Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Granny's At The Barre...

The Great British Summer is here at last and that means only one thing for The Wight Strollers: it's carnival season!

We got underway this year at Sandown Main, on July 27th, where we revealed our theme: 'Granny's At The Barre'. Pretty self-explanatory, it involves our troupe donning tutus, legwarmers and granny wigs and parading through the Island's streets performing our comedic, balletic routines.

This year's choreography comes down to Sarah Scotcher, Cheryl Rudd and Elisa Jones, who have been working hard to produce three exceptionally entertaining routines to 'Uptown Funk', 'Hooked on Tchaikovsky' and disco classic 'Ain't No Stopping Us Now'.

The first carnival is always a bit nerve-wracking. It's the moment we discover where our theme is a hit or a flop and this year's may well go down among our best, if the crowd's reaction in Sandown was anything to go by!

The judges loved us, too, and we walked away with First Prize in our class, the Chairman's Memorial Cup for being the most economic, effective and efficient entry and the trophy for Best Overall.

Newport, on August 1st, was no less successful and we were awarded First Prize and Best Overall there, too, which thrilled our graceful grannies and sent energy levels through the roof.

Cowes Main, a late addition to our programme, on August 6th, was another winning evening for our troupe, with another First Prize and Best Overall to add to our float.
Three carnivals down and, with seven trophies to show for them, it's safe to say we're over the moon!

We've got four more carnival appearances this season, so if you've missed out on seeing us so far, you can catch us at:

- Ventnor Illuminated: Saturday 15th August
- Sandown Illuminated: Wednesday 26th August
- Ryde Main: Thursday 27th August
- Ryde Illuminated: Saturday 5th September 

If you can't make it to a carnival, or you're not Island-based, never fear! There are plenty of pictures and YouTube videos circulating - why not check out the pictures on our Facebook page or the video from our first outing (check us out at 10:24 and 22:46) at Sandown's Main Procession?

Keep an eye on the blog for news from our final carnival appearances, pantomime news and a few more exciting announcements...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Strolling into Summer

Carnival rehearsals are well underway and our theme is going to have you giggling across the Island this always, though, it's top secret, so don't go asking a Stroller to give the game away, our lips are sealed!

We've been rehearsing, costume-crafting and float-building for a few weeks now and things are going swimmingly. With only two weeks until our first carnival on Saturday 25th July in Sandown, we're polishing up the routines and putting the final touches to our floats ready to wow the crowds once more.

But that's not all we've been up to!

Last weekend, some of our members and their friends and families took part in a car treasure hunt around the Island, organised by two of our wonderful committee members, Judith Day and Mike Squibb. There were ten teams taking part in the fundraiser and everyone (eventually!) made it back to the picnic point with 'The Dibley Winners' emerging victorious.

We'll also be at the Funtasia Festival at Los Altos Park in Sandown on the 25th and 26th July, running a bottle tombola to raise more funds to cover the ever-increasing cost of putting on our shows, so we can continue to give as much money to local charities as we can. If you can support us by donating some bottles (full ones!) then please leave a comment or get in touch via Facebook to let us know - or you can just come along and buy a ticket or five for the tombola and try your luck at winning a prize!

Speaking of fundraising, one of our members - Nicola Chastney, known to Aladdin audiences as So-Shy - is abseiling the Spinnaker Tower for Parkinson's UK next weekend. Good luck, Nicola, we're all rooting for you!

Another not-so-little announcement comes in the form of our 2016 pantomime. In our last blog entry, we announced it as being Mother Goose, but sadly we've struggled to find a script this time around that meets the needs of the company so we've done a bit of a U-turn and our 2016 pantomime will now be...

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

A firm favourite with many of our members, this classic fairytale was last brought to life by The Wight Strollers in 2008 and we can't wait to bring it back!

Our director will be casting the show over the summer and rehearsals will start in the autumn, along with our usual selection of backstage blogs for your enjoyment. In the meantime, watch this space for carnival news and pictures and we'll see you out and about this carnival season - give us a wave when you spot us!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

'Aladdin' Delves into Cave of Wonders for Island Charities

We are thrilled to announce that we have given away £6,200 to local charities, following our successful run of Aladdin during the February half term.

The production was The Wight Strollers' 35th annual pantomime and takes their grand charity total over the £130,000 mark, with every penny staying on the Island.

We handed over our charity donations at our AGM on Thursday, April 23, to representatives from both causes.

