Interview – Alison Millar, Ecclesall Theatre Company

With Sheffield arts venues still in lockdown we have no performances to review at the moment but that does not mean we are going to stop supporting Sheffield theatre companies, continuing with an interview (by email not face to face in these times of social distancing) with Alison Millar from one of our favourite companies specialising in classic comedic theatre.

Q. Tell us about your company? 

Alison. Ecclesall Theatre company was formed in 1938 with members of a local church ( St Gabriel’s , Greystones Road ). Originally using the church, three plays have been performed each year since that date, even throughout World War 2. In 1961 , the company relocated to the newly built Ecclesall Church Hall on Ringinglow Road. We also have a purpose built costume,scenery and furniture store financed by fundraising and a grant from “Awards for All”.

Q. What’s your role in the company and what does it involve?

Alison. I joined in 2007 and have directed a full length play and several one acts each year since then. I also do costumes, set design and dressing and stage management. I am currently a committee member and have been chair of the company. I directed “Dad’s Army “ last May and am currently poised to resume directing our current play “ Dial M for Murder” once the present crisis is over.

Q. What’s the best thing about being part of the company?

Alison. There are many aspects of being part of our wonderful society which I would consider the highlights. From restoring period costumes and seeing them come to life again on stage, to hearing the audience react to the portrayal of a character which has been honed and fine tuned in weeks of rehearsal, to the curtains opening and hearing the applauding of the set which only existed in the imagination recently and having to pause rehearsals due to cast laughter.

Q. What are your favourite(s) shows you have been involved with and why?

Alison. There are three plays which I would consider my favourites. Firstly “ Allo, Allo”. I had a brilliant cast, it was incredible fun to rehearse and was certainly a challenge as my second directorial venture. Audiences loved it and it was a sell out.The second was “ Out of Order”. I love farce – it stretches a director and cast both from building the tension as the initial situation gets increasingly out of hand and the split second comic timing and physical theatre needed. Tremendous fun all round. My final choice is “Dad’s Army “. Definitely the most exhausting as I directed, costumed and set designed and dressed it. The challenge here (apart from a huge cast who were often all on stage at once in two different “rooms”) was in developing authentic representations of well loved and instantly recognisable characters. Then there was the interesting extra layer of challenge for the cast in portraying an actor who portraying a character. I’m very proud of what we achieved together.

Q. What show(s) would you love the company to perform that they have not already performed?

Alison. I would love to direct a Feydau farce , such as “ Hotel Paradiso “ or “ Caught in the Act”. That would certainly be a challenge!

Q. What are one or some of your favourite off stage moments at the company?

Alison. My favourite off stage moments are numerous. From hysterical laughter during rehearsal , to the look on an actor’s face as they see themselves in the mirror for the first time in full costume and makeup. Foremost, is the sense of camaraderie and working together to create something which we are all proud of and provides entertainment to our loyal audience.

Q. What are your favourite performance venue(s) in Sheffield and why?

Alison. I always have a love of the University Drama Studio, from my earliest days in am dram with the now defunct “Theatre Focus“ to “The Company”. I also stage managed a joint Sheffield production of “The Sheffield Flood “ based on historical records of the disaster.

Q. Which other performance companies in Sheffield would you recommend?

Alison. I would recommend “The Company“ as a well established society who have high standards and a versatile repertoire.

Q, What’s the best thing about being part of the Sheffield theatre scene?

Alison. The best thing about being part of the Sheffield theatre scene is the incredible amount of home grown talent we have in this city and the variety of shows on offer every night of the week to audiences. I love working with other groups and  sharing actors,  costumes and enthusiasm.

Q. How can people become involved with/support your company?

Alison. People can become involved in our company by either coming to watch our plays or auditioning for parts or joining the backstage team. We are on Facebook (Ecclesall Theatre Company) and can also be reached via our website www.ecclesalltheatre.co.uk. New members are always welcome.

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