Full On Build-up for ‘Beauty’ at Perins

28
March
2018

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As we have reported in the April edition of Winchester Today, Perins School Creative Arts Department are set for a lavish, sell-out production of Beauty and The Beast in July. David Cradduck went to meet the creative team behind the show and to chat to some of the young stars. Images of rehearsals and the video shoot by Leela Bennett Photography.

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As I sit in on a rehearsal for one of the big numbers in Beauty and The Beast, the atmosphere, excitement and enthusiasm is palpable and as the performers break into already well-rehearsed song, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I witness the early stages of what is undoubtedly going to be an amazing theatrical experience.

Heading up the Creative Arts Department is the director, Marilitsa Alexiou, who lives and breathes the recent Perins productions which have raised the bar to a truly professional level over the past few years.

Marilitsa relishes the challenge set by the success of past productions and dismisses the obvious question: “how much pressure are you under to deliver?” with a smile and a wave of the hand. She says: “We don’t really think of this as a school production but as youth theatre. The hard work starts with the auditions in September and spans many, many months. It’s not just an hour or so rehearsal after school once a week, it’s a full on build up to the show week itself in July including ‘teaser performances’ at Christmas carol services and the Alresford Music Festival in June”.

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Marilitsa is supported by musical directors (husband and wife team) Melanie and Matthew. I ask Matthew, who is new to Perins this year, what his take is on such an early sellout of tickets: “It’s a combination of some brilliant marketing – we produced an amazing video trailer, shot in Alresford – and word of mouth, of course.

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Building on the success of Phantom of the Opera two years ago and Les Misèrables before that, people aree well aware early on of just how spectacular this is going to be so want to get tickets very quickly”.

“That, and our new venue”, adds Melanie. The ‘new venue’ she refers to is a ‘big topper’ temporary theatre to be built in the school grounds which will seat an audience of 450 in tiered seating and which will not only provide a truly theatrical experience.

The unique Disney-approved set is too big to even fit through the doors of the school hall – but will cut the overall number of performances to six: “Our Phantom performers were buzzing but so tired by the end of each show, we wanted to find a way of reducing the number of performances but still satisfy the huge demand for tickets”.

This is theatrical teamwork at its best which will last for years in the minds of the students taking part: “On the last night of Phantom as they took their final bows there were happy, enthusiastic, adrenalin-fueled tears as they realised that it was all over. As the show takes shape, the excitement builds and builds. It becomes so much a part of their lives, it takes over. We expect commitment from the performers as we give our commitment to them”.

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Working with Marilitsa and her team is M3 Productions who provide the professional stage production and technical expertise needed to put on a show of this size and complexity. They are to build the temporary, fully-equipped professional theatre, a huge start-from-scratch undertaking. And Marilitsa says an additional benefit of having M3 Productions on board is the fact that “the cast and crew get an insight into the world of professional theatre, to work with them and as a consequence step up to the mark”.

As part of the effort to include the wider community, the show will also feature younger children from many of Perins’ feeder primary schools at different performances. Matthew describes the process as “from school to theatre” – not just in terms of the performance but the set, the costumes, the use of advanced technology, the whole theatrical experience.

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I get to speak to some of the talented cast, too: Amy Mills, who plays Belle and Will Swan as The Beast visibly bubble with enthusiasm. “Such a great opportunity” is how Amy describes her chance to play the lead, and Will adds “I get excited just coming to rehearsals!”. Maisie Tween, who is to be La Fou (usually played by a male) describes the complex auditioning process and adds that she was delighted to be selected; “I think final rehearsal week will be stressful but I’m absolutely confident that we can do it!”. Year 8 student Connor Mills, who is to play the part of Chip, says “it’s so exciting, I just can’t stop thinking about it”. And of course, Connor will also have the opportunity to be involved in the next big Perins show in two years time.

There is no doubt that such an amazing experience at such a young age will not just be short-lived fun for them. It boosts the students’ confidence, improves their communication skills, builds lasting relationships with each other and the wider community.

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Who knows, it could also quite possibly generate the next generation of West End stars. And Perins Creative Arts, who have worked so hard to raise the bar so high, can be justifiably proud of their achievements. I very much look forward to seeing the show on the night and reporting back, no doubt with a glowing review.

Follow the progress of Beauty and The Beast on Twitter @PerinsArts, Facebook www.facebook.com/perinsschooltheatreteam/ and on their website at www.perins.net/theatre/