Louise Walker, Commercial and Community Training Manager for the Isle of Wight Ambulance Service, accepted a cheque for £5,000 to purchase three Public Access Defibrillators, in coded boxes to make them accessible 24/7, for the Island.

She said: "What a privilege to meet such an amazing group of people...words are not enough to express my sincere thanks on behalf of the Isle of Wight Ambulance Community Training Department.

"Without a defibrillator, your out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival chances are 5-6%. With one, that can go up to 74%. I can't thank you enough - this is an incredible donation to the Island community."

Joan Rigby a former member of The Wight Strollers, then collected a £1,200 cheque for the IW Prostate Cancer & Urology Support Group.

"Who'd have thought, when a small group of us got together all those years ago and performed as The Wight Strollers, that we'd come so far?

"A big thank you to The Wight Strollers for this generous donation," she said. "As usual, the Strollers pulled out all the stops to provide a top class production which the IW should be proud of."

After we'd presented the cheques, we arrived at the matter of our 2016 pantomime, which will be - drumroll, please! - Mother Goose, to be performed in February 2016 at Medina Theatre. It will, once again, be directed by Sarah Scotcher, who fought off tough competition from a guy called Spielberg for the privilege!

Three committee members were also due to stand down, but all three - Mike Squibb, David Kast and myself - were re-elected to serve another term.

One thing that was clear, looking out at the sea of faces in attendance, is how far The Wight Strollers have come over the years, and how incredibly lucky we are to have such a dedicated membership and loyal audience following.

"Over recent years, the standard of our productions has risen and I didn't think we could get much better," said Mike Sutcliffe, our Chairman. "But with Aladdin we did. Everything was outstanding...

"I am incredibly proud to be part of a small family company like ours, capable of staging something so spectacular, taking our reputation to an even higher level."

Well said, Mr Chairman - very well said indeed!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Aladdin 2015: The Feedback, Part 2

It's been one week since we finished our run of Aladdin, and the post-panto blues have hit us hard! But making us feel better every day is the feedback that is still flooding in...and it's nothing short of glowing. Here's a selection of the feedback we've received for our final two performances:

"Fantastic show yesterday, my daughter and I loved it - thank you!"
- Kathryn Marie Mitchell

"Thank you, Strollers, for a fantastic show, lots of laughs and fab costumes - and also for letting Kimberley Ritchie be part of this year's panto, she loved it...all of you well done!"
- Caroline B Ritchie

"That was a fabulous show, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done to all!"
- Clare Barnes

"Just got back from watching Aladdin performed by The Wight Strollers. Awesome as always."
- Julie Anne Harris

"Thank you soooo [sic] much for another epically funny and entertaining show! I had to wipe tears of laughter off my cheeks more than once. We never fail to leave with a smile and eager to buy next year's tickets. My hands are sore from applauding but [it] still doesn't seem enough to show how much we love your shows. Well done to every single Stroller - both on the stage and behind it!!"
- Lou Hewison

"Great evening, many thanks!"
- Robert Plumb

"After seeing the dress rehearsal we just had to watch again and boy you never disappointed! Absolutely enjoyable for the whole family, we never stopped laughing, You all certainly made my daughter's half term...thank you, all."
- Heidi Banks

"What a great performance, we laughed the whole way through, already looking forward to next year - well done guys, especially 'nugget.'"
- Graham Harrison

"Always love your shows, but this one was amazing - costumes were outstanding. Well done to all."
- Steph Ratje

"Loved it! Totally professional show. Look forward to next year's."
- Vicki Sampson

"It was fab this evening. Well done to everyone. Thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I was sooo [sic] happy with the way it all looked in action. Very proud to have played a part in that."
- Angela Sowden (scenery artist extraordinaire!)

"Thank you from the 8th Ryde Brownies for a fantastic afternoon - it was brilliant, funny and [we] just loved the 'Razzle Dazzle'. We can't wait to see you all next year."
- Caroline Seaward

"It was fabulous!"
- Amanda Lewis

"Another amazing pantomime. The costumes were quite something this year. Can't wait for next year's."
- Heather Woodfield

"Massive well done to all of the cast and crew of Aladdin. Comical entrances, flying carpets scenes, genie rubbing innuendos, daft policemen and some wonderful costumes!"
- Fern Alexander

"I really enjoyed myself yesterday. I saw the matinee show with 1st Shanklin Rainbows. Really can't wait for the next show!"
- JackieStar Fearn

"Amazing show, loved it!"
- Bayliss and Booth

"Roll on next year! You all get better and better every year. We came twice this year...fabulous!"
- Ann Potts


Once again, thank-you so much to everyone who came to support our production of Aladdin - we're thrilled that our audiences seemed to love watching it as much as we loved performing it!

