Category: AmDram


A few weeks ago I was in Cardiff visiting one of my closest friends. We met in college eleven years ago and, despite her moving to Cardiff in 2009, we’ve remained bestest buds. When we she first moved down we used to write to each other a lot. To a stranger, untrained in our ridiculous comedy, the letters would read like some sort of cry for help, but to us they were hilarious. We used to send each other all sorts of stupid stuff, writing letters as characters and sometimes creating over the top, ridiculous stories to entertain each other. On my recent visit, we were talking about these letters and how it had been a few years since we sent our last. I’d taken down a particularly long and bizarre ‘book’ that she had written for one of my birthdays and it had provoked plenty of hilarity.

‘Where did we get our ideas from? I couldn’t think of anything like this now….’, she sighed flicking through the pages of Christmas carols she had adapted with rude and absurd new meanings.

It’s a worrying thought that has also crossed my mind. Up until a few years ago I was constantly writing.  Whether it was short stories, bits of screenplay, notes of ideas, or bonkers letters to friends. There was a point where I was constantly typing in ideas into my phone or scribbling on the back of my hand. I often used to leave my evening job with my pockets stuffed full of till roll which I had covered with ideas during the laboriously dull shifts. I was bursting with ideas.

The last time I really sat down to write (and complete!) anything was in February, when I wrote a full script for the Performing Arts concert in school. Before that, I hadn’t written anything since the September following my PGCE, when I went a bit mad with freedom and channelled all my pent up creative energy into a short story. That was about two years ago now. Before that, I hadn’t written anything worth talking about for a long time.

So, when discussing this sudden halt in creativity, our first morbid thought was ‘It must come with age’. Now that we have reached the sickeningly disgusting age of 27, and hover on the brink of *gulp* 30, it seemed obvious that that creative vein from our late teens had just sort of slowed. But age can’t be to blame, really can it? People don’t just stop being creative once they reach their late twenties! It doesn’t happen!

So, what is it? We both have quite demanding jobs and, as I’ve said lots of times before, I do sometimes feel this horrible sense of creative restriction since I started my PGCE (3 years ago this week!). I don’t perform anymore and I don’t really have the time to write, which has resulted in me feeling quite frustrated that I’m not able to express myself like I used to. My friend’s job is similar – she works long hours and by the time she comes home all she wants to do is switch off.  On the rare weekend, where I’ll feel so frustrated that I’ll force myself to just sit and write, what comes out is re-tellings or twists of real life events. Things that have happened to me or my friends. My writing now is more grounded to real-life – totally different to Reset, which I started writing in 2009, that I created a whole new world for.

Maybe it’s not ‘work’ so much, just ‘life’. We’ve got all these horrid responsibilities now that we didn’t have as teenagers and it seems that life is just clogging up our heads. In the last year or so I’m finding myself getting increasingly forgetful. Whether it’s names or memories or highly important jobs I need to do – I always had a very good memory but I’m noticing a steady increase in my ‘scatty moments’. A few weeks ago I totally forgot the word for ‘flannel’, so how can I expect my mind to focus on creating a story?

Perhaps creativity is like a muscle. My life has seen big changes in the last couple of years and it’s meant that I’ve had to give up performing and not had much time to write. Maybe the problem is that I’ve neglected to stretch that muscle that was so strong just a few years ago, which makes it tricky for me to carry out any kind of lengthy writing session now. When I think about it, my ‘creative peak’ was at a time when I was writing daily and that time itself has come off the back of my time in education. At GCSE level, story writing was part of the exam so I had plenty of opportunity to practise (‘write a short story about friendship’ *shudders*). At A level I wasn’t so much writing but devising stories and improvs as part of a Drama and Theatre Studies course, which also involved writing analytical essays about how I would creatively stage productions. Then, finally, at degree level I chose a Creative Writing module which resulted in Reset being written. It’s important to remember that during that time in university I was constantly required to read all kinds of literature, so perhaps immersing myself in other people’s writing is another way to inspire my creativity.

