Chester Theatres~ the latest updates

With lockdown restrictions still in place surrounding live performance, the theatre industry is still finding ways to reach its audiences,
Paul Crofts brings us the latest news from our local Arts venues. 

 

 

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre/ Storyhouse ~

 

Earlier this year, it looked very much like we would not see any live theatre taking place in Chester for the duration of 2020. With restrictions firmly in place surrounding live performances, Storyhouse reluctantly cancelled its flagship outdoor theatre season and other local venues cancelled all performances and had to shut their doors.
Now, a few months on from the start of the Pandemic and following a relaxation of restrictions which now enables socially distanced performances to take place outdoors Storyhouse has been able to rescue at least part of its Grosvenor Park season with possibly the fastest build of an outdoor theatre ever seen. Earlier this month, Storyhouse announced that its pop-up outdoor theatre would return for a limited run of its acclaimed production of “The Comedy of Errors”, directed by Artistic Director Alex Clifton from 8th – 30th August with a cast of 8 actors working and rehearsing in a “bio bubble”.  Capacity for each show will be limited to an audience of 150, 25% of normal capacity meaning just 4,000 tickets are available. Other measures in place include staggered entrance times, no refreshments on sale and no interval. Audience members will be asked to wear face coverings whilst on the move.

Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre in Chester

Storyhouse CEO Andrew Bentley said “The open-air is the right place to start. There’s not going to be a better opportunity to get back into theatre this year.  Our customers understand this space, they know we can keep them safe and can be 100% certain of having a great time. There are a few privations of course, but that’s all part of the fun of being in it together.  All 33 performances are in daylight only, with no interval, no rush to the loo, no bar.  Actors won’t be jumping on anyone’s lap this year or throwing stuff at the audience, and we’ll ask our customers to hold back on the wolf whistling. We may have to rejoice inside a little, but that’s ok.

Storyhouse also continues to offer the popular series of Moonlight Flicks which this year takes place on the Dean’s Field behind Chester Cathedral so as to allow more space for social distancing. At Storyhouse itself, the main auditorium has been repurposed as a Cinema, harking back to the days of the Odeon with a series of classic big screen films on offer.  For full details and online booking go to www.storyhouse.com

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Theatr Clwyd ~

Over the border in Mold, Theatr Clwyd are offering a series of online summer Dance and Creative Movement Workshops for children and young adults whilst Cinema screenings have recommenced with films being screened on selected dates.  The theatre recently held a test outdoor performance featuring Indie rock band Me and Deboe, inviting friends and family of the band to attend.

Theatr Clwyd’s test event for Outdoor performances

Further events utilising the theatre’s outdoor space are now being programmed. For full listings and online booking, go to www.theatrclwyd.com

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Tip Top Productions ~

Following on from its successful series of “virtual events” as part of its “Lockdown Season” throughout July, Chester based theatre company Tip Top Productions have announced further events during August including a play reading, quiz night, open mic night and the first public read-through of Act 1 of “Waiting”, a brand-new play by Chester based playwright Gail Young set in Liverpool during the Blitz in WW2.

Speaking about the play-reading, Gail said “I’ve been working on “Waiting” for quite a while. Lockdown has given me plenty of quiet time to write and reflect, but it has deprived me of the opportunity to hear the play read aloud which, when you are writing a performance piece, is a definite disadvantage. Tip Top came to the rescue by including a public reading of Act 1 as part of their lockdown season, and pulling together a wonderful cast for the reading. Big thanks too to all those who participated in the zoom Q&A session afterwards. It’s been a massive help in taking the play forwards.”

Phil Cross, who directed the read-through of “Waiting” for Tip Top Productions said “We are so lucky to have a local writer like Gail who has entrusted us with her new work to showcase for the first time in front of an online audience. It was an exciting event with 8 local actors taking part and over 50 audience members watching online, all from the safety of their living rooms. In the absence of being able to create live theatre at the Forum Studio Theatre in Chester city centre, we have loved creating our programme of Lockdown online events, providing something for everyone, from new writing to dance workshops.It’s been a lovely opportunity to see our friends and audience members from Tip Top’s past and present but have also welcomed a new audience who have discovered Tip Top during Lockdown. We are always on the look-out to make new connections and friends. The doors may be physically closed but we are most certainly still a welcoming community theatre!”

The Forum Studio Theatre in Chester- home to Tip Top Productions

Tip Top Productions Lockdown Season continues, with new events being added throughout August and September. All events take place via Zoom. For full details including how to sign up, go to www.chestertheatre.co.uk

