An Oppitts Tale
Well, this is a first. Clare Hunter – lost for words. I mean, I think it’s fair to say that that will never really happen, but honestly? I’ve never written a blog before, so I really have no idea what to say or how I’m supposed to say it, and I find myself sat looking at a blank notepad with no clue what to write. I guess as it’s a blog about my experiences in musical theatre with the WOS famalam I should take advice from Maria… And start at the very beginning!
I was eight, (I think) when I became an Oppitt, under the watchful eyes of Judy Smith and Sue Britton. Sundays were all about Oppitts! Mum used to drive in, sometimes picking others up along the way, and we’d practice our songs in the car. When I was an Oppitt, we used to do four ‘show selections’ a year; as it suggests each section had songs from a musical which would be slotted into the adults’ annual spectacle ‘Weston Super Showtime.’ The shows would rotate, two each week (one for each half of the show) giving the Oppitts lots of opportunities to become familiar with amazing musical shows. Some of the shows I remember most fondly include Bugsy Malone, Singin’ in the Rain, Me and My Girl, and Fiddler on the Roof. The summer season ran through from July to September, and more often than not I found myself watching the older girls (and boys) admiring their singing and dancing talent hoping I would one day follow in their footsteps.
The loveliest thing about the Oppitts is that I am still in touch with so many of them today. Some have moved away, some have had families and some are now my Operatic family! (I was once told by Judy Smith ‘Once an Oppitt, always an Oppitt!’) To give you an example, early days saw me partnered with Carly Huish, Kirsty Roberts, Tessa Robinson (Sayers) and the bunch I was closest with along the way included Amy and Laura Welsh, Genevieve Winters, Pete Berry, Richard Coates and Oli Johnson – still very much in touch with many of these beauts and happily still acting up on stage with most, too!
So many people ask me today “what are the Oppitts?” and “what do they do?” – I tell them they are the future of the adult society, and give examples of the adventures I experienced. I will share a few with you now…
MAKE UP – anyone who was an Oppitt around the same time as me, will remember having your eyes almost taken out by cocktail sticks used to paint on the white and red ‘lines’ on the inner and outer edges of your eyes – some of the matrons were more ‘heavy handed’ than others!
BISCUITS – we knew when it was getting close to a break-time, some would start edging their way to the back of the room to be the first to get at the plate of biscuits provided by the two Jeans (more on them later!) Jaffa cakes, custard creams, Jammy dodgers and party rings were just a sample of the delights that waited along with a refreshing cup of squash!
SLOW DOWN RICHARD!!! – For me, tap has been and continues to be my passion, hence my utter excitement at being cast as Jenny Anydots in CATS!!! Anyways… (sorry I get excited and go off on a tangent – both in person and on paper, it would seem!) I therefore remember some great tap routines from our shows; fascinating rhythm from Singin’ in the rain being the best by far – I can still to this day remember most of it! The reason I loved this more than most is down to one man – Richard Baker – who we now know as Richard Lennox! Our mutual need for speed solidified our friendship and this number would gradually get faster and faster throughout causing most to look in utter panic and Judy to shout out “SLOW DOWN RICHARD!!!” I’m really looking forward to doing more tap with Richard controlling the tempo in the coming months!
FEATHERS, BIKINIS & QUICK CHANGES – Trying to give you a taste of all the many things that have happened so 3- in -1!
It has become apparent that despite the ongoing problems in the world about body-image, some of us are both conscious of our body shapes, and yet still very apt at whipping our clothes off in a mad haze of fabric, velcro and poppers to master the ‘side of stage quick change’. I find this also helps when in a changing room. The speed and skill developed assists the need to get in and out as fast as possible, thus avoiding a prolonged feeling of disappointment (and often guilt, related to not sticking to that diet!).
Of all the things to be scared of in show business, feathers and glitz is not a helpful one. I recall on one occasion during a summer show the Oppitts had to wait to come down onto the side of stage until the dancers were all on due to the phobia of one of the adults- showgirls and Indian costumes were a problem and we all quickly learnt to clear the room of any left-over feathers!
