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A Little History Of The World – Rehearsal Blog Week One

June 5th, 2015 No comments

The first week of rehearsals for A Little History of the World is complete and huge progress has been made! The production team have been incredibly efficient with almost all of the props ready in the room at the beginning of the week and the finished set being in the rehearsal space ready for the second.

The play is divided up into sequences and a fair amount of these are heavily movement based so our movement director Lee Lyford has been working closely with the cast and director Paul Stacey to create a shared vision of how each of the sequences will look and whether or not sound or props will be used. Next week we will be going over these sequences in detail which in turn will make the walk-throughs smoother. Over time we can pick up the pace and turn it into a run-through!

One of my favourite elements of the show is how many different ways the central desk to Ernst Gombrich’s study is used; it is moved all over the stage, climbed on and turned over to become an Olympic podium, an operation table and many other things. When you come to see the show also keep an eye out for the chairs that fold over to become ladders that have kept the cast and creative team amused for the longest time! All props necessary in the storytelling are found within the study creating ingenious object manipulation by the cast that works so smoothly sometimes you may not even notice!

With one week down and only three weeks to go I have a funny feeling this month will fly by in a blur of storytelling and history lessons and before we know it opening day will be upon us!

Come and join in on the fun!

Beth Knott
Assistant Director – A Little History of the World

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A Little History Of The World – Development Week

May 26th, 2015 No comments

​I write to you from the rehearsal room of A Little History of The World’s week long development workshop. The creative team made up of Paul Stacey (Artistic Director of Reading Rep) Lee Lyford (Movement Director) and Toby Hulse (Playwright) are all working together with the cast to give the play its first breathe of life.

Little History has many opportunities for action sequences beyond the script so a development week has been a fantastic opportunity to solidify the play to ensure a smooth rehearsal process once it commences. It has been great to have Toby with us for the development week to share with us his vision for each chapter and teach us everything about the History the play depicts (seriously he knows everything!). Lee Lyford was another valuable asset to the team working closely with the cast to choreograph the trickier sequences helping everyone get a sense of how the play would take shape.

The cast is made up of three actors who are extremely talented with characterisation and accents, needless to say there has been a lot of laughter involved in the process! There has hardly been a moment where ideas haven’t been flowing and because of this, chapters of the play have been growing stronger and stronger.

It has been a great week for all involved and there is definitely a buzz of excitement in the air for the beginning of rehearsals! Even at such an early stage I can already tell you it won’t be one to miss!

Beth Knott
Assistant Director

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Reviewing the situation…

May 7th, 2015 No comments

I was sat in the rehearsal room at the first read-through by the cast of The Deep Blue Sea when I took the time to read a familiar sign on the wall.

I concluded there must be a big mistake on the date – as surely it was only a few years ago I was trying to pick the pocket of Mr Grimes.

The Grimes family were brilliant supporters of The Watermill – not only were Emily and Charlotte both members of our youth theatre (they went on to work here under various guises) – but Barry, their father, was one of the first people I met when I started at The Watermill –someone I always went to for help – (he must have dreaded my phone calls!)

At that time we had no rehearsal room and I thought, “I Shall Scream“ as we spent every day moving all the props and furniture for a show’s rehearsals either into the restaurant (until thrown out for service) or driving around the area to different village halls.


If we only had a rehearsal room it would be A Fine Life.

We came up with a cunning plan to turn what was an assortment of small rooms and a barn like space into a Rehearsal Room. As ever, money was tight, but not peoples’ generosity.

We called firms and individuals, scrounging for materials: a load of bricks or some flooring or time; could you spare a day offering a skill you had?

Barry co-ordinated the entire project and the result is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

So why am I reviewing the situation? Well, a few years after this project, we began the first of our Schools Federation projects (Beneath the Lines will be our next in July this year) and I needed some Portakabins to help house the children when not onstage – so who else to approach than “I’d do anything for you” Barry and obviously, yet again, he came up trumps.

