No prima donnas, please

29th August 2008 at 01:00
Just hard-working young people who want to make their way in musical theatre. Raymond Ross reports

As Edinburgh Festival Fringe performers have been taking to the stage across the city, 18 secondary pupils have been putting themselves in a spotlight of a different sort.

"This is NOT Pop Idol or Fame Academy," warned the audition application form for the City of Edinburgh's summer course In the Spotlight, an intensive two-week series of professional workshops designed to train future budding stars of musical theatre.

Not for beginners, the course was aimed at pupils from S1-6 already showing great potential for the world of musical theatre. "We are not playing the fame game," says the City of Edinburgh's arts and learning manager, Mary McGookin. "This is about pupils developing their skills, working with musical theatre professionals."

If the pupils were attracted by the idea of fame, what they soon learned was that they were in for two weeks of hard graft and professional discipline. Punctuality was paramount. Fitness was essential and worked hard on. Good diets were discussed and insisted upon. The young people had to work together as a team, supporting each other with no room for drama queens or prima donnas.

Did they rise to the occasion?

"Without doubt," says Eamon O'Dwyer, London-based acting coach. "They have been really responsive and have gained a real sense of how a professional company works. Two weeks of intensive tuition has got them into good habits, beginning with the all-important habit of punctuality."

"I'm not really a morning person," says Jordyn Hutchison, an S56 pupil at Craigmount Community High, "but I surprised myself by making sure I was in on time. I always got up early and pushed myself because, when you're here, they really push you hard.

"I've hit notes in singing I've never reached before. I've learnt different harmonies and my confidence has grown enormously, because I'm more of an actor and dancer than a singer. But they've taught me so much."

Ross Tucker, an S23 pupil at Balerno High, agrees on how worthwhile the course has been. "I've had so many good pointers about staging myself, about projecting my voice, about how to put myself into a song and how to tell a story through song.

"The dancing has been very hard because I'm honestly not much of a dancer - but they've done a great job on me. What I've learnt above all is commitment."

The pupils who passed the audition were strong in at least two of the three capacities of acting, singing and dancing, and any or all of them, say the tutors, could go on to make it professionally.

"Some of them will want to specialise in one or other of the capacities and for the younger ones it's been an opportunity to see what each involves," says singing coach Marcella Macdonald. "They have all come on immensely and it's been great to offer this kind of opportunity to city pupils whose parents might not be able to afford stage school, which is the usual route into musical theatre."

Setting high expectations from the start was the key to success, the tutors and students agree. "It brings an edge" says Ms Macdonald. "Not a competitive edge. The students do not compete, except with themselves. It's about pushing their own boundaries while working closely as a team."

At the end of the course, the students did a "show back" for friends and families as a way of celebrating their success.

If the course is positively evaluated, the City of Edinburgh hopes to make it an annual summer event.

"While we are also looking to develop youth theatre in general, we believe there is a real demand for musical theatre training among young people," says Ms McGookin. "Apart from private stage schools, there are not a lot of opportunities and we are looking to fill this gap."

For Ross Tucker, the best thing about In the Spotlight was working hard with like-minded people. "I've learnt how to really commit myself," he says.

For fellow musical aspirant Jordyn Hutchison, it was experiencing hard work as fun. "Try your hardest - it's fun," she says.

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