Monday, March 24, 2014

Keeping busy at university

Hello, all! It's been a while. I've had a busy semester 2 of my first year of university and therefore I have unfortunately not had much time for blogging or for going to see shows at the theatre but here is a brief update.

I have managed to get involved in a fair number of projects and performances this semester which I am very happy about. I enjoy having lots of things to do and I like the challenge of trying to fit everything into my schedule. My compulsory contact hours only amount to 8 hours per week so there is plenty of time to get involved in extra-curricular activities and since I am doing a music degree, this involvement is very much encouraged. 

A few events have already been done and dusted such as two concerts at Chichester Cathedral in which I got to sing in as part of the university's Chamber Choir. I have also been participating in a stage combat course. I had never done stage combat before and although with my spatial awareness I have succeeded in unintentionally kicking and punching people for real, I think I have learned some basics :P

Exciting projects and things still coming up:

April: Seussical as ensemble and assistant director
May: Spring Awakening as assistant stage manager
May: Jesus Christ Superstar as ensemble
May: Orchestra trip to Guernsey as violin 2
June: Chamber Choir tour to Rome as soprano 1
September: Carmen as ensemble

Sunday, February 9, 2014

'Candide' - great first show of the year

The musical Candide is based on the 18th century satire, Candide, or Optimism by the French philosopher Voltaire. The novella focuses more on ideas and message than plot and although I studied and greatly enjoyed the book at college, I struggled to picture how it could be translated onto stage as during its less than 100 pages it manages a dozen different locations around the world. I personally find that stories that are based on travelling (e.g. that of Shrek the Musical or Lord of the Rings) sometimes struggle to keep the visuals variable and the story consistently interesting. 

Candide at Menier Chocolate Factory
Performance: Wednesday 8th January 2014 at 20:00
Seat: Front row
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Richard Wilbur
Book (adapted from Voltaire): Hugh Wheeler
Director: Matthew White
Cast included: Fra Fee (Candide), James Dreyfus (Pangloss/Cacambo/Martin), Scarlett Strallen (Cunegonde), Jackie Clune (Old Lady), David Thaxton (Maximilian), Cassidy Janson (Paquette)

Brief plot summary: Candide, the illegitimate nephew of the Baron is seen kissing the Baron's daughter, Cunegonde, and is evicted from the castle. He ends up on a trip around the world equipped with the teachings on optimism of Dr Pangloss. His experiences make him question the validity of Pangloss's philosophy. 

In the past I have visited the Menier theatre on two occasions and I was intrigued to see how this production team had decided to use the space. I find that, rather like the Union Theatre, the Menier is a highly versatile space. Candide was theatre in a round, well, in some sort of a quadrilateral more like. However, not only did they have a performance space in the middle with exists in each corner, a balcony passage ran across three walls behind the audience. In addition, the actors made use of the aisles cutting across two blocks of seats. The actors were effectively everywhere around you. The show was interactive with the actors giving things to unsuspecting audience members and putting hats on their heads. My favourite one was the judge roasting marshmallows stuck to a pitchfork over a burning torch and then feeding them to the audience members sitting nearest to him.

I think the best thing about this musical was the visuals. There was a lot going on all the time and the show included some incredible dance numbers. Sitting in the first row of such an intimate space, you always wonder whether someone might accidentally kick you in the face or something one day. Just for the record, that has not yet happened to me. The costumes were stunning also - with the audience able to see them so close up, detail in creating them would have been absolutely vital.

I have heard many speaking highly of Fra Fee but this was the first time I had seen him on stage. He was a great choice for the title role and I enjoyed his vocals. Scarlett Strallen as Candide's love interest stood out particularly by her skills as a dancer. However, she also deserves a mention for her interpretation of Glitter and Be Gay, possibly the most well-known song in the show. She nailed the challenging vocals and kept the audience laughing with her well-timed comic acting, which was appropriately exaggerated. I was further impressed by James Dreyfus's ability to move from playing one character to playing the next with ease and fluidity. 

Like the original book, the musical is very fast paced in terms of the story. I don't think I would have been able to follow had I not known it from before. There was a group of Americans sitting behind me who confessed they did not manage to stay on top of the events. However, even if you did lose the plot, the musical had a lot of entertainment value both of the satirical and physical comedy nature.
I walked out of the theatre thinking "Although this was only the first thing I have seen this year, I would not be surprised if it turned out to be the best," and coming from me, that is saying a lot.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

'Seussical' for inspiration

As I will be assistant-directing Seussical at my university next semester, going to see this limited-run production of the show was an ample opportunity to gather some ideas for the visuals and observe how the professionals have brought the characters to life.

