Friday 12 January 2018

The Problem with Theatre Skills

Theatre Skills Classes

This year as often happens, our highly successful pantomime saw several more youngsters wanting to join us. I can see the attraction: they see young people their own age performing with confidence and aplomb, and think - I want some of that!

What they can't see of course is the hours of sheer hard slog that go into a big production, and in our case, the many hours of work, with weekly classes, that go into training the younger members of our company. Unlike drama classes in school, our weekly Theatre Skills workshops are aimed at building the skills, endurance and commitment of our resident company, rather than building the confidence of the individual child, although this is always a by-product- some of our members' teachers have commented on it!

"Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors" Konstantin Stanislavski

The qualities needed of a performer are above all, commitment and an ability to work cheerfully with others, whatever part they are assigned- big or small. People aren't just born with acting talent, it needs to be developed. The vast majority of professional actors go through several years of training before auditioning for parts.We have been very successful with our current company, roughly divided into primary age and secondary age students. Most of the current younger group have been with us for the last three or four years.

All the above has led us to evolve a policy with regards to recruiting younger members to our team:

  • All school age members attend weekly Theatre Skills classes, helping them to develop their diction, voice projection, movement and improvisation skills 
  • Numbers are limited for both our classes by several factors:  
  1. The size of the space- we only have our stage 
  2. The amount of individual attention needed from tutors 
  3. Group dynamics- it's essential that the group as a whole gels and bonds. This is not a class of randomly chosen individuals, it's a Theatre Company 
  4. The skills we teach are aimed at preparing youngsters to perform, and even big productions have a limited number of parts

History of our Theatre Skills Classes

In times past, the club used to have an open audition for children to take part in the Panto, and then there would be nothing for them for the rest of the year.  This happened after our 2014 Panto- Jack and the Beanstalk. Most of the very young cast members disappeared.

Theatre Skills classes started informally early in 2015 with some of the youngsters, all of secondary school age,  who had been with us since Toad of Toad Hall in spring 2014. Although a very talented and committed bunch, they needed work on voice production and diction. This evolved into regular classes involving movement and improvisation as well as voice work. In our 2015 Panto, Mother Goose, we had such a good group of very young actors that we invited them to join too. All but two of those young actors have been with us since, notching up several performances and many, many hours of work.

Having so many members and a huge age range proved unwieldy, so we split them into two classes, junior and senior. There is some room for movement in the senior class (students at secondary school), as several of our older members have moved on to university, but a very small amount of movement in the junior class as many of the members started when they were eight or under, and have stayed loyal and committed.

We are a very small company with more members under 16 than over, which is why so many young people are disappointed that we cannot accept them. We really need older members- anyone over 16 to balance the company and to enable us to put on a bigger range of productions, but we get a huge number of requests from mums of little ones, so that our waiting list is into double figures and far exceeds the number of places available.  I always suggest people look at booking classes with Becky Crawley, who runs classes in Wigton for the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy

Wednesday 16 August 2017

A rose by any other name ...

"My fingers itch"
We are presently in rehearsal for Romeo and Juliet, to be performed at the theatre on 18th and 19th August. This is an energetic, stripped back, fast paced production. We are a community of all ages and we do not do special "youth productions", as our young people are equal members. This production has a cast of 14 from across our whole age range. it is ground breaking in many ways: it is the first Shakespeare play Wigton Theatre Club has put on its 64 year history; it is performed on a bare stage with modern dress; the script has been cut to make it both more fast moving and more poignant- we have lost none of the poetry and none of the action. This is a production for those who think Shakespeare is boring- The greatest love story of all time is still relevant, and has lost none of its power to move us to tears! The cast and musician are working very hard, and loving the challenge. Two performances only- not to be missed.

Since the current management committee took over in the autumn of 2013, the group has had two main aims: to improve the building and make it more attractive and comfortable for both audiences and visiting groups and bands; and to become a community theatre, involving as many local people as possible. Our motto is "Theatre for the community by the Community" Since the beginning of 2014, we have produced six shows written by local writers, we have hosted several concerts by local and international bands, and we have established once monthly Open Mic Nights which draw performers from all over North Cumbria. We run two classes a week teaching Theatre Skills to our young members, and our Pantomimes, written by our own in-house writing team are legendary and sell out nearly all of the eight performances!

This all  paid off in spades when we won Amateur Group of the Year award at Cumbria Life's Culture Awards in February this year.