President’s Speech – VOS AGM 2014

Joel Varty - VOS President

VOS has always been about its people. It’s a family, it’s our family, whose members are more important than the shows they work on.  Each project is itself a unique challenge, not just to create a product, but to strengthen the ties between each and every person who is involved.

A stronger family: that is my personal mandate as president – to see that happen.  Because that is where the magic starts.

One person might begin with a great idea that many others jump on board with and it turns into a show.  Or maybe it starts with a challenge in a personal life that requires other folks to step outside their routines to help that person out – that family member in need.  I’ve seen this happen – I’ve been on both ends.  It’s where the magic starts.

My question to each and every member of VOS is this: are you ready to be inspired to create magic?  Are you ready to be the person with the little itty-bitty idea that turns out great because someone else believes in it, believes in you?  How about this: are you ready to be the first person to look at that itty-bitty idea and say – “I’ll help you.”

Some folks stand onstage, some in the wings, some backstage, at times underneath it, or way up on a catwalk, in the booth, front of house, maybe in the shop, the barn, driving, packing costumes, painting, planning, recording commercials, writing ads, filling out insurance forms, grant applications, sourcing equipment, sewing, knitting, building props, practicing knaps, babysitting, calling New York, endless emails, baking, and a boatload of other stuff I don’t even know about except that somehow it all happens.

It’s a family, and anyone who thinks one person is more important than another, is dead wrong.

I did a tour of the main theatre at Shaw last year, and I was delighted when the tour guide, a volunteer, referred to the entire company, himself included, as one big family.  Folks get hired and sign on as part of the family, and that includes everyone.  When we got backstage the set-folks were just getting ready to change from “A Light in the Piazza” to “Guys and Dolls” – a 2-hour process that is the most gruelling and precise exercise of anything you’ll ever see in theatre.  It’s the iron-man of the theatre Olympics.  This one guy stops in the middle of all that and demonstrates how one actor can move a 20-foot, 2 thousand pound set piece safely and easily across the stage.  Why did he take the time, this bearded techie dude who was sweating and working hard?  Because he called us his audience, the most important people in the world.  He was passionate about his job, and he and his team were so good that I wanted to sit in the theatre and watch them do that changeover.

So – how will you be fuelled by what VOS is doing?  How will you help to fuel what VOS is doing?

This group is different.  25 years ago Ruth Harcort and a bunch of others walked out of another group’s AGM and they vowed to be different.  It was about doing the right thing, about giving folks a say, about doing shows well, not necessarily doing 8 shows a year, maybe it was only doing 1 show, but doing it right.  VOS has been breaking ground right from the start, and we haven’t stopped.  From Les Belles Soeurs to VIMY to Shirley Valentine, from all those crazy G&S Operettas to Carousel to Kismet to White Christmas to Spamalot to Shrek; sometimes it’s about music, or the script, or it’s just somebody’s dream to make it snow.

5 years ago this group took a chance on me when I was the new guy, I have been given the chance some great roles, a play that I love, and I have been allowed to make a bigger contribution on the board and as president and executive producer, and that has made a huge difference in my life.  VOS took a chance with my kids, onstage and backstage.  It was VOS folks who picked me up when I fell down.

So here I am and I need you.  I need you to create, to be inspired, and to inspire others.  I need you to be part of the next generation of volunteers who run the VOS, who get to make the hard decisions, who maybe don’t get the applause, because that’s not what’s important.  What’s important?  100 or so members and volunteers who have a safe place to build something and take chances and be lifted up by each other.  And maybe, just maybe, if it all works out, there’ll be 2000 kids of all ages who don’t recognise you in the grocery store, who won’t know when you walk down the street who you are, but because you were holding up the barn, or singing backstage, or because you were applying makeup, or because you were holding the spotlight, or because you hauled back that curtain, or because you did whatever, that kid knows that magic is real.

Thank you for your support.

