The greatest joy in directing your own work is that you don’t have to keep to the script! Rehearsals can be creative experiences, and when actors deliver lines they sometimes do so in ways that were not anticipated. And if their way is good, or better, than was originally conceived then on this occasion it becomes the authorised version.
But the author-director also has to ride the passing humour of the performers, in this case a talented 20-strong cast: “who wrote this stuff?”; “I blame the playwright”; “I want to be a sinner as well as a singer!”
The idea for the play came from my co-writer Livi Michael after a Saddleworth Historical Society talk in 2016. It’s an important story for women, and for the town of Oldham. and we should never underestimate the personal risks that three women took when they first sang in St Mary’s Church. It happened in 1701, and yet only recently have women and girls been allowed to join some of our most prestigious cathedral choirs, and then not without controversy.
Readings of the draft script by Saddleworth Players and Royal Exchange Elder Company provided valuable feedback which inspired revision. “It’s not dangerous enough”, it was said. “I want to know more about these characters. “You need a scene between these people.” Thankfully there was also a lot of laughter and a particularly memorable comment – “if you ever put this on stage I want to be in it.” Indeed, a number of those first readers are now amongst our cast..
It is easier to write stage directions that require scenes across 18th century Oldham, while insisting that actors perform a psalm as a four part harmony, than it is to make it happen. Fortunately, this author – director has a magical team supporting the show who conjure up creative solutions in set, costume, lighting and sound..
My dear late friend and former Hulme Grammar colleague Ruth Dixon cast her musical eye over the play and told me we needed our music arranging. Thanks to her I became acquainted with a gifted young man called Daniel Hicks. Six weeks ago he sat at the Millgate piano and performed his arrangements for the show. Now musical director Peter Wakefield and the cast are filling the theatre with their voices and his arrangements; they sound glorious.
‘Singers Not Sinners’ premiers at The Millgate Arts Centre in Delph, June 4-9th and June 11th It will be a memorable show, celebrating a memorable happening not only for Oldham, but for the country, and in particular for women. Come and see it!
Director and Co-Writer