As you may have guessed, our summer musical is Oliver! Unfortunately Barry has moved away from the area but what we want to do, as we are short of space in the theatre, is create a “workhouse” as an extra dressing room in the grounds from either a Portakabin or caravan. So if you Consider Yourself as someone able to help, please get in touch with the production office – don’t worry we will look after it and it’ll Be Back Soon.

Lawrence T Doyle
Production Manager

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“All the world’s a stage” – I know, I helped make it!

May 1st, 2015 No comments

The first email conversation I had with the Watermill’s Production Manager was in July last year when I enquired if The Watermill could offer me any work experience. I was really eager to get any experience backstage in theatre that I could get my hands on and very willing to give anything a go which the theatre might be able to offer me.

The Watermill is only a stone’s throw away from my home and just happens to be one of the top regional producing theatres in the country. I thought it would be a brilliant place to get some experience. Ideal, I thought to myself, it’s at least worth a try.

I hoped my enthusiasm would outweigh the fact I have absolutely no experience whatsoever in backstage, production or stage management. Here goes.

I waited by my computer with baited breath.

Inbox: 1 New Email.

“Dear Harriet, thank you for your email. We actually have a current stage management placement student leaving in August, so you could take over for three or four weeks. Let me know if this is of interest! Lawrence.”

AMAZING! I would start in two weeks.

It is now nine months since I received Lawrence’s reply and, lo and behold, I have been working at The Watermill ever since. A placement that was only meant to last a few weeks has turned into an amazing year of having the most exciting and unpredictable working weeks in an absolutely idyllic environment while working with the most welcoming, fun, friendly and supportive team.

My placement was overseen by Lawrence and his assistant Nelly who were an endless source of advice and fascinating stories while working on the Autumn production of Journey’s End (2014). I did anything and everything from;

Ageing props and costume for the WW1 period of the play;
Wiring lanterns with bulbs and battery circuits to power them on stage;
Attending production and design meetings;
Cutting colour gels for lighting designs;
Making, stuffing and dying dozens (and dozens!) of hessian sandbags for the set;
Assisting with the fit-up weekend where the set is built inside the theatre (I became handy with tools and drills)!

As if all that wasn’t enough, I then assisted with sourcing and making props for the Outreach tour of Hamlet (2014) and was able to observe their technical rehearsal. Even after just a month, I gained a fascinating insight into the ways in which a professional piece of theatre is produced, to which I directly contributed. I was given various opportunities to be creative, work independently and in a team, learn a host of new skills and meet lots of new and interesting people who came and went as work on productions both began and came to an end.

Just as the run of a show must end, so did my placement, and after having the most brilliant month, it was time to say goodbye. Soon after my placement finished, however, I was asked to join The Watermill team as Production Support; assisting in both the production and stage management teams.

In the past nine months I have accomplished a brilliant myriad of roles, projects and tasks. And besides assisting with the get-outs and fit-ups, for example, I have enjoyed worked closely with designers; painting sets and helping to achieve the finishing touches to their design, as well as creating a 1920’s art deco flooring – from scratch I might add (!) for But First This (2014). I have also been an ASM for the Young Company show Twelfth Night (2014) and assisted with a month of theatre maintenance at the beginning of 2015 in the ‘dark’ period where The Watermill saw work completed to improve its heating and cooling system. By continuing to be enthusiastic and offering my time and skills wherever possible, I have also assisted in the Wardrobe department, working more closely in Wardrobe for the theatre’s current production of Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) and have even assisted with the Outreach department, assisting teaching for their youth groups. And this is all down to The Watermill’s encouraging and supportive team, as well as their attitude and commitment to getting young people interested in backstage work.

There is now an opportunity for someone like you; a school leaver aged 18 or over who is local to the Watermill Theatre in the West Berkshire area to have a similar experience which I have had – which I could not recommend highly enough! With support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, the Watermill Theatre is recruiting a trainee production and stage management assistant.  If you are;

Creative, enjoy making things, like problem solving, are eager to learn, like hands-on projects, enjoy working with other people, are interested in technology, it could be a great opportunity for you!

My advice: just give the application a go! You might not have been that involved in theatre at or after school, but this apprenticeship could be the very opportunity you didn’t know you were looking for!

