Tag Archives: Magazine

There’s a hip-shaking earthquake rocking Abingdon in April 2020

The music of Elvis Presley comes alive in All Shook Up and we’re bringing it to the stage of the Amey Theatre between 14 – 18 April 2020.

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, All Shook Up takes us to a small Midwestern town that is thrown into a frenzy with the arrival of Chad, fresh out of prison, a good-looking, motorcycle-riding roustabout, who travels the open roads with a guitar on his back, blue suede shoes on his feet, and a song in his heart.

All Shook Up dance
Chad brings the town to its feet.

Repressed by their conservative mayor, the town begins to come alive once more under Chad’s influence. Lovers meet, woo, pursue, and more, all in one zany night that will change the town forever.

All Shook Up is a rocking, heartwarming tale about following dreams, opening up to love, and the power of music, featuring a whole host of hit songs from the Elvis songbook, including Jailhouse Rock, Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender, Blue Suede Shoes, A Little Less Conversation, and many more.

To learn more and keep up to date with production news and casting, check out our show page here.

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!

ALL OUT!! AOS are going on STRIKE in Autumn 2020

It’s time to show a little solidarity with AOS. Come along and support us in our struggle to bring the very best musical theatre to Abingdon.

Made in Dagenham scene

In the Autumn of 2020 we’ll be debuting the hit West End musical Made in Dagenham at the Amey Theatre.

Made in Dagenham is a musical with music by David Arnold, lyrics by Richard Thomas, and a book by Richard Bean. Based on the 2010 film of the same name, which in turn was based on the real events of the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, the musical made its West End and world premiere at the Adelphi Theatre in 2014.

The 2010 film received several award nominations, and the following year, it was announced that a musical was under development. Former Bond girl Gemma Arterton was cast in the role of Rita, a working woman and mother who becomes a union leader amidst the strike, despite the wishes of her husband and children, who feel neglected by her focus on labour issues.

It’s unusual for us to be performing a show set so recently and it should certainly keep our wardrobe budget under control, as all the cast members will be rifling through their parents’ wardrobes looking for authentic 1960s costumes.

To learn more and keep up to date with production news and casting, check out our future show page here.

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!

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.

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.

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.