Oliver - Behind the scenes
Properties, otherwise known as "props" are the domain of Joss Robertson.
In real life, Joss works administration for Fraser High School, but her true passions are (1) mosaics and (2) "making stuff".
Joss' first show for Hamilton Operatic Society was "The Rocky Horror Show" in 2005 when she was invited by David Sidwell, who had heard of her artistic and creative talent, to work alongside John Harding of Weta Workshop in the creation of props.
In the last six years, Joss has made the props for the society's productions of "Blood Brothers", "Cats", "Hair", "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Forbidden Broadway".
Occasionally a set for a production will come with props, but more often than not, they need to be created from scratch. The society has a room which is a treasure trove of unusual and obscure items, and this is Joss and David Sidwell's first port of call when going through the required props list.
Where has the time gone? It is only five weeks until Oliver! – Featuring Richard O’Brien opens at the Founders Theatre in Hamilton. As a result, all departments are in full swing, getting the show on the road, so to speak.
Joy Wright is the Costume Designer for the production, and I spoke to her earlier in the week about the task ahead. Interestingly, some amazing statistics about the costumes/wardrobe department came from our conversation.
• 4,500 separate measurements
• 600 accessories (including hats, gloves, jewellery, cravats)
On Sunday, a rather jet-lagged Richard O’Brien joined the cast for the rehearsals of “Oliver!”. He had only arrived back in New Zealand from London the day before.
Ever charming, he bowed in a cavalier manner and kissed both Sonja (the choreographer) and I each on the hand. After a brief chat with Director David Sidwell, Richard then spoke to his gang.
The boys were smitten. They stood in awe and hung off every word he spoke. Lionel Bart who adapted Charles Dicken’s book “Oliver Twist” into a musical was a dear friend of Richards. Richard then spoke about his friendship with Lionel. Lionel Bart passed away in 1999 after a long battle with cancer.
Richard explained that his vision for Fagin was as caring gentleman, quite opposite to how the role was originally written by Dickens. For example, Richard said that if one of the gang had the flu, he’d make sure they were wrapped up close to the fire. He wanted to portray a thoughtful and compassionate Fagin. In fact, Richard thought he would like to be an “Eastend charmer”.
The dreaded “c” word. Choreography. It will strike fear through the most hardened heart of members of Hamilton Operatic Society. The creative team however takes the view that what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger, and upon that basis, they have great delight on unleashing Sonja McGirr-Garrett onto the cast.
Since 2008, the society has had the incredible good fortune of having Sonja choreograph several productions including “Cats” in 2008, “Broadway on the Boardwalk” (at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival) and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, both in 2010.
Sonja originally hails from Canada and as a youngster was on the Junior Canadian Olympic gymnastics team, during which time she competed around the globe in gymnastics competitions. At the age of twelve, she secured her first leading role as “Anne” in “Anne of Green Gables” which cemented her passion for musical theatre. Sonja completed a Diploma in Musical Theatre and Dance gaining Honours. Following that, Sonja worked continually in Canada and in the United States on both Broadway and in Las Vegas.
Sonja was in the original Canadian company for “Cats”, and it was during the rehearsal period for the Hamilton Operatic’s production of “Cats” in mid-2008 that we knew we were incredibly lucky to have someone of Sonja’s calibre choreographing our shows. Her skills are quite simply extraordinary, and she has the uncanny ability of taking those with two left feet and turning them into accomplished dancers during a two-month rehearsal period.
Last night, we held the Oliver - Featuring Richard O'Brien "Sing-through/Read-through (STRT) in our temporary rehearsal venue. The full company was in attendance (except for Richard O'Brien who is currently in London) as were key members of the production team such as the costume designer, props maker and hair, wigs and makeup designer. The purpose of a STRT is to run the show from start to finish including all songs and dialogue. It provides an opportunity for everyone to put some faces to names if their paths haven't crossed during music rehearsals. And, it gives a very rough indication of the running time of the performance.
During the course of the STRT, the wardrobe team under the watchful eye of costume designer Joy Wright, were able to individually invite company members to the back of the venue and set upon them with tape measures. The team has been chomping at the bit to get the company measurements, which is no mean feat in itself. Thirty-two separate measurements per person are taken. Crown, neck, shoulder to shoulder, shoulder to wrist, wrist, bicep, yoke, neck to waist, underarm to waist, waist to floor, hips, ankles, shoe size...not a measurement is left unturned.
In two and a half hours, the team had the measurements for all forty-six adults and the eighteen members of Fagin's Gang, a mere 2,048 separate measurements. I hate to say it but Joy, you've still got a hundred or so kids to go (say another 3,200 measurements). The numbers may well wear off the tape measures with over use.
The rehearsal pianist had a previous commitment, so we used our own pre-recorded backing tracks to for accompaniment during the vocal sections. Some of the adults were clearly delighted with the performances of the children. "Little Nipper" played by Ollie Neal was a real highlight for those who hadn't heard him sing his solo before.
On the other hand, many of the children appeared in awe of the adults whose 'ardened English accents made the occasional child leap in fear and or surprise. The dialogue ranges between "rough as guts" to "right toff" accents. Even I was surprised when sweet Ruby Lyon let out a "Charlotte Sowerberry" style squawk.
Blog terms and conditions
You're welcome to post in the comments section of our blogs. Please keep comments under 400 words. When submitting a comment, you agree to be bound by our terms and conditions.