Hopefully I have given you an insight into what might be in store in the year you would spend at The Watermill, along with many other really exciting things like learning about QLab for sound, lighting plans and CAD for technical drawings to extend your skill set.

For more information and to download an application pack:

Trainee Production / Stage Management Assistant:

Harriet Leitch
Production Support

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“Theatre” a place where fantasy becomes reality…

April 21st, 2015 No comments

Last week I was in Cardiff at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – nothing strange in that as many of our Stage Management staff over the years were trained there, before coming to us as work experience placements. About four times every year I go and meet potential placement students.

What was strange was I had been invited there by the University of South Wales to be on the Validation Panel for new Stage Management and
Technical Theatre BA Hons. degree. As we all sat there discussing the finer points of the degree, a small part of me thought, “what is someone, whose highest award is a cycling proficiency badge, doing here?”

The reason – because I work at The Watermill Theatre, one of the top producing theatres in the country, with a proven record of, not only
production excellence, but also leading the way on issues like student training and employment, and is also far in advance of most theatres when it comes to standards of sustainability.

As you may have guessed, I left school early and have spent my whole life in theatre, initially as an apprentice, and from then on learning all my skills on the job, being taught by my mentors as my career developed. This learning still hasn’t stopped. Only this morning I was being shown our new sound program Qlab3.

Recently the world seems obsessed with qualifications – but honestly, there are many positions in life where being practical is of far more use than being academic.

Just imagine if you were at school, loved all sorts of technical stuff, breaking things and putting them back together, doing art and drawing, or maybe mixing tracks or making video clips. But hey, your future was going to be dissertations and lectures.

How amazing if there was a place you could learn more about all that useful stuff you love, and some amazing benefactor that would pay you to
learn it, so you could start on a career path that had a practical skills base.

You would need some kind of place where that fantasy happens every day, and a powerful Lord to fund it. Well, The Watermill Theatre is that
place and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber that amazing Lord.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation has awarded The Watermill with a Stage Management/ Technical scholarship for an apprentice, which will last a year and is aimed at a local student who will join us in September rather than go to university.

Over the course of the year, they will work across all the technical departments, learning all the skills involved in producing a stage show. By the end of the year, they may choose to specialise in one field. Their final project will be working on the summer musical of 2016.

We will be contacting local schools with all the information this week and we are looking at holding interviews in May. So for the next few weeks, pay attention at school for the information – making a puppet sheep can wait!  I know this scholarship could change your life.

As for the new BA hons. at RWCMD I can think of no better way of starting a career in theatre – other than a converted Mill I’ve heard tell of in Berkshire …….

Lawrence T Doyle
Production Manager

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Far From The Madding Crowd Rehearsal Blog – An interview with Catherine Jayes

April 13th, 2015 No comments

The final week of rehearsal upon Far From the Madding Crowd is now complete. I took the opportunity to ask our Composer and Musical Director Catherine Jayes a few questions about her compositions and the music within the production of Far From the Madding Crowd:

Where did you begin developing the ideas for the music within the production?
My initial source was of course Hardy’s novel to see what songs he had put into the book. There are 3 definite quoted songs as well as others mentioned and of those we have used one. Hardy was incredibly musical himself, like a lot of people from that era, a big part of their daily and social life, was music. Hardy was himself a fiddle player inheriting his musical talent from his father and grandfather who both played string instruments.  He played all his life; I believe he was a really talented fiddle player. Fortunately, he wrote down many of his compositions, which we still have.

All of Hardy’s books have songs in; he writes about rural life and music was an integral part. When they had a harvest supper they didn’t have a DJ with people saying, ‘Can you turn that down?’ they provided their own entertainment. So a great many of the workers played some form of instrument, and indeed the character of Gabriel Oak within the story plays a pipe.

Our writer/Director Jessica Swale is also madly musical. I play something to her once and she can sing it back to me pretty much note for note; she has an extraordinary musical memory. Jess is very clear about what she likes and what she needs from the music, which is great as it gives you a definite guide as to where you are going with it.

