The production team rookie – by Ben Wiltshire

Whilst presenting on behalf of Gangshow at the Swindon Ridgeway District AGM, I said something like:

“We’ve changed how rehearsals are ran, and the feedback has been the cast really enjoyed it and they picked everything up much more quickly.”

This lead to the obvious follow-up questions: How have they changes & Why? So I thought I write some words explaining how I got involved in the last show, what I was doing and how that changed rehearsals.

The 2015 show was my first on the production team. I have done three shows a cast member;  one as Cub back in 92 or 93 (I can’t remember which!) and two as a leader in 2009 & 2011. But the people I came up through Scouting with, and subsequently my Explorers and Rangers, have always been in the Gangshow and so I’ve been pretty close to it over the last 15 years.

After the spring show in 2014, our Musical Director (& choir master & arranger & rehearsal pianist) was stepping down. Jon had been doing the show since 2009, but with a young family and second child on the way he could no longer commit the time to rehearsals. At the start of 2015 the production team had not yet been successful in finding a replacement, and so I volunteered.

All seems pretty simple right? I replace Jon. Except I can’t really play piano, or read music without careful recitation of Every Good Boy Deserves Football, FACE, Good Boys Deserve Football Always and All Cows Eat Grass. But I had this idea…..

Rehearsals had not changed very much between my show as a cub and those I did 20 years later as a leader. Yes the people had changed, and the venue had moved around a bit, but when it came to learning the songs a pianist played the music and we read the words from printed sheets. Due to the length of rehearsals, the pianist would inevitably get tired and do shortened intros and breaks and whilst we were learning the words we were all heads down, rustling paper. Then once we hit the theatre we would go from just a pianist to adding in drums and bass. These all seem like minor things, but it meant we spent a lot of practicing things that would be different when we hit the stage.

In order to give the cast every chance of being successful and enjoying the shows, I strongly believe we should be rehearsing everything as close as we can get to how it will be when we’re on stage. That means the cast should be looking up and singing to the audience from rehearsal one. We should be working off the exact arrangements with drums, so every cast member has the songs engrained and when we hit the stage the only thing we have to worry about is enjoying ourselves.

And we can do all this by making midi arrangements. I will spare you the technical details, but you can basically sequence all the piano parts and drum parts and play them back to sing along to. So I can make the exact arrangements we’d be using on stage, and we can use them from rehearsal one. They would never get tired, I can easily change the key if it doesn’t suit the cast, and I can generate sheet music for all musicians when it comes to the show nights.

I also made videos with lyrics for learning the songs which had the cast looking up from the beginning. We had projectors and PA at rehearsals to learn the songs, but also provided access to a private YouTube channel so the cast could practice from their phones, tablet and PCs. An example of the 2015 Megamix is included below so you can see what we were using.

This was rather large gamble on my part. Out of necessity, I was ripping up the old way of doing things and I didn’t know if this was going to work. Thankfully it did! The cast learnt the songs in record time, meaning we had more time to work on choreography. When we hit the theatre, we were used to staying in tempo with the band and singing out to the audience and I believe this contributed significantly to how well the shows went.

And so here we are. Planning for the 2017 show is well underway and I’m busy sequencing arrangements, and hoping the success brought through all these chances isn’t a one-off!

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