Dramacube company member, Milly Stephens, will be appearing at The Rose Theatre over the festive period in The Wind and the Willows. Here we ask her how she found the audition and if she has any advice for aspiring young actors.

Q1: You are appearing at The Rose Theatre this Christmas as part of The Wind in the Willows. Which role are you playing?

Rabbit Kitten

Q2: Tell us a bit about your character…

She is unbearably cute and loves gravy. She is also the youngest in the family of five rabbits. She always wants to make friends with people and is very friendly and a bit stupid.

Q3: How did you get the part?

I had a first audition where 300 people under 18 auditioned (on different days). Five days before the audition we were sent an excerpt from the script to learn. I had to perform this in front of the panel of four judges. I also had to learn a song that I was given during the audition. We sang it in pairs first then on our own in front of the judges. We also learnt a dance that was performed in small groups.

Three days later I found out that I had got into a recall which is a second round of auditions that 80 people got into. The recall is similar to the first audition but it is a lot harder – the text that you had to perform was from the script and it wasn’t just you saying your lines you had to act the scene out with other actors. You had to learn the dance and singing off by heart too and perform on your own. I found the recall a lot more challenging.

The Wind in the Willows will be performed from 7 December to January 4th at The Rose Theatre. We have two casts, I am in red cast and we will alternate so I will perform in 22 of the 44 shows. The Rose Theatre holds about 850 people, so we will perform to 35,000 over the December season. That’s a lot!

Q4: What do rehearsals involve and how often do you have to rehearse?

I rehearse every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for about 2-3 hours a day. It soon becomes every day nearer the show. Rehearsals involve some singing to start off with then we do some dance and then we either do “uniting” which is cutting the script into thoughts (not pages or scenes) or we might do animal work where you start with your animal at rest and then make it more and more human until it is 40% human and 60% animal. We also do “combat” for fight scenes and “clowning” because it is a comedy and also “characterization” so that your character is not generalised (eg any rabbit) but specific to your part (eg Rabbit Kitten).

Q5: Where do your rehearsals take place?

Mainly at the Rose theatre in one of the studios. Soon rehearsals will move to Raven’s Ait (the island in the river near Kingston town centre) where the set will be erected so we can practice our scenes. We can’t use the theatre as there are too many other productions being performed.

Q6: You are a member of Dramacube Productions acting company where you started off with a part in Fame Jr. last year. How did you find that experience?

Fame Jr. was my first production ever on a stage at a theatre. I was nervous before we started rehearsals, but we had so much fun together that my nerves turned into excitement. I made so many friends there that I still keep in touch with. Matt was my first director and he brought fun into acting but at the same time he made it feel professional. Fame was only produced in a week – it was one of the best experiences I have had in my life.

Q7: You played Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as part of Dramacube’s Christmas show last year. How did you learn your lines for such a big role?

Luckily my brother, Tom, was Edmund, one of the other children, so we could rehearse together at home. Because I love Dramacube so much I was dedicated to putting on a good performance. I found my friends there would help me. It was hard to fit in, but it wasn’t stressful as I enjoyed it so much.

Q8: Whilst with Dramacube you have also played Duffy in Annie Jr. and Miss Honey in Matilda the Musical in 20 Minutes. How did you find these roles and what has been your favourite role so far at Dramacube Productions? 

I loved being Duffy, one of the orphans, in Annie. We had great fun learning the words and the dances together. We performed Annie in Questors Theatre in Ealing, one of the largest amateur theatres in London, which was amazing and all my friends came to see me. For Miss Honey I made some new friends because I had never performed with any of that cast so everyone was new to me. Lots of them were younger, it was like watching me in Fame Jr. all over again.

Q9: What advice would you give to any young actor/actress going for an audition?

Be confident. Don’t be shy of who you are auditioning to as they will think you’ll definitely be shy on stage if you are in front of them. Don’t fear it because otherwise you will scared of something you are trying to achieve. Be brave and have self-confidence. Also have a go even if it looks impossible, there is always a way.