There is a mix of original music and new composition within the production, so how did you begin to draw the musical
landscape for the production?

I immersed myself in the 19th Century folk world, traditional song and read a great many books. I am familiar with that world fairly well and have always loved it. I have loved that modal sound where the 7th’s are flattened and it goes from major to minor all the time. Apart from The Banks of Allan Water that is the song quoted in the book, I have chosen a couple of original songs. The style of these songs comes from Plainsong and songs of the high church, but not hymns.  Again these songs were without sharps or flats, and without form, which is what folk music is, it goes away from the norm and surprises you and is very attractive because it is not always predictable.

These folk songs were handed down through the centuries. It was only with Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams and others who thought it was essential to start noting down what people where singing and passing down to their children. There was a real sense that the folk traditions were dying away along with the rural communities, and music hall and Parlour songs were becoming the popular form. But luckily there are also some very old recordings going back into the 19th Century of some old chap warbling into a machine and thank goodness! But as these traditional folk songs were passed down through the centuries, there would have been fashionable changes due to the times. And in a way, that is what I have done within this production; I have been very respectful of the period, although I’ve not completely reverent.

You have worked many times at The Watermill Theatre, only last year as musical director and arranger on the production of Calamity Jane, which is still enjoying a sell out tour of the UK. On this production you are working with actors who play instruments, rather than musicians who act. What challenges does this present as a MD and composer?

The first challenge is to get the music to the actors early. Musicians sit in orchestra pits for several years, never learning it, but these actors have to learn all the music and perform it within the piece. It’s a huge challenge for them and they never cease to amaze me. The practicalities of course are ‘who’s available?’ ‘he/she can’t play as she is up a ladder, in the middle of a scene, doing a scene change !’ etc.

The play is cast for the actor first and foremost, whilst conscientiously bearing in mind the need to play a musical instrument. Once they have been cast, I then get the call to say, ‘we’ve got a fiddle player, a trumpet, an accordionist.’ I might ask if we can find someone who plays a specific instrument but in many ways working within our world (of the creative arts) if you are given restrictions it can often be very freeing.

What are the instruments we will be hearing within this production?

Very much the instruments you would have heard within the period. Fiddles, pipes, accordion, drum, also guitar, {maybe not so typical in the 19th century rural communities}. Music within a piece can give it a feel-good element, it can also give a rest from the narrative; it is used to give a sense of change of venue, change of time. It is of course the hope that the music also becomes a valuable part of the story telling device, giving a sense of time, place and the emotion of the play.

On Saturday night it was the final performance of the sell-out Tuxedo Junction, and as soon as the ‘curtain’ fell the technical team began the ‘get out,’ taking the set down. 9am on Sunday morning the ‘get-in’ began putting the set for Far From the Madding Crowd in, ready for the company to move into the theatre today (Monday). As the Stage Management team moves the props over to the theatre, our Designer Philip Engleheart continues to make touches to his set, in preparation for the tech to begin. We will then open for our first preview on Thursday. It is going to be another busy, creative week at The Watermill Theatre.

Neil Bull
Assistant Director, Far From The Madding Crowd

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Far From The Madding Crowd Rehearsal Blog 2: Visit to Sheepdrove Farm

March 31st, 2015 No comments

“I’m going to feed my father’s flock,
His young and tender lambs,
That over hills and over dales
Lie waiting for their dams.

O stay! O stay! You handsome maid,
And rest a moment here,
For there is none but you alone
That I do love so dear…”

Searching for Lambs, English Folk Song, Anon

Hardy’s world in Far from the Madding Crowd is pastoral, and sheep farming is in its very lifeblood. Just like in the folk songs he grew up singing (several of which are beautifully staged in our adaptation) Hardy writes love stories that play out in the open air. The cycle of the sheep farmer’s year beats out the rhythm of the novel, and the characters’ lives are often intertwined with the fate of their flock.

