Theatre Etiquette

Theatre etiquette is a topic that springs up time and time again, albeit faster than the time it takes for your neighbour along the row to move from their seats to let you past to yours. This is just one instance in the theatre of behaviour that detracts from the theatrical experience for many audience members, where their enjoyment is tainted by the fact others cannot and will not behave accordingly.

Shuffling along the row to your seat aside, it seems many audience members – be it at a musical theatre show, a ballet, a straight play or even an immersive experience – are unable to abide by simple etiquette rules in the theatre in order to enhance everyone’s experience. A Saturday matinee performance is notorious for sweet wrappers and young children, but more often than not food is taken into the auditorium similar to the cinematic experience. Some may argue that this shift towards cinema is positive in encouraging new audiences to enjoy the theatre, however not at the distraction from what is happening on stage.

Mobile phones are another bugbear for many, audience members and critics alike. With a world that is increasingly technology-orientated, it is no surprise that mobile phones and tablets are constant in our daily lives. As the lights go down the audience is still awash with a glow as they check those final emails or social media sites, unwilling to turn the device off or even to silent. Sometimes said device even takes precedence over what is happening on stage, with all usher rules taking the backseat. Curtain call photographs are now in abundance as audiences strive to take them despite calls from ushers!

Whilst there is no doubt that theatre is changing, becoming more accessible and welcoming to new audiences, it seems unorthodox for the theatre etiquette to change so drastically too.

A Theatre Named Selfridges

The London department store Selfridges – identifiable by its prominent yellow branding – is set to launch an 100-seat theatre this summer, that will allow customers to watch a Shakespeare production being rehearsed and performed within the store. In what appears to be a first for the performing arts, the department store will dip into its artistic side in order to provide its shoppers and other theatrical audiences with some theatre in its Oxford Street store in London.

In addition to Shakespearean delights in store, Selfridges has also teamed up with drama school RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) to provide two weeks of workshops and masterclasses for shoppers. RADA will precede the theatre company with a two-week residency from 4 July, offering customers workshops and masterclasses in areas such as stage combat. It is unclear as to how popular these sessions will be for shoppers, but an innovative idea nonetheless.

The store will have a traverse stage, a box office, a designer royal box and a bespoke lighting rig from White Light, forming the Refashioned Theatre. In presenting Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Selfridges has teamed up with theatre company the Faction. The theatre company will offer audiences and shoppers the chance to watch rehearsals, which Selfridges has compared to the experience shoppers have while looking at its own window displays. Marrying shopping with art can seem a vast leap, however the elements are similar in making passive observations of what is being presented. Rehearsals are in action, running in the space from 18 July to 22 August, with the play being performed from 23 August to 24 September.

The play will feature nine actors, in addition five digital cameos where images will be projected on to shop mannequins, integrating the two further. The new collaboration will go just some way in celebrating Shakespeare400 this year.

Nicholas Afoa – Lion King life

New cast have joined the London production of Disney’s The Lion King this summer, including New Zealander Nicholas Afoa who has taken on the role of Simba at the Lyceum Theatre.

Afoa made his stage debut in the Australian production in 2013 and played Simba in the Sydney production of the musical between 2013 and 2016, performing more than 860 times. The opportunity to play the role in the West End brings Afoa to London for the first time, as he embarks on his second professional theatre engagement.

The Auckland-raised performer had a promising rugby career with the All Blacks until he was sidelined by injury. After recovering and dedicating himself to his theatre career, nearly a decade later the 30 year-old beat 400 other hopefuls to the role of Simba in the Australian production.

What caused your transition from rugby pitch to stage?

I suffered an ACL and miniscus tear in a rugby game when I was 23. My introduction to theatre wasn’t until years later as I spent a lot of time trying to rehab the knee and come back to rugby. I also spent time trying to start a band and focus on my solo music. I eventually accepted the fate that was the end of a rugby dream and focused on these artistic qualities; I feel so lucky to be where I am right now.

Did you undertake any formal training as a result?

My formal dance training really started once I had landed the role. Now being part of the show has become such a huge part of my life and I feel like I am training and improving my skills every day. It is great to be around so many talented performers and teachers in an environment where everyone is constantly learning.

Describe a day in your life.

I like to spend time with my wife, go to the gym, keep in touch with family back home and go to vocal classes or ballet classes to keep my body up to speed.

How important is your ranging and diverse world experience in your work today?

I wouldn’t be able to bring the same depth to the role if it wasn’t for my life experience over the last 10 years, the interactions I have had with people, the trials I have overcome and what I have learnt from overcoming them. I worked as a youth counsellor for four years, where I learnt so much about adolescent behaviour and the way young people (like Simba) view the world around them and perceive themselves – these are all things that helped me to bring Simba to life.

