“Wherever you have a camera, we have a class” is the new school rule as York Stage School goes on screen

York Stage School principal Nik Briggs with fellow On Screen teachers Jessica Douglas (singing/musical theatre), left, Danielle Hill-Mullan (musical theatre) and Joanne Theaker (acting/musical theatre)

YORK Stage School will celebrate its second birthday from behind closed doors but with the launch of on-screen activities.

“Wherever you have a camera, we have a class,” will be the new school rule, prompted by Government strictures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Principal Nik Briggs says: “After a brilliant two years, where we have worked with hundreds of students and seen them flourish in our classrooms, we now face the possibility of not being able to work with them under the current Government guidance for some time and the necessary social distancing and self-isolation policies that come with that.

“Consequently, we are fully committed to ensuring our students are always kept safe and well and will not be running classes while schools are closed to students.”

Cue York Stage School’s new “homework” instead. “It is with this in mind that we have been busy working on this new project, which will see us joining up with lots of our teachers’ contacts from the theatre, TV and film industry to introduce our exciting new programme, York Stage School…On Screen, over the coming weeks and months.”

Are you ready to watch, explore, react and create, asks Nik.“If so, then sign up, stop waiting in the wings…and join us on screen for a programme where we’ll be sending out weekly briefs, scripts and stimuli to children via email and through videos from both our regular teachers and special weekly industry-professional guest tutors,” he says.

Homework for when you must stay at home: York Stage School prepares to launch Stage School…On Screen

Students will have six days to watch the videos, explore the stimuli given and then react and create their own videos at home. “These will then be sent back to us at York Stage School HQ,” says Nik.

“Children will receive feedback on their creations via email and video calls from our staff; each week we will celebrate their work across our social channels with weekly industry recognition from our guest tutors.”

To take part, students will need either a mobile phone, tablet or PC with a built-in camera and microphone, plus an internet connection and an email address. “This can be either their own or a parent’s,” says Nik.

“While we will be using the York Stage School social media channels to celebrate students’ work – if parents are happy for their child’s image to be broadcast – access to these is not needed to take part in the project.” 

The first “issue” of York Stage School…On Screen is being given away free of charge. “This is in order for you to decide if this programme is something your child will enjoy and genuinely benefit from,” reasons Nik. “After the initial week, there’ll be a weekly charge of £10 to take part. To receive the first issue, please sign up by clicking Register Now on the website, yorkstageschool.com.”

Mary, Mary, very contrary: Fiona Baistow., left. and Florence Poskitt clash over who plays Mary in York Stage Musicals’ The Flint Street Nativity last Christmas

Putting on his other cap as artistic director of York Stage Musicals, Nik says: “At the moment we are very much all up in the air with regards to shows.

“We were scheduled to be performing Bugsy Malone at the Grand Opera House from April 23 to 26, but that has now been cancelled, now that theatres have been closed in response to the Coronavirus epidemic. However, we do hope for the children’s sake to remount this at a later date.”

York Stage Musicals had a trio of premieres in the pipeline too: Sondheim On Sondheim, Kinky Boots and Soho Cinders. “We had just auditioned for the UK premiere of Sondheim On Sondheim’s run at the John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate, from May 20 to 23, but casting has had to be put on hold,” says Nik.

“This will mean the production will now have to take place at a later date, hopefully in the autumn.

“Our big September show is the York premiere of Kinky Boots at the Grand Opera House from September 10 to 19, and at the moment no changes have been made on this production’s scheduling.”

Nik is still hopeful too of bringing another alternative Christmas show to the John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate in the wake of 2019’s gleeful production of Tim Firth’s The Flint Street Nativity.

“After that success, we’ve now secured the rights to bring George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s Soho Cinders to the city for the first time ever,” says Nik.

“This musical romp transports the classic Cinderella story to the streets of Soho, where the action is definitely more suitable for an adult audience and the ugly sisters are more Gemma Collins than Berwick Kaler!”

Watch this space for regular updates.

Six of the best to star in York Stage’s comedy drama Steel Magnolias

“Strong women”: Joanne Theaker, front left, Louise Henry, back left, Sandy Nicholson, Julie-Anne Smith and Kathryn Addison starring in Nik Briggs’s production of Steel Magnolias for York Stage

YORK Stage kick off their 2020 season with Robert Harling’s comedy-drama Steel Magnolias at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York.

Running in the John Cooper Studio from February 19 to 22, this 1987 American play focuses on the camaraderie of six Southern women who talk, gossip, jest and harangue each other through the best of times and comfort and repair one another through the worst.

“Steel Magnolias is alternately hilarious and touching with six female characters that are all as delicate as magnolias yet as strong as steel,” says director Nik Briggs.

Joanne Theaker, Louise Henry, Sandy Nicholson and Julie-Anne Smith in York Stage’s Steel Magnolias

His cast comprises Joanne Theaker as M’Lynn; Louise Henry as Shelby; Julie-Anne Smith as Ousier; Sandy Nicholson as Clairee; Kathryn Addision as Truvy and Carly Morton as Annelle.

Yorkshire actress Joanne Theaker returns to the York Stage company, having led the cast as Maria in The Sound Of Music at the Grand Opera House last April.

Previously, Joanne has played Sister Mary Roberts in Sister Act; Diva in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – The Musical; Judy in Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5 The Musical and Paulette in Legally Blonde. Elsewhere, she has performed at Hull Truck Theatre in the original casts of John Godber’s Thick As a Brick and Big Trouble In The Little Bedroom and at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song.

Julie-Anne Smith and Sandy Nicholson have a laugh in the photo-shoot for Steel Magnolias

Louise Henry joins rehearsals after making her professional debut as Snow White in this winter’s Grand Opera House pantomime, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Previously, for York Stage Musicals, she had performed in The Sound Of Music as Liesl last April and Twilight Robbery as Jayne in May. West End actress Julie-Anne Smith last appeared for York Stage Musicals as Violet in 9 To 5 in 2017.

Briggs says: “Bringing Steel Magnolias to the stage, and working with these six women especially, has been a joy. It’s no secret that I love working with strong women, especially in the rehearsal room and you don’t get much stronger than these six.

”Having previously directed many female-led shows – Sister Act, Legally Blonde, 9 To 5, The Sound Of Music, Be My Baby and Little Voice – Steel Magnolias has been on my ‘To Do’ list for a long time.”

Hair-larious: Louise Henry and Joanne Theaker

The women’s closeness drew Briggs to Harling’s piece. “It’s relatable, the salon is a world in itself and the six characters are an adopted family,” he says. “They laugh, cry, argue, support and challenge each other within this world and it really allows for the drama and comedy to flourish and soar.

“We’ve had tears of laughter and tears of sadness over the rehearsal period. This really is a show to see with your closest girl friends and family. Come, laugh and cry together, and if you want to wear pyjamas and bring a large carton of ice cream with you for the ultimate girly ‘night in-out’, we won’t judge!”

Harling was inspired to write Steel Magnolias, his first play, after his sister Susan died of complications from diabetes. Premiered off-Broadway at the WPA Theater in 1987, it quickly transferred to Broadway, where it became an instant sensation, running for three years and spawning the hit movie starring Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine.

Hair piece: York Stage’s poster image for Steel Magnolias

York Stage in Steel Magnolias, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, February 19 to 22, 7:30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets: £15, concessions £13, at yorkstagemusicals.com, on 01904 623568 or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office. “We shall be supporting York and District Diabetes UK Group throughout the run,” says director Nik Briggs.