We’ll be ‘Doing The Lambeth Walk’ around Abingdon in 2022

Me And My Girl was originally a roaring success in the 1930s, when it seemed the whole of the UK was mad about The Lambeth Walk and pearly kings and queens.

Pearly Kings and Queens
Doing the Lambeth Walk

Then, in the early 1980s, the show was revised by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent, and was even more successful than the original 1930s version.  It ran for eight years in the West End and for three years on Broadway, scooping up Olivier and Tony awards in its wake.

Now, in October 2022, AOS will be bringing Me And My Girl back to the Amey Theatre for the first time since 2001.  You can keep up with all the latest news on the production on our Current show page here.

Bringing the Carousel back to town Spring 2023

In 1999, Time magazine rated Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel as the greatest musical of the twentieth century, saying: “They set the standards for the 20th century musical, and this show features their most beautiful score and the most skillful and affecting example of their musical storytelling.”

Carousel on Broadway

Carousel opened on Broadway in April 1945 and ran for over 800 performances. When it arrived in the West End in 1950 it saw equal success. In 1956, a Hollywood version of the stage show was filmed, starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.

The show’s story revolves around carousel barker Billy Bigelow, whose romance with millworker Julie Jordan comes at the price of both their jobs. He participates in a robbery to provide for Julie and their unborn child; and then, after it goes tragically wrong, he is given a chance to make things right. A secondary plot line deals with millworker Carrie Pipperidge and her romance with ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow. The show includes the well-known songs ‘If I Loved You’, ‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Richard Rodgers later wrote that Carousel was the favourite of all his musicals.

Perhaps surprisingly, 2023 will be the first time AOS has performed Carousel since 1974, so we can be confident that very few members of our audience will remember that production, nearly fifty years ago. We’re looking forward to bringing an energetic and dynamic version of Carousel to the Amey Theatre next April, and we hope to see you there.

Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 coming to Abingdon in 2023

Based on the 1980 movie of the same name, that starred Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, 9 to 5: The Musical premiered in Los Angeles in 2008, with all music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. In April 2009 it opened on Broadway, followed by a West End opening in 2012.

 

Reviewing the West End production, Ed Pilkington of The Guardian called the stage adaptation “a triumph” and praised Parton, describing her as “the real star of the show” and adding, “She is not on stage, but her presence fills it. She has composed a set of songs, accompanied with her own lyrics, that complement the original song. The greatest triumph of the night was that the film has been reinvented as a musical so successfully. It seemed improbable, given the cult status of the movie, but the stage show has met it and raised it, rather than being its pale imitation.”

9 to 5: The Musical will be another of several new productions for AOS in recent years, including All Shook Up and Made In Dagenham9 to 5: The Musical promises to be a lot of fun, both for the cast and for our audience in the Amey Theatre. So, mark your diary for October 2023 and be sure not to miss this production.

Hand to Mouth: the financial tightrope of musical theatre

In the far off olden days, before on-demand TV, boxed sets, Netflix and hundreds of freeview channels, families would often go to the theatre for entertainment. Of course, the cinema was also popular, but live theatre attracted huge audiences and thriving amateur theatrical societies were to be found in most small towns.

Today, many of those societies have disappeared or are struggling to survive. Audiences have shrunk, members (especially men) are harder to recruit, and production costs have gone through the roof.

Soaring costs

This last issue, the cost of putting on a show, is a critical one, as smaller audiences mean lower ticket sales and reduced income. The danger is that eventually ticket sales don’t cover the costs, and the society is forced to cut back on performances, which makes it even harder to find new members. It’s a spiral that many never recover from.

In Spring 2017, AOS staged the musical Annie for six performances, running Tuesday to Saturday evening, with an additional matinee performance on Saturday afternoon. The rights to stage the show for those six performances, plus the hire of the theatre, cost us £12,500. At an average audience ticket price of £14.50, this means that we needed to sell over 850 tickets just to cover those initial costs.

