Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Magic Carpet Ride Begins...

It's been two months since we started rehearsals for Aladdin and things couldn't be going better, so it's about time for a long overdue blog post to catch you all up on the latest Strollers news!

Every year, we are fortunate enough to be inundated with applications to join the company; sadly, we can't say yes to everyone, but we try to bring in as many new members as we can - and this year is no exception!

Our chorus, already strong, has grown in number with some fabulous new talents, and we've welcomed a new face to this year's principal cast, too: Nick Weightman will be joining us as Aladdin, and we couldn't be more excited!

Our cast is strong, our script is fab, our dance troupe are shining brighter than ever and our backstage crew are already hard at work creating Old Peking, Egypt and a spectacular Cave of Wonders.

And as for the music?

Well, I can tell you that this year's music choices are going to blow your mind! From classic showstoppers to contemporary tunes, there's something for everyone and the singing is sounding better than ever before.

We'll be meeting some of the cast and crew over the coming months, so get ready for some sneak peeks, handy hints and maybe even a competition or two as we hurtle towards show week. Watch this space!

First on our list of cast interviewees will be this year's baddie, Tim Smith, who recently won the award for Best Performance in a Christmas Production at this year's IW Amateur Theatre Awards, for his part as Precious in Robinson Crusoe. From sensitive pirate to sinister magician, how is Tim handling his newfound villainy?

Check in with us again soon and find out!

The Strollers have also been getting out and about around the Island in a more social capacity.

Our costume mistress, Karen Cassford, enjoyed a very special birthday a couple of weeks back, and celebrated with a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves themed tea party at The Essex in Godshill.

A wonderful venue and what a brilliant idea - we certainly enjoyed ourselves!

It's been a busy couple of months, that's for sure, but perhaps our most exciting moment so far was the recent engagement of one of our cast members.

A huge congratulations to Nicola Steedman and James Chastney on their engagement - we couldn't be more thrilled!

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On a more sombre note, it is with great sadness that we have to inform Strollers old and new, and our many supporters, that Josie Wellspring, passed away last week.

"Josie was a founding member of The Wight Strollers, a talented director and all-round entertainer. She was an amazing person with a heart of gold, and was well-known across the Island for her charity work," said Sarah Scotcher, Aladdin director.

"I learnt a lot from Jo and consider myself lucky to have shared a stage with her on many occasions. Josie will be remembered fondly by us all, but her time on life's stage has now ended. Our thoughts are with her family and friends - may she rest in peace."

Josie's is a name, a face and a presence that will never be forgotten in The Wight Strollers, and we hope she would be proud of where we are today.

I've said it before, and I will say it again: we are so very lucky to have such a wonderful history, with so many inspirational people who have all shaped the company over the years and from whom our new members, through the decades, have been privileged enough to learn so much.

Josie, from all at The Wight Strollers: Thank-you.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Crusoe's curiosities lead to big charity donations!

With panto season well and truly over, April brought with it our charity donations. This year, due to rising costs and the bite of bad weather, we gave away a little less than usual, but our total donated still reached £5,000, split between six Isle of Wight charities at our AGM on Thursday, 24th April, 2014.

This takes our grand total over the years to £122,000 - and every penny has stayed on the Isle of Wight to help Island people. This is when all the hard work becomes ten times as worthwhile, and hearing how our donations make a difference is our favourite post-panto blues remedy...

The first was Across the Board Surf School, and Katie Bond of the National Autistic Society Isle of Wight was on hand to collect a cheque for £1,000. The school runs surfing sessions, largely over the summer, for autistic children, giving them the opportunity to engage with an exciting, water-based sport with their families.

The second cheque was for £900 and it was presented to Mike Earley on behalf of the 7th Newport Scouts, to help them fund some new equipment. The Scouts support our pantomime every year, and we were thrilled to give something back.

Riding for the Disabled received a cheque for £800, which was collected by Anna Reed. A charity that provides horse-riding as a form of leisure and physical therapy, it's another hugely worthy cause we are proud to have supported.

A cheque for £800 also went to the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association IW, collected by Adrian Axford and his son, Gary, who suffers from the condition.

