Llandudno Youth Music Theatre present CHILDREN OF EDEN

Directed by Ian Wilson and Margaret Bones
Musical Director: Philip Bones

Ian Wilson discusses the production for Llandudno Youth Music Theatre

Llandudno Youth Music Theatre was formed in 1978 as a feeder group for one of the adult societies in Llandudno, but grew into a youth group in its own right. Our first musical Anne of Green Cables was performed in 1979 at the local Town Hall in Llandudno on a small stage with virtually no sound and lighting and a small set. Since 1979 the group has performed a musical every year in various venues in the area.

In September of 1988 Children of Eden was the musical chosen. It was performed at the North Wales Theatre, Llandudno on one of the biggest stages in the UK.

Children of Eden is the story of the first nine chapters of the Old Testament, from the Creation to Noah's Ark landing on Mount Ararat, with one big musical number, "Generations", covering the nine hundred years in between.

This version is much shorter than the original West End production, staged in 1991, which I think makes it a tighter, stronger piece and gives it dramatic impact.

There is a cast of 18 major characters, some of which may be doubled, plus storytellers who make up the chorus. Everyone remained on stage throughout the piece only leaving the stage to either change costume or suggest a change of scene. The action is continuous throughout.

Of the main characters, Father (God) needs to have a presence above everyone else whilst at the same time still be able to blend back into the storytellers at the end of the show.

Adam and Eve need to play their first scenes with innocence and gradually age through Act 1. This was achieved by body language and slower movements rather than applying make-up. Our young actors were totally believable.

Cain needs a good range in his singing voice, as his main song is very powerful and quite high.

'The snake is usually played by a man but our snake was played by a woman, equally if not more effectively. Noah is a wonderful part for any actor and he and his family must be able to work together as a team.

Rehearsals started in March with learning the songs, all totally new.Auditions were held at the beginning of May.

With a strong cast we began flooring. Rehearsals took place on Thursdays for everyone and Sunday afternoons for script work and choreography right up until the show opened at the beginning of September.

The show was split between two directors. Act I was directed by myself, Ian Wilson and Act 11 by Margaret Jones. We had worked together in the past.

Act I is longer and needs to flow so as not to drag. it covers a lot of ground. Scenes like The Creation, The Naming of the Animals, The Snake and the Apple, The Wilderness, Cain and Abel and The Ring of Stones, which includes the death of Abel, are all very dramatic but keep the pace going as it builds to a moving climax at the end of Act 1.

Act 11, although shorter, has no less impact. The opening number "Generations" requires lots of energy as it bridges the generation gap between Act I and Act 11 and introduces Noah to his family. The return of the animals as they board the Ark is one of the many highlights of Act 11. Creating the desperation of weeks without sight of land tests the actors in Noah's family. As land is found Noah's wife sings "Ain't it Good", a rousing gospel number. It is important for the actor playing Noah to bring the audience down to earth ready for the final scene which takes us right back to the beginning.

There are similarities that occur in Act I and Act 11 that need to be worked on so that the audience sees the connection. The fight scene being just one to mention.

What also comes across from this show is how parents cope with bringing up their children, Father with Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel. Also in Act II with Noah and his son Japheth. Not so different from today.

The action is continuous in the script with no set scenes laid down. You can let your imagination run wild. We did break up the script where the action dictated the characters moved from one place to another, this also helps in planning rehearsals.

You could build a full set for each scene, creating all the locations with elaborate scenery, but we thought it would be better to have a simple composite set and use specialist lighting to create a different atmosphere for each scene. Our Stage Manager designed a set with scaffolding, two different levels, and gave us different levels for working on.

The music from the original production of Children of Eden has been drastically changed and virtually every song that was in the original show having been altered; indeed many have been completely rewritten, some deleted and new songs added.

The show is a rock opera, therefore the music and staging have to gel in order for the story to be told and understood by the audience. This is a difficult task at best, but when you are dealing with a new work such as Children of Eden you have very few guidelines to follow.

The LYMT had recently invested in a computer with music software. This has proved invaluable when working with the RehearScore disc supplied (at a cost) by Joseph Weinberger.

This disc enables the music to be played at rehearsals at any speed, all the harmonies broken down for all parts, and most importantly the music printed off for the different harmony lines for the cast to learn.

Once all the songs were learnt the music was played "live", first with the piano then with the keyboard/synthesizer. It was planned that we would have an orchestra on stage for the production and this was part of the magic of the show.

The audience was able to see the musicians on stage (albeit in the middle of the set), and gave the whole company a feeling of "one", unlike the traditional "orchestra in the pit musicals" when most of the musicians never see the cast, nor the cast the musicians.

Having the orchestra on stage creates its own unique problems especially for the sound engineers. Not only does the audience have to have the correct mix and balance, but also the orchestra and MD have to be able to hear the cast, and vice versa. This was achieved with additional sound desk and "fold back" monitors for the cast and the orchestra strategically placed on stage at several locations.

The music of Children of Eden is a joy to learn, play and perform. What more could you ask of any musical?

Costumes can be very flexible. We brought in a costume designer who incorporated the biblical theme on a modern scale, e.g. Cain was dressed in combat trousers and teeshirt whilst Noah was more traditional. Adam and Eve's costumes were chosen by working closely with the costume designer and very simple costumes depicting innocence were chosen. As the actors aged, their costumes changed by adding another piece of clothing.

The animals are a big challenge. Our animals were dressed in an abstract way with material of the animal they depicted adding tails and ears as appropriate,

We hired nine radio microphones plus four hand-held radio microphones plus four float mics for the front of the stage. This gave us best coverage in a large theatre and meant there was no quick changes of microphones.

Our technician hired in moving lights to provide light exactly where we wanted it but also to inject a certain amount of spectacle into the show. Haze machines were also hired together with ordinary lanterns to augment the theatre's supply. Scrollers were also used. The extra equipment was hired from Stage Electrics in Birmingham. The lighting is an integral part of the show, especially the final sequence of the rainbow.

Children of Eden was a great artistic success for the group, utilising everyone's talents, although not a financial success. It is very difficult persuading audiences to try something new. We performed on a large stage in a 1400 seat theatre and used a lot of high tech lighting to create the effects we wanted. However the show can work just as well in a small venue, studio theatre or church hall. It is the approach to and enthusiasm for the piece that makes the difference.

There was a very happy atmosphere both on and backstage throughout rehearsals and the week of the show. Our audience loved it. This was evident from the standing ovations received after every performance - what more can I say!!

Article originally published in Amateur Stage, June 1999. Copyright rests with Amateur Stage
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