Bit part player, set builder, sound technician, lighting expert and now director, Ashburton Trust Event Centre manager Roger Farr is tackling the top job for Ashburton Variety Theatre’s next production Mamma Mia. Photo Sue NewmanFor decades Roger Farr has had a starring role in Ashburton’s Variety Theatre shows as behind the scenes man creating magic through stage lighting.
When the curtain rises on the theatre group’s next production Mamma Mia he’ll be swapping lights for the director’s chair.
It’s a challenge he’s looking forward to but one he admits to feeling more than a little nervous about.
Farr has directed before, but nothing of this scale. It’s something he’s always been keen to do more of and when the opportunity came up to direct the Ashburton Trust Event Centre’s 10th anniversary show, as centre manager he said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
He’s tackling a show that’s well known and well loved, one he knows will come with high expectations.
“We’ve bought the consortium so we know absolutely what we’re getting.
“It’s all delivered in containers, all the props and costumes and from a director’s point of view it’s simple, we’re not allowed to change anything, we have to stay with what’s written,” he said.
If he had to sit down and design sets, costumes and lighting from scratch it would be an impossible task for someone who is working full time, Farr said.
Auditions will be held at the start of November and Farr says he’s excited about the prospect of choosing what will be quite a large cast of singers and dancers.
“It’ll be a bit odd because I’ll know quite a few of those auditioning, but I’m hoping we’ll get a few outsiders come in too.”
He’s already forming ideas about the characters and personalities he’ll need in his cast to keep it true to the original.
“It’s a funny show in a way because of the music.
“People will be quite demanding so the singing will be critical but I want to make sure the storyline comes across too.
“With a show with popular music it’s easy for the storyline to get lost and for character development to get lost.”
He knows there’s a massive amount of work needed between auditions and first night.
“I’ll admit I’m a bit nervous.
“It’s a big undertaking and the budget itself is scary.
“Because it’s a consortium show the rights are very expensive and the whole production is on my shoulders; I have to make this work,” he said.
He’s keen to get on with the job, choose his cast, kick-start rehearsals and working with his production team of musical director Richard Marrett and choreographer Madison Thew-Keyworth.
“They’re the full time professionals, but they seem to be quite relaxed about working with me,” he said.
When it comes to getting the best from his cast, Farr admits he’ll be quite demanding, but not at the expense of having a team that’s enjoying what they’re doing.
‘The show has to be a lot of fun for the cast and the audience, there needs to be a real party atmosphere, but yes, I have expectations with the way I want things to be.”
Farr knows theatre from the grassroots up.
He first stepped out on stage as a nine-year-old in Annie Get Your Gun. His mum was in the show and he tagged along.
He followed that 1975 show with Oliver two years later and then decided to call time on his stage career for a while.
He admits he was never a star, always one of the ensemble, but that early stage debut sealed his love affair with the theatre.
He swapped on-stage, working on set building before changing to what became his passion, lighting.
Working in a lighting crew when he started out was a vastly different job.
Then it was about follow spots and dimmers; today it’s high-tech.
“I was an engineer by trade so that helped, but I really learned on the job.
“Lighting was very basic when I started out but in the past 10 to 15 years Ashburton has really moved ahead,” he said.
The late Robert Young was his single biggest influence.
He opened up a world of possibilities for Farr and over the several shows they worked together, Young took his skill level from basic to a high level, he said.
“He was very demanding, he knew exactly what he wanted.”
Farr might be in the director’s chair for Mamma Mia but he won’t be letting the show’s lighting go.
“He’ll be doing double duty.
“I’ll do the basic design work, I’ll plot the show, create the image in my head, and then it’s a bit like painting by numbers really.”
Job done, he’ll hand the lighting over to his crew and start running the show.
Mamma Mia auditions will be held on November 4 and the show runs in the Ashburton Trust Event Centre from May 18 to 26.
By Sue Newman © The Ashburton Guardian - 13 October 2017