Watch this space for our charity donations, more Aladdin after-show gossip and the latest Wight Strollers news throughout the year.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Aladdin 2015: The Feedback, Part 1

Wow! What a first weekend! Packed audiences, magical shows and fantastic feedback flooding in - we couldn't be happier and, with this Saturday afternoon already sold out and less than 100 tickets left for Saturday evening, our final two shows are looking to be quite something!

We thought we'd share with you, our loyal supporters and readers, some of the feedback we've received so far for our first three shows...

"Had a great afternoon watching Aladdin at Medina Theatre - performed by The Wight Strollers. Thanks and well done to all the cast, especially great to see some of the family perform - Patrick Barry, Kiera Barry and even my 2-year-old niece Emilie had a part!"
- Ian White

"Fantastic show, all the brownies and leaders loved it. Thank you. Again you excelled yourselves."
- Cheryl Lamanna

"We are from an amateur theatre group from Staffordshire and came to Isle of Wight for a few days holiday. We came across an advertisement for Aladdin and thought it would be great to watch another group on stage! We were sitting second row from the front and we thought you all did a fantastic job! Good job on [the] show!
- Jake and Maria (Rugeley Musical Theatre Company)

"I have just spent a wonderful few hours in your company and must say that I have never enjoyed a Saturday night so much in years, the production was absolutely fabulous. The costumes were wonderful, the singing and dancing was faultless, the Chinese police, what can I say, were very funny and the genie just made the night FABULOUS! Well done, all of you...and the little gold nugget who made me cry, bless her."
- Wendy Wright

"Great performance tonight, loved it! Panto on Valentine's Day, great idea, who knew?"
- Martin Redhead

"Yesterday we went to the Medina Theatre to see Aladdin performed byThe Wight Strollers. It was spectacular. Such a great production. All action, high energy, lots of audience participation. A very professional show. Loved it. If you get the chance, go and see it."
- Maggie Currie

"Thank you once again a fabulous performance, very entertaining as always, Macie and her friends thoroughly enjoyed it, see you same time next year!"
- Dana Edkins

"Thank you for such a wonderful fun evening! Both the children and I enjoyed it, Hope all the performances go smoothly for all concerned, you're all fab."
- Heidi Banks

"Thank you so much for letting us come and watch your dress rehearsal of Aladdin! It was AWESOME! How do you all do it?! So entertaining and very funny. Well done on yet another fabulous production! Samuel is so chuffed he got happy birthday sung to him, too."
- Katie Bond

"Absolutely brilliant performance this afternoon. My little boy has never sat still for so long. And being able to have his photo taken with Wong and Pong made his day."
- Vikki Roberts

"Been supporting The Wight Strollers for years now and they just get better each year. The costumes were fabulous and Sarah [Scotcher] still has me in stitches."
- Lynda Waddams

"I came this afternoon with my disabled brother and he loved every minute, well done everybody!"
- Joyce Maryon

"Thank you for letting us bring the children from Beaulieu House to this evening's performance, it was enjoyed very much by all."
- Justine Crumplin

"You were amazing, Em [Scotcher]! My niece and Leah loved you, Aladdin and Wishee Washee! I had goosebumps everytime you sang! The whole team was amazing and every character actually spoke and interacted with the audience. I've been to the Mayflower and seen some of the best - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Oliver, Starlight Express, Blood Brothers - and you guys were definitely up there! And Michael's [Mullin] accent was flipping awesome!" 
- Maria Wherry

Thank-you so much, everyone, for such wonderful and kind words - we are so pleased the show is being enjoyed by so many people! If you haven't bought your tickets for Saturday 21st February at 7:30pm yet, we recommend that you get in quick - they're selling out fast!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A Princess' Perspective...

I don't usually write these blogs from my own perspective, but this year I thought it would be nice to take a look at a character type that may not bring the biggest laughs or cheers, but is a crucial and beloved part of pantomime nonetheless: the Princess.

I first stepped onto Medina Theatre stage for the first time in Prince Crispian and the Magic Sword, dressed as a snowflake, in February 1995. Far from being frightened, I was so desperate to get on stage that I pushed the terrified snowflake ahead of me on, just so I could  get out in front of an audience that little bit faster.

