The theatre where all the world’s a stage

Actors, actresses and puppets for Avenue Q School Edition
Actors, actresses and puppets for Avenue Q School Edition
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From William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables - two productions that bookend the ten-year history of Act II Theatre Company.

Jointly run by husband-and-wife team Karl and Charlotte Gernert, Act II’s mission statement is “committed to providing arts for everyone” through after-school clubs and a range of acting, singing, music theory and script writing classes.

The cast of Les Miserables School Edition, performed by Act II Theatre Company at South Holland Centre, Spalding.  Photo supplied. ANL-140804-141615001

The cast of Les Miserables School Edition, performed by Act II Theatre Company at South Holland Centre, Spalding. Photo supplied. ANL-140804-141615001

But anyone who believes the sum total of Act II’s activities are to the comedies, musicals and stage productions at Spalding’s South Holland Centre would be surprised to learn that this only represents a fraction of the theatre company’s operations.

Karl said: “Doing something different is always our goal and people have said that they see Act II as a sanctuary because they can come here and not be judged.

“But what people see in terms of performances is only one part of it as there are three or four different branches of Act II.

“The after-school clubs are one facet of it but we also work in schools, particularly with special needs groups, teaching drama and music.

“Then there’s the professional theatre side of Act II, taking our productions on tour to various parts of the country, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.”

But most people associate Act II with its ground-breaking productions such as Alice in Wonderland, Miss Saigon, Oklahoma and We Will Rock You.

Charlotte said: “Everything we do is always performance-driven and one of the things that separates us from our contemporaries is that some of our productions are unique like The Mikado (a Japanese-themed comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan), Monty Python’s Spamalot and Bat Boy (an American comic-horror musical).

“For Les Miserables (performed by Act II at South Holland Centre in April), I read the novel by Victor Hugo and we had quite a few brainstorming sessions with the cast because it would have been very easy to do it in the same way as it was done in the West End (London’s theatre capital).

“It was quite nice to do the research and imagine what the characters would have been like in 19th century France where the story takes place.”

One of the unique aspects of the production was the absence of Charlotte and Karl from acting duties, with centre stage instead taken by Jack Harrison (Jean Valjean), Adam Shah (Inspector Javert) and Duncan Riches (student revolutionary Enjolras).

Duncan (19), who attended Spalding Grammar School and South Holland Post 16 Centre, said: “I wanted to be an engineer and didn’t have any interest in acting until I joined Act II four years ago.

“I came because I was interested in playing the piano but it completely changed what I wanted to do.

“I’m heading off to the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in the autumn to study community drama and Act II has definitely been the best four years of my life so far.”

For the past three years, Act II has been based at Welland Business Park, Clay Lake, Spalding, where the majority of its after-school clubs, holiday workshops and rehearsals for productions take place.

Charlotte said: “We used to have a studio in Gore Lane, Spalding, but when we were bursting at the seams with students, we spent about a year looking for new premises and it was while I was driving back from a job that I saw a sign at the business park with “Units to Let” on it.

“What was an empty business unit is now a space big enough for us to rehearse in, as well as somewhere to store our sets and costumes.”

Act Ii considers itself to be what Karl calls a “South Holland entity”, but that has not proven to be a deterrent for Georgia Cantwell (18) of Boston who moved to Lincolnshire from Kent about eight years ago.

Georgia, an A-level student at Spalding High School, said: “I was looking for a theatre company to join and when I came to Act II, I found a family atmosphere here and it felt as if I was being embraced with open arms.

“There’s this element of fun and enjoyment and you get to know people very easily.

“But as it gets nearer to the shows, it’s down to business and you learn to pick up acting skills from other people.

“I love every moment here at Act II and when I come here, I relax, be with my friends and take a break from real life.”

Act II celebrates its tenth anniversary officially in September and while it has produced a generation of potential stage stars, Karl and Charlotte have their sights set on a very different picture.

“We’re quite interested as a theatre company in pushing the boundaries and seeing how far we can take the theatrical experience for people,” Charlotte said.

“We’re also interested in finding out how far we can draw audiences into our performances.”

Karl said: “A lot of our core audience have come to expect the unexpected from Act II and that’s the are we’re interested in the most.”