Blog Archives

Talking Newspaper AGM – 24 March 2012

I’ve spent the morning at the Maidenhead and District Talking Newspaper Association’s Annual General Meeting. I joined the association just before Christmas, in response to a plea for readers that I’d been asked to print in the last edition of InSpire. The charity (which provides weekly audio versions of the Maidenhead Advertiser for the area’s blind) works on a series of rotas, meaning that editors, readers, recording engineers, duplication volunteers, and distributors do not have to contribute every week.

LIGHT-SPEED: Duplicating the audio is a lot quicker than copying clunky cassette tapes, and can be done in seconds. (IMG_9211)

For over thirty years, the association has been creating the cassette tape versions of the paper, but that’s all set to change in the next few weeks as the recordings go digital and move to USB flash memory drive. Though this requires the engineers to be retrained to use a digital audio desk and laptop computer, the advantages are easy to see: it’ll now be a lot easier to amend mistakes, much faster to duplicate the recording medium (tapes require real-time transfers, whereas USB sticks can be copied much quicker), and substantially better audio quality for the end user.

COMPUTER WHIZZ: Richard Porter gets to grips with the new technology. (IMG_9199)

I’m very proud to be a member of the association, and look forward to bringing the news to the town’s blind people in pristine audio quality in the coming months and years.

STICK-ING OUT: One of the new USB memory drives, which will replace the old-fashioned tapes in the coming weeks.

Little Shop of Horrors: The Beginning of the End – 2 February 2012

REHEARSAL PROCESS: There's now just a week to go until the set will be built, the costumes will be made, and crucially the audience will be seated. (IMG_2228)

A week tonight, the audience will applaud Furze Platt’s performance of Little Shop of Horrors for the last time; we’ll strike the set; and if we’re all not too tired, somebody will host an after-show party. This is the first time the Music and Drama departments have come together since the opening of the new arts facilities at school in October, and this show makes full use of the technical advantages of our state-of-the-art studio theatre.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY: The tech team have a big challenge to control all the lighting and sound for the show. (IMG_2276)

Rehearsals for this year’s school musical are now entering the final few days, and unlike last year when I worked with the technical team, I’m up on stage this time as Orin (the sadist dentist). It’s a fairly minor role – I made it clear from the very beginning that I didn’t have the time for the lead – but it’s easily the most entertaining character in the musical, thanks to his morbid, self-professed “fascination with human pain and suffering”, the way he so badly treats Audrey (his supposed girlfriend), and the quite spectacular way he dies. Having a more modest part has meant I haven’t had to attend as many rehearsals as Tilly and Mark (Audrey and Seymour respectively), nor have I had anything like the number of songs to learn as the chorus, but ultimately it’s allowed me to be part of the show without it impacting too greatly on my other work and social commitments.

MEAN GREEN MACHINE: The Audrey II grabs Audrey, as played by Tilly. (IMG_2250)

For those who don’t know the show, it began as The Little Shop of Horrors, a 1960 American comedy film, before it was adapted to a stage musical in 1982. Less than five years later, it morphed once more, this time into a film adaptation of the stage musical. Without wanting to give away any spoilers, it’s a hilarious story. Seymour, a nerd and orphan, is given a job by the owner of the self-named ‘Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists’, in a downtown American city. Seymour works alongside the beautiful Audrey, who he dreams of. Audrey herself dreams of one day having “Somewhere That’s Green” and living with “a sweet little guy like Seymour” – a world apart from the life she currently leads: living in run-down Skid Row and dating Orin. Seymour buys a plant (which he names Audrey II after the subject of his crush), which (in addition to the usual requirement of CO2 and H2O), also needs Hb (blood).

To find out who becomes plant food first, you’ll have to come along and watch!

Little Shop of Horrors runs from Monday 6 February to Thursday 9 February 2012. Tickets are available to buy from the school office.

Opening of Furze Platt’s New Arts Facilities – 11 November 2011

Tonight, my school’s new Music and Drama facilities were officially opened by The Right Honourable Theresa May MP, followed by a twenty-minute show incorporating all three performing arts. Ms White, the headmistress, began the proceedings with a short welcome, before Mrs May made an address to the audience of 82.

I DECLARE THIS THEATRE OPEN_Theresa May opens the new facilites.

I was reminded of a line in David Ward’s book Transformation, which tells the story of the construction of the new RST, a theatre we visited in June. Though our construction took just six months to complete (five months less than the construction of the Courtyard Theatre described in the text), and the fact our new stage lies on what was once a part of the field (rather than a Stratford-upon-Avon car-park), the message is the same. Furze Platt’s new Drama block has been put up in astonishing speed. Even taking into account the delays and extended handover dates, the building is hugely impressive for a school, and extraordinary for a non-performing arts specialist school.

"Ten days before Midsummer’s Day in 2006, actor Richard Cordery walked on to the thrust stage of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, pointed to a woman in the front row, and said: ‘It’s hard to imagine, madam, but 11 months ago I parked my car exactly where you are sitting.’"

— David Ward, Tranformation, first published 2011

BRIEF ENCOUNTER_A student presenting Theresa May MP with flowers, after she opened the new Drama block. He then showed her to her seat, and began reciting Shakespeare.

As Year 13 Ryan Tomlinson walked into the spotlight, he began reciting part of Jaques’s All The World’s A Stage soliloquy from Shakespeare‘s As You Like It. This introduced a short film with photos of the construction of the new buildings, pre-timed to the Chamber Choir (of which I’m a member) singing Hallelujah live, from the gantry around the stage. As a singer, it wasn’t the easiest ‘gig’ I’ve ever played, with my sightline of Miss Watson, the conductor, severed by a huge number of theatre lights. Even so, I’m pretty proud of the sound we made.

Next on stage was Nicole Mather dancing a solo ballet piece. When her routine finished, she was joined by six other GCSE Dance students in my year, who performed a more modern dance.

DO YOUR THING_Year 11 dancers perform a routine.

COMPLETE FLOP_A section of the dance routine.

Guitarist Lois Brown then played a Spanish piece on her instrument, beautifully lit by a red spotlight.

STRUMMING AWAY_A guitarist from the sixth-form takes the spotlight.

There was also a scene from the brilliant play The History Boys, written by Alan Bennett and performed by a group from the A-Level Drama class.

THE HISTORY BOYS_A sixth former portrays the character of Hector, in the opening scene from Alan Bennett's 2004 play.

IN THE LIBRARY_One of the scenes from The History Boys, set in library, as seen at the opening night of the new Drama facility.

"Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

— All The World’s A Stage, as recited by Ryan Tomlinson at the opening ceremony of the new Drama and Music facilities, 11 November 2011

There was a reprise of Hallelujah as the short show came to an end, with Ms White then taking the stage once again to close the ceremony.

"I was going to come on and say ‘Hallelujah’,but I’m almost speechless. You can see by the quality of the arts here at Furze Platt that the new facilities will be warmly received."

— Ms White, Headteacher of Furze Platt School, on the opening ceremony of the new Drama and Music facilities,11 November 2011 

THANK YOU_Ms White at the end of the Opening Ceremony for the new Music and Drama facilities.

Before everyone went home, there was just time for William Shaw and Ben Spurgeon to demonstrate the capabilities of the new state-of-the-art recording studio (crafted in the shell of an old Music classroom) on the other side of the campus.

COMPLEX RIG_A tech-savvy student setting up the recording equipment.

HAVING A BLAST_Miss Watson performing an Adele song, whilst being recorded from the control room next door.

TAKE A LOOK_Mr Richards shows guests around the new recording studio.

Click here to read about how the new facilities came to be created.