We’ve Done All of Our Growing Head to Toe; Becoming Just So

15 Oct 2018
The Parsee man, Kolokolo bird and Elephant's child peer out from behind some rocks

After three, intimate years of studying Musical Theatre at the University of Winchester, it is now time for us to culminate all of the knowledge, skills, and techniques learnt throughout our journey and apply it to our third-year production of Just So; which took place at the Theatre Royal Winchester on the 24th, 25th and 26th of May 2018. My name is Joe Best, and I’ll be giving you an introspective account on the development of Just So.

Coming to study Musical Theatre at university, one would assume it would be full of singing, acting, and dancing. Where the University of Winchester differs in this approach is that they place a great focus on the academic and theoretical aspect of the art form. You may be wondering: How is this going to help me become the new Sutton Foster or Jeremy Jordan? I felt the exact same coming into the course, but being able to apply a great breadth of theories into my performance (such as colonialism, intertextuality, and queer theory) has allowed me to grow into a stronger and developed performer. At first glance, Just So appears to be a family friendly show based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, but once you begin to look at the show through the lenses of various theoretical frameworks, the show takes on a whole new meaning.

We began by learning the score of the show with our musical director, Sam Cable, which was achieved in under 24 hours’ worth of rehearsals. This process drew upon the New Musical Theatre Performance module from the previous year; learning new material in a short amount of time in order to get the piece from the page to the stage as quickly as possible. Whilst we had a cast album to familiarise ourselves with the show, we found there were several differences between the score and what had been recorded on the album; limiting its assistance in learning the music. With several of the characters being inanimate objects or animals, we were able to apply techniques learnt in the Extending the Voice module to embody the characters.

With the musical aspect of the show learnt, it was time to start blocking the scenes; drawing on the techniques learnt in previous modules such as The Role of the Actor and Between Speech and Song. After being briefed by our director, Dr. Matthew Lockitt, about their vision for the show, it was clear that the show was going to place an emphasis on the collaborative and ensemble aspect of the show. All cast members were therefore responsible for learning material in their own time and coming back to rehearsals the next day with everything learnt. Even the scenes that appeared to include only two or three characters in the script resulted in a large number of us assisting what was happening onstage. I shan’t give too much away as to not ruin anything that happens during the show, but it is truly a magical piece of theatre to watch.

After a year of having no classes with them, we were reunited with Chris Hutchings – our choreographer. We were more than familiar with their choreographic style after having the Physical Skills module with them; meaning that we were able to jump right in with learning the dances without having to create a rapport from scratch. With several cast members being proficient dancers before coming to university, the process of creating the dances became collaborative between the cast and the creative team; with some students taking it upon themselves to become dance captains as to assist those that had difficulty learning the dances.

This process will be one to remember for a long time, and being able to perform it off-campus at the Theatre Royal Winchester was a true honour. As we are the first cohort of students set to graduate from the university with a BA in Musical Theatre, being able to bring the programme into the public eye gave the people of Winchester a taste of what the course has to offer.

Be sure to follow the course on Instagram and Twitter @mt_UoW

You can also go behind the scenes with the Just So cast by watching their Instagram takeover here.

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