Chelmsford City Theatres are usually closed in August, but this year, the doors are open and the Civic is running its first ever summer production. A young cast of 8-to-16-year-olds from across Essex and beyond has been brought together to put on an original musical called I Wish, with performances starting on Thursday.
This joyful production is all about growing up, but it’s sure to entertain audiences of all ages. The co-production with Chelmsford City Theatres is brought to the city by AFK Productions and Wind Song Theatre, two talented Essex theatre companies. Composer Ashton Moore who wrote I Wish, and Wind Song’s co-director, actor Lily Streames, told City Life why this new fixture in the theatres’ calendar is great for Chelmsford.
Q. Tell us about I Wish. How did it all come about?
Ashton Moore: I Wish is a musical about three children who wish for something to change, but on a bigger level, the story is about growing up and a particular point in your life. For us in the UK, it’s really at the ages of 10 and 11 that you are faced with a lot of sudden change, both physical and emotional. Many of your friends disappear, so you have to make a load of new ones and you start to find out about a lot of things you weren’t really aware of before.
It’s about looking back on this experience that young people are going through, because for me, a lot of musicals with young performers in them don’t really do that. There are lots of musicals with children in them but little about growing up. For me, it was important for this to be a story about young people, told by them, and although we sometimes forget what these changes feel like as we get older, I think adults can relate to this a little bit more right now because of the pandemic, which has caused us to feel more vulnerable and more childlike.
Q. What has it been like getting young people back into the theatre?
Lily Streames: Children have still been doing lessons online, but they haven’t really been back in theatres for a year and a half. It’s been amazing to bring them back into this environment and see them grow and seeing their excitement has just been magical. They’re on stage right now singing their hearts out.
This is the third time our companies have done ‘I Wish’ and every time it’s been different. It started out just as a workshop and this year at the Civic we have a 2-week rehearsal period and then a run of shows. There are kids from a wide area in the 2021 production too, from Ilford to Ipswich.
Q. How are you hoping this new summer production with Chelmsford City Theatres will develop?
Lily Streames: The theatres have been dark during the summer for a few years now, and so we’ve been working with the theatres’ creative team to change that and help grow the performing arts community here and the next generation of theatregoers.
When we were younger, we both took part in similar schemes with the Palace Theatre in Southend and members of the creative team and cast have gone on to do amazing things – some of them are actors working in the West End. So it would be fantastic to start something with a legacy like that. Chelmsford is a great city with a lovely theatre, so why not?
Q. How are the rehearsals going?
Ashton Moore: It’s going amazingly. It is a really, really intense fortnight, but there’s something about the buzz of that which means there’s no time for anything to get tired and it feels very fresh and very exciting for all of us. It’s just incredible to be working with a group of young people who are so talented and also so hard working and so positive. They’re here from ten o’clock to six o’clock every day, learning an incredible amount of material during that time. It’s just amazing to watch and then they go home in the evening, practice what they’ve learned during the day, take a lateral flow test and come back the next morning, bright and early.
Q. The pandemic has caused such disruption to your industry. What has it been like getting back to live theatre?
Lily Streames: It’s like coming home, really. Theatres are where we feel the happiest, and we haven’t been able to be in this environment for a long time. One of the beautiful things about working in the theatre is the sense of family and community and there’s been such a lack of togetherness over the last year and a half. It’s been wonderful to be back and that goes for everyone who works here.
The whole team, the technicians, designers and front of house; we’re all just so happy to be back doing live theatre and it feels great to be doing one of the first major productions back at the Civic Theatre now that it’s open again.
Q. What sort of show is I Wish, and who will it appeal to?
Ashton Moore: I Wish is for everyone! It’s a lovely, joyful show and it’s always played really well with audiences. We talk a lot about the young cast because that aspect is important, but it isn’t a kids’ show, it’s a musical with children and young people in it. Musically, there’s a bit of rock, some jazz, as well as conventional musical theatre. If I were to compare it to another show, it would be something like ‘Matilda’ in the West End, which adults enjoy going to just as much as children.
Q. What does the rest of 2021 hold for Wind Song and AFK Productions?
Lily Streames: The same creative team will be bringing a Christmas show called Pip’s Post Room to the Cramphorn Studio at Chelmsford City Theatres, running alongside the panto for 16 shows. It’s an hour-long production set in the North Pole sorting office, written by me and Rebecca Ward for our company Wind Song Theatre, with music from Ashton. I also founded the Essex Film Collective last year, which is a growing network of industry creatives and I’ll be working on developing that.
Ashton Moore: I’m a teacher. So I try not to think about September, but I have just signed a contract for my first musical and we’ve got a plan over the next 24 months or so. It will involve lots of rewriting, but hopefully that will be going somewhere exciting.
Find out more on the theatres’ website
‘I Wish’ runs from Thursday 12 to Saturday 14 August at Chelmsford City Theatres. Evening performances start at 7.30pm and a Saturday matinee is also available at 2.30pm. Book your seats on the Chelmsford City Theatres website.