YORK Stage are heading back to the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre from September 18 to 20, building on the sold-out success of last month’s debut open-air concerts by staging Jukebox Divas.
York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park marked the company’s first ever outdoor venture, when six professional performers with YSM history, Joanne Theaker, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Richard Upton, Emily Ramsden and Conor Mellor, performed with Jessica Douglas’s band from August 23 to 25.
Conor, back in York from singing on the international cruise-ship circuit, returns for YSM show number two, joined by Dan Conway, Sophie Hammond, Grace Lancaster and Eleanor Leaper.
Producer and director Nik Briggs says: “We really were blown away by the reaction to our York Stage Musicals at Rowntree Park concerts last month. To bring live musical theatre back to the city really was an honour and to sell out so quickly and feel the buzz that surrounded the concerts was just crazy!
“I knew, stood there watching the show, that we had to keep going, we had to do more…especially as we’d joked originally that we’d been compelled to do a thing, something, anything. This time we feel the need to do another thing.”
Jukebox Divas will celebrate the art of the Jukebox musical. “With music from shows such as We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! and more modern releases like & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, audiences will be entertained with vocal tributes to artists such as Elvis Presley, Queen, Meat Loaf, Katy Perry, Carole King and many more,” says Nik.
York Stage musical director Jessica Douglas again will lead a live band on stage from her keyboards, backing the latest line-up of professional performers. “One of my hardest things to do last time was to decide who to choose to perform from all the professional talent that has worked with York Stage over the past few years; there are so many brilliant performers who I wanted to bring back!” says Nik.
“I had hoped to do two shows originally but only having three nights at first, this wasn’t possible, so when we were able to secure a second slot I knew straight away who to ask.”
Step forward Dan Conway (York Stage: Ghost; UK tour: Kinky Boots, where he understudied and played the male lead); Sophie Hammond (York Stage: Footloose; now back from training in musical theatre in New York), Grace Lancaster (York Stage: Footloose and Whistle Down The Wind; UK tour: Footloose; Watermill: Assassins; Eastbourne: Return To The Forbidden Planet); Eleanor Leaper (York Stage: Joseph; BBC’s Pitch Battle finalist) and Conor Mellor (York Stage: Rock Of Ages; international cruise vocalist).
Delighted with how well the first show went after three fast-moving weeks of preparation and rehearsal, followed by stage assembly in only two hours on a Sunday afternoon, Nik says: “Audiences can again expect to be wowed by brilliant sound and lighting from Adam Moore and his Tech247 team. The giant igloo stage covering will be back to glow like a Technicolor beacon in the heart of the park once more.
“We’re again working to ensure the safety of our performers, staff and of course audience in the planning of this 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.
“We’ve had so many compliments about the brilliant front-of-house team and a lot of audience members messaged to say how safe they felt watching the show. This was one of the biggest compliments of all. We know for lots of people it was their first outing in months, so for them to feel safe and comfortable was great.”
As with last month’s shows, to ensure 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 are positioned to make sure there’s a two-metre gap minimum between the spaces in every direction while keeping the audience three metres away from the performers,” says Nik. “We’ve created two sizes of ‘Bubble Blanket’ spaces: one holds up to three people and a larger one holds four to six people. Please note, no physical blanket is provided, but you can bring your own or a camping chair.”
Performances will start at 7pm and run for 90 minutes without an interval. Tickets: available only online at www.yorkstagemusicals.com; Bubble Blanket Space for 1-3 people, £40; for 4-6 people, £65.
Five questions for producer and director Nik Briggs
What did you learn from mounting your first outdoor venture last month?
“Working outside was a daunting prospect, having not done it before. Doing it , while also ensuring we were working within the ever-changing Covid guidelines, was a whole other ball to juggle.
“One thing we were certain about was we knew we wanted to give audiences the same high-quality production and performance standards that they have come to expect from a York Stage show.
“But with that comes a lot of wires, lights, instruments and of course electricity…in an outdoor area, where we can’t stop weather!
“When we arrived at our outdoor rehearsal venue in Leeds to tech the show, the weather was nothing short of torrential. Driving across the A64, my heart was sinking but, with the brilliant team of theatre professionals we work with, we came away from that day knowing that our planning and preparation had left us ready to succeed: ,we could do this in (nearly) all weathers!
“We were lucky to have great weather up to the final show when it was raining all day through to ten minutes into the show, but the audience were brilliant! They all showed up with waterproofs and wellies and really got into what we renamed our festival version of the concert! So the biggest lesson was to not be scared of rain!”
Are you doing anything differently this time?
“It’s a whole new set of songs, nearly a full set of new singers – Conor [Mellor] managed to wangle his way back in again – and a new band. We really wanted to reach out and help as many people as possible with the concerts when those who work in our industry have had such a tough time. There may be a few extra surprises this time around but we’re still working on those at the moment!”
How are you conducting rehearsals? On Zoom? In a room, socially distanced?
“Like last time, rehearsals are happening in a range of ways. There is lots of independent learning of harmonies etc, where we have sent out recordings to the performers, so we only have to come together to piece all the parts together and keep contact to a minimum.
“When we are together social distancing, temperature checks and hand sanitiser are all aplenty! We keep at least two metres apart and never sing face to face to also mitigate any risk.”
Should other theatre companies be more adventurous, like you, and crack on with finding ways of getting out there and performing, despite Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s caution over when theatres can re-open fully?
“As long as people are being sensible, following the guidelines and keeping safe, then, yes, of course people should be pushing forward! It’s not easy, there is a hell of a lot of risk, but it’s certainly worth it.
“People can go sit in restaurants and bars so I really don’t see why, with social distancing and if it’s financially viable, we shouldn’t be producing?
“If any city can produce work in these weird times, it is York, where we have a strong history of successfully mixing professional and community casts. Damien Cruden really led the way with this in the city – when he was artistic director of York Theatre Royal – and in fact was the inspiration for the way I have ran York Stage over the past seven years.
“There really is enough professional talent locally to make it work in some way, as shown by our Rowntree Park concerts, York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up Patio On The Patio series and Engine House Theatre’s Park Bench Theatre shows.
“My biggest fear for the future, though, is that we are going to be sat with our larger venues sitting empty and artists all around the city desperate to work.”
The definition of ‘Diva’ is: noun: ‘a famous female singer of popular music’…or ‘a self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please (typically used of a woman)...but your Jukebox Divas show brazenly has a cast of three women and three men. Outrageous! Explain!
“Charles, it’s 2020, you can be whatever you want to be…and looking back, the men I’ve worked with are often way bigger divas! And no, I’m not naming any names!”