Popularised by the American TV show, Glee, a show choir is an ensemble of singers who perform choreographed dance numbers that often revolve around an overarching concept or theme. Every year, the Edinburgh University Footlights puts on a Showchoir that not often but always revolves around a theme as this is foundational to being successful in the application process. However, for the first time in Footlights' Showchoir history, this year’s started with none. But with what started with no theme, no director, and the watchful eye of Covid-19, the 2022 Showchoir ended up garnering a five-star review only six months later.
How did they do it? Production team applications opened in the summer of 2021 following a year of zoom rehearsals and cancelled performances and consequentially applications were dry with many were afraid to take on a project this big after what happened to theatre last year. This did not however stop Falk Meier or Mathilde Duché from applying. Footlights took Falk on as Musical Director and Mathilde as Producer with open arms and a large caveat. As no one had applied to be director, Showchoir was theme-less and as a result Falk and Mathilde were given three days to find a theme for the show or there was not going to be one. In a panic, Falk and Mathilde - who at this point in time were perfect strangers - met on zoom and started drafting some ideas. From murder mystery to Greek mythology, to an elaborate storyline with strikes and love interests that almost entirely broke the bounds of what Showchoir was, they landed on cabaret.
"We had so much creative liberty with it which we didn't think we would because we didn't think it would have to come down to us having to craft something, it was a bit messy but then Amy saved the day. It was really funny because we could do anything, and we really wanted to basically be theatre nerds and portray a show within a show. That was the main idea." (Mathilde)
"Mainly I think it was just like tailoring songs that we loved around storylines that we could put into the process of putting on a show. For example, you could have a lead diva in the cast and there's tons of songs in musical theatre about being a diva. There's a leading man, and there's a stage sweep that was quite an early idea that we had, someone who's wanting to be on the stage but never gets the chance." (Falk)
And right in the heat of all this creative scramble of musical theatre chaos, Amy Stinton arrived. As a first year who had only moved to Edinburgh that month, Amy had her sights set on being an assistant director not wanting to take on something too ambitious too soon. But a tiny nudge from the Footlights committee pushed Amy to apply and then successfully land the role of director. Amy joined right in the nick of time for auditions where she stayed up with Falk and Mathilde, two people she had met just once before, into the early AM watching audition tapes. And just like that, with a team that barely knew each other, they had found their cast.
With Amy now on board, Falk and Mathilde were fully prepared to let her scrap their idea and completely reinvent the show. Amy however decided to take on their Cabaret featuring a show within a show idea and run with it.
"You guys had already picked so many of my favourite songs so I only changed a handful, and I can always tell which songs were mine because Hadestown and The Last Five Years, were my favourites and had to be in there somewhere.” (Amy)
"I think Mathilde and I had quite a good idea for a general storyline, but we couldn’t quite thread between the songs properly. It was convoluted and it didn’t make sense, and I think one big part of what Amy did when she joined the project was, she looked at it from a director’s perspective, which was make it make sense, structure it. She added some songs, took some songs out, moved some songs around, took some bits of the storyline out” (Falk)
At this point in time however, it started to become increasingly clear that choreography wasn’t the team’s strongest suit. A Halloween party of all things managed to fix this as Amy bumped into a girl in a black jumpsuit who had recently attended ballet school. And just like that Emily Paterson came on as choreographer, and Showchoir had a full production team by the end of October – the latest Footlights production team to ever form.
Their plight however was not yet over. The following four months were painted with challenges, with highlights including a fundraiser riddled with Covid-19 and a forced venue change surging production costs with an extra £2000. But despite adversity, Showchoir rose its curtains on Thursday 17th Match in the Magnusson Centre for Performing Arts. And it was sensational. The show opened with Magic To Do from Pipin, which was followed by an abrupt reprimanding of the cast by the producer – and by producer, I do not mean Mathilde, but rather Ruby Loftus who plays the producer. And so, the story within a story is unveiled with the cast playing parts such as stagehands, lighting designers, divas, or ambitious actors, who are all preparing to put on a show. This very crucially gave a voice to and recognition of every element of production especially tech and stage whose value is sometimes lost behind the curtain.
Showchoir then takes us on the casts’ journey through rehearsals and tech with legendary musical numbers including Waving Through a Window from Dear Evan Hansen, Wilkommen from Cabaret, Work of Art from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, All That Jazz and Cell Block Tango from Chicago – just to name a few.
The most extraordinary part of Showchoir for me though was the end. Showchoir’s final number was the opening night of the show within a show. Not only was it truly spectacular and tremendously clever, but it also tore down the walls of what Showchoir could be. It reinvented Showchoir that could be one with dialogue, characters, and a chance for every single person to be a soloist.