatre site, ‘westendwilma.com is the mother/son blogging venture that has been taking over London’s theatre scene for the last five years’ – the team cover news, reviews, interviews, awards, competitions, tickets and merchandise – proving that an impressive amount of ground can be covered in just five years. Ed Baker, who set up the site, launched West End Wilma under the pseudonym, using his mother’s image as the face of his theatre thoughts. Only more recently has Ed exposed himself as the real voice of the site and along with his team of reviewers and his charismatic mum by his side, he covers the length and breadth of the West End for our delectation.
The fourth annual West End Wilma Awards are just around the corner, so I asked Ed questions about the upcoming awards, along with some questions on all things theatre – the responses to these questions show without a shadow of a doubt that Ed Baker certainly is a bona fide theatre enthusiast…
The West End Wilma Awards are into their fourth year now. What prompted you to take the plunge and create your own awards?
I won the Ticketmaster Blog of the Year award in 2014 and it felt lovely to be recognised for the hard work I do. Even just being nominated was wonderful. So I decided to start my own awards as there can never be enough recognition out there!
Was it difficult to secure sponsorship for your awards in a region so dense with voices opining about theatre – not to mention the heavy presence of The Oliviers – or was your plan received with open arms as a refreshing alternative?
westendwilma.com has had wonderful support since it started five years ago and people seem keen to get on board with the awards which is amazing.
Exactly how much work goes into preparing for something like the West End Wilma Awards? When do you start work on it all?
I have to start thinking about it six months before the actual ceremony. It’s a lot of work but if you plan properly then it usually works out ok. There have been a few catastrophic disasters over the years but you just have to stay calm and deal with things as they come up.
Your categories are classic (excluding your commendable decision this year to be gender neutral in all categories) but not exhaustive. Will you eventually introduce awards for things like lighting, set and sound design?
There are so many things I would love to create categories for in the future. Every year I try to mix it up a bit and introduce different things to see what works and what doesn’t so who knows what will happen in the future!
Your categories have only three nominees, chosen by you (with the public voting from September 1st); how do you go about the process of whittling down the options from the vast amount of theatre that you see in a year?
I have a reviewing team that cover a lot of the shows alongside me so it really becomes a conversation of what we have all seen in the past year and what we think deserves to be recognised. Then we just have to whittle it down to three names and that is usually done by voting or I will just make the final decision.
Have you personally seen all of the nominees? Are any taken at the word of someone from your team of reviewers?
It’s impossible for me to see everything and so yes, I take advice from my team on what is worth nominating. I think that is the fairest way.
It’s great to see that you are introducing an award to promote accessible theatre with the Achievement In Creating Accessible Theatre Award. Did something in particular spur you on to do this or was it a case of your conscience tugging at your sleeve?
I’ve been fundraising for the National Autistic Society for the last year or so to help stage more Relaxed Performances of theatre shows and so the idea of bringing an accessibility category this year felt like the natural thing to do to help raise awareness.
This is the fourth year of the West End Wilma Awards – can you name a few particular highlights so far?
It’s been great to see so many people supporting the awards over the years. It’s hard to pick out anything that has been a particular highlight though. The fact they have all gone fairly smoothly is the main highlight I guess!
What have you found to be the most rewarding thing about the awards and what are you most looking forward to this year?
I just love being able to acknowledge people and shows that are worthy. Some awards show’s feel a little false in terms of nominating the most famous names over general talent. The fact the Wilma Awards are voted for by the theatre going public means it really gives an honest look at what theatre goers really like. I have no idea what will happen this year, that is in everyone else’s hands which is exciting!
The details about performances are yet to be announced – can you give us any cheeky hints about what might be expected this year?
Well Kieran Brown should be back for the fourth year in a row with a comedic parody of a musical theatre song. We are batting around ideas right now for what song he should do and we might put it out the the public vote on Twitter to decide so what out for that!
Now on to some quick-fire questions about you and your views on theatre…
You are very active in theatre-land with reviews, interviews, competitions and now activism – what would you say your favourite thing about running West End Wilma is?
At the end of the day I just love theatre! Getting to see a lot of it for free now is amazing and getting to go back stage and interview the stars is something I know a lot of people would love the opportunity to do and so I am very grateful people let me!
Can you remember what gave you the theatre bug?
It was probably only seven or eight years ago. It was a late bloomer!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
Wow. That’s a great question. Just the love of theatre in general is what keeps me going!
Which show/performance last made you laugh out loud?
Sister Mary McArthur’s Playtime at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! I hope she gets a London transfer!
Which show/performance last brought you to tears?
I very rarely cry in general. I’m not a very emotional person. But I sobbed like a baby at Amelie on Broadway!
Which show/performance last shocked you – for better or for worse?
The Bakewell Bake Off, again at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. I saw the show in London a few years ago and loved it but this production was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe they had the audacity to charge people for tickets!
Do you have an all-time favourite show?
Wicked or Chicago.
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line?
I would love to still live in a world where going to the theatre was something special that you would dress up for and treat like a special occasion. Unfortunately now it seems to be something people do without much consideration which is great for selling tickets but not so good for well behaved audience members. I think we have to just try to tune them out and focus on the show.
What are your thoughts on celebrity casting?
I think celebrity casting can be a great way to help a show succeed. But producers need to cast celebrities who are good at it and not just because of their celebrity status.
Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale that you’ve witnessed from the audience?
I’ve seen Glinda throw her wand in to the audience accidentally in Wicked which was very funny.
You have been doing some important fundraising with the National Autistic Society to promote accessibility in theatres. If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in theatre right now, aside from the work you’re doing around accessibility, what would it be? What does theatre need?
I’d like to live in a world where all actors got paid a proper wage! If you can’t afford to pay people then you shouldn’t put on a show.
Finally, tell us what you think makes the West End Wilma Awards stand out from others and why they should be on our radar…
They are voted for by the public which is think is the most important thing. They also cover things like touring shows and off-west end and so for hardcore theatre fans I think it is nice to see more than just the West End acknowledged.
The West End Wilma Awards will take place at The Delfont Room (The Prince of Wales Theatre) on Friday 3rd November. You can find this year’s nominees and the link for tickets to the awards here. Public voting for the awards opens on the 1st September at WestEndWilma.com so keep an eye out for announcements!
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Some really good questions (and answers). Interesting interview.
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