Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington, goes the famous song – but until June 6 local parents have the opportunity to ignore that advice and put their child forward to be part of a professional Christmas show.
Two weeks of open auditions have got under way for the Rose Theatre’s 2017 winter spectacular, Alice in Winterland. As for the last four years, a large company of kids from southwest London will work alongside real actors.
It’s a big ask for youngsters – and their parents – and not for the faint-hearted. Children undergo a two part audition process and have to commit to six months when they attend two to three rehearsals a week, followed by 23 matinee and evening performances in front of live audiences.
“We make the auditions as fun and educational as we can. We put together a company of about 50 young people aged 10 to 19, and then we just train the hell out of them,” says playwright Ciaran McConville, who is director of learning and participation at the Rose.
“It should be enormous fun. It should be really engaging and it should feel like an adventure.”
McConville has started from scratch, writing a brand new script for the based loosely on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. It’s a Christmas show, so McConville has turned Wonderland into Winterland and adapted the familiar story.
That means the young actors can’t just imitate other performances that have gone before, but will create their own roles. The long rehearsal period will be full of workshops on movement and clowning, voice and singing, to help their characters emerge.
McConville believes in using Stanislavsky’s Method approach, to create natural and authentic characters. “You’re never seeing a group of kids standing up doing jazz hands, what you’re seeing is something really authentic and believable. It’s a big ask.”
There will be adult actors involved in the production, but in the four years since the Rose started doing mass-participation Christmas spectaculars the tradition has developed that it is the youngsters who take the lead.
Sometimes it is the youngest children who are the most inspirational, because their imaginations are more fearless. Last year’s production of The Wind In The Willows discovered a star in the 11-year-old who played Doris the Dormouse.
So what do children gain from the experience? Confidence, from performing in front of others. They benefit socially: making new friends, and learning co-operation.They gain practical skills in presenting and storytelling that will be useful to them in life.
But there are other, even more important benefits.“Theatre and arts activity is vital for young people because it gives you a voice and a means of self-expression, at a time when it’s actually very difficult to make yourself heard, and when you’re often crippled by insecurity in day to day interactions it can be a safe way of expressing yourself,” says Suhayla el-Bushra, whose play FOMO featured in National Theatre Connections 2017.
McConville agrees. “Acting teaches you to listen and invest in the people around you. It is, by its nature, a generous discipline. In understanding that they are the product of other people’s stories, they learn to develop a strong and meaningful narrative of their own.”
First round auditions for Alice in Winterland are taking place between May 18 and June 6. More details here.