Seussical at the Arts Theatre
Performance: Sunday 29th December 2013
Seat: Circle right
Music: Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Director: Kirk Jameson
Cast included: Ste Clough (Horton the Elephant), Elliot Fitzpatrick (Cat in the Hat), Jordan Veloso (JoJo), Kirsty Marie Ayers (Gertrude), Jessica Parker (Mayzie)

Brief plot summary
Horton the Elephant hears the cries of the Whos, a race so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, from a clover. He takes it up as his duty to guard the clover. JoJo, a Who child, gets into trouble for thinking too much and he bonds with Horton, because he, too, has 'thinks'. Meanwhile, Gertrude is trying to impress Horton but feels she is not succeeding because of her virtually non-existent tail and asks Mayzie for help.

The cast of Seussical.

The plot summary suggests a slightly nonsensical children's show. The musical is based on the stories of Dr. Seuss so that offers one explanation. A lot of the spoken dialogue has been left in verse form as per the original books. I think Seussical falls into the same category with shows like Honk in which adults run around the stage in costume, pretending to be animals and therefore just hearing about the show it may be difficult to take it seriously. This particular version was a shorter, one-act version of the original as it was aimed at children. However, it was brilliant fun to watch for someone my age also and I think the longer version, which we will be performing at university, has a lot of potential to appeal to a slightly older audience.

I was surprised to find that Ste Clough, who has taught me dance workshops, was playing the main character. I had a brief chat with him afterwards and, incredibly, he did remember me! I haven't seen him on stage before so it was a fun experience. He did a good job of the mellow Horton.
I was amazed at the extent to which Mayzie had been made stripper-like considering the target audience of the show, but this polarisation was perhaps seen as essential in order to establish the opposing personalities of Mayzie and Gertrude, who, in turn, was presented as shy and geeky, wearing dull clothes. Mayzie was dressed in bright red. Even though the set was simple and the actors were not wearing animal outfits, colours had been used effectively throughout in compensation and the show was a great example of how obvious colour choices can take you far in conveying a message.

This was my first time visiting the Arts Theatre and I fell in love with its intimate atmosphere. When I got round to booking my ticket, there weren't many left and I did not get much choice with my seat so I did not expect much in terms of the view but it was absolutely fine. I should think that almost every seat in the auditorium grants a great view. The small size of the theatre made it essential that the cast be small. It consisted of 12 members in total with supporting characters doubling up but with the smoothness of the costume changes there may as well have been half a dozen more actors. The ensemble work was great.

Overall I enjoyed the show but I think understanding the story and the characters fully would have been very difficult for someone not familiar with it at all beforehand. I overheard one lady in conversation in the foyer after the show saying that she and her children were very familiar with the stories of Dr Seuss and for them the show had made perfect sense. This was in response to another lady who had been left slightly confused by the whole thing having not read any of the original books. A day in the library reading through all of the Dr Seuss books will be my next stop in preparation for our own production.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Review of 2013

There are lots of these around this time of the year so I thought I would make one as well. 

  • January: I played the title role in an amateur pantomime, Little Bo-Peep.
  • March: I joined the same drama group in their next production. Rehearsals began for an original play set in the Second World War, Violette - The Fight for Freedom in which I was double-cast as a French resistance worker and a concentration camp prisoner.
  • April: I found out my University of Chichester audition had been successful and I was offered a place on BA Music with Musical Theatre.
  • May: I performed in a musical theatre showcase at the Questors Theatre in West London as a part of my musical theatre foundation course. I also acted as an assistant stage manager for a production of Honk Jr..
  • I passed my motorcycle theory test.
  • June: I attended my step-sister's wedding in Finland.
  • Performances of Violette took place. 
  • July: I took the Associate Trinity College London Performance Diploma in Musical Theatre exam.
  • I got a sports massage for the first time in my life. 
  • I cooked dinner at my house for 9 of my friends plus myself. That is more people than I have ever had to cook for.  
  • August: I spent two weeks in Finland visiting friends and relatives. I also attended the annual summer meet-up of the Finnish Wicked fanclub while there.
  • September: I moved to Chichester and started university. I also got a branch transfer at work so I could keep my Saturday job while at university.
  • I visited a friend who was working on the Isle of Wight. I had never been there before.
  • October: I participated in another, shorter performance of Violette at the Spelthorne and Runnymede Drama Festival. This time I was allocated a different part. 
  • November: I passed the second part of the motorcycle practical and gained an A2 motorcycle licence. 
  • I got a trombone. 
  • December: I sung in two different university concerts and played violin in the band for a showcase.
Looking forward to discovering what the year 2014 has in store!