Paul Crofts August 2020

Forum Studio Theatre
A popular local theatre company is set to make history by taking part in a unique season of events which will help to pave the way for the safe return of live performances in theatres and other venues.
Chester and Wrexham based theatre company Tip Top Productions has been invited to take part in the Welsh Assembly’s trial of outdoor performances being staged at Theatr Clwyd near Mold as part of the first steps to bring live performance back to the Mold venue and to help shape Welsh Government guidance to enable the safe re-start of live performance across Wales. The show, “Musical Magic” takes place on Sunday 27th September at 6pm and will feature songs from popular West End and Broadway Musicals performed by a cast drawn from Tip Top’s talented performers.
Audience capacity will be strictly limited and social distancing measures in place for the event. Audience members are asked to bring suitable portable camping seating or rugs, cushions etc with them so as to enjoy the unique atmosphere of Theatr Clwyd’s newly created outdoor performance space.
Speaking about taking part in the trial season, Steve Davies, Artistic Director of Tip Top Productions, said “This is a wonderful opportunity for us. Like many of our friends in the performing arts, we are missing the thrill of live theatre. Performing as part of this Welsh Assembly trial season is a wonderful step back onto the stage and we hope that the success of this trial will pave the way for a full return for us all very soon”.
Musically directed for Tip Top Productions by Simon Phillips, the show will be directed by Phil Cross. Joining Phil on stage will be Josie McHugh, Annie-May Howarth, Natalie Brett, Ashley Sollars, Rhian Lyon and Rob Lyon.
Speaking about the show Phil said “Musical Magic will be a celebration of musical theatre featuring songs old and new from your favourite musicals including The Sound of Music, Into the Woods, Wicked and Shrek. We were delighted to be invited by Theatr Clwyd to take part in these outdoor events and have pulled together some Tip Top talent to entertain the audience under the evening sky up the hill. This will be Tip Top’s first live performance since February and we just can’t wait!”
Tickets for “Musical Magic” are priced at £5. For full details and online booking go to www.chestertheatre.co.uk where details of Tip Top’s own “Lockdown Season” an ongoing series of virtual events including play readings, open mic nights, quizzes and new writing showcases being staged online can also be found.

Paul Crofts

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Chumisa Dornford-May as Grizabella in On The Mark Youth Theatre’s production of “CATS” which sadly never got staged due to COVID-19 restrictions (photo credit Kate De Winton)

CHESTER YOUTH THEATRE STUDENT CELEBRATES WEST END STAR’S SCHOLARSHIP AWARD.
Members of a Chester based Youth Theatre are celebrating after one of their fellow students has been awarded a scholarship at a top Drama School.
Chumisa Dornford-May, a member of On The Mark Youth Theatre (OTMYT) is hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of the UK’s leading Actors and West End stars after landing a scholarship at the prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London. A former student at Christleton High School, Chumisa, 17 appeared in several productions at the school, including Mimi in “RENT” and also most notably taking on Whoopi Goldberg’s famous role of Dolores Van Cartier in the school’s production of “Sister Act”. Chumisa also gave a showstopping performance as Elphaba, in “Defying Gravity” from the smash hit musical “Wicked” alongside Eleanor Moulson in On The Mark Youth Theatre’s compilation show “Magic of The Musicals” to great critical acclaim.
Chumisa was set to play the role of Grizabella in On the Mark’s production of CATS but sadly, the production had to be cancelled due to Coronavirus restrictions. In a remarkable quirk of fate, Chumisa’s scholarship to attend Mountview from October has been awarded by none other than legendary West End and Broadway star Elaine Paige OBE who famously originated the role of Grizabella in CATS in 1981.
Chumisa who grew up in South Africa has theatre in her blood, her Father, Mark is a theatre producer and director whilst her Mother, Pauline Malefane is an acclaimed South African Opera Singer. Chumisa is the Granddaughter of the late Peter Dornford-May, former Drama Advisor for Cheshire County Council who also directed several of Chester’s famous Mystery Plays, and retired Teacher Rayna Dornford-May.
Speaking about the excitement of taking up her place to study musical theatre at Mountview, Chumisa said “I am absolutely delighted to be going to study at Mountview and work towards realising my dream of working professionally in the industry. I am unbelievably excited. But before I go, I can’t wait to do the Les Mis workshop with OTMYT in September and I will come back to visit whenever I can. OTMYT is home!”
Simon Phillips, Artistic Director of On The Mark Youth Theatre said “Chumisa is a huge talent and this was obvious from the very start. Alongside her talent she demonstrates incredible professionalism and a modesty and sincerity as a performer that is rare and a joy to behold. All at OTMYT wish Chumisa the best of luck with her course and we can’t wait to hear about how she’s getting on. We’re delighted that she is coming along to our first workshop in September and this will be a lovely chance to say our farewells and for all of our other members to offer their congratulations to this star of the future!”
On The Mark Youth Theatre will be holding a series of Covid secure Musical Theatre Workshops at Christleton High School from September onwards starting with Les Miserables from Saturday 12th  September – Saturday 3rd October, (4 weeks) followed by We Will Rock You from Saturday 10th October – Saturday 31st October (4 weeks), Wicked from Saturday 7th November – Saturday 28th November (4 weeks) and We Will Rock You from Saturday 5th December – Saturday 19th December 2020 (3 weeks). A discount is offered where a sibling also attends the same workshop.
Speaking about adapting to the current restrictions and creating the Workshops, Simon said “Due to the current restrictions surrounding public indoor performances, we have suspended our work towards full-scale musical productions. Instead, for the time-being we will be offering workshops in musical theatre which will run on Saturdays, 10:00am until 1:00pm, at Christleton High School in Chester. Each workshop will focus on some of the key numbers from a particular musical over a 4 (or 3) week period combining elements of dance, singing (when permitted) and acting, which would result in a short informal performance to parents in the final week for the last half an hour. This fulfils our two main aims for members at OTMYT; ‘Learning’ the skills required for musical theatre but also with an element of ‘Doing’, aiming for that final week where they will get to show their work. These workshops will not be ‘cast’ as such; all members will have equal involvement and we will make them as high-quality, challenging and fun as we can. We really hope it will feel just like a typical OTMYT Saturday morning!
For full details of On The Mark Youth Theatre and the Workshops on offer including dates, times and fees, go to www.otmyt.co.uk

Paul Crofts 

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