No rehearsal can prepare you for the feeling of stepping out onto a stage on opening night. The usual rehearsal chatter is silenced, daylight is blocked out. For the first time every eye in the room is on you; every ear hears only the sounds you provide from either the stage or the band-pit.
Your job switches from one of practicing to one of delivering; the stakes are raised. I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that stepping onto the stage on opening night, during our first song, ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ was the first time that I truly paid attention to the lyrics which we were singing. Only then did the realisation hit me that it was our duty to bring the story of Sweeney Todd alive to a paying audience.
Entering the process, I was sure that the actual performances would be the highlight of being a part of Sweeney Todd. As soon as I left the stage for the last time on the final night, however, I realised it wouldn’t be the performance aspect that I missed. It would be working with the actors that stood around me on stage, the musicians who sat in the band pit, those who helped with props, lighting, sound, costumes, makeup and last but certainly not least, directing. An unexpected side effect of Sweeney Todd was the bonds that we all made, the pride we felt for one another when we got the right timing, shone a spotlight on the right person, put the ‘chaise’ on at the right time. Everyone involved was essential for the show to be a success, and I don’t think anyone could have foreseen just how great a team, and family, we would become.
People familiar with Stephen Sondheim will be aware of both the complexity and brilliance of his work: Sweeney Todd conforms to both of these descriptions. The storyline itself is complicated enough; murder, deceit and vengeance forming the base of a plot adorned and beautified with love, satire and pies. The plot is a dream for an actor, the characters are written with a deliberate ambiguity, which allows them the opportunity to play the characters as they desire. This room for creativity made the rehearsal process fascinating as we witnessed each actor breath new life into our characters , experimenting with different choices - with the aid of our two very talented directors - until we found the one that felt right. Thankfully, the score is also a dream for the musicians involved as it is a key component in the delivery of the story; the brilliance of both Stephen Sondheim and our student conductor Dean Rogers shone through in every performance. This cohesion between band and singers was electric to witness, when the timing was right (albeit this did not come as easily as it may have appeared, and I myself was often a culprit of dodgy timing in rehearsals, sorry band!), it gave everyone a boost of motivation and a determination to raise the stakes by performing to the best of their ability.
With the exception of the ‘Sweeney, Sweeney, Sweeney’ that I can’t seem to get out of my head and the floods of tears I find myself in when I think of the show being over, the whole experience has been immensely rewarding. Every Friday night rehearsal, every second that has gone into getting this show on its feet has been enriching, and I can firmly say on behalf of all involved that we are so grateful for the chance to be a part of it. Having opportunities such as school shows which allow students (and teachers) to showcase their talents, other than ones of an academic nature, make me proud to be a part of the Blue Coat school, and are experiences that we will all carry through to later life. For some, the show was their first and for some their last, but we all share the feelings of deep gratitude to one another for making the process so enjoyable and memorable. I only have one thing more to say that sums the show up, and that is ‘God, that was good!’
By Kirsten Leigh, U6I.
Photographs courtesy of Sam Elcock.