5 weeks to go ……………
Following on from last weeks initial preview of Darlington Operatic Society’s forthcoming production, Strictly Musicals, I was allowed back to watch another number being set. This time is was an evocative and rousing piece from Evita. Director Joanne opened the session by exclaiming that this was one of the easier numbers (!?!) but nonetheless needed absolute concentration to ensure it continued to look easy. All I know is that after a 2 hour workout of both the mental & physical the component parts came together into another stunning and exciting number adding to the already bulging set list.
Again, I marvelled at the ability of the cast to focus on their stage positions, remember their dance moves (which for this piece have a tango/flamenco feel) and still manage to sing, in harmony and in breath. Of course, this is only one of over 24 numbers that will be performed, proving that staging and performing a show like this is as much a test of memory & mental ability as it is of song & dance. I couldn’t help but feel a swell of excitement akin to the build up to Christmas – you know it’s coming, you know it’s going to be great but you still aren’t sure exactly what you’re going to get (well, I have a better idea than most but I’m not telling !)
As promised last week, I was able to grab a little time out of Director & Choreographer Jo’s very busy diary to ask a few questions:
AB – Strictly is a full-on musical review / concert – how different is it to design & set this type of show compared to a traditional show with dialogue and a few musical numbers ?
JH – the main difference is that from the outset you have no set parameters to work from. For normal ‘book’ shows eg ‘The Sound of Music’ you are provided with the libretto and associated songs and for this kind of show you are literally starting with a blank page. For a book musical you know the songs come in a particular order, there are certain key companies who provide the set, the orchestrations demand a set number of instruments and musicians, the parts are fairly defined for the performers and the costumes need to fit a set period or look demanded by the piece. In this kind of show none of those are in place. You determine the songs, the order, the theme, the look, the staging and set and cast required. In many ways its a lot more work than a book musical but provides great opportunities for large numbers of performers to be featured. In most musicals there are a limited number of lead players whereas this kind of show allows us to showcase the breadth of talent that exists within the company.
AB – What was the process for deciding which numbers made it into the show, were there any you knew immediately to avoid, and any which you wished you could have included ?
JH -I think this was probably the hardest choice. There are so many great songs in musical theatre and I could have easily had a show that lasted 6 hours if I wasn’t careful! I worked the concept around a loose theme of songs from shows that were nominated or had won Tony and / or Olivier awards. If nothing else it helped me to start cutting things down. In a show like this its important to consider the balance of content so – ballads vs upbeat numbers, dramatic pieces vs lighthearted pieces, full company numbers vs solos, duets and trios. You also have to consider what will work for the band you have. We wanted there to be a comfortable balance of the classics and also provide some pieces from lesser known musicals to give the audience something new as well. You also have to consider what songs work ‘out of context’ of a show. There are many shows that I adore but the songs are quite specific to the storyline and therefore don’t necessarily work in a concert style setting. There are still songs now that I wish I had been able to include but they would have had to be at the expense of another number – maybe we will have to consider ‘Strictly Musicals 2′ (ed - you heard it here first, folks)
AB – You’ve worked with DOS since Oliver! in 1993, what changes have you seen in the past 20 (gulp) years ?
JH – The society has changed a lot since my initial association but the constant has been the quality of productions which has always been incredibly high and something the society has prided itself on. Like any good organisation, DarlingtonOS had had to modernise to keep up with things like technological changes. 20 years ago I am not sure we even knew what a website was – now I don’t think we could do without it. We communicate with the cast in a number of different ways as well regarding social events, changes to rehearsals etc eg SMS messages, Facebook, online surveys etc which solely relied on someone making loads of phonecalls when I first started. I think we try to celebrate our heritage and are very proud of where the society has come from but at the same time know that we all have a duty to make sure the society is here in another 50-100 years.
AB -The ratio of girls to boys looks around 2:1 – does this have any influence when deciding on which shows to put on ?
JH – The cast for Strictly Musicals is only a selection of our full membership. As we stage 2 musicals per year we hold auditions for each show and then select the cast to meet the specific demands of that show. We are quite fortunate in Darlington that we have a relatively high number of young men involved in the society. Women still outnumber men but we always get new men wanting to join us every 6 months when we hold our new members auditions.
AB – I’ve watched as you set a couple of numbers and the preparation is phenomenal – What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in getting Strictly ready for rehearsals ?
JH – I think as with most musicals 50% of the work is done before you even get to the first rehearsal. By the time it comes to setting you have to have been able to visualise how the number will look in its finished state with the lighting, staging, performers and any other effects. In Strictly Musicals we have a cast of 47 so the full company numbers take a lot of planning of how to move the cast from A to B ensuring the soloist is where they need to be by a specific bar of music. I think the biggest challenge for Strictly has probably just been ensuring that the running order allows for costume changes, mic changes and balancing out the voice parts in the various numbers. As I love a good spreadsheet once that was cracked it really is just business as usual
AB - Do you have any superstisions or lucky routines for opening night ?
JH – No – I don’t believe in superstitions. I think I am too practical. I believe more in hard work and organisation and those things will see you right on the night.
AB – If you could stage & direct one show (regardless of cost, venue needed, production etc) which would it be ?
JH – Probably a few different ones for different reasons so its difficult to tie it down to one. Les Mis as a ‘biggie’ - its the show that really turned me onto musical theatre and I love the various interweaving storylines and the music and of course to stage this with a fantastic full working set and large company would be fantastic. On the other extreme I would love to direct ‘Parade’ in a black box with a small cast or ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ which is a fantastic show within a show.
AB - Have you any advice for someone who is interested in theatre but feels that they could never sing, dance, act well enough to take a part ?
JH – There are so many ways to be involved other than being on stage which are just as rewarding if not more so. As well as the people taking part on stage, DarlingtonOS has a range of backstage helpers ranging from props and costume departments to crew, lighting and sound. All of these departments are vital to the final production that the audience sees and we are always on the look out for willing volunteers.
AB – Which number are you most excited about
JH – Gosh – not really sure. I think I am looking forward to just in general seeing all the bits coming together so when you get the choreography on stage with the lighting, costume and LED screen and it looks somewhat like it did in your head then thats always exciting. I liked xxxxxxxxx when I was setting it and am pleased with how that is turning out as I have a solid group of really good girls. I also like how the xxxxx number is coming along from a dance perspective. Of course the sheer power of 47 people singing ‘xxxxxxxx’ always brings a tingle to my spine. (ED – you really didn’t think I was going to let you know which ones Jo chose – you’ll just have to come and see for yourself !!)
Well folks, that wraps it up for this blog, the excitement is definitely building and we have yet to see costumes, set and the use of some very clever tech - look out for the next preview blog where I will have caught up with some of the society’s members & cast to get their thoughts on preparing for autumn spectacular.
Strictly Musicals is on at Darlington Civic from 23rd October to the 2nd November – check out the website for more details and to purchase tickets (better hurry, they are selling like the proverbial cakes of heat) http://www.darlingtonoperaticsociety.org.uk/