After 26 years and 28 shows you might think Royal City Musical Theatre’s James Bryson might be ready for a break. Thing is, he is having so much fun as the community theatre’s musical director he has no intention of putting down the baton anytime soon.
Joining the New Westminster theatre company in 1990 with a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Bryson has been the group’s musical director ever since.
For Bryson, it is the opportunity to work with the professionals and community players who make an appearance each year that keeps bringing him back. Coupled with seeing some of his former music students joining the ranks, Bryson has never given retirement a second thought.
“I don’t even have to question if I’m coming back,” he says. “All I want to know is what’s the show, who am I going to meet, and who is coming back?”
When asked to pick a moment that stands out over his 26 years with Royal City, Bryson is a little stumped. “I was expecting you to ask what my favourite show was,” he laughs.
Giving it some thought, he lands on the company’s 2011 production of Will Rogers Follies.
“The most awesome experience was watching Matt Palmer prepare for his role in Will Rogers Follies,” recalls Bryson. “He had to twirl a rope, do a western drawl, and live the part. And he did it every night. Every time he came to the theatre, and every night I watched him perform, I was in awe how he brought the character to life.”
Not without its challenges in working with a combination of community, pre-professional and professional actors, the biggest is largely bittersweet.
“There are many in the company who are around for a while, but then they have success with our company and move on,” says Bryson. “It is hard sometimes to fill those spots. It’s not like professionals where you can hire them in. It can be really tough to find quality players in certain roles.”
While finding acting talent can be a difficult at times, Bryson says it can be just as tough to fill the seats in the orchestra pit, especially string players.
“There just aren’t as many as good string players available,” he says. “String players are used to being paid because they can be paid. Because we can’t pay professional rates it can be hard to find quality people who do it because they love to do it.”
Fortunately, there is a local network of musical theatre directors to help.
“There is a circuit of amateur theatre houses and I have made friends with other musical directors who trade off names with each other,” he says.
There is also the pressures of duplicating past achievements.
“When you achieve a certain level of ability as a company, there is an expectation to repeat the success and quality in the next show,” he says.
For a non-professional theatre company, it may come as a surprise to find out how short the rehearsal period is for the company.
With auditions completed in September and October, the real work begins in January as Bryson teaches the music to the cast. From there, director and choreographer Valerie Easton takes over to teach the dance and staging in early February.
As the cast is learning dialogue and dance steps, Bryson begins working with his orchestra, squeezing in a few rehearsals before getting a couple of weeks with the cast before the show opens.
“We have been fortunate to have such excellent people who learn quickly,” he says.
Having the opportunity to perform one of Bryson’s favourite shows, this year it is all about director Valerie Easton and Anything Goes.
“We’ve done a favourite of mine lately so this year it is one of Valerie’s favourites,” he says. “It has great tunes, a great story and is very, very funny.”
Not surprisingly, Bryson has a passion for the music. And the dancing.
“It really is such cool music, and I love the tap dancing too,” he says. “You don’t get to see tap shows very often.”
Anything Goes plays the Massey Theatre (735 Eighth Avenue, New Westminster) April 6-23. Visit http://royalcitymusicaltheatre.com for tickets and information.