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OPINION: Annemarie Lewis Thomas – Another op’nin’, another show!

Annemarie LewisAnother term, another show… or two to be precise. The MTA is the only college to produce a public performance every term. The ‘norm’ on the traditional three year courses is to produce ‘in-house’ productions up until the third year and then unleash their polished graduates to be onto the world in their final year.

I think that there are a few difficulties with this traditional model. When performing to a group of your peers, you are pretty much guaranteed a whooping, appreciative audience. You’re being seen by your friends and teachers, all of whom have a biased opinion of you and your capabilities. Therefore the audience reaction is somewhat artificial.

I’ve also always struggled with the fact that parents are paying all that money to get their off spring training, yet for twoyears they’re shut out of the process. I want the parents of my students to see their progression term after term. I guess I want to reassure them that their money is being well spent. If they can’t see that they’re getting better, we’re not doing our job.

We produce our shows in off West End theatres, which means that they get listed alongside all the professional stuff that’s going on at the same time. Therefore we get a lot of people watching our shows that just fancy the show, and are booking, expecting to see a performance of a certain standard, given our location, as opposed to an audience made up of supportive peers and families. This means that we are under pressure to reach a certain level of performance, to ensure that those people aren’t disappointed. Over the past five years we’ve managed to build up a nice little following of regular theatre goers, who enjoy seeing the progress of our students show to show.

I have to say that when I first thought of this model for the course, I hadn’t quite computed that this would mean that I would be producing six shows a year….as in, I would be a Producer. So every 13 weeks for the last six years now I’ve been producing a new show.

Doing a show once a term really enables the students to put what they’ve learnt in technical studies into practise straight away. The shows also become this oasis of tranquillity compared to the rigours of the six weeks preceding the rehearsals. I think all of us, staff and students alike, breath a sigh of relief when rehearsals start.

Again different to lots of colleges we attempt to rehearse our shows in a realistic time-frame akin to that of professional theatre. So every show is rehearsed in three weeks, with a three day tech schedule, before opening to the public on the Wednesday of the fourth week. So it’s full on…but hey, who doesn’t love rehearsals and productions eh? It’s a pressure of a different sort, with the ultimate pay off at the end (if your audience like it).

This term is our busiest in terms of productions, as we attempt to do two shows in rep. Our first years always make their MTA debut in a play. We might be a Musical Theatre course, but acting is at the root of everything that we deliver, so it’s important to try and get that right early on. This year’s offering will be the Moira Buffini play, Welcome to Thebes.

Meanwhile at this point our second years gain their panto wings. The pantomime is an integral part of our course. I added it in originally because (let’s face it), there is a load of work out there at Christmas for performers, if they’re prepared to do a panto. As a professional myself I think that panto is one of the lifebloods of the industry – performing to the next generation of Joe Public…introducing them to live theatre, and hopefully making them want to come back. With that in mind I think that panto has a great responsibility.

From the performers point of view, you have to be so brave. It’s very exposing to have an audience to ‘control’. Plus of course children don’t miss a thing (so you have to be bloody good too…an adult will let you get away with the odd mistake…a child, not so much).

Every year we try to ‘give back’ as an organisation at Christmas time, by offering local schools, youth groups, social services groups etc a chance to see our pantos at a ‘pay what you can’ rate. This year that scheme has really taken off and I’m thrilled to say that we’ll be playing to over 1000 children in the Tottenham area this year. Here’s hoping that we do the panto tradition proud and encourage those children to keep coming back to our theatres.

In house productions are all well and good, and definitely serve a purpose – but there will be no greater test for my second years this year than playing to those discerning children. If they can create a bit of Christmas magic for them – then it’s a win/win I say.

As the next month is likely to be manic they won’t be a blog in two weeks time – however in the interim, may I wish all my friends and colleagues an amazing panto run…and remember – don’t moan about your 200 shows a week…at least you’re working ;-)

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.