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Gotta sing, gotta dance, got that Broadway rhythm

Demand was high for Scottish Youth Theatre's musical summer school, says Karen Shead, and for the lucky few, writes Brian Hayward, the hard work paid off in the graduation show.

Learning 16 songs and accompanying dances in two weeks is quite a challenge, but it is one that the 22 young people who took part in the Scottish Youth Theatre's first musical theatre course relished.

The course, which was part of the SYT's annual theatre summer festival, aimed to improve skills in acting, singing and dancing, giving the 22 participants, aged between 16 and 25, a grounding in musical theatre. The course was intensive, with daily vocal and physical warm-ups before perfecting the songs, dances and acting techniques. Fortunately, words to songs from Oliver!, Annie, Ragtime, Les Miserables, and Gigi - to name a few - are quickly learned and associated dance steps swiftly mastered.

Rebecca Kilbey, the director of acting, says the participants were making the most of every minute. "These people have worked out what they want to do and they want to get the most out if it. All they time they are saying 'Give me more'. They are like sponges, soaking up information.

"Just about everybody here has a different reason for wanting to take part," she says, "and by going through the 16 songs they will get the full grounding. We encourage them to do something they haven't done before.

"It's a great opportunity. They learn new skills and build on the ones they have already. They get time for one-to-one tuition as well. It's quite a special two weeks they spend together."

Gareth Beedie, SYT's marketing manager, says there is demand for courses in musical theatre, which was reflected in the high number of applications for SYT's summer school. "Each year at the summer festival we run a different specialist skills course," he says. "Last year it was stand-up comedy; this year we went for the musical theatre course."

The participants admit that they jumped at the chance to take part due to the lack of training in musical theatre. They came from all over Scotland, including Skye and Orkney, to attend the course at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh. One even came from Spain.

Gerry Harkins, aged 25, from Glasgow, says: "There's not much on offer; if you want to practise and improve musical theatre skills you have to move down to London. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama offers a course in musical theatre but it is a postgraduate course.

"I have been in musicals since I was very young," he continues, "but I never did anything out of school. I sing in pubs and clubs but I've never done any acting.

"In the past two or three years I decided this was what I wanted to do and so I wanted to develop skills I've missed out on. I am taking two weeks'

holiday to do this. People think I am mad."

Eighteen-year-old Clara Sanchiz Garcia who came over from Madrid, says she wanted to improve her singing skills. "I study acting and dancing in Spain but I have never sung. I love watching musicals and so I picked this course. Within four days I have already improved my singing."

Natalie Douglas, aged 17, from Aberdeen, who hopes to go to drama school, says: "I've been dancing since I was very young, but here you learn about the style of dancing for musicals; it's more than just the jazz hands.

"I've been singing for about a year and half and have been in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Youth Theatre. This is an opportunity to improve skills and to gain experience.

"It's eight hours a day, six days a week, so it's like a job."

"Which is great," adds Gerry, "because it gives you the chance to find out if it is really something you would like to do."

As well as being a learning experience for the participants, Rebecca says that it has been one for herself and colleagues music director Richard Lewis and choreographer Joanna Harte.

"It's a learning curve for us as we are seeing what works well and what doesn't," she says.

"It's a new thing and so we were not sure how it was going to go, but it's got off to a cracking start. Everybody is so keen and enthusiastic and they are willing to try everything."

Watching the group practise the opening scene of Ragtime just three days into the course, it is evident how motivated they are. Singing with wide eyes, faces full of expression, and accented voices (appropriate to the musical), you know they mean business.

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