It’s a sad fact, one that at times is difficult to accept, but my life now requires me to focus on things other than writing and performing. Once my ideas might have blossomed and flourished but now, my exhausted brain just tends to let them fester for a bit and then crumble away. But, determined to end on a positive, I’m going to make a promise to myself: to try to find the time to be creative. Whether it’s late-night writing, surrounding myself with inspiration novels, or spending time with fellow theatricals. That’s my promise….and I’m making it just as I’m going back to school!

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Oh. My. God.

48hours left.

Months of planning and prepping and rehearsing have led us to this week. We’ve spent today on a last minute hunt for props and costumes before having our final rehearsal.

Everything is as ready as it will ever be. A tree has been erected in the dinner hall and the PE cupboard is now home to Excalibur.

With just one full day left before the performance, the children are far more relaxed than the staff (which is how it should be!). Although today’s performance was not quite as energy-fuelled as other rehearsals, the children have worked hard to put this production together and I’m sure they’ll dazzle for the school and their parents on Wednesday.

Strangely, for me, an odd calmness settled over me today. I’ve got faith in the children to pull it off but it’s also oddly comforting to know that I only have to days left to worry about anything performing arts related! Bring on the show!

Drama and performance is a passion for me so I was really pleased when I was asked to take over the Performing Arts club. We’ve got a bunch of very talented and enthusiastic children this year, and they’ve been working super hard since January to put together a show based on (a topic of their choice) Welsh Myths and Legends.

We’ve seen everything – from costume confusion to corpsing to totally improvised dialogue! Now we’ve got two weeks left until the performance date. Rehearsals are going well but that anxious ‘oh-my-goodness-two-weeks-left’ feeling is starting to trouble me. We’ve got a child who doesn’t know how to yawn, a tyrannical barber’s wife and I’m having to give lessons in villainy at lunch time. The children have done a fabulous job at learning their lines so I’m not too concerned about that, but I am concerned about what I can do to aid their performance. They’ve worked tremendously hard – fashioning a story, a script and creating some brilliant performances – so they deserve the best support they can get. So it’s a shorter blog post from me this week, because I’m neck-deep in music-editing, prop-sourcing and set-designing.  Wish us luck!

November 2005

15 year old G is taking part in a compilation show with the town’s theatre society. I am compering and introduce two of my friends singing a song from ‘the prequel to the Wizard of Oz.’  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard Defying Gravity and those opening bars certainly grab my attention.

‘I didn’t even know there was a prequel…’, I say to my co-host after the show. One of my friends plays a couple of songs from the soundtrack at the after party and I start to feel nauseated. ‘Oh, no, I don’t like it. They all sound like they’re on helium.’ Poor Kristin Chenoweth.

January 2006

I am obsessed. Caught in a twister of witches, flying monkeys and dramatic riffs. I have my own copy of the soundtrack and it is permanently in my portable CD player. I’m working in the evenings at my Grandad’s shop and, during quiet periods, I sneak into the back room, pinch a can of vimto and listen to more Wicked. The build-up of Defying Gravity sends tingles down my arms and I can’t get my head around how magical it sounds. I am actually in love with a song.

May 2006

I’m getting ready to leave high school and in between revisingImage result for Glinda and Elphaba catfight for exams, my close friends and I are listening to Wicked at whatever chance we can get. In the art room at lunch time. On the steps to the main hall at break. We weren’t very popular (‘-lar’) and at one point a particularly gobby girl accused us of listening to ‘goth music’.  If only she knew. (and if only I took a GSCE in Wicked)

October 2006

Wicked is coming to the UK and after months of failed pestering to family members (I even told my mum I would never expect a birthday present again.  It didn’t go down well), one of my grandparents caves and reveals she has bought tickets for me and my cousin. I have to wait 2 weeks which feels like two years. We travel down to London and I am almost sick with excitement when the cab turns the corner and the Apollo Victoria is revealed, all lit up in green. The show is amazing and, aside from a man who most definitely wasn’t Munchkin-height sitting in front of me, it’s everything I hoped it would be. Plus, I saw Idina Menzel. Bonus awesome points. A week later, I am still so hyped that I write to the cast and they reply with personalised, signed autographs.