"For families affected by Spina Bifida, the cost of travelling to the mainland for treatment can be huge," said Adrian. "This money will go towards travel expenses and lightweight wheelchairs. Thank-you so much to everyone at The Wight Strollers for this contribution - it's an amazing amount of money and we really will benefit from it."

Ability Dogs 4 Young People received a donation of £750, collected by Carol Court and some of her dedicated puppy parenting team...and some of the puppies, including little Magic, who was a hit with some of the Strollers' younger members.

Our donation could help to sponsor a puppy, which would then be trained to assist young people with physical and mental disabilities on the Isle of Wight.

Our final charity for 2014 was the Sandown and Shanklin Independent Lifeboat, and Mark Birch collected a cheque for £750 on their behalf.

"We can't thank The Wight Strollers enough for their donation," he said. "We are a 24/7 service run by volunteers, so it's donations like this that keep our service running."


Two new committee members were also elected, in the form of Leslie Kast and Alyson Keele-Toms - congratulations, and we look forward to welcoming you at our next meeting!

Shortly after our AGM, an article appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press on Friday, May 2nd, reporting on the donations - so thank-you to them, and if you still have your copy, check out the piece.

Our 2015 pantomime is currently being discussed and decided, and we will be making an announcement very soon, so watch this space!

Sadly, though, this could be The Wight Strollers final curtain call, as council cuts threaten not only the Isle of Wight Music Service but the fate of Medina Theatre: our pantomime home. If the use of the theatre is lost to the community, The Wight Strollers will be homeless.

So set aside the February half term dates now and support us next year on the 14th, 15th and 21st February 2015 at Medina Theatre.

And keep your fingers (and toes!) crossed for us!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

And so we leave the Island of Abbadonia...

Pantomime is over for another year - oh yes, it is! - and we've been taking a bit of a break to recharge our batteries.

It's been an exciting, enjoyable and, at times, emotional ride to the shores of Abbadonia and back, and now we're raring to go again with our carnival routines and our early preparations for next year's pantomime.

Robinson Crusoe was a resounding success, and we had five brilliant audiences, whose warmth, laughter and applause kept us buzzing from start to finish. We couldn't have asked for a better atmosphere for our party in panto-land!

Positive feedback flooded in from curtain up at the first performance, and here are just a few of the things people have said about our 2014 pantomime, Robinson Crusoe...

"Great show on Saturday evening. My Mum and myself had a real good laugh. The pirates made our evening. everything else was superb."
- Gareth Hayles

"Thank you Wight Strollers for a fab Panto this afternoon, thoroughly enjoyed it - loved the pirates syncro swimming scene and Precious was brilliant."
- Christine Feltham

"Wow, just wow - you were all absolutely amazing, I really could not stop laughing! Each & every one of you on stage & behind the scenes deserve a great big round of applause. After Sleeping Beauty last year, I thought it would be a tough act to follow, but you did it again."
- Claire Barry

"The family haven't laughed so much in ages...I would highly recommend it. A truly hilarious performance...we thoroughly enjoyed it."
- Wight Time

"Thank you The Wight Strollers for helping 6th Newport Cubs celebrate Crunchie's BIG BIRTHDAY,
 She has forgiven 'Captain Jake & his band of Pirates' but I think it will take few months to forgive her little Sister for lettng the cat out of the bag! Thank you for a fantastic show and see you all next year!"
- Caroline Seaward

"Your production of Robinson Crusoe was just wonderfully entertaining, fabulous to look at, incredibly joyful and an all round delight to watch. Thank you cast and crew of Wight Strollers - you made my afternoon."
- Lynne Johnson Harkins

"Thoroughly enjoyed this fabulous show. Amateur production with total professionalism! We'll done!"
- Geraldine Tulloch

"We loved every second of it, and at one point I actually had tears of laughter running down my face! We can't decide on our favourite characters as they were all superb! I will be recommending this to everyone I know, and the fact the money all goes to charity makes it even better. Well done to every single Stroller and thank you for a wonderful evening of entertainment. Completely and utterly brilliant in every way."
- Lou Hewison

"Thank you for letting us come to the final dress rehearsal last night; we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The last scene of Act 1 had me in tears of laughter! Thank you for supporting our surfing charity; you're all amazing!"
- Katie Bond

"That was awesome! Well done on costumes, script, acting, dance and sheer awesomeness! Haven't laughed so much in ages!"
- Julie Anne Harris

"A lot of talented people and the pirates were hilarious.Well done."
- Amelia Paine

"Great show - brilliant fun & the dancing, singing, scenery and costumes were fantastic!"
- Janet Hingert

We also received a couple of reviews, from the Island's youth website, yoppul, and from the Isle of Wight County Press.