Be prepared: read what the play is about, the author, the characters. Learn the scripts they give you beforehand really thoroughly so you feel you are prepared for your performance. Last but not least give it a go and have fun!

It is hard to believe that half term is almost upon us, and even harder to believe that we now miss a week of rehearsals!  We’ve made a really good start to the production, blocking some major scenes, and the time and resource we’ve invested in supporting our young cast with line and lyric learning is really paying off.  I’ve been very impressed with the attitude of so many children who have already learnt large chunks of text and clearly given lots of thought to their character.  Children gain so much more from rehearsals when they are properly prepared.  Blocking a scene which the cast already have a good understanding of, helps everyone involved. It is this commitment and professionalism that so many of the group are already demonstrating, which will give us a show to be proud of this Christmas.

There is so much positivity coming for the groups each week with children coming up with great ideas for their costume, suggestions for the set design and thoughts on props.  It is a lovely environment to work in and I’m really looking forward to two great shows at Hampton Hill Theatre in December.

We may not have rehearsals during half term but this is a great opportunity for children to dedicate some time to working on their roles in the show.  Every child has a line and lyric learning diary at the back of their script and we ask all parents to support their children in helping them to complete these diaries and come back after half term knowing all of their lines. The hard work begins in November and we need everyone to be fully focussed on this great show.

In a first of a series of inspirational interviews with stars actors of stage and screen, we this week we had the pleasure of speaking with professional actor and former Dramacube Teacher, Peter F. Gardiner who is currently appearing in the hugely successful West End production of The Railway Children.

Q1) Being offered a part in a hugely successful West End show must be a dream job for any actor. Can you tell us about the audition process and what it was like when you were offered the part?

The audition process was a fairly normal and regular experience, my agent rang me and then emailed me the script, explaining what roles I’d be auditioning for. The audition was really close to where I live, it was at the Jacksons Lane Centre in Highgate, (I live in Crouch End just down the road) so that made my life really easy (these little factors really help relax you – especially as I’ve flown up to Edinburgh for an audition before, so when it’s just down the road, it makes life really easy.) I had about five days to prepare so it was great to have that large amount of time to work out how I wanted to make the three different characters look and sound different. One was heightened RP (Received Pronunciation) for the Old Gentleman role, then Yorkshire for the Doctor (as well as putting on a pair of glasses) and finally as clear a Russian accent as I could muster for the role of Mr Schepansky. When I went into the audition room I felt very much at ease as the three people behind the desk interviewing me were very welcoming and I thought to myself “I can get this job, I can do this! I’d just played a large range of roles in the Chester outdoor season (summer 2014), so I felt very ready and ‘match-fit’ to do a good job and play three different roles for them. There was a moment in the latter part of the audition after I’d read for the roles where I spoke in quite an open and confident way and explained that I would be very comfortable being an understudy and being in the ensemble. Being in the ensemble involves having a few lines, playing a Policeman, a villager, a train driver and a railway worker and waiting to potentially go on at a minutes notice to cover one of the actors. What I said was that I had recently been an understudy at the National Theatre (in 2013) and I knew what it entailed, I was not going to be bored, or horrified to find out that I wasn’t centre-stage every night, and also in my personal life my partner and I had just had a baby and we were pregnant with another. I was making it clear that I knew what the job entailed. The panel really liked that. Also one of the producers knew the director that I had just worked with in Chester. After the audition she was able to call him and double-check that everything I had said was true and that I was a ‘team-player’ which is a really, really important factor in joining a company. I auditioned well, and I spoke to the panel in a friendly and open way, and then my credentials were confirmed by another director – so all in all a very successful audition. When I got the call from my agent offering me the job I was over the moon (as was my partner, we had a wee girl but we were also pregnant with our wee boy who was due in December 2014). I started rehearsing The Railway Children in November 2014, my boy was born on December 27th 2014 (so I had to take a rare day off for his birth) and now nearly 2 years down the line my boy’s almost 2yrs old and the show’s nearing the end of it’s run in January 2017 after 2yrs and 2months. Both lovely events happened almost simultaneously!

