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 🙂

Member’s Q&A – why is Kate Brock hoping to one day defy gravity?

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 Kate Brock.

Where, when and why did you first get involved in musical theatre?

My family took me to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Edinburgh when I was very young and I was completely enthralled by it – to the extent that I was practically hanging over the balcony reaching out for Paul Schofield (who played Joseph) when he rose up in his dreamcoat at the finale!  I auditioned for and was accepted into the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) – and that’s when the love affair really began.

Do you have a favourite show?

Overall, it has to be Les Misérables – epic, historical and French!  I have cherished memories of playing Fantine in the school version when I was 17, but be warned, I can actually sing the entire score off by heart, including all the men’s parts and one-liners.

Sound of Music
Kate as Maria in The Sound of Music.

Do you learn a part quickly or struggle with lines?

I usually get a feel for both script and music fairly quickly, but it can sometimes be a slog to get completely ‘off-book’. Mind you, a few years ago I played Daisy in Daisy Pulls It Off.  She practically talks non-stop in jolly hockey sticks syntax for the entire show.  No line-learning has seemed quite as challenging after that.

Do you enjoy show week?

Yes, tremendously, despite nerves.  I love the feeling of camaraderie both onstage and backstage – I have made some really good friends in this Society.  And singing every night with an orchestra is just wonderful.

With her co-stars in Singin’ in the Rain.

How do you deal with nerves before you go onstage?

Breathing, stretches and saying a little prayer!  And I drink LOTS of water – I am usually responsible for the enormous queue outside the backstage loo!  There’s always that moment when you stand in the wings trembling and think: why do I put myself through this?  But I’ve come to realise that nerves are part of the process: sometimes life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

So is it a relief or a let down when show week ends?

Both.  It’s a bittersweet feeling, coming to the end of a show – reality is momentarily suspended and then it’s back home to the inevitability of the overflowing washing basket.  But then you look forward to seeing everyone again at the next show’s talk-in.

Having fun in 42nd Street
Having fun in 42nd Street

And is there a part you’ve always wanted to play but haven’t yet?

I’ve always fancied having a go at Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar.  And – moving into the realms of fantasy for a moment – I would love to defy gravity as Elphaba in Wicked.

Thanks, Kate.

Member’s Q&A: Kevin’s still hoping to one day say ‘HUMBUG!’

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 Kevin Pope.

When did you first get involved in musical theatre and where was this?

I was introduced to musical theatre from a very young age as my mum and dad were both regular performers with the Exmouth Operatic Society. I would see all of their shows and often used to go along to rehearsals too. I never thought that I would actually go on stage myself. However, when the Society put on South Pacific, they were looking for youngsters to play the parts of Emile de Becque’s children, and that’s when I landed my first role – Jerome de Becque, at the tender age of eight!

Kevin as an hypnotic ‘Daddy’ in 2014’s Sweet Charity

How would you describe AOS?

AOS are a friendly and talented bunch. They have fun at rehearsals and are dedicated enough to know that they also have to (and do!) work hard to ensure that the finished product – the show that the public will see – is as polished and as it can be.

What attracts you to a part?

The part has to be a strong character – someone to whom the audience will react. Normally that is why I enjoy playing comedy roles, but that is not always the case. I also enjoy playing disagreeable characters, such as Jigger in Carousel, or Ted Blacklock, the militant union leader in The Hired Man. Another thing that is important is that the part must not require any serious dancing. I can move, but precise dancing has never been my forte!

Kevin Pope Sister Act
Kevin wooing the front row ladies in 2017’s Sister Act.

How do you prepare for auditions?

I look at the audition piece and try to find a part in it that, if portrayed in a particular way, could get a strong response from the audience. I will then concentrate on this and develop it as much as I can. Having said that, I often have great ideas as to how I will say a particular line, but when it comes to the audition, nerves come into play, and it often doesn’t come out the way I intended it!

Do you enjoy rehearsals?

I do. It’s great fun to be “working” with friends, putting everything together to create a show. I enjoy seeing how the show develops over the rehearsal period. From the initial singing rehearsals, where we learn the individual voice parts, and then combine them to produce full harmonies. Also, how often chaotic early dance steps miraculously evolve into well-ordered dance routines. (Or, in my case, evolve into slightly-less-chaotic dance steps!).

Do you find that your character changes during the rehearsal process?

Yes, the character evolves over the duration of the rehearsals. You start with initial ideas of how to play the role, and during rehearsals you may experiment with ways to say or portray certain aspects. Some things work and some don’t, and so you try to incorporate all the best bits.

