Stage One Theatre Group back with a bang to showcase 'We Will Rock You'
When musical director, Jacqui Evemy, started with Stage One Youth Theatre Group 35 years ago, she could never have guessed her ensemble of musical children would swap real life rehearsals for a sea of squares on a video call.
But they did. During the pandemic, the group’s new choreographer, Helen Wallis, took it upon herself to bop, bound and boogie with members of Stage One to boost morale – as well as injecting a dose of normality to the lives of the school children locked in due to Covid.
Director, Jacqui, says: ‘We had to think outside the box and luckily we had just employed a new choreographer.
‘She was quite happy to take Zoom classes so we encouraged the members to join in.’
For dance lover and Stage One member, Jeanne Kamakoue, 15, from Springfield School, Drayton, these sessions kept her going while she performed musical numbers with about 20 of her fellow cast members.
She says: ‘We didn’t have any rehearsals during lockdown.
‘They tried to do some online sessions but it wasn’t the same as seeing everybody.
‘Helen would put together a dance and she’d choreograph it so we could perform it in our living room on Zoom.’
Only months down the line in March this year could the enthusiastic 40 students of the Portsmouth theatre group based at Mayfield School, North End, officially come back to see the curtains lift once more after rehearsals had been put on hold for 12 months.
Stage One’s chairman and stage manager, Stephen Clark, has been with Stage One for the last 10 years.
He explains: ‘We came back in September 2020. We restarted.
‘We had to use two different rooms. We rehearse at Mayfield School on Friday evenings so in order to get the two metre separation we had to keep them in groups of bubbles.
‘Christmas arrived shortly after and we had another lockdown so it all ground to a halt again.
‘When it restarted we had to regenerate it once again. So it's been a long road for all the young cast.’
Today, after returning to perform in the newly refurbished Mayfield School, Stage One will be back with a bang. This time performing the youth adaptation of the hit West End stage show We Will Rock You at the New Theatre Royal in the heart of Portsmouth.
Based on the Ben Elton script it includes a plethora of Queen’s hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, I Want to Break Free and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
And this show will be the first show since October 2019 when Covid took hold – making a fresh start from their usual show venue at Ferneham Hall in Fareham.
Stephen says: ‘Years ago we did our shows there before New Theatre Royal was refurbished. But for many years we've been performing at Ferneham Hall which closed for refurbishment in early 2020.
‘So we took the opportunity to relook at the New Theatre Royal and start there.
‘We like to get them into a proper theatre in as professional a setting as possible, with a live band to give them the best experience as well as the audience's.
‘As we are a Portsmouth-based group performing in Portsmouth we're looking to develop and grow our relationship with the New Theatre Royal.’
Stephen says it was a ‘huge relief’ on seeing everybody again and watching the faces of students light up as they reacquainted themselves with other members hailing from as far as Gosport, Whiteley, Chichester and Horndean.
‘I missed the fun and excitement of the kids all together, but you can see that they’re genuinely enjoying being together.
‘Our really talented musical director and choreographer get the best out of them far more than what they would be able to achieve individually. You can't be like a shrinking violet you've got to embrace it and then younger students feed off what the older people are doing and aspire to.’
One important aspect about Stage One echoed by all the staff is how inclusive they are when it comes to finding fresh talent, everybody can get involved from ages 11 to 18.
As long as children arrive with a spark and enthusiasm to act, dance or sing, Stephen will welcome new members with open arms as confidence builds over time.
Jacqui met current choreographer Helen when she was a pupil herself at Stage One with Jacqui's son, Tristan.
She says: ‘Some people start when they’re 11 and as they mature and they learn more from being in one of the musicals or all the musical they’re going to be in, they gain experience.
‘One day they’ll stand up at audition and sing beautifully, and act really surprisingly well and you think “wow that young person has grown up and is now suitable for a principal role”. We see a raw recruit coming in, very quiet, a bit shy, and doesn’t really want to show themselves up.
‘But as the years go on and they make more friends at Stage One along with time spent on stage producing shows, they all gain confidence and experience.’
Cast member, Jeanne who will be one of the Killer Queen’s minions feels ‘excited’ about performing at The New Theatre Royal.
‘I love show week so it's exciting to finally perform the show since we've been working on it for so long. I'm really excited to get up there and perform it and The New Theatre Royal is a big change from Ferneham as it's a bigger venue.’
Jacqui adds: ‘It's going to be big. it's going to be a showstopper, the music should excite the audience, we want everybody to join in with clapping and stamping their feet and enjoying the music and the young people on that stage.’
Stage One Youth Theatre Group will perform their first show in three years at the New Theatre Royal on October 28, 29 and 30 at 7:30 pm nightly.
Tickets are available via the New Theatre Royal website. Tickets are £14.
Go to newtheatreroyal.com/whats-on.
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