Q2) When did you first meet your fellow cast members and what were they like?
I met my fellow cast members at the first evening of rehearsals (which was a full read-through of the play) at a rehearsal venue called the Three Mills Studios in Bromley-By-Bow in East London. I had met one of the actors before (Connie) when we both filmed an episode of Waterloo Road up in Greenock near Glasgow in Scotland. The acting industry has about 50,000 performers in the business, but as there’s only about 8% being employed at any one time (and it tends to be the same 8% getting all the work), it’s fairly common that you come across the same actors that you’ve met and worked with before.

Q3) We often remind our young actors at Dramacube how important it is to learn their lines and lyrics thoroughly. What techniques did you use to learn your lines and lyrics in The Railway Children?

Knowing your lines and lyrics really well is of vital importance to your success as a performer. In the early stages of rehearsal I would sit on the Tube going to and from rehearsals and just try and learn some of the words, especially the lines from the scene we’d been working on that day. Once we had opened the show, every performance I would sit in the dressing room and go over the lines for one of the three actors I was covering. Through repetition I learned the lines. There is also something in the professional theatre called a ‘show-watch’ which (exactly as the name suggests) gets you the opportunity to watch the show (and have your small roles covered by the other actors) this provides you with an opportunity to watch a performance and make notes so that you can emulate the moves and words of your fellow actors. So that also helped me to know the blocking and lines of my fellow performers. In general in order to learn my lines I just read and re-read the script. Very occasionally I use my iPhone to record the cues and then leave a gap for me to speak the lines out loud. The lines should become second nature so you can say them really naturally. With a well written script the speeches and conversations should flow and make sense, this should also help with learning them. I sometimes draw pictures of the things I’m saying, for instance as the Doctor I had to speak a list and so I drew the images in my script, (grapes, beef essence – Bovril basically, soda water and milk) little visual aids can be useful especially in the early days of learning words. In addition to all of the above the understudies were given their own rehearsals during the initial rehearsal period and also onstage after we had opened the show. These rehearsals really helped me to learn my lines and blocking.

Q4) Most of our shows at Dramacube are rehearsed once a week. How long was the rehearsal period and what was the process?

The rehearsal process was about three and a half weeks long. This is a slightly shorter rehearsal period than other professional shows – but the lead actors had been sent the script weeks before the rehearsal period started. This meant that lots of them could start learning the lines way before day one of the rehearsal period.  After three days of rehearsals we had blocked the whole play and we did a full run. The lead actress playing the role of Bobby was already completely off-book & did the run almost without a single prompt. She had clearly done her homework way before the start of rehearsals!

Q5) Were you nervous when you first started the show and how did you overcome any first night nerves?

I was a little bit nervous on the first night, but I knew that as I only had about seven lines and a group song to sing that I really didn’t have much to be nervous about. However, on the first occasion that I had to understudy one of the three actors I covered and I had to actually go on stage for them was TERRIFYING! I think that was about four months into the run and I got a phone call in the morning from the Company Stage Manager telling me that one of the actors was off sick and I was going on in place of them. That was scary as you’ve never ever rehearsed the scenes with the actual principal actors, so it all feels very unrehearsed & new, VERY NEW!

Q6) Have there been any moments during the show when something has gone wrong and how did you and the other actors deal with it?

Just today a lady in the audience had what seemed to be a stroke. Her family were very calm about it and laid her down on the floor (it was as if she had suffered from strokes before) the ushers gathered around her and were offering assistance and then eventually the CSM (Company Stage Manager) had to announce over the tannoy in the auditorium that we would be halting the show. At the same time some other stage managers came on stage and guided the actors offstage. An ambulance was called and the lady and her family all left together in the ambulance. She seemed to be okay and not too unwell. When the show restarted after at least a 10 minute pause, there was a lovely warm round of applause – “The show must go on” must have been in the thoughts of many of the audience and the company too.