Yours –

Joel Varty

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Together Again for the First Time

David Bryson & Steve Russell

Steve Russell and David Bryson have worked together with VOS in 2013’s smash hit, Spamalot.  Now they are back, teaming up for Young Frankenstein as Artistic and Music Directors.

Here’s what they had to tell us.

VOS: Steve, tell us about your first VOS audition – what was it like?  Did you do a callback?

Steve Russell: I was rather intimidated when I first came to audition for VOS. I didn’t know anybody. I wasn’t sure where to go or what to expect. There was a form to fill in and I could hear some good singers auditioning ahead of me. When I was called in I decided to fake some confidence and enter as majestically as I could. I had a mantra “You are the King” repeating in my head as I walked in. I was, after all, auditioning for King Arthur. I sang. I lost my place. I babbled a little something while still carrying the tune and then found my place again. Nobody seemed to mind. Everyone seemed quite happy to go along with whatever was happening and just roll with it. My kinda people!

David Bryson

VOS: David, what was it like working with Steve in Spamalot?

David Bryson: Oh, Steve was a prince of a king. I got to spend a lot of time watching Steve do his stuff and was constantly entertained, and while we talked a little about how to make things work, for the most part the looks and reactions just evolved; it was that easy. In the big finish to Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, Patsy is supposed to take the top note in the harmony. I told Steve that there was no way I was going to hit that note and that he had to do it… he nailed it every time.

Steve Russell & Mackenzie Russell

VOS: Steve, what goes through your mind when you are reviewing a script for a show you are going to cast?

SR: When I’m reviewing the script before auditions I try to imagine the characters being played by someone other than the famous people who’ve done the role before. This really helps me to see the characters as they are written and not just as they were interpreted on Broadway or on film. I sometimes read aloud to get a sense of the rhythm and sound. My mind often gets jumbled up with practical concerns like, “How are we going to stage that?” or “How will I get those props?”, but I do try to keep a focus on the story and the characters. Mostly, I try to pay attention to what makes me laugh (or cry) in the script.

David and his Orchestra

VOS: David, knowing you are going to be not only teaching vocals, but also conducting the orchestra, do you learn all the lyrics to every number?

DB: I have enough trouble learning all the words to the numbers I’m in when I’m on stage. I do have the yodel section of Roll In The Hay already memorized though. As long as I can understand what the actors are saying in their songs that’s enough for me, although sometimes there may be a  spot in a song where a singer draws a blank and I make sure I’m prepared with some kind of visual cue. I’ve learned that mouthing the words is not much help as most people are not lip readers.

VOS: Steve, when you think of the perfect musical theatre actor, what do you picture?

SR: The perfect musical theatre actor is energetic and serious about the work, but loves to have fun. Let’s say the perfect musical theatre actor is a woman, but I look for the same qualities in male actors as well. She will explore different line readings in scenes and tune in to scene partners with sharp focus. She can sing and dance and always pushes to find nuance and clarity. She’s off book early. She never whines or complains about the work. Takes direction and tries changes but doesn’t just play every suggestion without understanding it. She asks good questions about the character. She knows how to adapt to a particular style for a show. She won’t fake it. She feels deeply and expresses emotion physically. She does things that impress me, but more importantly impress herself. She works hard in every rehearsal and leaves tired but smiling. There were several of these perfect musical theatre actors in the last two VOS productions – that’s why I’m back!

David & The White Christmas Cast

VOS: David, what should people expect when showing up to a VOS audition?

DB: People who audition for a VOS production can be assured of a relaxed, supportive atmosphere. The people who run this organization have lots of experience and have developed an approach that demonstrates respect for everyone involved in a production, and that includes everyone that shows up for an audition. A big part of the job for the creative team is to recognize potential, and once a person is cast in a particular role, provide the kind of direction and encouragement that helps the actor grow and develop his/her skills. It’s not just about the end product, but having fun while working through the process. Just remember, the director is King!

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Auditions are just around the corner for this show!

Details are listed here, contact us to setup your audition appointment!