October 2009

3 years after my first viewing, I see Wicked again, this time taking my Grandma. When the stage lights up during Dancing Through Life she looks at me with big eyes and says ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ Defying Gravity continues to give me chills.

October 2012

I take my mum to see the Wicked tour in Manchester. She is a life-long fan of Oz, and spots Nessarose’s stripey socks before I do. Wicked is the show that keeps on giving – there is always something new to see.

Image result for galinda gifA few weeks later, I go again with my friends from the theatre group. They’re fellow fanatics and some of them are seeing the show for the first time. We rock up wearing witches hats and sing Defying Gravity on the street outside the theatre.

October 2016

So, it’s been ten years since I first saw Wicked live. I don’t know where the time has gone, but Wicked still has the power to make me laugh, cry and send tingles down my arms
. The music is the closest I have ever heard to perfection. It can sound magically whimsical one minute, poignantly moving the next, and end up dark and bleak. It bounces from joyful to devastating in minutes and you’ll never watch that famous melting scene in the same way again. There is always another nugget of awesomeness to spot in the stage show or the soundtrack. (This weekend I noticed the opening bars of No One Mourns the Wicked and As Long As You’re Mine are almost identical! It’s taken me 11 years to spot that.)

I was never really a big fan of The Wizard of Oz but Wicked sparked my interest in a darker, twisted Oz. It was from here that I became familiar with Wicked’s source material, Gregory Maguire’s book, which I have read and written about countless times. I love the way the story links with its predecessor – from subtle nods (‘lemons and Image result for elphaba gifsmelons and pears’ ‘Oh my!’) to more obvious references, like plonking a big old farmhouse in the middle of the stage. It’s a masterclass in storytelling. One of my favourite moments is when Elphaba, wearing her pointed hat from the Ozdust Ballroom, picks up the broom she has used to barricade a door and is shielded from the cold in a black cloak by Glinda. Suddenly, in the middle of the show, everything has come together and Elphaba is the Wicked Witch of the West. My favourite scene though has to be just before ‘No Good Deed’, where Elphaba and Glinda square-off following Nessarose’s death. (‘Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble!’. Bitchy! Elphie is fierce!)

In many aspects Wicked is beautiful but visually it’s stunning. The set design is genius, with everything from the grandeur and greenery of the Emerald City to the shadowy corridors of Kiamo Ko being strikingly atmospheric. Any show that has both its leading ladies flying (via broomstick or bubble) plus a giant mechanical dragon looming over the audience is alright by me.

Wicked is not just a wonderful production, but it’s a reminder of my teenage years. It reminds me of friends near and far, and the many nights of singing around the piano. Every October, as pumpkins are being carved and witches hats appear in shops, I get the urge to belt out those riffs and melodies. It’s become synonymous with autumn.

Ten years, countless drunken renditions of Defying Gravity, dozens of re-reads of the books, thousands of soundtrack-filled car journeys and 4 official viewings and I can’t get enough. Wicked has a reference for every occasion (does anyone else blast No Good Deed when they’re angry?). Defying Gravity has to be one of the most empowering songs ever. It packs enough punch to energise you in a second.

For me, Wicked is definitely a show that will stay with me forever. It’s part of my life and it was most prevalent during the time that shaped who I am today. Ten years ago, I might have been Team Glinda (I was inconsiderate and obsessed with what people thought). In 2016, I like to think I’m Team Elphaba and I have been changed for good.

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So regular readers of my blog will know that the theatre is very close to my heart. Last week, I came to a shocking realisation that it’s been two years since I was last on stage – that’s my longest break since I was 14! Coincidentally, I was talking to a pupil this week about their similar love of performing and it got me thinking about my early responses to drama in school. I bloody loved it. I remember taking part in several year 6 performances and then in year 7 things really kicking off when I joined the school drama club and played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol! My whole youth seemed to have been spent on a stage so why didn’t I pursue it further?