With a competent and experienced cast and crew whenever anything goes wrong you see their experience and professionalism shining through. We’ve had the train not moving due to various issues and the last four minutes of the whole show not being performed due to a major electrical fault. So yes over two years in a huge temporary site (like the Kings Cross Theatre) there are all sorts of interesting and challenging moments. We went through a phase of shoes and boots going missing, or them turning up all chewed and torn. We worked out that foxes were getting into the dressing rooms at night and dragging away bits of costume! You do have to be prepared for anything and everything to happen.

We’ve had David Cameron (then the Prime Minister) in the audience as well as pop stars like Paul McCartney and Brian May. When you see people like that it can often cause quite a lot of excitement amongst the cast and audience which is lovely!

Q7) The Railway Children has been running for a long time. How has your role in the show changed during that time?

I’ve gone from being in the Ensemble – you get paid less, you’re in crowd scenes and have very little to do in each performance, but you’re standing-by to go on as an understudy. I’ve gone from doing that for nearly a year to being in the company where you get paid more and you have more responsibility. So now I am the Butler and Doctor at every performance and I get to do a lot more acting.

Q8) What do you enjoyed most about being part of the company?

I’ve loved being in a team of supportive and creative people. We have loads of fun together and there’s always loads of laughter backstage and in the wings. Artistically I’ve relished the roles that I’ve played and there’s been loads of them from a Detective to an Old Gent to a Father, a Butler, a Doctor, a Russian refugee, train driver, policeman etc….

Q9) The set design for The Railway Children is really clever. What is it like working in such an exciting space?

I have never grown bored or tired of walking into work and passing the train track, seating for 1,000 people and then the 80 ton steam engine. The amazing set adds so much to the show, especially in the moments when the actual steam engine is used, also there’s some very inventive use of the trucks for staging different scenes such as the London home or the three chimneys cottage in Yorkshire and also the gauze which is used to create a tunnel effect. However as visually stunning as all of that is, it would all be for nothing if the acting wasn’t heartfelt and natural and the script and storyline were not as good as they are. I was in a cast of four actors that performed in a different production of The Railway Children in a small pub theatre in Islington (called The Kings Head) back in 2007 and it was very moving and theatrical and enjoyable for the audience but probably cost about 1% of the Kings Cross show which is a multi-million pound project. So money, size and spectacle are not everything!

Q10) Looking ahead, what is next in the pipe-line or what would be your next dream job?

I have nothing in the pipeline. That’s the short answer. We know the show will finish on January 8th 2017 and at the moment I know that I’ll go on to be unemployed. But over the next three months my agent will be submitting me for projects from theatre to TV to films and I would hope to not be out of work for too long! I recently shot a film called Mad To Be Normal. The film is set in the 1960’s and stars David Tennant. In flashbacks (to when David Tennant’s character was a little boy in the 1920’s and 1930’s) I play his father. I’m only in two scenes but I loved the experience of shooting a film. So I would love to do a lot more acting on the screen, whether TV or film I don’t mind but I’d really like to build up my experience and CV for screen acting.

We’d like to thank Peter for his time and wish him the very best of luck with the remaining run of The Railway Children and with all future projects.

Congratulations to Dramacube student Tom Stephens who recently won an award for Script Writing and Inspired Performance as part of the annual Rose Theatre Awards. He was presented by children’s author Jaqueline Wilson.

Tom joined Dramacube in July 2015 when he successfully auditioned for our production of Fame Jr. which was performed at Hampton Hill Theatre.  Tom was cast as student, Schlomo Metzenbaum, a central character in the show.  He joined an extremely talented cast who, guided by director Matthew Bunn, produced a truly brilliant show.  Tom went onto play the lead role of Edmund in the musical adaptation of The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe, also at Hampton Hill Theatre before being cast as the charismatic Oliver Warbucks in Annie JR. at Questors Theatre in Ealing.