Hire of the musical scores cost over £1,000, while costumes, lighting, sound and scenery cost another £7,000. In total, and after being extremely careful with every penny spent, Annie cost just under £28,000 to stage. This means that we needed to sell over 1,900 tickets just to break even on the show. That’s a tall order for a small market town in rural England in the twenty-first century.

Selling out

If every performance was completely sold out, our seating capacity of over 2,500 for the week would mean we’d be in profit for the show, but that’s very hard to achieve these days. This means that any loss on a show has to be borne by the members, which means increasing the show fees we have to charge the cast, and that makes it harder to recruit the new members we need.

This is the tightrope we walk today – trying to manage costs, while filling the theatre, and attracting new members. And we do this for two major shows each year. It can be stressful, to say the least, and it’s only something we do as a hobby, so it’s a good thing that we love musical theatre enough to keep balancing along that tightrope for year after year, determined to keep musical theatre alive in Abingdon. Just don’t look down!

AOS gallery now reaches all the way back to 1958

Archives can be dusty, dreary places and that’s certainly been true of the AOS photo archive. For years, shelves full of photo albums from decades of our show history have been gathering dust on a kind member’s spare bedroom wall. And the saddest part of this archive is that no one ever got to look at it.

Our first show, Iolanthe from 1958

So, in recent months, we’ve gradually been working through this archive digitalising as much as we can.  So far, we’ve managed to scan paper photos and 35mm slides from every show we’ve been able to find.  For some shows we’ve found very little, but for others there have been fifty or more images to capture.

Oklahoma 1991
Our production of Oklahoma! from 1991.

All this content is now hosted on the Flickr web site, and is also held in a secure cloud storage area.  You can visit the show archive here.

The work isn’t completed yet.  There are still years worth of programmes to scan and cast lists to include, but we hope to eventually have all this captured so that the passage of time can’t damage it further.

Hired Man 2003
Performing Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man in 2003.

So if you have a few minutes to spare, why not take a trip down memory lane with us.

How we choose our shows – it’s not as easy as you might think

When new members join a musical theatre society, full of wide-eyed enthusiasm and ideas, they often ask the same question.

“Why are we doing Oklahoma! None of my friends have heard of it. Why don’t we do Wicked, or that new production of Frozen – we’d pack the audience in for those.”

At this point, the members of the society’s committee generally sigh and then gently explain the reality of amateur theatre to the innocent new member.

It’s restricted!

First, at any time, the range of shows available to amateurs is limited. If a professional production is being staged, or even being considered, the show will usually be restricted. For Abingdon, the problem is often greater, because we’re considered to be within the gravitational pull of London. This means that, if a professional producer is even heard whistling the overture of a particular show, it’s likely to be restricted. The same show may be available for an amateur production in Yorkshire, but in Abingdon it will be off the table.

Some shows are never released for amateur performance, even when they’re not being performed on the professional stage. These are the crown jewel shows, like Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, that aren’t generally keen on amateur interpretations. The rights holders will usually laugh scornfully if a society is silly enough to even enquire about them. Oddly, there’s often a children’s version of these shows that will be available for school productions.

A happy chorus

Another important consideration when selecting a show is the range of roles involved and the opportunity for the chorus to be on stage. There may be a great ‘box office’ show available, but if the cast involves four people for most of the show, it would not be a popular choice for the thirty members in the chorus. For a society like AOS, the members’ show fee is a vital part of the show income, so the bigger the cast the better. A show with a cast of four people will cost almost as much to stage as a show with 50 people, and this makes it an unlikely choice.

Will it fly?

Finally, it can be difficult to stage some shows on a budget. For example, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would be a lovely show to perform (if it was available for amateur performance), but the audience would rightly expect to see the car on stage. And at some point, they would also expect to see it fly. This can be magical on the West End stage, and even professional touring productions will have the necessary equipment, but for an amateur society it would add thousands to the show budget and so rule it out.

It’s not that there aren’t shows available. Amateur societies are constantly being contacted by rights holders offering amazing deals on shows that no one has ever heard about. Then it’s our turn to laugh scornfully. But in general, it’s the rule of supply and demand, with all the power in the hands of the rights holders.

