The tribulations of directing musicals

Morpeth Rotary Club

MEMBERS recently heard from David Richardson about Directing a Musical.

He had parents who liked all sorts of music and grew up with the 10-drop record player. At school, there was music and drama for all, so after two years of National Service, he joined the Barnsley YMCA Operatic Society.

Starting in the chorus, he moved to junior principal and adult roles, but then got a job promotion and moved to Whitby.

Whitby had a lovely theatre but there was no musical society. Mr Richardson placed an advert in the local Gazette, 30 people turned up and the Whitby Musical Theatre Company was established.

In 1959, he was asked to direct his first show and volunteered for a one-week directing course at Ripon College.

To start with, a director has to read the script and the score and decide where the event might be held – that will determine what is needed for scenery design and costume and whether there is room for everything on stage. There are many variables. Is there a tower to pull scenery up for changes? Is there a professional lighting technician and stage manager?

If the venue is a professional theatre then time for rehearsal will be very limited. It will need to be set up at the end of the Saturday night commercial performance and people will have to work through the night to have one or two dress rehearsals on Sunday ready for the amateur performance on Monday night.

It will cost at least £1,000 if there is an orchestra, so many productions rely on keyboards and drums. Sometimes, the costumes are first tried on at the dress rehearsal and may not fit.

A musical has to present a series of pictures to the audience, so it must be known if the chorus and actors can fit the stage and move around. David uses a scale model of the stage at Rothbury Jubilee Hall, with model figures, to see what is possible and what will work.

The next job is to select who will take part in the production, with auditions by the director, the musical director and the auditioning committee.

Prospective players are given information on the part and the director’s vision.

The director will have a precise idea of what is wanted from all and why, but will also ask the players to help develop their chosen character.

There will be marks on the sheet and on the stage to plot moves as the music changes, with singers grouped so they can support each other.

If working with children, there is a mass of paperwork for permissions and licences. Depending on production length, there may have to be two sets of children, as well as matrons and CRB checks.

Before dress rehearsal, it will take many hours of meetings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays over eight weeks to get the music and the moves in the players’ heads.

Productions are expensive with possibly 70 costumes at £20 each, scenery hire at £3,000, performing rights to pay at £200 a night, the hire of music and script for £500, an orchestra at around £3,000 and cost of venue.

Therefore, a production of this scale will cost around £8,000 to £10,000.