Not much has changed.

In the twenty-one years I've been with The Wight Strollers, I've been lucky enough to have some wonderful experiences as a dancer, a chorus member and as a principal.

With every year, I've loved it a little more, and anyone who knows me will know how much I love the company, and the people in it.

I always struggle to put into words just how I feel about them - 'family' is about as close as I can get. No matter how long the day, there's always a smile to be found in the company of these wonderful people.

This year, I am thrilled to be able to step into the role of principal girl, and I have to confess...there is nothing quite like the feeling of shaking off reality and becoming a princess for a few hours a week!

Alright, so it's true that princesses aren't always the brightest characters on the bill...

They ignore all the best audience advice, engaging in many a fairytale faux-pas, from swapping magic lamps to eating poison apples: memorably, when playing Snow White, I had a little girl shout 'Don't eat the apple, Snow White - you'll die!' from the audience, but the script, sadly, forbade me to listen.

They usually don't think beyond first impressions: Princess Mandarin in this year's Aladdin, for example, conveniently runs into a peddler man exchanging 'new lamps for old', mere moments after Aladdin has handed her a battered, old lamp and told her to guard it with her life...

And they often find themselves in mortal danger: so far, in my panto princess experience, I've eaten two poisoned apples, pricked my finger once, almost been eaten by a wolf and been captured twice. Not a great track record.

But those are minor details. I, for one, adore every second I spend in a princess dress!

Over the years, though, I've come to realise that there is so much more to playing a princess than just a pretty dress (although that is a major perk!) - so, for a bit of fun, I've come up with five top tips for any Panto Princess in the making...

1. Know what makes your princess tick...
Princess Mandarin is in equal parts sweet and feisty, and she will settle for nothing less than what her heart wants...and that's something to be admired, I think. It makes her easy to love, and even easier to play.

2. Embrace the Princess Persona
Most of the audience will associate the word 'princess' with the Disney Princess franchise...and with those expectations come faraway looks, wishful sighs and plenty of flowery hand gestures!

Just try not to smack the other cast members with your hair, hands or billowy sleeves while you're twirling and prancing around from dawn 'til dusk!

3. Get the Look!
When you play a princess, you just know that dozens of little girls in the audience, who have all come dressed up, are waiting to see what you look like...

Your make-up has to be perfect, your dress has to be pristine and you have to be prepared for your feet to suffer in many an itchy, glittery shoe. Sometimes it hurts, but it's so worth it!

4. Find the right prince!
The perfect panto prince depends on the panto - he can be anything from charming gentleman to cheeky chappy, as long as he's believable from the first moment you meet to the final curtain call.

I've been so incredibly lucky to have played opposite some super talented actors and some of my very best friends over the years, and often they wind up being one in the same. This year is no exception, though don't tell him I said it!

5. Wishes, Dreams and Happy Endings
For me, the most important part of being a princess is what you represent. In a world where children are encouraged too soon, at least in my opinion, to abandon the fairytale role models of their childhood, it's a thrill to be able to inject a little magic into their imaginations as a real, live person.

After all, in PantoLand, the princesses aren't animated, airbrushed or photo-shopped; they are real girls, with real lives and real bodies. Real people who have probably once sat in an auditorium wishing they could wear a Snow White dress, or sing like Sleeping Beauty or dance like Cinderella.

For all those children that sit and watch you get your happy ending, whatever the trials that come before, you are a reminder that happy endings exist and dreams can come true. And that you can grow up, at least in some way, to be a princess.

And sometimes, for a little girl doubting herself, that little glimmer of hope can go a long way...

See Princess Mandarin in action at Medina Theatre this half term by booking tickets for The Wight Strollers' fun-filled family pantomime, 'Aladdin'. Visit the Medina Theatre website or phone 01983 823884 to book your tickets today!

Let's Face the Music and Dance!

The Wight Strollers are exceptionally lucky; we have a very talented troupe of dancers, ranging from the tender age of eight to the grand age of fifteen - and they really are superb. Many of them attend dance schools outside of the Strollers, and have busy lives with school and other hobbies, but they still find the time each week to dedicate their talents to our pantomimes.

We caught up with them to find out what it is that keeps them coming back each week, each month, each year...

“Everyone is so lovely and it's like a massive family!" says Abbie Knowles. "If you can't do something the strollers will always find a way to adapt a dance to the dancer’s limitations. For example, where I have a stroke they adapt it to make things easier, so I can use my better leg which is easiest to balance on."