Now, put on your cowboy hat and let’s get on with rehearsing Oklahoma!

All Shook Up – a big THANK YOU from us all!

We were all extremely anxious in the lead up to October’s All Shook Up.  We knew that our audience would be much smaller than normal, as we’d decided to implement social-distancing in our ticket sales.  But we really didn’t know whether our audience would be ready to return to the theatre as the long tail of this pandemic drags on.  And we didn’t know whether a much smaller audience would create the wonderful atmosphere that we all love in the Amey Theatre.

All Shook Up

So, this post is just to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who came along to see the show, for clapping and cheering, for joining us in the finale dance, and just for being your wonderful selves.  All Shook Up was a sell out.  By Thursday of show week there wasn’t a ticket to be had.  We even had to start a waiting list for any cancellations.  You were the stars of the week.

So, now we move on with a little more confidence toward Made In Dagenham in the Spring of 2022.  We’ll always look back on 2020 as the year we lost – the first time in over 60 years that AOS didn’t entertain Abingdon.  But now we’re back, and with an audience like this, we can’t wait for the curtain to go up again.

STAND UP!! AOS win victory in April 2022

 

Tuesday 19 April – Saturday 23 April 2022

What a fantastic week!!  Thank you, from all of us to all of you.  Here are just a few of the comments we’ve received:

  • “Honestly we were blown away! The vocal talent was just as good as any West End production and I was moved to tears thanks to a powerful story and some beautifully poignant acting. Was expecting a good bit of ‘am dram’ but this was truly professional…5 stars!”
  • “An excellent production – definitely deserved the standing ovation!”
  • “A brilliant show and a very talented cast – well done everyone!”
  • “Such a great show – West End quality and length, with humour, pathos, action and dancing, effective props and simple staging. The story was easy to follow!”
  • “Was a brilliant show as always – loved it!”
  • “Fantastic production of Made in Dagenham tonight. What a huge amount of talent on one stage! We thoroughly enjoyed it!”
  • “This is indeed a West End quality production, and in music, vocal and harmony terms, arguably better. Outstanding!”
  • “Superb in every way! Wow! Who needs to go to the West End?”
  • “Wonderful evening, brilliant show, thoroughly enjoyed it.”
  • “The acting and singing was brilliant, the band was very tight, the general movement and choreography was fabulous. But most of all, the set was SPECTACULAR!”

 

Top 5 audition tips to help you get that part!

So the audition dates have been published and you’re thinking of going for a principal role. Perhaps you always succeed and play every leading part, or perhaps you’ve never managed to win the role you think you were born to play? Whichever camp you’d place yourself in, here are our top tips for getting through the audition and winning that role.

  1. Be honest with yourself (but dreaming’s good too)

Listen to the director’s description of the character and read the lib carefully. If the director’s looking for an eighteen year old soprano and you’re a fifty year old alto, it’s probably not the right role for you. Similarly, if the part is a tap-dancing leading man and you have two left feet and an in-growing toenail, you might want to think twice. But if you can picture yourself adding something to the character, then give it everything you’ve got.  So, don’t be too hard on yourself – just be realistic.

Auditions1

2. Be prepared

If you really want a role, it’s a good idea to try to learn the audition pieces and practice the songs. You need to sell it to the audition panel and doing this while looking at your lib or forgetting the song is not ideal. Learning the lines shows the panel that you want the part enough to have put in some effort. You should also have a good sense of the character you’re auditioning for. Read the whole lib and look for clues about the person you’re portraying, and listen carefully to the director’s description too.

3. Don’t focus on the wrong things

Using props, costume or wigs in an audition is almost always a mistake. When you’re nervous and on the spot, it’s so easy for props to get you mixed up or confused, and costumes and wigs aren’t what the audition panel are looking for. Put your effort into inhabiting the character without distractions. Focus on the acting and singing and the panel will fill in the missing bits.