So, with rehearsals now well under way, we’ve been racking up an impressive list of sheep-related questions. How do you assist a ewe in lambing time? How long does it take to shear a sheep, and how on earth do you do it? How exactly do you save your flock when it gets into the clover? These questions are particularly important for cast member Simon Bubb, whose character Gabriel Oak is an expert shepherd. But with the whole ensemble creating scenes of lambing and pasture bloat live on stage, we were keen to find out more.

Luckily for us, The Watermill enjoys the support of Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Lambourn, and before we knew it we were off on a field trip! Our curiosity was rewarded with a wonderful day. After being met with tea and delicious organic cake (carrot and beetroot, highly recommended) we were given a demonstration of sheep-handling, with several of our cast members draped in fleeces taking on the role of the sheep. After the general hilarity of these performances we were given a talk on Sheepdrove’s admirable organic policy, and taken on a tour of the farm.

On a beautiful spring day amidst the Berkshire downs, it was easy to imagine we were in Hardy’s unchanging Wessex. We got to meet some sheep, turkey, and the world’s most adorable piglets, one of which entertained us by escaping from his pen. The cast left with armfuls of organic honey and wine bought in the shop, and more importantly, with many useful facts to inform their performances. We are very grateful to Sheepdrove Farm for a brilliant day and a wealth of authentic details, which I’m sure will be vital in bringing our pastoral tale to life.

Danielle Pearson
Researcher, Far From The Madding Crowd


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Thomas Hardy and the Defence of Rural Life

March 24th, 2015 No comments

“Dick the carter, Bob the shepherd, and Sam the ploughman, are, it is true, alike in the narrowness of their means and their general open-air life. But they cannot be rolled together into any such Hodge as is dreamt of by the distanced inquirer.” Thomas Hardy, The Dorsetshire Labourer, 1883

Thomas Hardy had a strange life. Born in rural Victorian Dorset, he died at the grand old age of 87 as a famous literary man in a world of jazz, flappers and Modernism. His father was a builder, his mother a servant, and he was raised in a humble cottage. Yet Hardy was to become one of the great literary figures of his age.

If it was unusual enough for a man like him to join the literary intelligentsia in London, by his later years an even rarer thing occurred − they came to him. In his Dorset house Maxgate, Hardy would eventually entertain the crème de la crème of turn of the century society, from T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia!) to George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and J.M. Barrie.

Map of Hardy’s Wessex

But all of this was unthinkable in 1873, when the young Hardy, then an architect, returned to his family home for a summer of writing. The result was Far from the Madding Crowd, serialized in the Cornhill magazine. It was commissioned based on the “rural charm” of Hardy’s earlier novels, and the writer was well aware of it. He had struggled to be published throughout his twenties, and he must have seen this offer as his big break. If the middle class readers wanted pastoral romance, then pastoral romance he would give them.

But Hardy was treading a fine line. He’d had an unusually advanced education for someone of his background, and so he fell into an ambiguous social space. This experience of transitioning status would become a perennial theme in his work, and as he sat down to write Far from the Madding Crowd, his task was to render his rural community for the enjoyment of a higher class readership. How could he give his readers what they wanted, without betraying his own people by stereotyping them?

In a letter to his illustrator, Hardy asked that his “rustics, although quaint, may be made to appear intelligent, and not boorish at all.” Later in his life, he would express the same sentiment much more caustically, in his essay The Dorsetshire Labourer. Here, he passionately defended the individuality and dignity of rural folk, a stance already taking shape in Far from the Madding Crowd. Though the novel is indeed bursting with charm and humour, he was careful to make his supporting cast feel real too, with their own desires and concerns.

So far, it has been an absolute pleasure for a confessed Hardy geek like myself to attend rehearsals of Jessica Swale’s production. One of my favourite aspects of the adaptation is how funny, clever, and sympathetic the ensemble are, and the superb cast are really doing them justice! As we keep working to understand the Victorian Dorset of Far from the Madding Crowd, I’ll be on hand to answer questions as best I can. So if you’ve ever wondered about God-Forgive-Me jugs, bushels of Biffins or Farmer Boldwood’s Leicesters, watch this space…

Danielle Pearson
Researcher, Far From The Madding Crowd

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Far From The Madding Crowd – Rehearsal Blog – Week One

March 20th, 2015 No comments

‘When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.’ Chapter One: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

On Monday morning, as we gathered for the first day of rehearsals for The Watermill Theatre’s production of Far From the Madding Crowd, I must have resembled Farmer Oak. I was about to begin assisting Jessica Swale upon her new stage adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel and there was the familiar sense of nervous excitement in the room that one always feels on a first day.