Hannah Knowles echoes her sister's sentiments, "We are all at different levels of dance but it is all adapted for your dance ability.

"I am the youngest ‘senior’ dancer but it doesn't feel like it, everybody includes me in everything and I never feel left out...we all feel like we are a big part of the show because we're treated equally - that's why I love dancing in the Strollers."

The family feeling is strong with the Strollers, and everyone has a ball working with each other at rehearsals, that much is clear. When you're in a dance troupe, it's all about teamwork, and our girls have got it nailed!

"We help each other out, we have a laugh with one another and, most importantly, we work so well together," says Izzi Rudd. "We are all really good friends, and there isn't anything better than performing with your friends on stage!"

"It's a really friendly atmosphere," Ruby agrees, adding: "And the dances end up looking really great with the costumes and everything!"

We've been chatting to some of our younger dancers, too, and it seems that, although they might not have been with the company long, they're already well and truly on board in PantoLand!

"It is fun, everybody cares for you, and I have made lots of friends," says Keira Barry, aged 10.

And she's backed up, emphatically, by eleven-year-old Ella Gregory: "I like dancing because it's fun and I like being with my friends I have made through Strollers."

"I like being in the Strollers because it's fun and you make lots of friends," adds Izzy Park, aged 9. "I also like it because I get to act and sing while I dance which lets me do all of the things that I love in the same place!"

As we always say at Strollers HQ, 'once a Stroller, always a Stroller' - and some of our dancers have definitely been here long enough to vouch for that!

“I love dancing with the Strollers because I physically can't remember not doing it," says Lucinda Rigby. "The rehearsals are so funny now I'm actually old enough to understand the jokes and I am always genuinely happy to be there."

"I've been dancing for a long time now," Zoe Lawrence adds. "I couldn't image my life if I didn't! I really enjoy it because I've met so many new people and, if I've had a bad day, it's the perfect way to just let everything go."

They all have their favourite routines, too, and Zoe can't wait to tell us about hers...

"I've been with the strollers for six years now and I think one of my favourite routines was the skeleton dance in Cinderella, but my top favourites are by far-"

Ah-ah-ah, Zoe, were you about to give away some of the music for this year's production?

Actually, when I asked the dancers for their favourite routines, most of them replied with songs from this year's Aladdin - spoiler alert! We'll keep schtum for now, girls!

However, there have been other favourites over the years, and plenty of them.

“My favourite routine of all time would have to be the company song of Snow White in 2008 - 'We Go Together' - because I have the funniest memories of us sat in a circle trying to learn the words!” says Lucinda.

For Ruby, the favourite is more recent: "My favourite dance in the whole time I have been at Strollers is 'Voulez Vous' from Robinson Crusoe."

In fact, Robinson Crusoe produced some very firm favourite routines for a few of our dancers.

"The underwater ballet last year was my favourite, I love ballet I also liked the song and my costume," says Ella.

For Keira and Izzy, 'One Way or Another', also from last year's show, was a definite hit...but mostly because they got to chase Keira's dad, Patrick Barry, around the stage and poke him with spears! Nothing like a bit of Girl Power!

"This is my eleventh panto so I have alot of dances to choose from," says Sophie Croain. "My favourite dances are the ones that we are doing this year; Some are high intensity, others are slower.

"Cheryl, who directs the dances for us, is truly amazing and without her we wouldn't be able to perform the way in which we do."

She adds: "Without giving to much away this year is going to be incredible, and I am looking forward to the shows!"

Meanwhile, for Izzi, this question poses a dilemma!

"My favourite dance...there have been so many!" she says. "Probably 'It's Oh So Quiet' from Sleeping Beauty or this year's-"

Izzi! What did I say about spoilers?

To steer away from spoilers, we caught up with our youngest dancer, Emma, aged 8, to ask her what she reckons to dancing with the Wight Strollers.

"I like dancing with the Wight strollers because it's fun and I love dancing. As this is my first season dancing, my favourite routine has to be-"

Not another one!

Well, alright, since almost all of you named at least one of  this year's routines as your favourite, here's a sneak peek for everyone of just one of our fabulous dances in Aladdin!

There you have it, everyone! A sneak peek into what makes our dance troupe so fantastic - teamwork, friendship and laughter - and isn't that exactly what pantomime is all about?

Book your tickets to see Aladdin by phoning Medina Theatre Box Office on 01983 823884 or by visiting the Medina Theatre website.