What’s the most rewarding thing about the performing arts?

The most rewarding thing is how, through your passion, you can also inspire and move others. That’s what drives me, especially if I’m feeling tired. The fact that somebody in that audience, young or old, is being positively affected by the show is the most rewarding thing.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I always say a little prayer moments before swinging on stage. Whenever I can I will watch young Simba and Mufasa in the first act. Their scene gives me an extra emotional boost that I carry through into the second act.

What is it like being part of The Lion King?

It’s very humbling. Every day I learn something new. I’m in an amazing show surrounded by talented, passionate people. I still consider myself very fortunate and never once take it for granted.

What were you most looking forward to about beginning your Lion King contract in London?

What I was looking forward to most was learning and experiencing new energies and actors, seeing how that would affect me as a performer and being able to see what contribution I could make. It was also a chance to experience life outside Australasia as I have never been this far away from home.

What is your advice to an aspiring dancer?

I see with the dancers I work with how dedicated every dancer is to maintaining their own standards. What dancers’ bodies go through is mind-blowing. It inspires me to keep bettering myself. My advice would be to keep working hard, but also give yourself time and space to heal when you need and to also take in some of the world around you. While it’s good to be driven we can get so set on our dreams that sometimes we lose touch with our surroundings. This is also where we learn the most about ourselves and in turn makes us better and rounded performers.

Ricardo Walker-Harris – Roaring His Way to the Top

Ricardo Walker-Harris is one of the newest cast members in Disney’s The Lion King, currently playing at the Lyceum Theatre in London.

Born and raised in Angel, Islington, Ricardo always loved to dance but was unaware it was a possible career option. He did not even know what a drama school was until it was suggested he attend one, but he successfully gained a place at Urdang on the foundation course and subsequently got a scholarship to train there for a further three years.

Ricardo auditioned for Disney’s The Lion King in December 2015 and joined the production in May 2016. See Ricardo in action here.

Have you always wanted to be on stage?

When I was ten years old I told my entire primary school I wanted to be the ‘English Will Smith’ so I guess there has always been a part of me that has enjoyed performing in front of people, whether that was in the playground when I was younger or now on a West End stage.

Where did you train, and what was it like?

I trained at The Urdang Academy for four years. I did the foundation course for a year and then went on to do the three year diploma course. It was tough, especially in my first year. I had pretty much no experience when it came to musical theatre, but as you get into it you learn what you’re good at and you have plenty of people to help you with the skills you are lacking.

Describe a day in your life now.

I always have a nice and relaxing morning, and often spend it baking cakes for the cast to eat. The evenings are unpredictable as I share a dressing room with seven other boys. It could be nice and peaceful while we all nap to some jazz music or there could be some samba being played!

How important is your ranging and diverse training in your work today?

For me it’s incredibly important to be as diverse as possible. As a dancer it’s always good to know as many styles as possible so you are ready for any audition and this often requires being able to sing. With so many new musicals coming out at the moment a casting might go out for a hip-hop dancer with the ability to rap or a strong jazz dancer who can sing opera. You just never know when you work in an ever-changing industry.

What’s the most rewarding thing about dance and the performing arts?

For me it would be the ability to inspire people wherever you are. A lot of people will be inspired by going to watch shows but inspiration can be found in so many places; I was inspired by a relative dancing in the front room of my mum’s house.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

After I’ve stretched and done my warm up I usually start tap dancing. I always fidget when I’m nervous, so that’s my way of releasing my nerves without looking too crazy in front of the cast!

What were rehearsals like for The Lion King?

Amazing, but without a doubt the most rigorous rehearsal process I’ve ever been through. We always started with the most complex choreography in the morning, so I always made sure I got in at least thirty minutes before we started so I could really warm up my body. If anything goes wrong, we repeat the number. By the time I did my first performance in front of an audience, I knew the choreography so thoroughly, and it is this attention to detail that makes The Lion King such an outstanding show.

What were you most looking forward to about starting your Lion King contract?

It was such an amazing moment when I found out I was going to be joining The Lion King. It is such a massive production to be a part of and there is so much talent amongst the cast and creatives of the show. I loved trying on the costumes, as every time I tried on a different outfit, it would feel more real.

What is your advice to an aspiring dancer?

Never stop trying to be the best. If you get injured be patient, wait for your body to heal. If you can’t afford to go to class then dance in your kitchen – I sure did and I still do! If you have people pushing you and making sure you don’t get a minute’s rest just know those are the people who truly care about you. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it was not for my mum, and you wouldn’t be reading this either! I owe it all to her and that’s because she is always there making sure I am giving it everything I have. If you feel like you have no one to support you though don’t worry, be brave and tell yourself you can do this.

