Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Marie Jonson: Stafford Shared Services Choir

Stafford Shared Services Choir and the cast of our rock ‘n’ roll panto, Dick Whittington, are each playing their part in the Military Wives campaign headed by Radio 2 DJ, Chris Evans.
Evans launched the campaign to encourage choirs from around the country to record their own version of the Military Wives song ‘Wherever You Are’. The breakfast DJ plays a selection of these home grown versions on his morning show to help support the original song on its climb to Christmas number one.
The original Military Wives song, as sung by Gareth Malone’s Choir, is marching its way to victory, being the fastest selling single in six years, with most profits going to The Royal British Legion and SSAFA Forces.
Stafford Shared Services Choir is taking part having recorded their version of the single in our very own MET studio.
Inspired by this, the cast of Dick Whittington are also set to record their adaptation of the song here at the Gatehouse.
We met with Marie Jonson from the Shared Services Choir to talk about Stafford’s very own Military Wives musical offering and why they got involved.
Why did you want to join in with Chris’ campaign?
I first heard the song on Chris Evans’ show and sobbed because it’s such a gorgeous and lovely song, it’s just really nice. When I found out Chris was promoting it to raise awareness for the charities The Royal British Legion and SSAFA Forces I thought it was brilliant. When I heard the song for a second time I discovered that Chris wanted people to send in their own versions. I thought what a lovely idea for a lovely song. I found that there are quite a few people who don’t know about the single so the bottom line is that we’re doing it to raise awareness.
Could you tell me a little bit about the choir and your involvement in the project?
I spoke to my manager about sending an email out to ask people from Stafford County Council to form a choir to raise awareness of Chris’ campaign and she agreed it was a great idea. We decided to call ourselves The Stafford Shared Services Choir because we’re sharing our services with you and helping to promote the cause. The choir was made up of a variety of women from their early 20s through to 50s, who all work for the council.
So how many took part?
Initially 22 signed up but with it being such a busy time of year only 9 were able to make the recording. One woman who wasn’t able to make it is a military wife and she said the song is so emotional because she could relate to what it is all about.
How did you go about recording the song?
It wasn’t as easy as we thought and wehad to find a venue to record the song. We asked at Guitar and Son in Staffordand they suggested contacting the Gatehouse. We were then thankfully offered to record the song in their Met studio.
So how was it recording at the MET?
The recording was difficult but at the same time we really loved it. It was hard to find the backing music so we came to the recording unrehearsed and of course we’d never sang before as a group! As soon as we hit the recording studio the reality of the task hit us. In the end we were really chuffed with the song, we didn’t expect it to be as good as it was.
How long did recording take?
It took about 2 hours to record.
Has anyone in the choir sang or recorded music before?
Well I created the choir especially for this song but we did have a few girls who had experience. A couple of them had sung in a choir in school before and they really helped with the recording and they were wonderful at leading.
Has it been played on the BBC 2 breakfast show yet?
Not yet but Chris has been saying he’s had a huge amount of different versions sent to him. His original intention was to play every song from start to finish but because he’s had so many he now plans to play every song but in little compilations.
Can the public listen to or buy the single?
It’s not available at the moment but I’m raising money by taking it to work and asking people to pay to listen to it. It’s really helping to raise awareness; now everyone in my office knows about it. We are also in the process of trying to get the song onto You Tube.
What are your opinions on the other contenders for Christmas number 1, for example The X Factor and The John Lewis Christmas Advert song? How do you think they compare to the Military Wives campaign?
There’s no comparison really, this song is a worthy cause and is a one-off so I think it really deserves to be number 1. It should beat all its contenders and I’ve already got my copy.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Interview: James Hyland

"Storytelling is one of the most important aspects of human life; our civilisation is built on stories and their value cannot be underestimated."

(Hyland performing as the character Jacob Marley)

Multi-award winning and hugely talented actor/writer James Hyland, is showcasing his one-man show at The MET Studio here at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre. 'A Christmas Carol- As told by Jacob Marley (deceased)' tells a wintery tale from the perspective of Scrooge's deceased business partner. Hyland has been touring the country achieving sell out performances of A Christmas Carol created under his established production company, Brother Wolf.

In preparation for this chilling and highly entertaining show we chatted with James about his latest magical offering and some of his favourite productions.

Why did you choose to create a production of 'A Christmas Carol'?

I’ve always loved ‘A Christmas Carol’, having read the novella repeatedly and watched many of its adaptations over the years, and so I decided to create a one-man show version of the tale, but with a twist – telling the story from the point of view of Jacob Marley’s ghost. The objective was to raise the stakes and the poignancy of the drama by having it told by a character that was part of the story in the first instance and therefore share his own personal and emotional response to the narrative; a character who is literally imprisoned by own feelings of guilt and remorse and wants to use this chance to convey its message to an audience by haunting them with the telling of it.
How do you think the character Jacob Marley differs to Ebenezer Scrooge?
There are actually many similarities between the characters, but the main, and important difference is circumstantial in that Marley never had the fortune of being visited by three life-changing benevolent spirits. He is forever bound in his chains, forced to endure a lifetime of captivity and loss. His reason for returning from the netherworld to haunt Scrooge is the same reason he visits the audience in the theatre – he carries with him a message and a warning.
How have the audiences responded to the production?
The audiences have all been very supportive; there have been some tremendous testimonials and the show has been universally praised by the press. I think many people are surprised at how emotional and moving the production has made them feel, and also how funny it is in parts.
What’s your favourite musical or play?
My favourite musical is ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and one of my favourite plays is William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. My favourite film is ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. I cannot praise it highly enough and the book by Ken Kesey is also a masterwork and one of my four favourite novels, along with Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and, of course, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’.
During your career in the arts you’ve perused acting, writing, directing, editing and more but which of your career roles do you enjoy most?
Acting is my primary love and very closely followed by writing – but all of my other roles, including directing, producing and editing, are very much part and parcel of the same. As corny as it may sound, I am in love with stories and the art of storytelling and very much enjoy all of the various processes associated with the medium.
Do you have any tips for those wanting to peruse a career in the arts?
To quote Winston Churchill “Never give up”. Storytelling is one of the most important aspects of human life; our civilisation is built on stories and their value cannot be underestimated.

'A Christmas Carol – As told by Jacob Marley (deceased)' will run from Fri 23rd December 2011 to Sat 24th December 2011 at The MET Studio, Stafford Gatehouse Theatre.