“Tom is a very talented young performer and we’ve always been impressed with his versatility” says Dramacube Productions’ Artistic Director, Stephen Leslie.  Tom demonstrated this versatility again when he returned to Dramacube in August 2016 to take on the leading role of the despicable Mr. Wormwood in the musical adaptation of Matilda. “It comes as no surprise that Tom has won this award and we wish him every success with his on-going writing and performing”.

In the first of our ‘Behind the Scenes’ series we asked our Costume Designer Juanita Al-Dahhan how she was going to approach the costumes in our Christmas production of Elf The Musical Jr. She told us that one of the biggest challenges will be highlighting the difference between the real, North Pole Santa Claus and his North Pole elves and the New York department store Santa and his shop elves. She told us this will be created through texture and colour.

She said, “For the North-pole I will be using rich fabric like velvets, fake fur, authentic braids, and rich deep colours of red, green and white. Whereas the New York Santa will have less cheaper and less luxurious fabrics such as felts and shiny satins, they will also be very NY city-ish with lots of sparkle, bright vivid green and reds with even more glitter… And of course, silver and gold tinsel!!  So in summary it is ‘tacky and cheesy’ v’s ‘authentic and classy.’ Both will be a lot of fun to create and most definitely very festive!

We are delighted to announce that Dramacube student Zachary Dowlatshahi has landed the role of Matthew in the West End show, School of Rock which will be playing at the New London Theatre on Drury Lane from Monday 24th October 2016.

Dramacube Productions Artistic Director, Stephen Leslie said “We are absolutely delighted for Zachary. He is a fantastic actor-musician with a special talent and I’m sure this will be the start of a long and successful career for him. We work with so many talented students who go onto to work in the industry and it is lovely to see another success story”.

To book tickets for the show please visit the official School of Rock website.

On Saturday 17th September we held auditions for our forthcoming Christmas production of Elf the Musical JR which is to be staged at Hampton Hill Theatre this December.

Once again our creative team were hugely impressed at the wealth of talented young performers who attended the auditions and we are all very excited about getting started on what promises to be a fantastic Christmas show.

All successful auditionees have now been contacted and offered a place in the company. For those of you who didn’t quite make it this time please do come back and see us again in January when we’ll be holding more auditions for our next big show.

We look forward to working with you.

Congratulations to Erin Douglas and Tom Stephens who were nominated for this year’s Swan Awards. Both were nominated for their roles in our Christmas production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Erin played the White Witch and Tom played Edmund.

The awards ceremony took place at The Landmark Arts Centre on Sunday night and Tom and Erin were given a certificate for their nomination by the Mayor. They also met guest presenters Julian Glover and Isla Blair (pictured).

Well done Tom and Erin!

 

We are really looking forward to meeting everyone this weekend for our auditions of Elf the Musical Jr! Auditions are open to anyone aged 7-16yrs, however you must book your audition slot in advance. The auditions take place on Saturday 17th September from 10.30am – 1.00pm at the Riverside Arts Centre, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, TW16 5QF and from 2.30pm – 5.00pm, Surbiton High School, 5 Surbiton Crescent, Kingston, Surrey, KT1 2JP. Please contact us to reserve your place by calling 020 8408 0245 or emailing contact@dramacube.co.uk.

If you want to see what it is like being part of Dramacube Productions, take a look at this production video which shows the cast of Annie Jr on the run up to the big show!

We are delighted to announce that company members Tom Stephens and Erin Douglas have been nominated for the Best Child Performer (aged 14 and under) Award for their roles as Edmund and the White Witch in our Christmas 2015 production of The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe at Hampton Hill Theatre.

There were many fantastic performances in our production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and we are thrilled that both Tom and Erin have been nominated. There are so many talented young performers in the Richmond borough so to be considered for this award is a tremendous achievement and a tribute to both Tom and Erin for all the hard work they put in.

The season 2015-16 marks the 30th anniversary of the Swan Awards and a very special event is being planned. Guest presenters will be the Mayor of Richmond upon Thames, Cllr. David Linnette and actors Isla Blair and Julian Glover who were present at the first Swan Awards Gala in 1986.

The awards are announced on 18th September so watch this space!