Rachael McConnell and Ellie Waters are sixteen year old school students who have recently directed a musical at the Jetty Theatre.
The play is an adaptation of the classic Alice in Wonderland, and the cast was entirely junior performers aged between eight and 18. The show has been received extremely well and what the girls have achieved, between school assignments no less, is quite incredible.
Hi Rachael and Ellie. Tell us about each of your connections to the Coffs Coast?
Ellie: I’ve lived in Coffs Harbour for all my life. I have attended all stages of schooling here and am currently a student of Coffs Harbour Senior College in Year 11. My parents moved to this lovely coastal area from central west NSW in the 1980s; from there they built a little house on a hill with an amazing view of the beach.
Rachael: I’ve lived in Coffs all my life, and the majority of my family live here as well. I am currently in Grade 10 at St. John Paul College.
You recently directed a musical at the Jetty Theatre. What was the musical about?
The musical was Alice In Wonderland Jr, and it is based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel. It follows the journey of a young girl named Alice who’s curiosity leads her to a mysterious land named Wonderland. The Jr musical is similar to the original storyline and with added upbeat songs and lyrics, the musical is its own unique adaptation of the timeless classic.
How many kids were cast in the play, and what was the age range?
The entire musical was made up of kids ages eight – 18, and we had 34 cast members. At auditions we had around 70 kids audition, so to bring it back to the end result was extremely hard.
How long from start to finish did it take to put the musical together?
It took many months of planning, but after auditions it was a quick four months of rehearsals two times a week to develop a 60 minute musical.
We finished the show with around a month to go, so we spent the last month polishing and perfecting every scene, song and dance.
You are both 16 and still at school.How did you find balancing school commitments and the time you put into the musical?
Balancing school and the musical was difficult, as we still had assignments and homework to hand in at specific times. There were times when schoolwork had to wait, as we had rehearsals or we had a meeting for planning costumes, sets and props. Often we would find ourselves putting Alice before school, to make sure the show was organised and ready for stage. After a while we got into a regular routine of what times we could spend together collaborating on the show and what time we could spend on homework.
How did you come to be involved with the Jetty Theatre?
Ellie: I have performed in seven musicals and started when I was nine. I’ve always loved performing, and gradually I became more confident on stage, which benefited me in other aspects such as drama at school and public speaking competitions. Both Rachael and I do dance, singing and drama workshops together at Harbour Church and have used the skills we learnt to create Alice In wonderland Jr.
Rachael: I have always been intrigued by everything to do with musical theatre. The singing, costumes, actors and music were always bringing a smile to my face. My first show was in 2014, when I was a dancer in Mary Poppins. From then, I’ve done another two shows, Legally Blonde Jr. and Seussical. Towards the end of 2016 we established CHMCC JR – a group of ten students under the age of 18 who want to give the youth of Coffs Harbour a chance to show their talent side by side with others their age and who have the same interests.
Is the theatre and productions like this something you are both interested in pursuing after you finish school?
Ellie: As Year 12 is popping around the corner, I have found myself wondering more if I would like to do this as a career. It would be incredible, but after Alice I have found myself more interested in behind the scenes. Directing or Choreographing a professional production would be a dream come true, and I would always look back to Alice as the roots of this dream.
Rachael: I would love to be able to professionally perform in musicals once I’ve finished school; however, directing a professional musical would be a lot harder and may not happen for many, many years to come.
What sort of response have you received from your peers and the community?
Fortunately everyone has loved the production – many did not know it was all organised by kids, which was a huge compliment. People would come up to us after the show and say that what they saw on stage was very professional and exceeded their expectations for a junior production. The success of the show is humongous and hopefully leads to many more Jr productions. We want to thank the CHMCC Senior committee for their mentoring and support during the process of this show; their help has definitely improved the success of Alice.
Do you have any plans for future plays?
Definitely – getting more and more kids involved in theatre is CHMCC Jr’s main goal.
Musical theatre is an opportunity for kids to be themselves and show their skills on stage, and we want to give the local youth of Coffs Harbour an opportunity to shine.
We are hoping to put on another musical in the next year or two. We will switch around the production team, so everyone can get a chance to try out every aspect of putting on a show. We know the kids have loved it, and the response has been amazing. We can’t wait to put on another show.