On Our Way to Finding Time

On Our Way to Finding Time

Starling HQ is filling up with sketches of puppets and props, children's clothing, endless deliveries, recordings of sound effects and a To Do list as far as the eye can see. All this can mean only one thing: Summer School is coming! Find out our latest plans and how you can be part of it! 

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Writing and me

Writing and me

Anna talks about her relationship with writing musicals and the 2016 Summer School show Finding Time. This is the first post in a series from Anna & Emily on the writing process, its highs and lows and development. Get an insight into what writing and mounting a new musical is like, and a behind the scenes look at Finding Time.

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Greetings from Devon!

We are both thrilled to be directing and producing a production of Seussical which is staged by our biggest company yet, with over 45 young performers and backstage crew from Chagford and the surrounding area taking part. We will put the show together over ten days of intensive rehearsals for the youngsters, culminating in four performances.

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Flying High on High Five

Our fifth anniversary concert, which took place on Saturday February 21st 2015, exceeded all of our expectations. With a packed crowd of over 600 people and over 100 performers taking part, our show highlights include our Summer School performers joining our adult Show Choirs on stage for 'Anything Can Happen' from the stage show of Mary Poppins, seeing our choirs showcase their best songs from the last five years of Starling Arts, introducing a song from our musical Return to Aesop to a London audience, and leading the incredible crowd in an audience sing-along of 'Let the Sunshine In' from Hair!

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A good dose of community spirit

As the proverb goes, "It takes a village to raise a child", and I'm sure that's true of me. I grew up in Chagford, a small town on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. For a place of only 1500 or so people, it's a busy and buzzing community filled with arts events coming out of your ears. Last week saw Chagstock music festival, this weekend Ex Libris, a flower festival charting writers living in and associated with the area (I'm honoured to be one of the featured performance writers). The town also boasts Chagword literary festival, Chagford Film Festival and a big dose of other community events thrown in. It's also home to Starling Arts' annual Summer School, which will this year premiere 'Return to Aesop', the new musical Emily and I have written together. For a town so small, it has a remarkable arts scene and, more importantly, feeling of community spirit. To have such a sense of belonging and support there is incredible.

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Beauty & the Beast

It's almost a week since we finished our Summer School production of Beauty & the Beast, and we're still buzzing from the success of the show. 

The good thing about working in a small community like Chagford is that once such a project is over, everyone hails you in the street, passing on congratulations and praise, which is always nice to hear! Of course the thanks and praise is extended to our wonderful young cast and crew who delivered night after night with slick, polished and mature performances. Never have we worked with such a wonderful company and we're still feeling enormously content about it all.

The cast rehearse 'Gaston'

Over just nine days of rehearsal, our cast worked tirelessly on acting, singing and dancing. While they all arrive word perfect on Day 1 (which is very beneficial to the rehearsal process), it never ceases to amaze us that our young stars, aged 9 - 18, are willing to put in so much time and effort to the production, and invest such pride in all they do. While Honk! and Moon were great productions for many different reasons, Beauty & the Beast seemed to raise the bar, with one audience member saying, 'You have surpassed yourselves'.

Belle sings, 'Oh, isn't this amazing?!'

So what was it that made Beauty & the Beast kick things up a notch?

Firstly, the score and songs are brilliant. In acquiring the junior rights for the show, it meant the publishers, Josef Weinberger, also supplied us with an excellent orchestral backing track, which undoubtedly gave the production a more 'professional' sound (and saved Anna having to learn some rather tricky piano parts!)

Secondly, it's such a well written story and, in the classic Disney way, works on so many levels; some love the slapstick humour and great comic characters, while others gush over the love story and moral sentiment of the piece, and it's popular with adults and children alike.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for us, it's the perfect show to do with a group of young people; some top principal characters with a colourful array of smaller supporting roles, and plenty of parts in the chorus, who get to sing all the best songs - it's a winning formula!

The company sing Gaston

So, to reflect on the whole experience, we've answered three questions about the Summer School below, and there's a review (which will be appearing in the local press) for you to lap up and enjoy!

Three Questions for Anna & Emily...

  1. What was your favourite song in the show?

    Anna: Human Again - the singing was so strong, and the harmonies divine. Oh, and I loved The Mob Song because it got everyone pumped!

    Emily: Gaston - who couldn't love a song with the lyrics, 'I use antlers in all of my decorating'?! 

    Human Again
  2. What was your favourite rehearsal moment? 

    Anna: Getting 34 cast members of varying musical experience and ability to sing in harmony. Hearing songs like Belle and the Finale for the first time was awesome and I was pleased the Guide Vocal CDs I'd made them all had paid off!

    Emily: I loved teaching the cup dance from Gaston with nearly 30 painted 'C'mon England!' tankards, and seeing it come to life on stage. And finding a snake on the floor of our rehearsal studio was quite an occasion, too! (see picture)

    The snake in the rehearsal room!
  3. What was the best thing about the Beauty & the Beast Summer School overall?

    Anna: Working with such an appreciative company is the greatest gift. I also loved that in spite of so many things being ready made for us (the script and score, some costumes, etc), there were still so many opportunities for original, 'Starling touches' to be made and added to the show. The feedback from the audience, cast and their families is pretty good, too!

    Emily: For me it was learning so much from our ridiculously clever and talented cast, in the beautiful and friendly setting of Chagford, and seeing our giant book (see video below) open for the first time was magical! 

We hope you've all enjoyed charting the progress of this year's Summer School on this blog and via Facebook and Twitter, and thank you to all our cast, crew and supporters for making our summer so much fun. And now we leave you all with this lovely review of the production.

'Til next time!
Anna & Emily


Review of Beauty & the Beast, Jr.

Alan Menken - multi Academy Award winning composer of Beauty and the Beast - said, in a personal message to the cast of the recent Starling Arts Summer School production "The true reward for working in musical theatre is the joy of collaboration; the experience of pooling one's talents with other artists, in the service of creating something wonderful. If you strive for that experience, you never know what miracles might happen."

Well, anyone who attended the production in Chagford Jubilee Hall on August 22nd, 23rd and 24th will have witnessed that something wonderful was, indeed, created and miracles did happen.

For the third year running, Anna Shields and Emily Cook returned to Chagford to run a Summer School, with young people associated with Chagford and the surrounding area. This year the cast and crew numbered 40 and, in just 9 days of rehearsal, the 34 performers learned complicated dance routines, difficult to sing songs and all the dialogue in between, to produce a show of which many professional companies would have been proud.

Belle and the Beast read during 'Something There'

For young people - many of whom were aged between 9 and 12 - to sing Menken's tricky numbers with such aplomb was a credit to Anna's skilful musical direction and Emily's, often complex, choreography was equally well executed. 

But it was the enthusiasm from the entire cast which was so evident. Anna and Emily had worked them incredibly hard for over a week but the end result was a tribute to their directorial skill.

A professional actor who saw the production stated "I came prepared to make concessions for the age of the cast and the fact that they had only had 9 days of rehearsals, but this was not necessary".

Although it would be unwarranted to pick out any single cast member, special thanks must go to the 7 ‘senior’ Starlings; Lark Ash Wheeler, Amy Crock, Alice Herrington, Diggory North, Emily Searson, David Todd-Jones and Millie Wood who have all now left school and are venturing out into the world of travel, work and university but, without any arm twisting, once again answered Anna and Emily's clarion call to be in this production.

 - Words by Lucy Morton