Wendy Samantha Productions has bet their bottom dollar on this year’s production of Annie, and Theatre People spoke to their director and some of their performers ahead of their opening in March.
Director Wendy has had an incredible experience working with such a large group of performers- her shows usually cast multiple young actors in each role.
“Every child who appears on stage has a story, they each have amazing talent and potential and they all bring a bit of personality to the show which has allowed every aspect of Annie to come to life” she says.
“Alternating leads takes more time too, but what you get in return is double the reward. Each alternate lead gives something to the other and they bring more character to the stage, allowing each show to be unique. The pairs have learnt a lot from each other too and I think that’s probably the best part”.
Wendy Samantha Productions began in 2008 with a small group of students and today hosts a range of drama classes for all ages, as well as productions, examinations and a glee club.
“Putting on a show like Annie allows for so many young performers to experience those bright stage lights and what I feel is unique about what we offer is the feeling of being part of a team no matter how big or small your role is. This allows for that growth in individual confidence, and that is a start for the future” she said about her company.
The dynamic cast is also excited about the show. Xian Loi, who plays Annie, Alison Wells, who plays Grace and Chloe Bettiss, who plays July, shared with us their stories about sharing roles and putting the show together.
Xian Loi, who plays Annie, has learned so much from the experience, supported by a friendly and encouraging cast and crew.
“ I’m so glad that I have been given this once in a lifetime opportunity” she said.
“It has been a bit weird sharing a role with someone else but it’s also such a good thing because when I watch the other Annies I can watch the way they act and move around the stage so I can get tips off them to help me and the other actors on stage” she said about the multi casting of the show.
The rehearsal period for the show has run across two years, and as this is Xian Loi’s first time sharing a role, it’s been a different but exciting process.
“I have learnt so many new skills! I’ve learnt ways to position myself so I’m facing the audience and not blocking other performers, I’ve learnt so much from a singing point of view, like when to take breaths during a sentence or how to make something sound like it flows all together instead of short sharp words” she says.
Alison Wells, who plays Grace, has loved watching the characters change as actors apply themselves in the roles, and seeing the changes in the show as each actor applies their own experience and context to the characters.
“Being cast as a double means we work as a duo that are constantly bouncing ideas and new interpretations to the character of Grace. One advantage is that you get to watch your character on stage and think about what each of you brings to the role. It feels like both of us have a shared responsibility for bringing the character of Grace to life on stage” she says about her role.
“ I play Grace Farrell who is one of the grown ups in Annie. My job is to help both Mr Warbucks and Annie work things out for the better. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the show and helping the younger cast members also enjoy their experience of performing”.
Wells has learned the importance of persistence, commitment and teamwork when putting on a show.
“The message of Annie applies not just on the stage but before and after our performance. The rehearsal process is a hard slog, but what we have learnt is that the sun does come out tomorrow, and you are never fully dressed without a smile!”
Chloe Bettiss, who plays July, and understudies Duffy and Pepper, has seen a lot of improvement in her singing, dancing and acting from the beginning of rehearsals.
“This experience with being involved with the show has given me confidence on stage with performing”.
“Annie has been a lot different to any other production that I have ever been in. I think this is because Wendy our director takes you through everything that you need to know and you are never nervous because there are always people by your side to help you at every rehearsal” she says.
“Sharing a role with another performer is great fun because you can make notes with them and also go through lines that you’re unsure about. I am sharing a role with one of my friends Ashleigh and she has been so much fun to work with and I have really enjoyed it. We both help each other and it’s a lot of fun acting together with the same role of July!”
The huge group of performers are excited to share the show with audiences.
Wells says ” As an ensemble, we are excited to share our hard work and the optimistic message Annie brings about the triumph of hope over adversity. We hope our enthusiasm gives the audience a positive experience, and that they will enjoy it as much as we enjoy performing it”.
Wendy says “I am most looking forward to sharing with the audience that feeling of hope that I experienced watching the show as a child. You relate to Annie’s character because she makes you believe in the good of people, and inspires you to look through a hopeless situation to a brighter future. Annie, Grace, Warbucks and his household share that family closeness in the end, just like the cast and crew do offstage and I hope that warmth comes across”.
You can catch the show at Doncaster Secondary College March 18-20.