Gina Beck and Neil McDermott talk The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas: heading online from tomorrow
The family-friendly stage show has had to cut its London run short but will live on virtually!
The words "The Show Must Go On!" are uttered as a quite apt rallying cry in these dark days for the world of the arts – but perseverance and endurance really can't be crushed. Time and again we watch as the national theatre community demonstrates just how much of a tough-knit group it is – ready to work by whatever means necessary.
The same is true for Gina Beck and Neil McDermott, whose piece The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas has to finish its run tonight due to the new London lockdown. We chat to the pair as they move their production online for virtual viewers from tomorrow.
1) Can you guys tell the story of how you first worked together years ago?
Gina - We met days before my 16th birthday at a National Youth Music Theatre residential rehearsal weekend for a show called The Kissing Dance written for the NYMT by Howard Goodall and Charles Hart. It was a hugely exciting two years for us both which led us to performing at The Edinburgh Festival, Buckingham Palace, The Royal Opera House and even Blue Peter! Our small cast included teenagers who went on to great things including Sheridan Smith, Michael Jibson, Declan Bennett and Simon Thomas to name but a few...
2) You are both incredible performers in your own right – how did it feel donning different hats creating this show?
Neil - I think creating your own work and developing new work is something most actors like to or would like to do. There have been many projects I've started and never finished or pursued over the years, and quite obviously the pandemic has forced the hand of lots of people to think outside of their normal box. It's been full on! But so brilliant to see our show jump each hurdle on the way to our opening. We are very proud of what we have achieved so far.
Gina - Very kind thank you. It's been amazing, and hard at the same time. But hey, at least it's given us a lot to think about and focus on which has given me back my drive for the last few months which, mentally, has been invaluable.
3) Why does it feel all the more significant this festive season?
Neil - I think a shared experience as a family this year is more important than ever due to the fact families haven't been able to go to events to create memories. For a three-year old this year is a third of their life – the dangers, the lockdown and restrictions begin to have an effect on shaping personalities. I've seen a lot of children suffering from anxiety during this period. Anxiety is a big part of our show. Not only do we hope to give families a really Christmassy experience but also address some issues around anxiety and coping with anxiety.
4) Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
Neil - It's like asking 'Which ones your favourite child?'. Ha. We've had so much fun in rehearsal finding all the silly ways we can use Christmas to make children laugh. And it's been really satisfying feeling the more poignant moments in the show land. But, I suppose, if pushed, there are moments in the show that were filmed before rehearsals started. These moments are the magical parts of the show that take the audience by surprise. I think it's the smartest Idea in the show, so as creators they are probably my favourite moments. As a performer - Snow Fighting!
Gina - I'd have to say my favourite moment is getting to sing the song we wrote for the show. We never dreamed when we started out that we would've been able to create any original music but the tune just came to me and with the help of Neil and the amazing Steven Luke Walker we fleshed it out to become a beautiful song we're very proud of.
5) As we know, putting on shows right now is a massive risk – can you talk more about what that process has been like?
Neil - Big shout out to Danielle Tarento, our producer, for taking risks with us. I understand there may be some reluctance for audiences to come back, but I do think we can change the rhetoric around asking them back to a message that feels safer.
Gina - Yes a huge well done to all producers putting themselves on the line right now. Even if audience turn out is low, no theatre at all would be such a dark place... we are keeping the home fires burning... keeping that theatrical thread running so that there still is an industry when the audiences flock back.
The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas is available to stream from 16 December to 4 January, with allotted times for show days. You can find out more here.