When we first set up Starling Arts six years ago, Emily and I were wondering how to fill our first Starling summer holiday. We had decided to run our three London choirs in conjunction with the school terms, so we had a long August void to fill and we wanted to fill it creatively. I suggested we go to Devon and put on a youth musical in my hometown: we'd pick a show, rehearse intensively and perform it a few times. I'd done a similar project there before, so I knew we could recruit a few of the local young people and get a good audience. Emily, having been involved with many Summer Schools and youth musical theatre projects in Sussex, shared my passion for this idea. And so with 19 young performers recruited, we staged Stiles & Drewe's Honk! - a retelling of the Ugly Duckling - in 10 days.
This was supposed to be a one-summer-only thing but, as we struggled to squeeze extra people into the local hall for our sold out last performance and heard cries from other children saying, "Mum, Dad, I want to be in this!", we realised we were on to quite a good thing, so we decided to go back the next summer, and the next, and the next....
Over the last six summers we have staged five musicals (two of them penned by us) and one musical review, and have worked with just shy of 100 young people. We were thrilled when many of them joined us in London for High Five - our fifth anniversary gala concert - and sang on our album of the same name. The process and the participants have taught us so much about directing, writing, leadership, child development and budgets (!) that we could write a book.
After many colourful adventures, we've come to the difficult decision to make this year our last full-scale, fully staged Summer School production in Devon. With 50 cast and crew between the ages of 9 and 18 recruited, this is set to be our biggest show yet! But with increasing commitments across the community singing work we do, beyond 2016, we are no longer able to devote a whole summer to such a concentrated project.
To go out with a bang, Emily and I are writing our third musical together to be premiered by this cast in the Chagford Jubilee Hall on Thu. 4th, Fri. 5th and Sat. 6th August at 7.30pm, with a 2.30pm matinee on the Saturday also. So save the date!
And fear not! This won't be the last time we work in Chagford. While it's our last full-scale musical, we have every intention of returning for weekend and holiday workshops, not just with young people, but hopefully the many adults who have expressed an interest in singing and performing when seeing their children or friends up on stage.
I know this won't be the last time Emily or I say this, but thank you to everyone who has helped to make the Starling Arts Summer School such a success over the last six years. It has been a complete joy to work with such talented, engaging, enthusiastic and grateful young people, their families and community. As I well up thinking about it, I'd better close and save my tears for the inevitable ones I'll cry at the final performance on August 6th. We hope to see many of you in the audience.
Bring a tissue.