Cats To Return To London

Cats The MusicalThe iconic musical Cats will return to the London Palladium later this year, playing a final ten week season from 23 October 2015, having already seen its West End revival earlier this year which was a huge success. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s creation will go on sale on 14 May for the run, which plays from 23 October 2015 to 2 January 2016.

Casting is yet to be announced for the production’s strictly limited season, however the original Palladium run has already seen pop star Nicole Scherzinger and musical theatre star Kerry Ellis play Grizabella. Later this year Cats will tour to Blackpool ahead of its return to London, and the iconic singer Jane McDonald will play the iconic role of Grizabella. These three women follow in the footsteps of the original Elaine Paige creating the role.

Lloyd Webber’s musical is directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Gillian Lynne and design by John Napier. 2014’s high-profile return of the show reunited the original creative team, including director Nunn and choreographer Lynne. The musical takes inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s poems about the feline creatures to tell the wonderful story of the Jellicle cats and the Jellicle ball. Its triumphant return to the West End last year was a delight for its original – and new – fans. Only recently did it close after its Olivier Award-nominated run.

Featuring much-loved songs including Mr Mistoffelees, Macavity: The Mystery Cat and the iconic Memory, given its resounding success by Paige as Grizabella, Cats was first staged in 1981, when it went on to run for a record breaking 21 years. The show continues to delight fans and be a favourite amongst musical theatre enthusiasts as it is now enjoying further success from 2014 to 2015 and onwards.

Site-Specific Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia!There is a site-specific Mamma Mia! set for cities worldwide, with the first Mamma Mia! The Party is being produced in Stockholm by Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus. The New York Times has reported that the Abba-centric musical Mamma Mia! will receive a new ‘immersive’ staging in a Stockholm beer hall. The beer hall is situated near an Abba museum; the show’s creative team will transform the beer hall into a Mediterranean restaurant, hugely similar to the Greek tavern featured in the show.

The news comes in the wake of the recently acclaimed site-specific production of Sweeney Todd, which transferred from a pie shop in Tooting to a ‘mock-up’ in the West End. The concept appears to have sparked a trend, in which immersive musical theatre performances are the go-to for a fun night out whilst engaging – in this case – with all your favourite Abba songs.

Ulvaeus will be producing Mamma Mia! The Party, which is set to open in January 2016; if the site-specific musical is a success it will then be replicated in other cities. The idea for Mamma Mia! The Party was born from Ulvaeus’ experiences in the theatres staging Mamma Mia! all over the world. In the show’s finale the audience enjoy dancing in the aisles and singing along, as a result of the happy mood the show has created.

Mamma Mia! The Party is therefore an extension of the show, transferring it to a Greek restaurant for a big party and a real-time story. Mamma Mia! The Party will not follow the precise storyline of the stage show and film, as the plot will be semi-improvised from night to night, based on interactions with the audience, with stories being created based on Abba songs. The concept looks set to be a huge success, with audiences experiencing something different every night.

McQueen stars announced

McQueen at the St James TheatreThe world premiere of the imminent new play “McQueen” is set for 12 May at St. James Theatre, London. It will map a journey into the visionary imagination and dark world of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, set on a single London night. More than a bio-play, it steps onto the landscape of McQueen’s mind, seen in his fashion shows, where a dress can make an urchin become an Amazon, where beauty might help to survive the night.

A girl has watched McQueen’s Mayfair house for eleven consecutive days; the play sees her climb down from her watching tree and break into his house, to steal a dress and become someone special. He catches her, but, instead of calling the police, they embark on a journey through London and into his heart. McQueen will be directed by John Caird, with production design by David Farley, choreography by high-rising choreographer Christopher Marney, video design by Tim Bird, lighting design by David Howe and sound design by John Leonard.

Award-winning actor Stephen Wight takes on the title role of Lee McQueen and Dianna Agron will play Dahlia in James Phillips’s play. It will also star Tracy-Ann Oberman as Isabella Blow, Laura Rees as Arabella, and David Shaw-Parker as John Hitchcock.

Wight was named Outstanding Newcomer at the Evening Standard Awards for his performances in Michael Grandage’s production of Don Juan in Soho and Samuel West’s production of Dealer’s Choice. Other theatre includes Nicholas Hytner’s production of The Habit of Art at the National and Sean Foley’s production of The Ladykillers in the West End.

