The Beck Youth Theatre (BYT) is celebrating its 25th year with a huge anniversary show this weekend. Reporter HANNAH RAVEN spoke to chairman and director Damian Sandys who said the forming of friendships is just as encouraged as careers in the spotlight.
“Some of these young people will probably go on to work in the business, but we don’t see ourselves as a stage school,” explained Damian, 32, who was a member of BYT between the ages of 15-18.
“We’re about gaining confidence, life skills and friends. That is our ethos.”
The creative team behind the anniversary performance - a huge-scale production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical, Evita - is testament to that philosophy; assistant director Alistair Lloyd, 30, and choreographer, Grant Murphy also 30, grew up performing alongside Damian at BYT.
“For me, this is amazing,” said Damian. “I am working on a show with my best friends who I met here all those years ago, and now we are watching new friendship groups forming.”
A registered charity, BYT does not exist for profit and fees are kept low.
“We provide for our members rather than line the pockets of staff. That’s the difference between us and the bigger corporations,” said Damian.
In 2009 Damian took the helm from Wendy Brackley, former principal of Hillingdon Theatre Dance Centre (HTDC), in Yiewsley.
Wendy remains involved assisting her daughter, former Bishopshalt School student, Lucy Bell, 24, with costumes for all 73 performers.
“It’s a huge cast, we're feeling the added pressure,” said Damian. “But it makes it even more exciting.”
Despite the massive challenge, he says the children got behind the project as soon as they started rehearsals in January.
HTDC and ex-Bishopshalt School student Natalie Venier, 19, plays leading lady Eva Perón, who barely leaves the stage for the two-hour performance.
Fellow HTDC and Bishop Ramsey student Stephen King, 18, is Che Guevara and Colonel Juan Perón is played by Connor Harper, 18 a trainee teaching assistant.
“They’ve done really well, their parts are huge. It’s a very big ask of them but they’re coping wonderfully,” said Damian.
So why choose Evita, to mark such a momentous anniversary?
“We were looking for a particularly special show that would really challenge the company, and by chance, Evita became available for the first time in about 11 years,” said Damian.
Premiering in the West End in 1978, the show has enjoyed non-stop success across the world and was awarded both the Laurence Olivier Award and Tony Award for Best Musical. It was made into a film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas in 1996.
The famous and extensive score, which includes Another Suitcase in Another Hall, You Must Love Me and the show’s famous ballad, Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina, tells the real-life story of Eva Perón’s rise from the slums of Buenos Aires to becoming the wife of Argentine president, Juan Perón.
“Usually a show will have 4-5 ensemble pieces, but every single person is involved in at least 14, some up to 18,” said Damian.
“The stage is always full and every one gets their moment.”
So what gave them the confidence they could pull off such a mammoth production?
“Chris Peak has been our musical director for the last six years and we couldn’t do it without him,” said Damian.
“The company had to get to a really high point musically to be able to do this show.”
And get there, they did. Damian says the show is such a spectacle, audiences will need to come twice to fully appreciate every aspect.
“When they come the second time they can see what’s going on the other side of the stage,” he said.
“There’s a brilliant balance of scenes. Some are heart breaking then there’s this passionate tango dancing then huge, energetic ensemble numbers.”
The cast is made up of children aged 8-19 who meet once a week to rehearse.
Some aim to perform as a career, others take part for fun, but the whole company shares the one belief that BYT prides itself on the most.
“We are a big family,” said Damian, who credits much of what he has achieved personally, as well as professionally, to his time at BYT.
“It’s so incredibly important what it does for young people. It changed my life.”
At a time when hundreds of schools across Britain are cutting drama from their syllabus, he says it is now more important than ever for children to have access to these types of outlets.
“I would not be the person I am and have done the things I have without these experiences. Acting opens up a world and inspires confidence.”
If you or your child would like to join BYT or take part in its two-week summer project in August, please contact secretary Julie King on 020 8841 3351 or email email@example.com for information.
Evita is on at The Beck Theatre, Grange Road, Hayes, from Friday, April 12 until Saturday, April 13. 7.30pm daily and 2.30pm on Saturday. Evening performances cost £12-£14, matinee £10.