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British actor and writer Carrie Sutton has performed in many West End musicals including Sister Act: The Musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Little Women, Cabaret, Imagine This, and Kiss Me, Kate. She also worked as a dresser on the recent West End musical The Wind in the Willows. You can catch Carrie performing as Laurey in Oklahoma! later this month at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage.
Imagine This, Kiss Me, Kate, and The Wind in the Willows were all filmed live. I recently chatted with Carrie about her experiences working on these filmed live musicals.
What difference is there between acting for camera and acting on stage? How does that translate when you’re filming a live stage show?
You’re still giving a theatrical performance, but there is an awareness of the camera. It’s a different scale. I aimed for the middle of the audience rather than the back, and in close-up moments, I tried to be still. The audience is recorded too, and that energy translates on camera.
For “Kiss Me, Kate” and “The Wind in the Willows,” we did pick-ups after the performance. For example, a mic went down during the show, so afterwards we re-recorded some scenes out of sequence.
You knew Kiss Me, Kate was going to be filmed from the outset. Did you rehearse for the stage or for the camera?
We rehearsed it as a piece of theatre, and it was filmed as a piece of theatre. In fact, John Wilson [the conductor], told us to “chip your teeth on the words” because Royal Albert Hall is so big. You really have to work hard to make yourself understood in that space. So we definitely worked for the live performance of it.
We had rehearsals at the Town Hall in Belsize Park, and then the camera guys would come in and see the work. They would check angles and close-ups, and compare it to marked-up scripts. There is a lot of back and forth between the director, the DP [director pf photography], and the choreographer. It’s very much a group effort.
"Kiss Me, Kate" aired during prime time on Christmas Day. That was so exciting for me. A real bucket list item.
Stage musicals are sometimes altered when the cameras come in. What aspects of Imagine This were changed for the filming?
Some slight blocking changes were made to accommodate the cameras, but from the actors’ perspective very little was changed.
What was it like working as a dresser on “Wind in the Willows”?
It was filmed over three days. We had a dress rehearsal for close-ups, and where they got pick-up footage for when things go wrong in live filming, like a child screaming in the audience, or costume failure. The costumes had to be immaculate — it has to be perfect for film. What passes on a regular show won’t pass on a recording. Socks have to be level, ties have to be straight. There is extra attention to detail on quick changes because all the clothes use velcro, ties are stuck on with velcro, shirts do up with velcro, it has to be exact or it doesn’t look right.
How do contract negotiations work for filmed live musicals?
All the negotiations are done through the producer. For “Imagine This” we were given a fee for filming, or perhaps we waived it, and were bought out for the broadcasts. “Kiss Me, Kate” was all done prior and we just signed a standard BBC contract. If you had a step out, you received extra.
You get reimbursed for royalties. It’s all worked out with the cast and crew and everyone is allocated points based on how much you work during the rehearsals and during the show. Like in “The Wizard of Oz,” we ended up distributing points based on word count. The female ensemble had a lot more to do in that show, so we were given more points.
EPKs [Electronic Press Kit] are included in new contracts. We spend around a day in the theatre shooting scenes for promotional copy. The scenes are different from what’s in the show, we learn new blocking that works better for the camera, like a dance will be more spaced out, or the angles will be slightly different. “The Wizard of Oz” were on Children in Need. We did a montage specifically for that show. It was covered in the EPK as “reasonable promotion.”
What do you think of filmed live musicals or filmed live theatre in general?
It’s both theatre and film. It’s a record. It is important to have records of shows. People who would otherwise never be recorded are able to have a record of their work, especially ensemble members. It creates revenue for the production. It brings art back to the people. It makes the West End accessible to people who are far away.
Do you have a favorite filmed live theatre event?
The entire Kenneth Branagh season. I saw it filmed live, and I watched the films. I loved the Royal Ballet’s “Alice in Wonderland.” I felt really involved in the production, even though I was watching it in the cinema. Also the RSC’s “Henry” plays.
Why are filmed live musicals important?
The “Imagine This” DVD potentially gives that show a future life. It honors the work of the all the people that create the show, all the creatives, and the cast. The level of work that went into the show is incredible. Everything was handmade for the production, and every moment of work is captured. It was just a flash in the pan, but all the work, and commitment, and artistry, it isn’t lost.
Learn more about Carrie at www.carriesutton.com and http://www.londonvoiceover.com/carrie-sutton/.
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