Allyson Devenish, artistic director of a capella group NitroVoX, recitalist and Royal Academy of Music alumni, meets the Omnibus Theatre team for a quick-fire round of questions about her involvement in The Orchestra.
OMNIBUS THEATRE: How did you become involved in this project?
ALLYSON DEVENISH: I have worked with both the composer Felix Cross in the past (notably at musical theatre company Nitro) and I have known Kristine, the director for many years. They needed someone to teach the actors how to mime the orchestration and to look technically correct.
OT: Where did you start?
AD: I’ve never taught anyone to mime an instrument before. I started by getting the actors to listen repeatedly to the music to which they’ll be miming. I then met with them individually, to show them how to hold/sit with their instruments and to get them as comfortable as possible.
OT: How much practice will the actors need and what’s involved to look technically convincing?
AD: A minimum of two weeks to get to a level of comfort so they can look natural with the instruments. To look convincing? I’ve got them listening to the music so that they can respond and move to the phrasing, rhythm and melodies as naturally and organically as possible. Also – practice, practice, practice! Will they actually be playing the real notes? No.They’re miming, but the audience should get the impression that they’re in the right vicinity, so as not to be distracting from the play itself.
OT: Which instrument will be the most technically difficult to mime?
AD: I would say all the string instruments. There’s a level of coordination that is not necessarily the most natural. For example, the violin and the viola both require the left arm to be up with the hand to be turned sort of back-to-front. For all of the string instruments, holding the bow with the right grip, moving it, keeping it straight – all things that feel strange at the beginning.
OT: How have you found this experience?
AD: Rewarding. Teaching non-musicians to look and feel like musicians is a unique experience for all of us. I did find it a bit odd explaining how to do something that I find natural and easy. It’s a bit like trying to explain to someone how to walk (details beyond “just lift your foot up and go”). I’ve had to do some serious thinking beyond “just pick the violin up and put it under your chin”!
OT: What’s up next for you in 2019?
AD: It’s shaping up to be a busy year. I’ll be working on a new piece at The Oval House (Handel on the Estate – Coco Mbassi), workshopping and developing it for future production as well as with my a cappella group NitroVoX who are taking part in the 2019 London Festival of American Music next month.
THE ORCHESTRA is at Omnibus Theatre from 29 Jan – 17 Feb, get your tickets here→
PHOTO CREDIT: DAVID J. BEVAN.