Kevin Pope Top Hat
Kevin as the undercover valet/vicar in 2018’s Top Hat.

Do you enjoy show week?

Absolutely. Show week is the culmination of all the hard work. I usually get nervous before first going on to the stage. However, once you have come on, and things are going well, the feeling is tremendous. It is always great when you get that first laugh from the audience. You know that you have made a connection. This encourages you to put more into your performance, which is then rewarded by more reaction. It is a two-way thing. When you have a good relationship with the audience the feeling can be awesome.

Is there a part you’ve always wanted to play?

There are a couple of parts that my dad played which I would really like to take on: Fagin in Oliver! and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. And of course, if we ever had the chance to do Les Miserables, I would love to play Thernadier, the innkeeper.

How would you describe your ideal part?

My ideal part would:
~ Be a strong character
~ Have some great comedy content and memorable songs
~ Not have too many lines to learn
~ Not require any precise dance moves
~ Have at least one drunk scene!

Thanks, Kevin!

We’ve all been away for far, far too long…

But now it’s time for us to draw back the curtain and take to the stage once more!

In Autumn 2019, with the curtain coming down on Evita, we were all enjoying the thrill of packed houses and happy audiences.  As usual, we started rehearsals for our next show, All Shook Up, almost immediately, with a cast chosen and musical numbers and dances to learn.  Everything was going so well, and the first tickets had started to sell, when in March 2020 the world stood still.

Empty theatre

We decided to postpone All Shook Up until October 2020, and although this was a tough decision to take, we  felt we owed the caution to our members and audiences.  Little did we know that October 2020 and April 2021 would go by, with still no sign of the theatre word re-opening.

But now, since July, we’ve finally got back to rehearsals.  And it’s certainly different.  We keeping our distance from one another more than we usually would – not so many hugs and kisses –  but we’re singing again and that feels wonderful.  We’re putting together a fabulous show and now all we need is an audience.

Rehearsal

Of course, things won’t return to the old normal overnight.  Our audience for All Shook Up will be socially-distanced and many will choose to wear masks.  That makes sense at the moment, and hopefully by the time we present Made In Dagenham in April 2022, things will seem even more normal.

So, it’s time to recover from COVID, bit by bit.  Time for us to take to the stage again, and hopefully for our audiences to return too.  Tickets for All Shook Up are on sale now, so let’s hope our socially-distanced audience is a capacity one.

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.

Top Hat! What an absolutely fantastic week we all had!

Top Hat, the stunning 2013 Olivier Award winner for ‘Best New Musical’ – Tue 23 to Sat 27 October 2018.

What can we say, except to thank all our audience for supporting us and making their appreciation so evident. The laughter was in all the right places, your applause was more than enthusiastic, and even your wolf whistles for Signor Beddini’s striptease were welcomed. We had a brilliant week, enjoying every minute of performing this show, and it’s so pleasing to know that our audience enjoyed it just as much.

To refresh your memory if you were able to join us, or to take a glimpse at what you missed, check out the gallery on our Flickr site here.

Member’s Q&A – so what has been John Wilkes’ favourite role?

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 John Wilkes.

What’s been your favourite AOS role and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of memorable parts.  Gilbert & Sullivan roles are always a good romp, and I enjoyed Gaylord Ravenal in Showboat.  For sauciness, the Emcee in Cabaret takes a lot of beating and Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes was great fun.  But top billing probably goes to Oliver Warbucks in Annie – it’s a fulfilling part and the show is good fluffy fun.

Cabaret John Wilkes 2002
John Wilkes as Emcee in 2002’s Cabaret.

What’s the best thing about being in a show?

Two things – the camaraderie of doing something with a great bunch of people.  We’re all in it together and working to do the best we can for the audience.  And that’s the second thing.  I love the reaction of a live audience, and trying to please and entertain people who have made the effort to come and see us, rather than sitting on the sofa in front of the TV.

Are you aware of the audience when you’re on stage?

Gosh, yes!  Performing would be a very flat experience without an audience reacting to what’s going on.  I sometimes think the audience is half the performance.  An audience is the very stuff of a live show and what makes it interactive and real.

How do you combat performance nerves?

Nerves are an essential part of performing, I think – they keep you on your toes.  I don’t get nervous about the things I do, but about the things I might not do… like forgetting a move or a word, or to come on at all.  I do look over my words and moves before going on to do a scene, just to get into the ‘zone’.

How do you feel when show week comes to an end?

I know a lot of people come down with a bump after the excitement of the week of the show, but actually I feel okay.  I think that we’ve done our thing and now it’s time to move on to something new.

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.

Bringing Live Musical Theatre to Abingdon