Characters and Chorus – 4 weeks to go…

Lucy is one of our chorus members. ‘Mack and Mabel’ is her first show with SAC.

Frank and Mabel (2)
‘Frank’ (Alex Chase), and ‘Mabel’ (Beth Gray) discussing Frank’s new script
Mack and Mabel (2)
‘Mack’ (Mark Blackham), and ‘Mabel’ (Beth Gray) mid scene







It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a show, and even longer since that show was a musical. ‘Mack and Mabel’ was not a show I’d seen, but the more I learnt about it and the history of the characters, the more interested I became. Set in the era which saw the birth of ‘talkies’ and the move away from silent films, ‘Mack and Mabel’ is a tale that includes love and romance underneath moments of hilarity. The silent film genre heavily influenced how this play is set, and are a style of comedy so different to that which we primarily see today. Anyone who has seen silent films will know that facial expressions and gestures are the key to their comedic value, which has played a significant role in how characters have developed. Being mainly based on real people, the characters have a lot of depth to them, which is being brilliantly bought to life by the principles. They have all clearly done a lot of work on their characters personalities to make them their own.

Directors Comments (2)
Sophie centre stage directing the cast

As Sophie, our magnificent leader, has reminded us, a chorus can make or break a show. Choruses (or should it be chori?) have their routes in classical Greek theatre and are now a staple part of many genres of stage show. The chorus have all had their own characters to develop within the scenes, reacting to the dialogue and actions on stage as it happens. Having such a range of characters to play throughout the show can be tricky, swapping from studio girls to Keystone Kops to tappers requires a lot of energy and concentration. This has meant that rehearsals have, of course, been intense. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed being part of a high energy and fast paced rehearsal environment again, and judging by the smiles and laughter I think everybody else feels the same.

This is my first show at SAC, and the cast have been really welcoming to me as the newbie. It’s a really tight-knit group who have clearly worked together a lot before, which creates a fantastic dynamic on stage. I would say I was thrown in at the deep end trying to keep up, but it would be fairer to say I dived in completely willingly of my own accord! The whole cast has made it really easy to become a part of the show. Sophie’s clear and precise direction has meant we know *exactly* what we’re doing and when. I hope that also means everything is happening as she pictured it and intends it to be!

End of Act 2
Sophie giving feedback after running Act 2 in rehearsals – all positive, obviously.

Now we are about a month away from opening night (nobody panic). Barbara and Eleanor have choreographed some amazing movement that has been put into place with the dialogue. Running an act every rehearsal is the best way to make sure everyone remembers the flow of the show before we add in the staging, props, and costumes in a couple of weeks’ time.

We are about to start a crucial stage of the pre-show process – set building. Not many people in the cast know that originally, I started out with the intentions of helping backstage. Then somehow, I found myself at an audition, telling Sophie I know how to tap (albeit 17 years or so since I’ve worn tap shoes), and how much I’d love to be a part of the show! It might not have been what I intended, but I’m really glad it’s the way things turned out. The set building will be a great way for the cast to see the show come to life over the next few weeks. It’s an exciting time in the run up to opening night, I hope we will see you there!

Tickets are on sale from and the show starts on 11th July at Shaftesbury Arts Centre, Dorset.


Steady as she goes!

SO………how are things going with Mack and Mabel!?  Well…the show is coming together well with words learnt, songs learnt and now the characters starting to develop really well. With things going well on the stage,….what is happening off the stage for the director and the production team?

Well…..the set is going to start being realised in the next week and props are coming together. Both of these areas have needed close discussion with the director, along with the lighting team to help give the overall feel that is needed for the shows. These 3 things, along with sound will be put togetherness on the technical rehearsal, which is a rehearsal without the cast, looking at all of the lighting and sound cues and getting them all programmed in for the shows. Other areas which are ongoing are costumes, make up, choreography and hair….again, all which need lots of discussion together to make sure that it all compliments everything! It is a lot of fun, but it does mean that my brain doesn’t completely switch off!

Tickets are on sale and the show starts on 11th July at Shaftesbury arts centre, Dorset.

Taking shape! 😀

The show is really starting to take shape! Cheography is going well with a lot of numbers now starting The have great shape and structure. The whole show is now blocked, which means everyone knows where and what they are doing and scripts are starting to be put down. This is great as the characters can really start to develop, along with the emotions between characters. This is where directing can get really fun and the structure is set and now it can be build and it can grow!

This shows promises to be a real treat, so don’t miss out! Tickets on sale at Shaftesbury arts centre box office or 01747 825349. The show is on from the 11th July.

