As many of you will be aware (they certainly mention it often enough) the Cecilian Society’s next show, Children of Eden, is on the horizon. And as this is a show very different to anything they’ve done before, I thought I should find out exactly what’s what, by sitting down with Sam McElgunn (Director), Michael Smith (Co-Musical Director), Lauren Hogg (Choreographer), Aidan Dobson and Catriona Strachan (Co-Assistant Directors), Jill Howie (Assistant Choreographer) and Stella Sewell (Head of Tech).
Hello everyone, thank you for sitting down with me. You are, of course, the production team of Children of Eden and the first thing I would like to ask is what can you all tell me, generally, about the show?
Sam: Well, Children of Eden is based on two sections from the Book of Genesis, so you’ve got Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel in the first act and Noah’s Ark in the second act. The only character who is in both acts is Father, who is kind of the representation of God in this show, but a much more human one, on a much more on a human level, because obviously you get to see them as a person.
Aidan: It sort of thematically deals with things like family, taking the generational idea, “are we destined to become what came before us?”
Sam: And the notion of parental control, when you should let go, when your parents are right, when its OK to move away from that, coming of age, but there’s also a lot of themes of independence, so every character in the show, pretty much, at one point or another, stands up for something that they believe in. Whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing, for example, Cain and Abel, a well known tragedy, but at the same time, every single character is standing up for themselves, they don’t let other people walk over them and they stand up for what they believe in, which I think is a really good way to look at this show, as opposed to “oh, it’s a bible musical”, I think its good to look at what the themes are and what the plot shows us and how it applies to modern day life.
Vey good. Now, as it is a musical and music therefore plays a large role in it, can any of you (looking at you, Michael) tell us about the use of music within the show?
Michael: Swell, Stephen Schwartz (the Writer/composer of Children of Eden) is a big fan of creating character themes, so character themes pop up throughout the show, we often hear the Eve Theme, which is the Spark of Creation (on of the shows numbers) quite a lot and that focuses around her use of the word beyond and that appears throughout the show a lot. There’s also the Wasteland Theme, which represents the family, going off on their own and creating their own lives in this wasteland. The show as a whole is huge, as we’ve all realised, there are 43 numbers in the show, hence why we now have 2 Musical Director’s (Michael shares the role with fellow Cecilian Olivia Attwooll-Keith), because it makes it a more manageable task in this space of time.
And what kind of music can we be expecting, well-known styles…?
Michael: There’s lots of different genres really, you get a gospel number, there’s a number with an almost country and western style called Hardest Part of Love, there’s bits of pop and a lot of classic Musical Theatre stuff and the ‘famous’ jazz number, In Pursuit of Excellence, which is not actually written by Stephen Schwartz, (because he cannot do jazz, apparently).
Thank you, and coming to the final part of any musical, which is of course the use of movement and dancing, what can you tell us about the use of those motifs throughout the Musical?
Lauren: Well, the show, famously, is very musical and has big harmonies and all sorts of things, so a lot of productions haven’t really focused on the dancing before, but I really, really wanted to, because I know the society has very strong dancers all over, from principals to chorus to specialists and so I really did want to showcase the dancing of the society. I decided, this year, to do a wide range of different styles of dance, because there’s such a wide range of music, so there’s a ballet number, there’s a sort of lindy-hop jive number, there’s a more Latin feel to the Act Two opener. There’s also a lot of contemporary dance, one of the specialist numbers is a street dance and, in the end, we wanted to get a little bit of everything.
Sam: It’s very suitable for our society, I think, because there’s so many different styles of dance and styles of music, it means that there’s something to suit everyone. So, we’ve had people come and say that Ain’t it Good is their favourite number, then other people really passionately say that The Flood, which couldn’t be further away from what Ain’t it Good is, is their favourite number and I think that, because there’s so many different things and so many different styles of music and dance that everyone gets something they enjoy.
Jill: I think, also, that the people who come to see it are going to get a lot out of it, because the show is not one tone, it’s constantly changing through a lot of the dances and the musical numbers are so different, so I think that’s something really interesting to come to, if you’ve never been to a musical before, it’s not like everything is the same, I think that’s quite interesting.
Catriona: I think the musical, as a whole, lends itself to a whole range of acting, as well. You’ve got some really, really sad moments, you’ve got some funny moments, you’ve got some general, musical theatre, camp, fun scenes and the story has so much going on that you get such a wide range of everything in it and you can see that with all our principal actors, but also the whole chorus have to put themselves through this whole range of emotions as well.
Thank you. On another note, the Cecilian Society is noted for trying to find a place for everyone, both onstage and off, so what can you tell us about how the backstage crew, the technicians and so forth, have been enjoying the process and what they are creating for us to witness?