As I listened to the actors bring the text and rich tapestry of characters to life, I was struck by how expertly Jessica had captured the sense of the community at the heart of Hardy’s story. And it made me think how this was a perfect choice for The Watermill Theatre. It is a play with a rural community at its heart, being created by a creative community, within the rural community of Bagnor and Newbury. “I wanted to adapt this book because it has all the Hardyesque drama, but with a degree of joy too. It’s unusual that Hardy writes a happy ending, and there’s something celebratory about the book. It’s a love story to English rural life, and that felt so appropriate for Newbury,” Jessica told us.

Jessica and her designer Philip Engleheart guided us through their research, and then took us through the model box set and costume designs. It always astounds me the sheer quality and imagination of the designers who work at this incredible venue, and Philip is no exception. Within this unique playing space he has created a multi-functioning set with trucks that move in and around the playing area to create architecture. Just as with Philip’s design for Sense & Sensibility, there are ingenious reveals, clever details and a set that achieves the ‘everyday that does everything.’ We will be transported to intimate interiors, open spaces, burning barns, churches and festivals.

Set Designer Philip Engleheart showing the model box to the company of Far From the Madding Crowd.

We have also been incredibly fortunate to have Danielle Pearson working as our research expert. Having studied Hardy there seems to be no detail that escapes her. Coupled with this, we have original music by the wonderful Catherine Jayes, who composed the musical arrangements for Calamity Jane last year, and a talented cast of actor musicians with our brilliant DSM Ceire Hoey keeping track of everything.

At the end of today’s rehearsal I turned to Danielle and we began to discuss the themes of the piece. The play is set in the Victorian era of the mid 1800’s and covers a great many issues, politics and agendas so how could we sum it up in one precise sentence? Danielle suggested a mighty fine starter for ten:

Sexual politics in relation to shifting class.

I think she may have nailed it.

More to follow…

All the best,

Neil Bull
Assistant Director, Far From The Madding Crowd

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Final week of rehearsals for The Secret Adversary

February 10th, 2015 No comments


The Watermill has many strings to its bow, and time travel is absolutely one of them. This week it’s the 1920s. The Young Adventurers are moving in as glamour and wit trickle through every door.

Usually, that would only happen in tech week, but as we’re the first show of the season, we’ve been lucky enough to get the set up a little early and have some time to play on stage. With such a complex show, it’s been really useful for everyone to get this sneak preview.

The first thing we looked at on set were the magic cues, with Mr Magic John Bulleid. Without giving away any official Magic Circle secrets (who knows what the consequences might be), a lot of the tricks are about what the audience can and can’t see. The success of the magic tricks is reliant on the audience’s sight lines and, fortunately, they all work and the tricks are creating many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from observers.

We have also been moving the chase sequence onto the stage. This scene uses every entrance and exit on the stage.  The cast pop up through traps, dash up ladders and in and out of doors – all at great pace.

Wednesday night, after a mostly physical rehearsal, our choreographer Lucy Cullingford joined us to finish the day with a dance call. Lucy brought a warm up that everyone needed. There were neck, back and leg massages. As Lucy’s partner for this exercise I got two goes, so that she could demonstrate to the others. So. Much. Zen.

The dances are brilliant fun and will look even more amazing with the costumes and set in place. The opening dance is particularly cheery, warm and funny. It’s a combination of a hug from your Gran mixed with a healthy splash of comedy. It welcomes us into Tommy and Tuppence’s world right away.

To me, this sets the tone for the whole story. No matter what is thrown at The Young Adventurers, and the cast of actors, they maintain a smile throughout. And we love them for it!

Holly Mazur
Assistant Director

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