Photos by Ian Berry and are of Mack Sennett ( Mark Blackham) and Mabel Normand (Beth Gray).

Week 3!……..

Rehearsals are going really well so far! Chaotic at times, but lots of fun and getting lots done. Act 1 is now blocked completely, and we are starting Act 2 on Thursday of this week. The cast are working really hard with their songs and words, which means we have time to concentrate on character development with principles but also with the chorus. The chorus are so important and can make or break a show, so it is really important that they also develop characters in each scene to become part of the story.

Lots of work is going on behind the scenes as well….looking at the type of film cameras that were used in 1911 vs the 1920s  to help with the look and feel of time passing through the show, when were clapper boards  🎬 invented in relation to the time line in the show and how to create some of the visual effects that help with the overall effect of the show!

A few rehearsal photos of the fab Keystones Kops!

Mack prepares!

So what happens when you find out you have landed one of the title roles in this year’s Summer Show at Shaftesbury Arts Centre – playing Mack Sennett in Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel?  I was the lucky person to do this, in early April, and here are a few words about how I have prepared to play this character, who was one of the biggest influences on the silent movie scene at the beginning of the twentieth century.

I found out I’d got the part a few days after the audition. I had already done a little research into Mack’s real life, as well as the story of the show as part of my preparation for the audition, and had seen it some years ago at Newbury, with David Soul in the leading role. I knew I was about the right age for the older Mack, looking back on his adventures in Movies with Mabel.

As soon as I had collected my script and score from Director Sophie, I met with Musical Director David, spent about 90 minutes getting familiar with every single piece of music that I am involved in, as solo singer or part of the chorus, and recorded a rough rehearsal version that David could email to me. These were on a CD in my car for three weeks prior to rehearsals starting, so I pretty much know everything I have to sing, although of course things may change, if only in a minor way, with harmonies changed, cuts made, or lines given to specific singers in any given song, but at least I went to the first rehearsal ready to sing anything needed from me. I also went to one of David’s pre-rehearsal gatherings, where I met Beth for the first time, and what a relief it was to find how good an actor and singer she is. At 18, Beth is about the age that Mabel first met Mack, and with Mack narrating from his later years, their story should come across well as the years pass through the action of the musical.  Sophie also got Beth and I together to discuss our characters and how they develop, how we react to each other, and to run through all of our key scenes, so that when we rehearse them with the full cast we have already worked out the basics, saving time and helping create the chemistry needed.

My final big piece of preparation was spending four hours today recording every single word that I have to learn, spoken and sung, onto my computer, and then editing this into tracks of two to three minutes each, in scenes or half-scenes. I have found, over the past twenty years or so, that my favourite and most efficient way of learning words is to try and learn a short piece, 2 minutes or so, on my 25-minute drive to work, and then consolidate this on the way home from work in the evening. As more and more words and music are learned, the longer it takes to go through all the words, so I would expect this to take me three to four weeks to learn the 56 minutes of material for Mack and Mabel – 38 tracks in total – some just thirty seconds and others over two minutes long.

I will start learning my spoken words tomorrow, and my deadline is the end of May, as that is the official date for “Books Down”, and once I know my words I will spend every daily commute going through them with the CD, so that I stay accurate, and do not let a single syllable slip, or change the tense or pronoun in any sentence, as that is the sort of thing that can throw a whole speech, or distract one of my fellow performers. We’ve had a few rehearsals now, during which Sophie has set the moves for the first third of the show, and these moves will become part of this learning, adapting as we get our set built in mid to late June.

I have a reputation for learning lines well, something I intend to continue, and this daily routine is, I believe, the reason for my accuracy. I will still forget one or two lines in every performance, that is human, and normal, but every time I do I will correct it in the following show, usually forgetting something different instead!

There we are then, an insight into how I prepare for this role – come and see me as Mack Sennett in Mack and Mabel at Shaftesbury Arts Centre between 11th and 21st July, and if you want to know more, find us on Facebook, Twitter, and at the Centre in Bell Street, Shaftesbury.




Let’s get started!

So,- rehearsals start next week for ‘Mack and Mabel’ at Shaftesbury Arts Centre! We will be rehearsing 2 x week and using Sunday’s for movement and dance rehearsals. The rehearsal schedule is done, the props list is in a draft form and the set is there is my head….so we now just need to get on with character development, learning songs, learning words and setting how the show is going to look. This is the start of a really exciting project.

Tickets are on sale now from or (01747) 854321 with the opening night having a half price ticket offer!