Review: Everyman Musical Theatre School, Cheltenham
PUBLISHED: 11:19 06 August 2015 | UPDATED: 11:19 06 August 2015
Cotswold School pupil Ella Henson visits the Everyman musical theatre school in Cheltenham to find out how youngsters are benefiting from a brilliant summer programme full of music and drama. Breathe in and…!
“Right, once more from the beginning!”
Fifty 11-18 year olds burst into the tune of Puppet on a String by the renowned Sandie Shaw, eyes bright and cheerful grins beaming. Whilst their focus remains intently on their singing coach Caroline Mander, the harmonies resonate around the spacious studio, and create an incredible sound of a professional nature.
The Everyman Musical Theatre Summer School is run by the theatre’s head of education, Louise Partridge, with the aim of “encouraging creativity as well as effective communication, planning and teamwork skills” - and to ensure a great deal of fun is had by all! Children from all over the country sign up and many attend year after year. Louise herself attended Pate’s Grammar in Cheltenham, going on to study Theatre in Education. She taught at both the National Star College and Wycliffe College in Stonehouse before starting work at the Everyman seven years ago. “We introduced the Musical Theatre Summer School in 2012 to a fantastic response,” she tells me. “I believe that the experience helps to build a young person’s confidence, as well as enhancing their acting abilities.”
The summer school includes rehearsals and workshops that take place over two weeks, the young actors working towards a performance shown to family and friends. After only two-and-a-half days of rehearsals, the puppet-themed performance is looking (and sounding) outstanding! The youngsters are very enthusiastic when it comes to songs from the Lion King and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang… However, when it comes to Tom Jones’s Young New Mexican Puppeteer they’re not so animated. Caroline tells them, “As performers, you may have to do things you’re not keen on, but this song has a beautiful message and it’s your job to get it across to the audience.” She smiles. “In fact, by the end of the two weeks, I reckon this will be your favourite number!”
To produce a professional show, the company ensures that everything is created in a specialist way; Jo Hotchkiss, the Everyman Theatre’s very own designer, has created a life-size, foam ‘War Horse’ puppet to be used by the students on stage. Louise has also allowed the students to get involved in the designing of the play by asking them to create their own puppets to be used in the performance. The young actors will be taught to use their props sufficiently through a workshop from Boxtale Soup, a company specialising in the art of puppetry. Furthermore, they’ll enhance their musical ability through the teaching of Peter Gill’s Rock School.
Other skilled performers, such as 23-year-old Lucas Bailey, help to develop the show by adding their knowledge and expertise. Lucas attended St Peter’s High School in Gloucester and now works full-time for the Everyman. “I have played the piano for as long as I can remember, but my real passion remains in tap dancing,” he explained. “After gaining a scholarship for ‘Tap Attack’ in 2013, I realised that all I’ve ever wanted to do is dance.” Lucas is now a qualified dance teacher and is choreographing the Lion King dance for the summer-school performance. He’s also a vital part of the theatre’s wider music team as pianist for EveryVoice, also run by Caroline Mander, a network for Gloucestershire choirs of all ages and abilities.
Not only does the Everyman Musical Theatre Summer School offer advantaged facilities and opportunities, it also ensures that children from all walks of life have a chance to attend. The school is priced at £200, an incredibly good value for what is on offer; but there is also a bursary awarded to families for whom that is a stretch. Moreover, the school creates a very fair environment: everyone is given a chance to shine as an individual. Louise explains, “We make sure that everyone who wishes for a solo or main part gets one. If they don’t want the limelight, then we can cater to that as well.”
It is very clear that the 11-18 year olds thoroughly enjoy the experience set up by Cheltenham’s Everyman; and after talking to the students themselves it’s even more apparent that the time they spend here is an incredible opportunity. Noah Cox, 12, from Cleeve School explained that he was cautious about signing up the first time; however, he is extremely happy that he did! He is involved in all sorts of drama at school and clarified that he ‘likes to talk a lot’! He added: “I’m looking forward to the final performance on August 7 because I think it will let me show what I’m capable of.”
Gracie Follows, 14, from Monmouth Comprehensive, has taken part in the Everyman Musical Theatre Summer School every year for three years: “I travel from my home in Monmouth to the Everyman every day because I feel as though my summer would be incomplete without it!” The highlight of the experience, she says, is getting to know like-minded people and making amazing friends. “Sometimes the auditions for main parts can be really scary, but all the nerves disappear once I’m up on the stage doing what I love most.” Both young actors said that the support from all of the teachers, including Louise Partridge, has inspired them hugely.
The Everyman’s Musical Theatre Summer Schools run every year in the summer holidays; http://www.everymantheatre.org.uk/m-shows/musical-theatre-summer-school-2015-11-18-year-olds/
The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk