The cat is out of the bag and it’s finally our pleasure to introduce you to the Director for PLOS’ production of Sister Act. Please join us in welcoming Damian Sandys back to the PLOS fold. Here’s what he had to say when we grilled him about all things Sister Act – it’s probably longer than 30 seconds to be honest and yes, that is the REAL Whoopi Goldberg!
Is there any truth in the rumour that you’re a bit of a Sister Act fanatic?
I think it’s fair to say I do love it! The music is so infectious, there are some beautiful heartfelt moments yet so much to laugh at too. I can very clearly remember watching the original film at the cinema many moons ago, and I was ridiculously excited when the musical came out, not least because several friends of mine were in the original cast. Later in its run, my best friend joined as dance captain, and it became very normal for me to be around the theatre, watching part of the performance at least once a week! During Whoopi’s run as Mother Superior, I was even taken to her dressing room after the show; a VERY exciting evening!
What should we expect from rehearsals?
A lot of exploration! The only way the audience will understand the story we’re telling is if we know the world in which it is set inside out. By the end of it, the audience will see a fraction of the understanding we have, but everything will have greater significance to us. I think the most exciting aspect of doing this show is that we can find a really unique way of telling this story thanks to a larger cast than was possible in the West End or Broadway. Our task is to take the script as a starting point and use it as a springboard to incorporate a wider ensemble who are all be integral to the story. There will be lots of creativity, lots of imagination and hopefully a lot of fun too!
What’s your poison (see you down the pub)?
At the end of a rehearsal, a good cold pint is always a good thing, but if I were to only be able to drink one thing for the rest of my life it would be champagne, with gin as a very close second.
You’ve worked in many professional productions in your career, what’s been your favourite and why?
That’s a bit like trying to pick your favourite child! The Witches of Eastwick has to be one; it was my first ever job and when that’s a world premiere of a Cameron Mackintosh musical, it’s pretty special. The rehearsal period was absolutely fascinating; it was the first time I’d ever been involved in a new musical and so the way in which the piece was tweaked over rehearsals and previews was so interesting. I’d never really considered how a show finds its structure before and watching whole musical numbers be cut, rewritten, added or move from one act to another, and the impact that all these things can have on the story or pace was a real learning curve. On top of that, it’s also one of my favourite casts I’ve worked with; not only did we have some truly brilliant principals (Joanna Riding, Maria Friedman, Rosemary Ashe, Caroline Sheen, Peter Joback, Sarah Lark) but our ensemble was full of such hard working, talented and lovely people, many of whom have gone on to achieve huge things (Scarlett Strallen, Darren Carnall, Tim Walton, Earl Carpenter, Valda Aviks). Fifteen years on, I’m still very close to a lot of these people; in fact, later this year I’m part of the wedding party for one of them!
On a very different note, last year I directed a piece that I’ve been burning to for a good few years: a fairly new musical called When Midnight Strikes. It’s set around a dinner party on New Year’s Eve where a wife is trying to work out who her husband has been having an affair with; sort of Abigail’s Party meets Broadchurch! It was a cast of 12, most of whom were onstage the entire time, and we absolutely struck gold with the people we found. We spent a month and a half living in each other’s pockets during rehearsals, laughing and crying with the script and it felt like such a bereavement when we finished. The day after the run ended we discovered that we had been nominated for Best Musical Production at the Off West End Awards which gave a lovely finish to it all.
In truth, I’ve loved almost every single production I’ve done and I guess that my real favourite is usually the one I’m working on at the time!
How would you describe your directing style? Are you a bit of a slave-driver?
Not at all! Storytelling is what absolutely drives me so I’m constantly looking for the best possible way to tell the story at any given moment. The story is also the most important thing for me and all the different strands of scenes, music and choreography should all be united by this. As such, I’m a huge believer in collaboration, both with my fellow creatives and also the members of the cast. I always welcome people to bring ideas to the fore; much as I may be the director, I look after the whole picture of the show, and I would hope that each actor will get to know their character far better than me over the course of the rehearsal period!
What should audiences expect from a Damian Sandys production?
A fast-paced, energetic show that’s full of life and colour. I’m hugely about the ensemble – I’m not interested in a group of principals and a group of chorus members; to me, every single person is involved in telling our story. If, for whatever reason, a cast member was missing from a performance, at one point we would reach a beat of the story that would not work because of their absence. I like to make audiences laugh and laugh, and then find a moment that unexpectedly makes them sob; that comes through playing for truth at all times. And as few blackouts as possible!
How did you first get involved with PLOS?
My flatmate, Christopher Peake, was the musical director for PLOS’ production of Company in 2009. Mid rehearsals, they were looking for someone to come in and stage a couple of numbers in the show and Chris suggested me. In my first rehearsal we had to achieve three quarters of an 8 minute number; I hadn’t met any of the cast before , and it was an up tempo whirlwind through several different dance styles, including a little bit of tap – a true baptism of fire! But I had a really lovely time on the production and remember being so impressed, not just by the high standard of the cast members, but also the skill, dedication and commitment shown by the technical team, the front of house volunteers and the committee. And today’s Chairman, Patrick, was one of my cast members! Since then, I’ve been back to see The Producers and The Witches of Eastwick, both of which I enjoyed very much.
Any words of advice for those auditioning for Sister Act?
RELAX! Nowadays, the word “audition” tends to carry a lot of negative connotations but, in truth, the panel is willing every single person that comes through the door to be as good as they possibly can be. In audition situations, I’m not interested in what people can’t do – I’d much rather see what they can do. Our best production will come from playing to the strengths of our eventual cast and building the story around that. Auditions aren’t about perfection; it’s about looking for potential. Enthusiasm and creativity will carry you a long way! In this particular case, I’d also say don’t try and replicate performances that you’ve seen in either the film or on stage already. The text is ours to interpret so use this as your main guide and be inventive; bold choices are always good!
If Damian’s vision sounds right up your street there’s still time to get involved. You can find more info about the show, the creative team and the audition process here.