New apprentices are training to take to the promenade as they get ready to resurrect traditional seaside entertainment in Britain this summer.
Beachside shows with slapstick, songs and Punch and Judy have become rare as holiday habits change. Now a group of young people are being trained in the art of family seaside entertainments so this entertainment can be seen again, and skills passed down to future generations.
The performances will bring joy to locals and holidaymakers in Devon this summer, as well as providing employment and training for new performers, particularly during a period when the artistic industries have been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
All the seven trainees are from Devon, and are currently rehearsing ahead of the covid-safe performances at Exeter Quay and Teignmouth throughout August.
The apprenticeships are funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain and led by Tony Lidington, a renowned seaside performer and a member of Britain’s last professional seaside pierrot troupe – ‘The New Follies’ (www.seasidefollies.co.uk) . Dr Lidington, now also an expert in the history of popular theatre at the University of Exeter, will be performing with the trainees, and has been leading rehearsals.
Dr Lidington said: “We hope everyone enjoys our summer season. I am a big fan of outside performance because it is democratic – anyone can watch and join in – and I think it inspires future local performers. You don’t need big expensive buildings to put on brilliant art. I am so pleased we are able to provide this opportunity for some of our talented young performers. It gives them new skills and experiences, and ensures the art of seaside performance are passed to future generations.”
Dom Jinks, Director of Exeter Culture, said: “The opportunity made available for students to work with Tony Lidington and Promenade Promotions is very exciting. It will provide students with insight and hands on experience into best practice around outdoor performance and also the area of Covid Safe Practice. Tony has so much direct experience of these areas and is recognised nationally for this. Tony has recently produced a report commissioned by Exeter Culture and Liveable Exeter on this important topic. It also adds to the cultural calendar in Exeter and Devon this summer and is undauntedly high quality and family friendly.”
The trainees are Alanta Cook, Patrick Stone, Billy Perry, Mo Johnson, Maya Sidhe, Jazmin Price and Spike Lidington.
Alanta is training to be a qualified dance fitness instructor and has previously performed at the annual Dawlish and Teignmouth Carnival Demonstration and Processions, as well as shows such as Chance to Dance at Exeter Northcott Theatre and at the Exmouth Pavilions. She said: “I loved spending my free time with my friends on the beach, everyone loves being by the seaside and I believe this space can be utilised by artists to build their audiences and bring the local community together.”
Another trainee, Maya Sidhe, said: I’m hoping to get a summer of acting, which I love, to have fun and to learn new skills. I have missed performing a lot. I love seaside performance and I’ve always been obsessed with street magic.”
Jazmin is classically trained and has worked on Shakespeare and Jacobian shows, as well as pantomimes. She said: “Due to the pandemic many acting jobs have been unavailable for actors, especially ones who have been in university, and Prom-Prom’s opportunity has given this back to us! I believe that an actor you can never stop learning. I am hoping to gain confidence in making my own act and performing for children from around the country. We are lucky to have this seaside town at our doorstep and giving theatre to people who may not be able to access this will give me great joy.
Mo, a recent University of Exeter drama graduate, said: “I have grown up watching and participating in community orientated theatre in the South West and have seen the binding effect it can have on large groups of people, both fleetingly and long lasting. I hope to leave a mark on my local community, facilitating through play and comedy a sense of shared joy.”
Billy said: “I wanted to take part in this training opportunity to take a deeper dive into promenade and interactive entertainment such as street arts after really enjoying using promenade theatre in my college. I also wanted to meet more like-minded actors my age.”
Patrick said: “I have developed my abilities in clowning and physical comedy. These skills will open new opportunities for me to perform and make a living doing the thing I love, both on stage and screen.”