The simple answer is – I wasn’t encouraged. My family (grandparents, aunties, cousins etc) were supportive enough, but they were always going to be, they’re my family! So even if I was totally talentless they would still support me! My parents weren’t so keen on the idea of me being involved with the theatre.  I don’t know if it was the fear that I’d turn into a fabulous, sashaying queen or the worry that I’d enjoy the dressing up too much but neither seemed fussed on my early ambition to be an actor. I was gently steered towards a ‘more stable career’.

I could see their point. The world of performance is notoriously difficult to crack and if I wanted speedy independence I was going to have to be earning as soon as I could. But I remained enthusiastic, full of youthful gusto and naivety. I wanted to be on the stage!

This whole anecdote is relevant (I promise) because my first major knock in confidence in become an actor came from a teacher. Someone whose job it is to nurture and support our aspirations. I had a fantastic drama teacher in high school. Caring, passionate and encouraging – everything a drama teacher should be. The fact she is still in touch with so many of her pupils (myself included) is a testament to the impact she had on us and she remains one of my personal teaching role models. MG was always supportive, but it was another teacher who delivered the first slap. I’m hesitant to pin the blame entirely on him, but it was his delivery of some bad news which, I will always remember, left me feeling deflated about my hobby for the first time. I realised that drama just wasn’t taken seriously. In our third year of high school we had to choose which subjects we would study at GCSE level. My friends and I had waited for this moment for three years. We’d learned a lot about the GCSE Drama course and couldn’t wait to read plays, watch performances, explore methods and ideas, and, of course, do all that whilst having a great big laugh with each other and MG. However it was not meant to be. Eight of us were shuffled into a tiny room where this particular teacher – Mr P – carelessly and tactlessly told us the drama course wouldn’t be running that year and we should chose something else. Naturally, we argued back but the decision was made. For ridiculous reasons, I had to do Business Studies instead. Skills I have never used. Two years wasted.

At a careers evening, I excitedly shared with the careers adviser (aka Aspiration Destroyer) my plans to study drama, perhaps go to stage school and follow a career in acting. She shut me down straight away. ‘Oh no, perhaps a plan B. Acting is such a difficult industry to get into. Chances are you won’t go very far. What else do you like doing?’

Needless to say I left the school absolutely crushed. By the time I left aged 16 I had been totally convinced that my beloved hobby would be nothing more than that. I stumbled into college with little confidence in my ability and barely any sense of where I wanted my life to go. It took a long time to recover from that. Thankfully, I studied Drama and Theatre Studies at A level and my passion was rekindled thanks to two dedicated and encouraging tutors. But I still didn’t quite feel confident to make that application to drama school.

My point is, our time in education should be a time where we explore ourselves and our passions and begin to establish our ambitions, but instead my time in school turned out to be very damaging to my aspirations. I was not encouraged enough. I was aware that acting was a tricky career choice but I was passionate enough to want to give it a go. Perhaps it would turn out that I wasn’t quite cut out to succeed, but now, how will I ever know? It seems a career in anything creative is deemed too risky an option by schools. The same goes for writing. I have written stories from an early age, so why wasn’t I encouraged to follow that path? I must have had some skill to have done well in creative writing projects in school, college and university so why was it that the first real push I had to follow a career in writing was when I was 21? The day my creative writing lecturer took me aside and told me to consider forwarding my work to agent will go down as one of the proudest days of my life. I’d been told my work was good before but never by someone with so much experience. He believed in me and that belief has gone a long way.  Now, as a teacher, I know how important it is to be like Mr Lecturer and MG and how damaging it can be to have Aspiration Destroyer’s attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the career I have chosen, but I regularly wonder how different things could have been. I have friends in similar situations, who were dissuaded to follow their dreams and are now totally lost or totally miserable. I also have friends who have took the leap, trained at drama school and are now living in London or seeing the world. I just can’t help but envy that. Whilst I truly enjoy my day job, I live for those weekends where I can work on a writing project or sing with my friends or do impressions of Cher over WhatsApp. I love to entertain and, of course, that is partly a requirement of being a teacher!