Critically acclaimed actress Agron’s breakthrough role was playing Quinn Fabray on the hit series Glee. Most recently, Agron was seen opposite Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer in the film The Family, directed by Luc Besson. This year, she will appear in several films, including the romantic comedy Tumbledown opposite Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall, Bare directed by Mark Polish, Zipper opposite Patrick Wilson, and the independent ensemble Conspiracy on Jekyll Island.

Judy – The Life And Music Of A Hollywood Legend

Judy GarlandAs the only authorised Judy Garland show in the world today, the UK premiere of a breathtaking new musical show, Judy – The Life And Music Of A Hollywood Legend, will tour UK theatres, opening at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 8 May. Highly-acclaimed choreographer, Arlene Phillips, will be Creative Director for the production, with the show made in arrangement with the Judy Garland Estate.

The show will star Lorna Luft, Garland’s daughter, together with leading West End musical theatre stars, including Louise Dearman, Rachel Stanley and Ben Richards. Also appearing are dancers – The Boyfriends – named after Judy’s original dancers of the same name. Luft is considered ‘Showbiz Royalty’, as the half sister of Liza Minnelli and a highly successful stage, film and TV actress and singer in her own right. She has appeared in numerous film, TV and stage shows, including White Christmas, They’re Playing My Son and Babes in Arms.

Dearman has performed in leading West End roles including Wicked, where Dearman was the first actress to play both the good and bad witch – Glinda and Elphaba. Dearman also starred in Evita, Cats and Guys and Dolls to name just a few. Richards has played lead roles in West End and touring musicals including Rock of Ages, Oliver!, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Guys and Dolls and Saturday Night Fever. TV includes roles in The Bill and Footballers’ Wives.

The show will feature songs from some of Judy’s hugely popular films such as A Star is Born, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade and The Wizard of Oz. The set of songs will include I Got Rhythm, The Trolley Song, The Man That Got Away, Get Happy, and the song synonymous with Judy Garland, Over the Rainbow.

Trevor Nunn To Direct Two Gentlemen Of Verona For ArtsEd students

ArtsEd LogoTrevor Nunn, an eminent figure of theatre, is set to direct ArtsEd students in their amateur production of William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, a huge coup for both the students and Arts Educational. Nunn is an internationally acclaimed director and ArtsEd Patron; ArtsEd is the first UK drama school to work with Nunn on his first production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The lucky students in question are final year BA Acting students who are on the cusp of completing their training at ArtsEd and are about to join the performing arts industry. It is undoubtable the students will benefit enormously from the opportunity to work with such an experienced, versatile and highly regarded director, who equally must have a huge amount of faith and trust in these talented final year students. Whilst theatrical names from the industry often are commissioned to work with vocational students, the privilege of having Nunn onboard the ArtsEd production is a huge one.

Nunn has made it no secret that he enjoys working with students: as a Patron of ArtsEd and an enthusiastic follower of the work produced by the school, it is thought to be a pleasure for him to also offer practical rather than just institutional support. The training students receive at ArtsEd is second to none, preparing them to work on stage, screen and film, however it is ultimately a dream come true to have the chance to work with one and learn from of the true greats – a director of this calibre – before they have graduated.

Tickets for the show are on sale now. Performances will run in repertory with Spring Awakening from 30 April-12 May 2015.

New Today, Gone Tomorrow

London's West End Theatre SceneWhen new musicals hit London’s West End in particular, there is often a sense of excitement and anticipation, but possibly now one of cynicism too. How long will it last? What will the audience and box office figures be like? Following such a barrage of shows opening and closing within the same year throughout 2014, it is no wonder these questions are now largely conscious in theatrical minds. Only recently was it announced that the hearty – and seemingly successful – Made in Dagenham was set to close its doors, and the reaction was rather subdued, even expectant.

Equally, there doesn’t seem to be a successful musical theatre model in which to base a new show heading for the West End, except perhaps for The Book of Mormon, of which content includes severe expletives, blasphemy and and downright crude humour. A very different experience for audiences, however; the show has played to 100% capacity since its opening, and continues to book well in advance at high prices. Even shows which have had successful runs at the Chichester Festival Theatre – a surefire breeding ground for West End transfers – such as Singin’ in the Rain, have not managed to survive in the city.

There is no middle ground particularly in the West End, filled with either established ‘classics’ which have years on their clocks, such as The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, or young musicals which are just beginning and cannot compete. Perhaps financial and social issues are to blame for the poor survival rates of West End musicals, using up lots of time and money to produce the show, which do not translate to return on investment for that very reason.

With recent reports showing the capital now cannot financially house those that are playing on its stages night after night, perhaps London is becoming to too expensive to reasonably survive in.