Dorothy hopeful helped by 'brilliant' arts course

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
HNC helps student bidding to become Andrew Lloyd Webber's next star

At the age of 18, Jenny Douglas, a first-year student at Motherwell College, is on primetime TV every weekend, competing with other young hopefuls to play the lead in The Wizard of Oz.

BBC1's Over the Rainbow is compulsive viewing. But it's also heartbreaking, as each week one girl, having put everything she has into a performance, is voted out and has to go home, her chance of stardom gone for now.

"That's hard," Jenny admits. "We are all living in the same house in London. We're all going through this emotional experience. It brings you together. When someone has to go, it's like losing part of your family."

Jenny's own family are still in Edinburgh, too far to go home to on the one day off from rehearsing the girls get each week. "My mum and dad come down for shows and we have half-an-hour together, which is nice," she says.

Jenny had got used to living away during the week, and Motherwell's HNC musical theatre course has helped prepare her for how tough it is to break into performing. "It's a brilliant course, very realistic. It opens your eyes to what it's like in the industry. I also like that you can stay on an extra year and get a degree. That's what I plan to do."

She laughs. "At least I did. If things take off here, I might not be going back."

Finalists like Jenny have come through countrywide auditions that attracted thousands of yellow brick road hopefuls, followed by call-backs in London, then "Dorothy Farm" - with numbers whittled down ruthlessly at each stage. There are now just eight girls still in the game.

So in a sense they are all winners. But that's not how it feels each week when one has to leave. Just watching the heartbreak has grown women around the country - and some men too - in tears. So where does a young girl get the desire to put herself through such an ordeal?

"The singing and dancing are fantastic and you're stepping up a gear all the time. Actually, I've two left feet. But I've always been a singer. My whole family loves music and each one's into a different genre - soul with my dad, country for my mum, and Motown and jazz for me."

The Over the Rainbow judges were a little slow to warm to Jenny, but her performance of Pink's `So What' a couple of weeks ago was a revelation. "She's so witty physically and lives it right from the fingertips," said actress Sheila Hancock.

"You knocked it out the park," concurred fellow judge John Partridge. "Go Scotland!"

Comments like that boosted Jenny's confidence and she is looking increasingly like a potential winner. "I'm probably the quietest of the girls offstage," she says. "They weren't sure I could do gutsy. Then they gave me a rock song that let me show some attitude. It's performing. You become a character."

Voices from the past did help with that number, she admits. "People who want to be performers are a dime a dozen, they would tell me. But there's nothing else I want to do, I'd say. So I'm going to put my heart and soul into it. So when I'm trying to get the attitude right, there is a bit of me sticking it to all those people who doubted me."

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Dorothy has to be young, rebellious and funny, says the man behind the new Wizard Of Oz production. "The main thing she has to do is break your heart."

That's what Jenny did on the second live show, when a warm, lovely rendition of `Songbird' raised goosebumps around the country. "You did that beautifully," said Lord Lloyd Webber. "Completely in tune and your pitching was immaculate."

That kind of feedback makes the hard work worthwhile, Jenny says. But it also brings its own reward. "We rehearse and rehearse every day until we get it spot-on - which is a great feeling. If I don't win, I will go back to Motherwell College. I'll finish the course and keep on trying.

"This experience has made me certain I want to be a performer. It's what I was born to do."

`They have to know how hard it is'

Motherwell College is a pioneer in musical theatre, the first college in Scotland to develop a Higher National course, says Gillian Archibald, curriculum leader for performing arts.

"That was nine years ago. We now offer an honours degree in the subject, in partnership with Northumbria University. That means kids who want to study at the drama schools in London only have to find fees for one year, not three. We're also offering an honours degree in acting from August."

Other performing arts courses at Motherwell include modern music and contemporary dance SVQ and HND. It's a big department with an emphasis on the practical side of performing, Ms Archibald says. "Most of our staff have an industry background. We're aiming to produce performers and we are realistic with them. They have to know how hard it is."

The whole college is right behind Jenny's bid for success. "It's nerve- wracking watching her. She's been speaking to her course tutor about catching up with the work she's missed. She is very level-headed.

"If she does win, she'll go into the West End and Motherwell College won't see her again. If she doesn't, we will have her back with open arms. She's a lovely girl."

Original paper headline: `Brilliant' arts course helps Dorothy hopeful follow her yellow brick road


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