Centenary Theatre Company are about to move into the Brindley Theatre in Runcorn to present their latest production Elf the Musical which opens next week. North West End UK sat down with their musical director, Simon Pickup to find out how the company choses, rehearses and ultimately stages such a big production.
Centenary Theatre Company was formed in 1901 and has showcased theatrical talent in Warrington and the surrounding areas ever since. When did you first become involved with the company?
I was invited to musically direct CTC’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun” in 2013, and following that show I joined as a member and have now MD’d 7 shows for them, and appeared in 3.
Your show this year is Elf the Musical being staged at the glorious Brindley Theatre in Runcorn, tell us how you go about deciding on which productions to produce each year?
The Committee have the arduous task of selecting several productions to perform each, and consider a number of factors, including cost, appeal to audiences, appeal to members. Ultimately the choice comes down to what feels right for the Company and what we feel will sell to our audiences.
For those few unfamiliar with Elf the Musical, what is it about?
Elf the Musical follows the story of Buddy Hobbs, a young orphan child, who mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus’ bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. After discovering the baby, Santa and his elves decide to raise the child as an elf. Years later, Buddy finds out that he’s actually a human being and, at Santa’s prompting, heads off to New York City in search of his father, Walter Hobbs. It is based on the successful Christmas movie, “Elf” starring Will Farrell, and is full of wonderfully catchy festive songs.
Once a production is decided upon and auditions are announced, do you struggle to find suitable performers to fulfil the role and how do auditions work?
We audition our current membership, and everyone is invited to audition for any of the roles on offer. This year we had over 25 people audition and were able to cast all the roles from our talented membership. CTC have well over 50 performing members, so casting our productions is usually relatively straight forward, although the casting decisions are far from straight forward!
We all arrive at a theatre, as audience members to see a show without necessarily realising how much work goes into bringing each show to the stage. How long does the process take from deciding what show to perform to opening night?
The decision to stage Elf the Musical was made back in early 2020, before the Covid19 pandemic struck the country. Since then, we have had to postpose the show twice. However, we commenced rehearsals back in Mid-June this year, so we will have been rehearsing for 5 months when the show hits the stage.
Describe your role within Centenary?
I am currently the Vice Chair and Production Coordinator on the CTC General Committee, but I am also Musical Director for this production. As production coordinator, I ensure that all the production related details of the show are accounted for, including arranging sound engineers and microphones, liaising with the set company, arranging backstage technical crew, sourcing props. The list is seemingly endless! As Musical Director, it is my job to teach the music to the cast and conduct the fabulous set of musicians who form the orchestra.
All your members are volunteers who help bring each show to the stage, how many people are involved?
We have 25 adult performers in the show, along with two teams of 24 young children. In addition, we have teams of technical crew, a front of house team, chaperones for the children, 12 musicians in the orchestra, and the hard-working committee members. It is likely that nearly 100 people have been involved in some way in this production.
Rehearsals can be a challenging process, what is the hardest part of the process?
Probably the most challenging has been scheduling for this show, as we have had to accommodate two teams of youngsters in the production, and as rehearsals have continued during the summer holiday, scheduling rehearsals has been a challenge. The Production Team work hard to ensure that cast are inly called when they are needed, and working this around holidays, work commitments and illnesses has been a struggle.
Once rehearsals are done you have a limited time to transfer the show from the rehearsal room to the theatre, what timelines are you challenged with in doing this?
We move into the theatre on the Sunday before opening night, and on this day, we have to build the set, plot the lights, rehearse the orchestra, run a technical rehearsal, and move all the costumes, props and cast into their home for the week. To do this all on one day is a massive undertaking and can only be achieved with the hard work and dedication of all our volunteers, and the theatre staff.
We hear from other societies there is an increasing challenge in attracting audiences due to the current cost of living crisis, has this affected Centenary and if so, how are you tackling this worrying problem for amateur companies.
The cost-of-living crisis and the Covid19 pandemic have hit the theatre industry hard, including the non-professional shows also. CTC have been working extremely hard to market the show in the local area, including poster and banner campaigns, flyer drops at local events, online competitions, and extensive social media advertising. Out marketing team (lead by Buddy the Elf) have done an amazing job in promoting this production, which has paid off as our pre-show ticket sales are the best they have been for a number of years. Perhaps we have been lucky with the choice of show so near to Christmas, but we can no longer rely on audiences just turning up, we need to be proactive and make local people aware that this production is being staged.
What can audiences expect from Elf the Musical, is the rumour true Father Christmas is taking a week out of his busy schedule to join the cast in Runcorn?
Our audiences are in for a treat, from the moment they step into the theatre they will be transported to Christmastown, with all sorts of festive merchandise to purchase and cast members to meet. As for the show, it is a heart-warming festive story packed with humour, and is backed by a soundtrack of wonderful catchy Christmas songs and will be a feast for the eyes as The Brindley Theatre turns into the North Pole for just one week! You may even catch a glimpse of the Santa in his bright red suit.
Finally, how can audiences see Elf the Musical in Runcorn later this month?
Tickets are available directly from the theatre by calling 0151 907 8360 or from the link https://tickets.thebrindley.org.uk/en-GB/shows/elf%20-%20the%20musical/events The Friday and Saturday performances are sold out, with the rest of the week filling up quickly. As Buddy the Elf says, “The only way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”