Let's go catch a Beast...

They say you should 'never work with animals or children'.  While we've never worked with live animals, we did work with children pretending to be them in Honk!, our first Starling Arts Summer School back in 2010.  It was a combination that could have seen us running for the hills (had we agreed with the above statement), but instead it left us inspired to continue our Devon Summer School programme, which is now in its third year.

Last weekend, we travelled down to Chagford in Devon to audition this year's production - Disney's Beauty & the Beast, Jr.

Chagford is a small town on the edge of Dartmoor, packed full of young families, retired couples, artists, writers, recycling gurus and everyone else in between. The young people auditioning last weekend represent this broad and colourful community, and we are delighted to have 40 young people joining us in the cast and crew this year, especially considering we only had 16 in the company of Honk!

It is a testament to the hard work of these young, creative minds that the number of young people taking part in our Summer School has grown so significantly over the past two years. In just two weeks each summer, they rehearse and perform a musical with us, and our previous two productions, Honk! and Moon, have set the bar high. In fact this year, we were so overwhelmed with applications from interested parties that we had to (regrettably) turn some away due to lack of space.

Growing up in a rural community can mean that young people are quite deprived of opportunities out of school. Except for the biennial village pantomime, Chagford youngsters have to rely on parents or limited public transport to ferry them into Exeter or Plymouth if they want to take part in extra-curricular drama and music. To that end, we feel we provide a vital service, which could account for a rôle in one of our Summer Schools being such a hot ticket! 

The cast warm up their voices at auditions for Beauty and the Beast. Photo: Amanda JohnstonBut back to auditions. Just off the town square sits the thatched roofed, granite built Endecott House, the school for Chagford during Victoria's reign, and home to several long-drop (thankfully no longer in use) privies in its walled garden. It’s now the venue for coffee mornings, Brownies, AGMs and children’s birthday parties, but for Starling Arts, it’s home to our Summer School auditions.

This year, we asked our prospective cast to prepare far more than they've had to in the past. Beauty & the Beast is a big sing and with so many people auditioning, we needed to put them though their paces in order to cast the right people in the right rôles. Never before have we seen such a consistently high standard at auditions, and we include all the productions and performers we've ever worked on and with in that, adults and children alike.

To anyone who is forming a stereotypical vision of slightly pitchy, miscast amateur youth theatre in their mind, think again! We were presented with a room full of potential 'triple threats' who left us with some very hard casting decisions to make. However, after assessing each note, monologue and jazz hand, we are delighted to have distributed the parts and to have the opportunity to work with such a solid cast on this production. 

Yesterday, we announced our casting decisions and have been delighted with the enthusiasm and response from our company and their families. It is because of this enthusiasm and passion that we run Starling Arts, and why we will always work with adults, children and maybe one day, even animals...

Roll on the summer!

Anna & Emily