Donegal musical theatre group DYMT puts professional stamp on Oliver! this summer
With limited opportunities for professional training in musical theatre available in Ireland, West End director Seimi Campbell tells Gail Bell why he will keep seeking out new talent and why young people from Northern Ireland should make their way to Donegal this summer
IT IS fast becoming the West End training ground of Ireland, although most people might be hard pushed to associate Donegal with Olivier award-winning musical theatre stars – for the moment, at least.
But DYMT (Donegal Youth Musical Theatre) is dramatically changing that perception with its professional tutors, workshops and summer productions which are attracting young hopefuls from as far away as Belfast, Derry and Cork.
This year, the group – founded three years ago by theatre director and Donegal town native, Seimi Campbell – is following up last year's highly acclaimed Jesus Christ Superstar with a reimagined production of Oliver! and is currently seeking young auditionees from the north.
Recognised as one of Ireland's most influential musical theatre training companies, DYMT's past tutors include West End performers Celinde Shoenmaker (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables; West End) and Rob Houchen (Les Miserables, Eugenius), while this year, world renowned vocal coach Tine Verbeke – who worked with Bono – and designer Sinead O'Donnell Carey, have already confirmed their attendance.
And, although unable to be released from her lead role in 9/11-related musical Come From Away in London, Belfast-born musical theatre star Rachel Tucker has also voiced her support for the 2019 project, urging all young performers to hone their craft in Donegal this summer.
"This is a conversation Rachel and I have had over so many lunch breaks," says Seimi, who is working with Rachel as assistant director on the Olivier award-winning show (Come From Away picked up four awards last weekend, including Best New Musical in the West End).
"Rachel won't get over for the production but she is helping us to promote it from London. She, like me, is dismayed at the disconnect between professional opportunities available in the UK and those available in Ireland. DYMT is helping bridge that gap."
Seimi is passionate about theatre, particularly in relation to opening access to the world's professional stages for young people treading the boards on a smaller one: specifically, An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny, where Oliver! will be staged in August.
Only 23, he studied music at Trinity College, Dublin, before embarking on a master's degree in theatre directing which led him directly into the heart of the glittery West End. As well as working on Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre, Seimi is resident director on the UK premiere of Amour at Charing Cross Theatre in London and assistant director on 'Jesus Christ Superstar' at the Barbican.
Currently finishing up his MA in Theatre Directing at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London, he is also looking forward to directing the UK premiere of Disney and Stephen Schwartz's My Son Pinocchio at Southwark Playhouse in the English capital this summer.
"I am juggling a lot at the one time – I have seven shows between now and Oliver! but it's all good," he says. "I love doing new work, to be honest, and I'm directing new production of Mozart the Musical which is going to have its UK premiere in a few months' time. I think it's important to look at old material and not be afraid to rip it apart and put your own creative stamp on it."
He has been doing that since his early teens, directing his first show at 14 and later, in his student days, founding the musical theatre society at Trinity.
"I used to do shows in the town hall and before that, it was in my own home for small, family audiences," he recalls. "No joke, my folks built a stage with curtains, speakers and everything in our house. I used to do a bit of acting, but I leave the likes of Rachel [Tucker] to enjoy the standing ovations."
With regard to the latter, there are likely to be a few of those when the curtain comes down on Oliver! each evening in August, with Seimi intent on extracting the very best from all those involved.
"I am so excited for this new Oliver! revival," he enthuses. "It tells the same story, but is so apt for our world today, in relation to child poverty and child homelessness. It deals with current problems and has been radically adapted for the modern era, so it is a show that everyone can relate to."
:: Auditions will be held in May with rehearsals scheduled from July 24 to August 12. The show runs at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny, from August 13-17. More information: firstname.lastname@example.org/@donegalyouthmusicaltheatre