Auditions2

4. Nerves can be your best friend

Most people find auditions more nerve-wracking than an opening night. There’s something about being so obviously judged that reduces the most experienced performer to a quivering jelly. So, since you can’t avoid the nerves, use them instead. Plan for them in advance and think about how you can use them to express emotion and depth in the audition pieces. This approach can work for acting and singing, but you need to have thought about how your nerves will affect you and how and where you will use this. When you need power or emotion, your nerves can be the fuel that makes your performance electric.

5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

If there are two parts that you can reasonably audition for, go for both – even if you really, really want only one of them. It never does any harm to show an audition panel what you can do. Auditioning for a second part shows more of your acting ability and more of your voice. It gives you longer to shine. And of course, if you don’t get the part you have your heart set on, you may get the other part. You’ll be disappointed for a time, but at least you have a part in the show.

Those are our top five tips, but if you fail despite these words of wisdom, there’s bound to be a place for you in the chorus. No show is a great show without a great chorus. Even when the principals are excellent, a poor chorus performance can ruin the atmosphere. So be a part of that well-oiled machine that is a great musical production – you’ll still have a wonderful time.

Member’s Q&A: Joy’s still playing several different parts in AOS

Every few months, we like to turn the spotlight on an AOS member and find out a little more about them. This time it’s our chairman, Joy Skeels.

How did you get involved in musical theatre?

My mother was in Rugeley Operatic Society and I’d always be at rehearsals, eating chocolates with the other children. Then one year I just wanted to join in.

Miss Hannigan 2017
As Miss Hannigan is 2017’s Annie

What was the show?

It was Calamity Jane and I was a dance hall girl.  I was fourteen years old and I loved it.

And what was your first principal role?

Ah, it was the following year. They were doing Kismet and I was asked to audition for the leading role, Marsinah. It was a bit tricky, because my mother had already auditioned for the part. The last night of the show was my sixteenth birthday.

Enjoying Dorothy Brock in 2014’s 42nd Street

You’d been bitten by the theatrical bug?

I think you could say that.  I had twenty-five years of doing just about every leading female role in musical theatre – all amateur, of course – but it was wonderful. I moved from Staffordshire down to Oxfordshire in the 90s and just carried on doing two big shows each year.

Which have been your favourite roles?

Well, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady is special – I’ve done that three times. And Calamity Jane is a great part too – I’ve done that twice. It’s hard to choose a favourite really. CamelotCarouselCrazy For You – and that’s just the Cs. I think it must be over forty leading roles over the years. It’s my hobby and I love it.

Playing Calamity Jane for a second time in 2012

What is it, apart from the need to show off wearing pretty costumes?

Ha ha. Well, there is a bit of that, I can’t deny it. But the feeling of teamwork and camaraderie is so overwhelming too. I’ve got to know so many wonderful, kind, friendly people over the years. I honestly can’t think what my life would have been like without it.

You’re now increasingly directing shows for AOS rather than appearing on stage. How do you find that?

Yes, that’s right. My first was Crazy For You in 2012 and since then I’ve directed Sweet CharityBarnumSister Act, 2019’s My Fair Lady.   and 2020’s All Shook Up. It’s a different sort of challenge. I’ve worked with some wonderful directors over the years and I just try and take the best things from each. But show week is very weird – everyone else is madly busy and my work is done. It’s very strange not to be involved.

And you manage to fit in being AOS chairman too?

Yes, I became chairman in 2016.  I’ve served on the committee in several societies in the past and been chairman of different groups twice before. I think that if you get a lot of pleasure from a hobby, it’s important to give something back. When there’s work to be done – and there’s a lot involved in keeping groups like this alive – I believe in stepping forward and doing my bit. I want other people – new members particularly – to experience the pleasure I’ve had over all those years.

And what’s next for you?

Well, I’m directing Carousel in 2021, but apart from that, who knows? Perhaps I might find a role in a future show, or just enjoy being a part of the AOS chorus on stage.

Thanks for your time, Joy.

No problem, web person 🙂

Bringing Live Musical Theatre to Abingdon