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You’ll soon be able to enjoy the latest VUB musical while loudly singing along to all the Grease classics. There’s a lot of preparation needed to bring such a spectacle to life. The musical team gives us a peek behind the scenes.
At the end of every academic year, you come up with a new choice of musical. What made you choose Grease this year?
We chose Grease because it’s a well-known story. Our diverse group of actors know the musical and audiences love singing along live. A very different consideration is the number of roles. Because you never know in advance how many people will be taking part, we went looking for a musical with a lot of speaking roles. One that also would also work with a large ensemble cast. Grease has proven to be a great option; we have a group of about 30 people.
What about the story of Grease speaks to you?
It’s the classic boy-meets-girl romantic tale that so many people can relate to. Plus, it has all the great songs that spontaneously make you want to sing and dance. And it’s fun to hear the original musical and songs from before the film, because—here’s a little trivia—the musical was actually written in the 1950s and the film was made later. In the film, they have changed the setting here and there, and written a few extra songs. But don’t worry: the most well-known songs from the film are in our version too.
The story is about an international student who falls in love with a local student. Is it a familiar story in this group?
There wasn’t this incredible, immediate, great love that left everyone in the group thunderstruck, or that suddenly bloomed between an international and local student. But there’s definitely friendship across the whole group, regardless of origins.
How many students are involved in this musical? What is the ratio of males to females?
The ratio of males to females is very noticeable; at the moment, we have only two males in a group of 30. We do our best to lure the men in every year, but our efforts have been to little avail.
Are all the students involved from the VUB?
The majority are indeed VUB students. Some have already graduated, but last year, they had too much fun to stay away, so they’re back for more.
How much time and preparation have you put into this? Can you sketch out what’s involved?
Every musical requires a good year’s worth of work. The last musical was also in May, and in June we cleared away all the props and sets. After that, we went looking for a new team. Singing and dancing coaches, organisers, and people who want to direct, make costumes, manage social media and goodness knows what else. In July, we went looking for an agency from which we could buy musical rights. As that’s changed for Flanders, we bought the rights directly from London. But before we could, we had to scour their website to find a suitable musical. The whole team thought about this. By early September, we had decided it would be Grease. Then, there was all the paperwork to do before we had any certainty. At the kick-off, we handed out flyers for the open rehearsals a week later. Afterwards, there was a week of auditions for the roles and from the end of October or beginning of November, we were actively rehearsing. Dancing, singing and acting. Not an easy task. In December and March, we went away for rehearsal weekends and used the last public holidays for repetitions in the auditorium. There’s always something to do behind the scenes.
There was certainly a lot going on. How do you make a project like this a success?
You find yourself constantly frustrated by the red tape, but it’s important not to give up. Keep at it! Because, away from all the administration, the musical itself quickly comes to life. We started with a reading. Afterwards, we went to work, scene by scene. We first looked at what the actors themselves make of it, then we worked together to add in all the ideas we had during the preparations. A musical is group work. The actors make the difference between one production and the next. For the rest, there are practical arrangements about costumes, attributes, technical equipment … It all becomes automatic after a certain point.
Who took the lead in this project?
You can’t organise a musical without teamwork. We have a big team that takes on all the small and large things that need to be done. There isn’t really anyone who is in charge, but our director, Lieselotte De Coninck, is the one who maintains an overview and has experience from last year. She has received excellent support from the cast and crew.
How many hours a week/month do you practise?
We practise a minimum of four hours a week. Sometimes that’s more for the speaking roles, while it might be a bit less for the people in the ensemble. It changes from week to week. We also organised two full weekends. During the exams and holidays, it does become a lot quieter; we are still students above all else.
What are the requirements for being able to participate?
Enthusiasm and determination. You don’t need any prior knowledge or training to take part. It helps of course, but it’s not what we look for. The good thing about this is that you see people grow and blossom into strong actors and it gives you a very varied group of friends who you might not have come to know otherwise.
Are there students who hadn’t had any performance experience? How do you see them evolving?
There were a few students who had no stage experience. And for them, the stage in auditorium Q was very big. But their input and drive ensured we made unimaginable progress.
What do you find so nice about musicals?
The combination of it all. The transition from text to singing, with dance sometimes added to the mix. It’s a strange combination that actually works very well together.
Why does everyone at VUB have to come and watch your musical?
To support their fellow students, but also to see that when they believe in something and work at it, a group of people truly can achieve anything. A lovely motto for a university.
How are the nerves, just a few weeks before the premiere?
They’re only just starting to show for some of us, but some of us have already been nervous for a month. It’s now time for finishing things off, arranging the finer details and whatever else needs to be done behind the scenes. And it’s really not so far away now. So, the stress for the organising team, the director and the coaches is simply unthinkable. And it’s also starting to show on anyone with a major role. Give it a little while and we will all be running on adrenaline from the stress.
CTA: Would you like to see the end result of all this hard work?
The performances will be taking place on Thursday 16 and Friday 17 May at 8 p.m. in auditorium QA. Tickets cost €4 and can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll find more info on Facebook.