Being part of a large scale theatre production for the first time – part 1

Joe Butler-Smith, Molly Bell and Tom Carroll

Durham University Light Opera Group (DULOG) have been working hard since the New Year to rehearse for the showstopping ‘Anything Goes’. 

With performances starting at the end of January at the Gala Theatre, Durham, around 100 students across the cast, band, production, design and technical teams are hard at work juggling learning dance routines, lines, songs and much more, on top of already demanding academic schedules. 

DULOG has a history of putting on polished performances at the Gala Theatre each year, and this year is no exception, with standards set extremely high for ‘Anything Goes’.  

Many of the cast are first year students, and this is their first experience of being part of a large scale theatrical production, whether behind-the-scenes or as ensemble members. Some of them took some time out to describe what it’s like to be part of something so fantastic.

Joe Butler-Smith (Dance Captain) 

Day 1: Tuesday 2 January 

Pre-season rehearsals have started! It was lovely seeing everyone this morning after the Christmas holidays. Everyone seemed well rested and ready to go. We started by singing through all the ensemble songs. Everyone had already learned their parts thanks to backing tracks that our wonderful musical director and associate musical director (Freya Hartley and Daniel Hicks) had sent round, which meant the singing was already sounding polished! After lunch we did some of the big scenes, which were fun because everyone was acting together. At some point Mia (dance captain) and I went off to do our first dance captain duties. We taught some of our tap choreography to the dance ensemble, aptly named the “sparkle crew”. We didn’t all know each other so it was really good to meet the others before we got started. We ended up covering a lot of choreography in this first session, which was so encouraging, especially since quite a few of the dancers had never tap danced before.  

After dinner, I ran a tap class for the ensemble, which was really fun to teach and absolutely everyone had the fundamentals of tap dancing nailed by the end, regardless of their level of tap experience. To finish, Mia and I worked with our amazing leads Xanthe (Reno Sweeney) and Matt (Billy Crocker) on their number ‘You’re the top’, which has already started to take shape. A very full on but successful day! 

Day 2: Wednesday 3 January 

We started the day doing some tap choreography with Damola (Moonface Martin) and Mia for ‘Be like the bluebird’. Rhyen (our Choreographer) was sadly unable to arrive to our pre-season until later in the week, so we had to make something up on the spot! We had a lot of fun – Damola just makes anything funny. We then did some more acting until lunch.  

After lunch, some of the male ensemble went over some of our songs. We started with the ones everyone is in then moved on to the sailor quartet songs. They were sooo fun to do, and the harmonies sounded amazing. We got really excited with the harmonies for ‘All through the night’ particularly, and when Charlotte (Hope Harcourt) came in we wanted to sing it through with her part as well. We thought we sounded pretty good, so we recorded it. We laughed for way too long at Midun’s reinterpretation of his line. We then were called back inside to do some more scenes and blocking, and we finished the day with some more singing. The songs were sounding incredible, I was amazed at what we had done in just two days. I stayed behind with Matt (Billy Crocker) at the end of the day to go over some tap. He’s doing so so well and he’s one heck of a tapper for someone who has never tapped before. 

Molly Bell (Ensemble) 

Day 3: Thursday 4 January 

The Thursday of Gala week began bright and early with a 9am rehearsal of Act 1 Scene 2, in which many important introductions are made, and which almost every character in the show is involved with in one way or another! It was a lot of fun seeing our director Emily Phillips’ creative vision come to life as I watched my cast members shine with their comedic timing. In particular, I loved making my entrance in this scene as an FBI agent, as I find my onstage interactions really entertaining. 

I then left West Gym for Mia’s house, where I stayed throughout Gala week, and we cooked some delicious salmon bowls which we had both been unreasonably excited about, and they certainly lived up to our expectations. I was then due back in rehearsals for an ensemble workshop, in which we did several exercises to gain a better sense of our character’s backstories, personalities and motivations. I found it really interesting to learn how to tap into different parts of my voice and had fun deciding which one I would use for my role. We then all had a great time writing diary entries from the perspective of our character, most of which ended up being very humorous! We moved straight onto doing a full run through of all the scenes. Although everyone had been slightly apprehensive about this run through, it went really well, with only a few hiccups. I adored getting to watch lots of the principals, who I hadn’t seen act before, in their element.  

After a break for tea, Mia led us in a jazz technique dance class, which was quite physically demanding but really invigorating. It was then time for us all to go home and either have a well-deserved break or get straight on with getting ready for the social of the evening, for which the theme was ‘Anything Goes clothes’. The idea was to wear your craziest items of clothing; I personally think Damola was the most committed to the wacky theme! We began at Eleanor’s (Erma LaTour), travelled to Jemima’s (ensemble) and ended up at Jo’s (Evelyn Oakleigh). We even got to meet some DST alumni on the way! Overall, it was a long but brilliant and productive day. 

Tom Carroll (Dance ensemble) 

Day 4: Friday 5 January 

The day started off bright and early… a little too early (9am), with some choreography for the ‘It’s De-lovely’ dance section. The ballroom-esque style of this groove was unfamiliar to us all, but Rhyen stayed patient with us. Eventually, we were twirling round West Gym like no tomorrow, although I may have dropped Rosie (dance ensemble) once or twice… sorry.  

I then had a four-hour break where I consumed an obscene amount of PomBears and hoisin duck wraps. Were deadlines completed? No. Are they ever? Not really. Alas, we came back for some MORE choreography, but this time for some glorious, holy, yet slightly raunchy ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ which took me the entirety of the rehearsal to figure out one jazz square. After a delirious three-hour rehearsal, we knew every step so perfectly (I swear), and Rhyen was so impressed (I swear).  

After another one-hour break to decompress and fuel up some more (more PomBears, nom nom), we returned to the Beloved Bede Gym to do some more – you guessed it… choreography. This time it was for the titular, eponymous and show-stopping yet also leg-killing ‘Anything Goes’. Though tap is the bane of my existence, I was shuffling and tap-stepping so well tonight, Sutton Foster was honestly smiling down upon me (watch out Xanthe). And just like that, 9pm hit and it was time to say goodbye. Just kidding. We had a night out planned tonight and so all met up with our Gala families (in which I am fortunate to have the best one). The dress theme was ‘Famous Families’ and we had all decided to go as a fabulous and iconoclastic mashup of the Tinker Bell fairies and whatever else we felt like (I was an Emo fairy). 

Discover more

Read more about the rehersals in Anything Goes part 2

Tickets are on sale now for performances from Tuesday 30 January – Saturday 3 February and prices start at £8.50.

Book yours now from the Gala Theatre website (, in person at the Theatre’s Box Office, or by calling 03000 266 600.  

This amateur production of ‘Anything Goes’ is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Limited on behalf of Tams-Witmark LLC,

Joe Butler-Smith, Molly Bell and Tom Carroll

Joe is a first year studying Classics from Grey College, Molly ia a first year studying Philosophy and Theology and Tom is studying Classics from University College.

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