The Oliver! journey began towards the end of 2019. We had wanted to do the ‘biggest show yet’ at AMI to try and build on the momentum that had been created over the last few years with our College productions.
We assembled an extremely talented cast and began rehearsals as soon as the school year commenced. Given the nature of the show, the complexity of the music and choreography, and the time constraints, our creative team decided that it was necessary to have both Monday after-school rehearsals and full-day rehearsals every Sunday. Songs were being learned, choreography was taught, and scenes were being blocked. Through all this, work began on sets, costumes and props with the help of some amazing parents.
And then COVID-19 hit.
Words cannot describe just how difficult it was to have to inform our students that Oliver! would not be going ahead as planned. It was heartbreaking – especially for the Year 12 students, knowing that they would be denied the opportunity to perform in their final school production. We had been rehearsing for almost a term and had already achieved so much and like everything else in the world, it was all brought to an abrupt halt.
College productions offer so much to our students. For some, it is a safe haven where they can be themselves and explore their creativity. It is a place for like-minded individuals to experience connectedness and to create something special together. There was much uncertainty as to whether Oliver! would go ahead at all but we made a commitment to at least try to put on the show in 2021. An invitation was extended to the Year 12 students to come back and reprise their roles if they so desired.
Towards the end of 2020, after an extended period of lockdown, everything seemed to return to some form of normal. Discussions began about mounting the production in 2021. We all agreed to proceed. Not everyone from the original cast was able to continue and, understandably, most of the Year 12 students decided not to return as post-AMI life beckoned.
At the beginning of 2021, with a new cast lineup, we began rehearsals again.
The hype for the show within the school community was like we have never experienced. Within one and a half weeks of tickets going on sale, we sold out our entire season. There was much anticipation in the air – AMI was finally going to experience Oliver!
The Academy hall was completely transformed by the cast, crew and a team of volunteer parents. As an audience member, you might not realise that a prop can appear for less than 10 seconds but actually took five hours to make. With expert sound and lighting, creating Dicken’s Victorian-era London was fast becoming a reality. Our journey finally brought us to opening night. It was the hardest show we had mounted and undeniably, the most professional. Unfortunately, the opening night audience were the only ones who were able to experience the world we had created.
Oliver! ended up being a one-off event.
A new COVID outbreak in Melbourne resulted in yet another lockdown and for us – the timing couldn’t have been worse. Having to deliver the news that Oliver! would not be going ahead was hard enough the first time. The second time was even harder and the grief that came with it, even greater.
Unlike the forced postponement in 2020, this time, the students had already had a taste of the show as it was intended. They had finally had the chance to receive audience reactions and accolades that they so justly deserved. Now, our marvellous students were once again blindsided and denied the opportunity to showcase all their hard work and talent for the remaining scheduled performances. Also unlike 2020, there was the underlying realisation that this would be the end of the road for Oliver! There would be no opportunity to postpone it anymore.
Many have asked: ‘Was it worth it? After all that work, to only have one performance, was it actually worth it?’ The answer is: ‘Yes of course it was worth it.’ When a global pandemic thwarts your endeavours not once but twice, who does one blame? Many others have been impacted far worse than we have at the hands of COVID-19. This is something that helps us build resilience. To feel our feelings and all that they encompass, but to ultimately grow and move on.
We need to cherish the experience and celebrate all that it taught us. For one very brief moment, we created magic. We transported ourselves and those who were fortunate enough to watch us, to another time and another place. We took them to a world that we created and told the most incredible story about a young orphan who against all the hardships, finally found happiness.
Our girls learned so much during this tumultuous time. They did things they have never done before, were pushed out of their comfort zones and excelled beyond even their own expectations. Each and every one of them came out of this experience a more enriched human being.
The cast & crew formed new friendships and strengthened bonds that had already been created. They did this because they all chose to come along for the ride. Whether they performed the show only once, or whether they got to do the whole season doesn’t really matter in the end. They were and always will be a part of the AMI Oliver! family.
No pandemic can ever take that away from them.
Angelo De Cata