Of all the costumes I’ve worn (and now taken off) on stage an early memory of a summer season in which the adults incorporated the song ‘itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini’ into a section will always stay with me. The number featured Glynn Williams and myself (about nine by then) dancing in matching bikinis, wigs and (almost) matching splits to finish! This required a lot of practice and patience on both parts. From that moment on, Glynn called me his little choreographer and I was lucky enough to do several shows with him over the years. I will forever be grateful to that cringeworthy outfit for bringing me such a wonderful friendship that I shall treasure always.
OPPITTS ON TOUR – when the Oppitts used to do selections from shows it gave us the ideal opportunity to tour our ‘mini musicals’ to places for all to enjoy. Over the years I recall performing at many public events and many locations across Weston. Weston Football Club was a regular spot; we would do two show selections with a quick change in the back bar room between and if you had a costume change during the show section you had to peg it back into the back room where your costumes were laid out on the pool table! On one occasion I remember attending this place as an older Oppitt/host I did a couple of songs in between the Oppitts shows to give them time to change. I had been asked to promote the upcoming autumn production The Sound of Music, which I was thrilled to be in, and as I broke out into ‘The Hills are aliiiii…’ there came a ringing noise from an older man sat in the front row. He proceeded to find the phone out of his pocket – and answered his call. Like a Dom Jolly sketch he told whoever was on the other end that he was at the club, watching a show with a lovely girl singing.
SWEETIE JEANNIE- Jean Sperring was a legend! She was the power force behind the refreshments for the Oppitts and with my mum they provided the goodies mentioned earlier! She also used to get us all a selection box or something similar every Christmas and not a birthday went by that she didn’t get each and every Oppitt a birthday card from all the Oppitts including a KitKat tucked inside. She continued to do the refreshments for years to come with my mum (Jean
!) in tow and Mum still does the refreshments for the adult shows today – I don’t know how she does it but she knows the preference of every member in the cast, crew, band and the Playhouse crew! Legends both!
CHRISTMAS – Christmas was always something different. We did some cracking carol evenings alongside the adults at St Jude’s, filling the hall with tinsel, mince pies and festive cheer. I was never very good at ‘sitting still and facing front’ while the adults did their bits as I wanted to watch them. A firm favourite remains hearing the deep and resonant tones of Heather Collings performing her rendition of the 12 days of Christmas which I now do at every given opportunity! Owen James and Margaret Hopes both did some stonking Christmas productions with the Oppitts, but one that stands firm in my memory and that of us ‘what were in it’ was the time travelling adventure to go back in time to find baby Jesus. This amazing production featured Oli Johnson as a donkey, Abbie Elkins as a chicken, three time-travelling space people (myself, and the Welsh twins) and Richard Coates as King Herod!
GRADUATION – Joining the Big Kids! Joining the Adult society was like a graduation. For two years in succession, Ray Jeffery directed and choreographed the last two summer season shows and these were even more spectacular with the show split into sections each with its own theme: Paris, Scotland, Travel, Disney – oh yes, my absolute favourite subject! Ray used the older Oppitts in both adult and Oppitts sections and the quick changes were even quicker! I recall one week I ended up in five different pairs of tights at once due to fast changes! It was such a great experience and really brought us together with the adults ready for full shows. My first full show since Showboat was The Sound of Music. At 17 years old my youthful face and lack of height contributed greatly to my playing Louisa Von Trapp (aged 13) on the Blue team, while my ‘little brother’ played the eldest of the boys in the red team! The red Vs blue team is a regular topic of torment for me as I am currently surrounded by the red team (Laura Grace, Adam Hunter, Leah Farmer, Abbie Elkins and Samantha Aylott) and I am the only remaining member of the blue team! Among the many memories of this great show I will never forget the excitement and fear of marching along the staircase feeling it wobble beneath my feet! Climb every mountain indeed! (it quite literally scared the you know what out of us…). Honestly, those of us who were the Von Trapps and have continued to perform together still refer to each other as brothers and sisters – chosen family really are something special!
So… I guess that brings me well and truly into my adult operatic famiy. Now, I watch the Oppitts in complete awe – they do full productions every year and the talent coming up through the ranks is just outstanding. I am thrilled to see the Oppitts being shown the way by fellow Oppitts-past as we were, Laura, Sam, Tessa to name a few! I sit watching these kids and hope that they can take something from us and our experiences and hope that they look up to us as we did to the Oppitts that came before us.
You can see Clare Hunter as Jenny Anydots in our production of CATS at the Playhouse in October.