So when a child tells me what they want to be when they’re older – policeman, dancer, brain surgeon, pirate – I tell them to go for it. I tell them that if they really want to do that then they should do everything they can do achieve it. We need to push arts in school and stop being so scared of those creative subjects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand more times. It isn’t focused on enough. Yes, literacy and numeracy and digital competency are important but so is culture and the ability to express oneself. If we don’t encourage this generation then in a couple of decades our theatres will be empty, radios will be silent and TV screens devoid of artistic talent! (I’m dramatic. It’s been proven.) Seriously, it needs to start in schools. We need to be fostering a passion for drama and the arts and supporting those with a taste for it.

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It started when I was fourteen. Introverted, lacking in confidence and with no idea of who I was. I was a clumsy, nervous little mouse with a bad haircut who barely knew anything of the world outside his high school. I’d endured a full year of secondary school when my best friend, K (extrovert, super confident, wore furry pink trousers to non-uniform day….you get the jist), bullied me into joining her Friday night youth theatre group. Bullying has never left me so grateful.

I jojazz hands!ined Wrexham Musical Theatre Society (WMTS) in January 2004 and remained there (give or take the odd year out) until March 2014. It was the setting of many firsts and many lasts for me, but I will always remember it as the place I first had friends. I know that sounds super sad, and of course I had some friends in school, but this was the place where I suddenly didn’t have to try to fit in. Imagine my shock when, as a fourteen year old, I discovered a hive full of people who were just like me. Imagine what that does to a boy. Many people have passed through the doors over the ten years that I was a member, and lots of them have shaped who I am today. I met a cluster of friends who I know I will never lose contact with and who will always be there no matter when I turn up at their door. I’ve trusted these people with thoughts I never dreamed I could share and I know they have done the same with me. For me, WMTS represents a home that I sometimes didn’t have when I was younger, as I spent some time being passed around the family. It’s provided me with stability as, no matter how unsettled things got, my WMTS family was always there.165909_10150927101122173_506567172_9793714_943399763_n

Being at the Society taught me how to be myself. Whether I was attending workshops or rehearsals or (as I got older) meetings, being a part of the theatre helped me realise that it was OK to express myself and be whoever I wanted to be. It’s OK to laugh, to cry, to get angry, to speak my mind, to hate who I want, to fancy who I want and, importantly, to enjoy every last moment.

Since 2012, we were aware that WMTS was not getting the support it needed and that closure sign was looming. We fought hard. We put on shows and fundraisers and tackled countless obstacles along the way, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We spent our teenage years at the Society, and it was in these last few months that we realised we had come full circle, as we were now able to watch a new generation do exactly the same. The younger members of our group reminded us of the fun and mischief we used to get up to at their age and although it was touching to see that the Society was still able to bring people together, we were sad that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow up with that place of security that we were so lucky to have.

In March 2014, we performed our final show. It was the perfect ending to our time at the t008heatre. The energy backstage that night is something I’ll never forget. I remember being so happy that we were getting a chance to go out with a bang and sing together one last time, but simultaneously I was dreading that final number. As we joined together for one last curtain call, grasping each other’s hands and listening in the darkness to the sobs from both backstage and within the audience, I remember being utterly grateful that we were able to say goodbye on our terms.

For the next few months, WMTS remained quietly open, closing down slowly but surely, without any fuss. Many of us had ventured across the country to pursue other commitments but we all stayed in touch and listened intently for any news of the Society. Nothing came.12715413_10156573059980381_6965131466867006289_n

382985_294977330536506_1728688693_nThis week, I stumbled upon a photograph which left me devastated. It had been sometime since I was able to visit the Society as word had spread in early autumn that the building was now closed. I’d been waiting for the inevitable and this week I was confronted with an image of that beautiful building in the early stages of demolition.

