YORK Stage are bringing musical theatre back to life this summer with their first ever outdoor show, taking over the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre for three nights from August 23 to 25.
“Combining a live band with a team of sensational professional singers, this socially distanced outdoor event will provide you with the musical theatre fix you’ve been craving,” promises producer and director Nik Briggs.
“Presenting a programme filled with all of your favourite movie-musical songs, be prepared to be amazed as our vocalists perform songs from Grease, Hairspray, Cats, Cabaret, The Greatest Showman, West Side Story and many more.”
Explaining the choice of programme, Nik says: “We decided to stay away from anything ‘niche’, although we’re renowned for bringing new pieces, as well as ‘blockbusters’, to the York stage.
“We wanted to keep it light, with singers of great quality singing songs of great quality, and a band of great quality, performing songs we all know so well, presented as a concert rather than as a staged performance, so it’s very much about the music. With lovely lighting, it’s going to look beautiful too, with Adam Moore, Lisa Cameron and Daniel Stephenson handling the technical side of the show.”
Looking forward to restoring the sound of live music to Rowntree Park, Nik says: “We’re so excited to be creating the city’s first musical theatre event post-lockdown. We have built up a reputation of leading the way with our programming and bringing the latest show titles to the city in spectacular fashion, and so when the go ahead for outdoor performances was given, we knew we had to make theatre somehow and somewhere!”
The Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, with its bandstand and grass bank, is a long-standing presence in York’s outdoor performance portfolio, but really should be utilised more often.
Nik holds up his hands. “I’ve never lived in that part of York, so I’ve not used Rowntree Park a lot, and because the amphitheatre is tucked away in the far corner, it’s almost a hidden gem,” he says.
“During lockdown, I thought, ‘‘I’m sick of all the bad news, I need to create some good news, and find a good way of working outdoors this summer’, and it was my partner who suggested this beautiful space.
“When we came upon it, my reaction was, ‘why are we not using this space already?’. It’s perfect, surrounded by trees. It’s crazy that it’s not used more often when other performance spaces are over-subscribed.
“So, we set about creating a concert of songs that will be the tonic we all need right now: family favourites from across the generations”.
Under the guidance of York Stage’s regular musical director, Jessica Douglas, York Stage are assembling “some very special performers” who have all trained and worked professionally in musical theatre and have a wealth of British and international credits to their names.
All five have performed in York Stage Musicals shows too. Step forward Emily Ramsden, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Joanne Theaker and Richard Upton.
“We saw this show as an opportunity to support actors left out of work by the Coronavirus shutdown of theatres, who would previously have been making their money from performing,” says Nik.
Musical director and pianist Jessica Douglas will be complemented by keyboards, guitar, bass and drums in the band of five. She is leading rehearsals too. “We’re doing a mix of outdoor rehearsals, along with some things pre-recorded they’ve all been sent online to rehearse,” says Nik.
“When they get together, it will be for the least time possible, with two of three rehearsals per person, with the joint rehearsals being socially distant, singing at least three metres apart.”
Be assured, the safety of performers, staff and audience is “paramount” in York Stage’s planning of this three-day event.
“We’re remaining up to date and working to ensure everything we do is guided and informed by City of York Council and the current Government guidance as the event approaches,” says Nik.
“We want to ensure we can provide audiences with a brilliant night of musical theatre, while keeping them safe and comfortable.
“Under Government guidelines for public performances, for this venture, we’re only able to work with performers who have trained and work professionally, so although the total number of performers may be reduced from our usual blockbuster shows, we can still guarantee a host of powerhouse vocals.”
In order to make sure they can seat everyone and maintain suitable social distancing of two metres between groups, York Stage have taken the decision to sell spaces for a “Bubble Blanket” for families or support bubbles to sit in, rather than sell individual tickets.
“These spaces have been positioned to ensure there’s a minimum gap of two metres between the spaces in every direction, while keeping the audience three metres away from the performers,” says Nik.
York Stage are creating two sizes of “Bubble Blanket” spaces: one will hold up to three people; a larger one will accommodate four to six people. Please note, no actual blankets will be provided, so bring your own or a camping chair. “You can bring a picnic too, as long as you take away your rubbish,” requests Nik.
A one-way system will be in operation and the show will be 90 minutes straight through. “With no interval, we avoid any possibility of congestion,” reasons Nik.
The ticket price is £40 for the smaller Bubble Blanket; £65 for the bigger one, available online only at yorkstagemusicals.com and they MUST be bought in advance of the 7.30pm shows.
York Stage have been anything but dormant through lockdown and beyond. “We’ve been doing Songs From The Settee online,” says Nik. “We thought there’d be four or five, but there were 11 in the end – we made a rod for our own back, but it was lovely to work with professional singers and musicians, and now we’re thanking them, and the technicians too, by doing the live shows.”
Meanwhile, York Stage School has continued to run through lockdown and beyond with online sessions. “We’re doing a summer school too, with sessions last week and this week,” says Nik.
“We’ve even had one student calling in from Estonia! Normally she stays with her grandma in York in the summer, but not this year, so she’s joining in from Estonia. We have just short of 30 students taking part, and we’re creating a ‘Zoomsical’, an online performance under licence, to show to family and friends in a premiere on YouTube on Saturday.
“The show’s called The Big One-Oh!, composed by Doug Besterman with lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and it’s an American high school piece that the licencees have managed to adapt to do on Zoom.”
Looking ahead, Nik says: “Hopefully, we can return to York Stage School lessons as normal in September, pending Government guidance.”