Stella: Well, we have a tree and lots of rocks, it’s very Lion King.
Sam: Yes, the Wasteland is very Lion King, but the Garden of Eden we’ve got a 7-foot 5 tree. We’ve got a number of pieces of set that double as scenery but are also used to create levels and are used in the choreography.
Stella: Tech’s been a lot of fun this year, maybe a little too much papier mache, but I think the stuff we’ve been doing this year is pretty varied. A lot of carpentry, we built a table, we used wood stain, which we’ve not used so much before.
Sam: We’ve also, this year, got the role of Scenic Designer (Flora Robson), as well as a much more involved Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager (Robyn Hunter and Finley Dickens), we’ve got our Lighting Designer (Joe Reid), all these people are really good at what they do, so why wouldn’t we let them do it, instead of me and Stella, who maybe don’t know quite as much in those specific areas. We’ve got other people making puppets, there is so much going on backstage with this show.
And what is it that you, as the Production Team, feel you have taken away from this experience and what is it that you hope that others take way, whether it be cast members or audience members, what is it you hope people gain from this production?
Sam: I think I said earlier that all the characters stand up for what they believe in and I think, especially in the last song, it says “There is no journey gone so far, so far we cannot stop and change direction” and I think there’s a lot of lyrics in the show, but that one in particular, that really speaks to what I get from the show, which is a sense of doing what you feel is right and standing up for yourself and once you realise things need to change, its never too late to be the person who makes that change and I think it comes across very strongly when you see the show, especially because of the way it’s staged across the generations. So, you see that Father has this dedication and always feels that they’re in the right and it takes ten generations before they actually think that maybe letting go is the best thing you can do. And I think that’s the point of the show, to realise that, just because you were stuck in your ways for so long, doesn’t mean that you don’t have the chance to change that.
Jill: I think another major thing, about how the people you spend your time with become your family and that’s basically what Cecilian’s is, we’re basically one big family and that’s what this show is all about, one big family. And how everyone has got their own opinions, own diversities, but you’re still really tight and you all really care about each other.
Michael: As well, I was, at the start, worried that being on PT meant you wouldn’t get those connections that you do in cast, where you sit and chat to each other in the breaks and relax, because I thought I’d be running around working, with 43 songs, I’ve got to do masses and actually you end up making connections within the production team as well, but you still maintain those friendships with cast members because, at the end of the day, you’re all friends and you all do it because you like being there and we all go for a pint afterwards.
Catriona: I, for one, hope the audience cry, because this the first Cecilian show that’s made me ugly cry, just from the music and singing, so that’s my only goal.
Aidan: I hope people really just, when they come and see it, they see how wonderful it is, the inclusivity, not only of the show, but of the society as a whole.
Sam: that’s a really important part of what we are, because we have an open chorus policy and its always been that way, that anyone who wants to join can join and will have a place in the show. A big part of how we did it this year was that we wanted it to feel like, not just that we could fit 50 people in, but that we needed every single person to be there, that if one person is missing, you notice they’re missing. Everyone contributes to it and even little things, like the way we’ve done costumes this year, everyone is getting to dress to show their own individuality, which I think is a really nice homage to what the society is and what it stands for. And I think it will be especially nice for old Cecilian’s and future Cecilian’s to come and see that and see that that’s what the society is about.
Aidan: And I hope past members who see it are able to reflect on their time in the society and remember that it was good, and this was what it was about, past Production team members or whether they were in chorus, they can see some of that inclusivity reflected again in their viewing experience.
Michael: Because there’s been a lot of people questioning why we picked this show, it’s massive, it’s a real challenge, why’ve you done that? And I hope people come and see it and say “Wow, that’s why they chose that show, because it’s amazing”.
Lauren: One of the main things we wanted from this year was for everyone involved in the show to have a great time and we hope that audience have a great time watching everyone have a great time onstage performing it.
Aidan: That’s really a credit to your choreography, I think. A lot of what you’ve done really benefits whenever people are just onstage enjoying themselves, in all the different styles that we’ve got, both really dance-y or more the acting side, when people are enjoying it, I think that shines through.
Any final comments you want to make (dates, ticket prices, times etc)?
Sam: Children of Eden is in the Mitchell Theatre from the 20th of February to the 23rd February, tickets are £10 for a concession, so students will be £10 tickets, and then £15 otherwise. We have a matinee at 2.30pm on the Saturday and the rest of the shows start at 7.30pm. It is a really incredible show and you will not regret coming to see it.
Well, take from that what you will, but from the sound of it, the Cecilian Society is putting on a show of truly Biblical proportions (see what I did there) and it sounds like it’s not to be missed.