Behind the scenes of Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society's Oklahoma, at the Ipswich Regent April 13-16
There's a mighty load of whooping and a hollering when I mosey on into Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society's Okalahoma rehearsals. It sounds like a hoedown.
Arriving in the middle of a large group scene, director Mark Connell is busy corralling the enthusiastic cast who are in the middle of performing Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’.
We retire to a quiet corner while, out of sight but not earshot, they move on to the scene when the full company arrives at Aunt Ella’s to refresh themselves on the way to the box social.
Connell’s been here since 7pm, finishing off the dream ballet sequence. The rest of the company were close on his heels, arriving around 7.30pm.
“We’ve got the children in tonight. We’re putting them into the scene which the adults have done but they haven’t so I just taught them it quickly before we started the run through of act one at 8.15pm,” he says, almost drowned out by the sounds of The Farmer and the Cowman.
“What they’re doing behind us is all the other elements of the show which involve the children. I only called them once this week and they’ll be collected at 9pm. We’ll carry on until 10pm... On Sunday we’ll do a full run through.”
He’s excited at the number of youngsters who have returned for the show, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s love story set against the backdrop of the rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys in turn of the 20th Century America.
“They’re the future of the company. Wee’re lucky to have been able to involve some of First Stage, the youth group attached to the society. There’s a handful of youngsters involved in this show which is great; it gives them an idea of what it’s like in a big show. Hopefully it’ll ignite something in them and they’ll want to continue
“They’ve been rehearsed separately by one of our choreographers, so they were taught it out of context and it’s now about blending in with the adults. It’s really important to have them on stage with the rest of the company because we are representing a community.”
Despite less of a run-in than usual, rehearsals have been going well. Obviously, as with any show, there have been challenges. Rather than the tradional split of singers doing there thing before making way for the dancers, everybody does both. It’s usual for the actors playing Laurey and Curly to be played by dancers during the dream ballet sequence.
“We’re fortunate to have principals (Sian Naylor and Andy Gledhill) capable of doing the dance themselves. We’re leaving them to do all of it themselves, that’s perhaps a slightly different twist which people may or may not have seen before,” says Connell.
“Everything’s finished so it is a case of running over things. There’s lots of dialogue, lots of songs, lots of dances; it’s quite a meaty show. What inevitably happens through the process is you get to the end of act two but you’ve left act one to get a little bit rusty so then it’s a case of going back and polishing.
“People’s lives get in the way of your show,” he laughs. “You have to understand they can’t always be available and that presents problems at times but that’s part of the fun isn’t it?”
He admits to finding it hard to be really happy with the finished product; spotting bits he wished he’d done better.
“There comes a point where you have to step back and let the company take over, because they don’t want to get notes from me throughout the run; they want to enjoy it,” he laughs. “The process and seeing the guys create something out of nothing is rewarding.”
The choice of show is another challenge.
“What makes you choose Oklahoma over a new release? It’s very much what’s available at the time. It’s hard in a place like Ipswich where we get great touring shows coming to the Regent.... Sound of Music’s been and gone and we’ve Annie, Cats, Sister Act coming. I think it would be a shame to leave the old ones alone and only do new shows. This is thought of a crowd pleaser and has lots of songs people recognise.”
Describing it as a show about community, society, hope and the acceptance of change, Connell has a soft spot for Oklahoma having appeared in a production of it several years ago. He loves how it has something for everybody - the drama of the rivaly between the farmers and the cowman, the romance between cowby Curly and farm girl Laurey which is complicated by the jealous Jud, the comedy with Ali Hakim, Ado Annie and Aunt Ella and of course the music.
“I can’t think of a person who doesn’t know the opening song Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’ in some context or another. Even if they don’t know it’s from the show itself, it’ll be familiar. We’ve even a couple of fights in this,” Connell laughs. “They’ve been really good fun to do. We’ve elongated them a bit to try to make them as graphic as we can and these lads have had good fun doing it. We want them to look as realistic as possible while being safe but not looking it.”
Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society’s Oklahoma runs April 13-16 at the Ipswich Regent. Read the first review online Tuesday night.