Glowing praise all round - it makes you proud to be a Stroller! But not as proud as the amount we give to charity - watch this space for our donations and details of next year's pantomime...

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Today's the Day!

This is it! Our opening performance of Robinson Crusoe is just hours away and we're so excited that we simply have to give you a sneak peek of our costumes...

With over 120 costumes, more than 40 cast members, a live three-piece band and an array of colourful sets, this is one production that you won't want to miss.

So much work has gone into this show over the last five months, and with last night's final dress rehearsal came our first mini-audience - needless to say, we were fairly nervous!

They loved it. The feedback was unanimously positive, a real boost for our cast, and everyone went home happy.

As you can see, we're not going to give too much away, but we can give you a few cryptic spoilers. 

In the style of BBC's Sherlock, here are three teaser words to give you some clues:

1. Party
2. Crane
3. Disguise

Make of those what you will!

If you're coming to see our production, please do let us know what you think, either by leaving a comment on our blog or by giving us a visit on Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, to all members of The Wight Strollers: break a leg! This is where the hard work truly pays off, with the laughter, the cheering and the buzz of a full theatre.

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There are still tickets available for all performances of Robinson Crusoe and you can buy them on the door by visiting Medina Box Office up to one hour before the start of each show - we'll see you at the theatre!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Mamma Mia! Here She Goes Again!

Our third interviewee is none other than Sarah Scotcher, the director and co-writer of this year's pantomime: Robinson Crusoe.

Sarah is also playing Chief Abbadon in the showa tribal leader whose hobbies include listening to ABBA songs, chasing men and eating chocolate...

This is the sixth pantomime you've directed in the last seven years for The Wight Strollers - what is it that you love about directing our motley crew?

The Strollers are a great bunch, I love directing them - their enthusiasm is second to none, which I know comes across on stage. I love the wide age range that spans across the company and the family feel. When people dedicate so much of their spare time to a production, it has to be fun. We have this in abundance.


What's the biggest challenge about putting together a production on this scale?

Pulling all different aspects of the show together at the theatre: scenery, costumes, music, dance and, of course, the script. We don't have the luxury of rehearsing at the theatre until a few days before the show and waiting to see if the vision you have carried in your mind as the director is transferred to the stage can be nerve-wracking! You have to be flexible and quick-thinking to make changes on the spot if needs be.


What advice would you give someone who was looking to direct a pantomime?

Play to people's strengths when casting and enlist the help of others who know their craft. You have to develop a thick skin, too, because the buck stops with you! I love directing and I don't think you ever stop learning - I always take something away with me from every show I go to see. The minute you think you know it all, you're in trouble. I have always said I will do what is best for the show and that is exactly what I do, offend or please!


Rumour has it that you've been a Wight Stroller for a long time - how did you start?

The Wight Strollers was formed from the Nesta Meech School of Dance when she retired in 1981. Nesta taught me to dance from an early age - she was a lovely lady, I owe a lot to her. I hope she would be proud of what the Strollers have continued to do.


A member from the start - that is a lot of pantomime! What is it, for you, that makes pantomime so timelessly charming?

Pantomime is family entertainment, and very often it's a child's first experience of live theatre. I love the interaction with the audience and I am at my happiest on stage and ad-libbing with the audience. The sound of laughter, happy faces and being part of that.....there's nothing like it, I am addicted!


And finally, why should people buy tickets for Robinson Crusoe?

Come and see our latest production and join in the fun, you won't be disappointed. Professional quality at amateur prices. Did I mention we raise money for Island charities? ...I'll stop talking now and draw breath!