I’m mature enough to know that loss and unfairness is a huge part of life. But I also can’t help but yearn for that place that was very much the hub of my youth. I’m angry that no one could save it. I’m angry that somewhere that harboured so much love, passion and talent could be allowed to wither and fade. I’m angry that a building that has been a part of our town for many years– many before I was even born – can be so cruelly torn down. I’m angry that a theatrical company that has been performing in Wrexham for over seventy years can be allowed to slowly collapse. It’s no secret that in the latter years, we struggled. We suffered many casualties and dramas, as many companies do, but we were determined to carry on. It doesn’t seem fair that a place that had so many people fighting for it can be forgotten. Towards the end, there was a small army of young, devoted people who were passionate about keeping the Society open not just in their name, but in the name of all those who came before them. I remember during the last Pantomime, standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, and looking at some old photographs which had been unearthed from many of the hidden storage spaces. It hit me just how many people had invested themselves in the Society and I became emotional just realising how small in number we were compared to the Society’s earlier days. I remember the smiles and twinkling eyes of those photographs and, although years stood between us, we were sharing the same magic of the building.

1779064_735809426450471_415188736_nYesterday, my friend and I paid one last visit to the site. Outside, props and set pieces lie carelessly amongst rubble and bricks. The roof of the building is open, allowing for the cold rain to soak through to the studio that holds so many of our warmest memories. It’s a horrific site. Of course, the new owners are entitled to do whatever they want with the building as they have no emotional investment, but it seems so shocking and disrespectful to see a place that has been a symbol of pride and strength in my life (and many others’ lives) in such a state.

It would be easy to try and pin the blame on a long list of people, but I think it’s too late for that. Some thought the Society was being held in the past, but I strongly believe that WMTS had a future that could have been saved. In times where many young people wander lost and troubled through life, I’m grateful for the place that steered me in the right direction, and I’m sorry that the youth of Wrexham have lost another sanctuary. I overheard someone discussing a student once. ‘He might feel lonely now. He might feel like the odd one out, but trust me, one day, he’s going to walk into a room, and there will be his people, waiting for him’. Well that’s what happened to me when I was fourteen. To a lot of people in Wrexham, WMTS was a ‘derelict building’ or ‘that old operatic place by Matalan’, but to me it was my safe place and I don’t know where I’d be now without it. I’ll miss it and I will never forget the joy that it brought me.

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It started with a sleepy Sunday on the sofa. Absent-mindedly flicking through channels, with my Jack Russell Fred curled on my lap, I came across Bugsy Malone.

I’m instantly transported to 2004. Bugsy was my first venture into amateur theatre. At 14, I was in total awe of how amazing the show was. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t that great, but to the 14 year old me it was incredible. I remember the vivid colours of the staging, the glare of the spotlight, the goosebumps as the band played the overture, the jitters as I waited backstage to repeat my handful of lines.

I remember sitting in the dressing room during between the Saturday matinee and evening performance, half costumed, eating snacks and drinking Lucozade.

I remember laughing so hard during the finale of our first performance as myself and my friends, some old, some new, got splurged one by one and the stage descended into a chaotic mess of cream and shaving foam. I remember being super happy and proud.

I’ve been part of lots of productions since and the tingles never fade.

I always took that part of my life for granted and it is only recently, after being off-stage for about 18 months, that I’ve realised just how important that time was to me. I met people I will never forget and I had experiences that have shaped who I am today.

It is devastating to read about the cuts to the arts that are happening.  I believe that the arts are key to our future, not just as a country, but as individuals. I’m passionate about theatre for young people and I do my small part to encourage it within my teaching. The closure of our theatre was just one in a long line and I’ve often said how sad it is that places like this can’t be supported more. The media are always talking about giving our children something to do to get them off the streets – well, being on the stage not only occupied us but gave us a sense of pride and pleasure and allowed to explore who we are.

Needless to say, my sleepy Sunday turned into a quite a nostalgic afternoon.

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(Some of the gang in 2013, the year before our final show.)