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A great interview from an exceptionally talented lady - thanks, Sarah! You heard the director - buy your tickets for Robinson Crusoe by booking online or by phoning Medina Theatre Box Office on 01983 527020.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Polly Perkins Talks Pantomime!

In our last post, we interviewed Patrick Barry about Robinson Crusoe - this time, we're chatting to Sian McCullough, who is taking on her first principal girl role as Polly Perkins...

Congratulations on your first principal role with The Wight Strollers, Sian! What has the experience been like?

Being principal girl sounded daunting at first, but it has turned out to be really enjoyable and I've learnt a lot through The Wight Strollers, especially from Sarah Scotcher! I never thought I'd be able to sing in front of people but this role has built up my confidence hugely.


You've been performing with us for a few years now - what's it like being a member of The Wight Strollers?

Being part of The Wight Strollers is special because everyone gets on so well and, through the company, I have made lifelong friends. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly and I feel that this joyful atmosphere among the Strollers is reflected on stage.


Fantastic to hear! A good atmosphere is a real asset to any pantomime! But why else should people come and see Robinson Crusoe?

Because it's hilarious and  fun for people of all ages, as well as being extremely colourful!


Anything else you'd like to add?

Everyone should come and watch Robinson Crusoe - you'll be guaranteed a laugh...especially if you're trying to get over a lonely Valentines Day!

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If you want to see what all the fuss is about, book tickets to see Robinson Crusoe this February at Medina Theatre on the Isle of Wight! You can also stay up-to-date with all the latest news from The Wight Strollers by visiting our Facebook and Twitter pages, or by taking a look at our website.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

An Interview with a Castaway...

Costumes are finished, dances are polished, lines are learned and it's exactly one week until Robinson Crusoe opens at Medina Theatre on the Isle of Wight!

In the run-up to the show, we thought it would be great to do some interviews with the cast, starting with Robinson Crusoe himself, also known as Patrick Barry...

So, Patch, when did you first come into contact with the world of pantomime?

My earliest memory of live theatre is two pantomimes, the first being Pinocchio and the second Snow White.I was so young I can barely remember either performance but I do remember the emotion both evoked. I have no idea if the performances were amateur or professional, whether the actors and actresses performing in them were famous or not, but they conjured a magical energy out of their audience.

I was so desperate for Snow White not to be poisoned, I remember screaming at the top of my voice "Don't eat the apple!" - my mum insists the the theatre was silent at that point, but then the suspense broke and all the children shouted it. Yet such are the rules of panto that our pleas went unheard, or at the very least ignored - Snow White, after all, knew she had a Prince to kiss!

As for Pinocchio? Pure magic. To this day I can't explain how Pinocchio's nose grow to such an impossible length...


What is it that, in your opinion, makes pantomime so special?

For me, reminiscing about the child I was, it has to be about forging a child's first memory of live theatre. For the adult I am now, it is about families spending quality time together, where, for a few hours, all those worries about the real world can be left outside and everyone can have a good shout, boo and cheer!


And what about The Wight Strollers? What makes them so special?

Well, I love panto. I like watching it and I love being in it. And with The Wight Strollers, it seems a little more magic can be wrought by everyone, because this pantomime enables us all - the cast, backstage crew; production department and perhaps most important, the audience - to help those in need on the Isle of Wight live a little bit easier for a little bit longer... and all we need do to help is have fun.


You've taken on the role of Robinson Crusoe - the title role in only your second pantomime with us! How are you feeling about it, one week away from opening night?

Robinson Crusoe, like Sleeping Beauty last year, will see me embracing my twin fears of singing and dancing. Before the performance I shall be quaking in my proverbial boots, petrified I shall place a note or foot wrong... but I know all that fear will be worth it the moment a little voice in the audience shouts out something so sincere, but so unexpected, that their comments and interplay with the characters on stage is a real part of the show.

Thanks, Patch! A great interview - and good luck with the show, we're sure you'll be fantastic, as always!

Don't forget, you can buy your tickets for Robinson Crusoe by phoning Medina Theatre Box Office on 01983 527020 or by visiting their website.