Published: December 24, 2010
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Ho! Ho!! Ho!!!

We are very honoured to give you an exclusive interview with SBF member John, Creator and Producer of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular production. Reading through his heartfelt answers you will enter an enchanting world that magicaly takes life every year at Christmas and also find out about all the 'whats & whys'.
John Cushing

Thursford Christmas Spectacular
Producer & Creator, John Cushing
  • How did it all get started?
    John Cushing: As a simple carol concert using a small choir from one of the Cambridge Colleges. At the end of that very first day I felt that I could have done so much more and that I had wasted a day.

  • You have turned what was a shed that your father built to house his collection of steam engines into a theatre. How did you do this?
    Quote ...every year I push it (the show) to be bigger and better and (touch wood) have succeeded this year!...
    JC: Well, it still is effectively a shed housing the stem engines. That is its primary role through the Spring and Summer months. The stage is built each year after the museum closes at the end of the summer season. The engines remain in the building in what becomes the auditorium and are incorporated into the set and, in the case of the Victorian Gondola Ride, into the show itself.

  • Is there a special reason why you choose Christmas and have you thought about putting on a show in another part of the year?
    JC: (Laughs) If I was 20 years younger! The thing is, to get a show of this scale to the calibre I would be happy with, would take a year from start to finish. I suppose something smaller could be attempted, but I know I would demand 100% perfection and that could detract my team from the Christmas Spectacular.

  • When do you start planning for the following year show?
    One of the steam engines from Thursford Collection JC: Future planning is always going on, certainly in terms of repertoire choice. There are always ideas bouncing around, and the cast themselves sometimes contribute ideas that I then might work on and take into future shows. Most of the planning itself takes place in early Spring, when I work very closely with my arranger, choreographer and designer to bounce around the ideas that I have had.

  • Where do you start from when planning the next show?
    JC: The format in terms of structure does not alter much from year to year. It's the repertoire choices that change completely. The only constant is Once in Royal David's City, sung by a girl in a solo spot, though that has ranged from Soprano to Alto and back again. The addition of acts like comedians, ventriloquists and illusionists come and go to assist in the segues from scene to scene, as well as being acts in themselves.

  • Do you have a different theme each year and are the numbers linking?
    JC: Not consciously, the theme is that of Christmas and doesn't change, though a sequence of numbers may be put together and costumed in a similar period or colour.

  • Thursford Christmas Spectacular
John Cushing at the dancer's audition
2010 Do many cast members return in the following years?
    JC: About 95% of the cast express a desire to return when we canvas them in late January. Of course a lot of them will get other contracts that preclude them from returning. We tend to try and have about half and half (veterans and newcomers).

  • For such as large cast, how long does it take to design and make all the elaborate costumes?
    JC: This is a question better asked of our Costume Designer or Supervisor. It certainly takes a fairly large team months and months, with meetings taking place in Norfolk, London and Blackpool. We invest heavily in costumes and Linda Martin (our Costume Designer) works very closely with me on the finer detail. I know what I want, and what works for our demographic. We are not afraid to invest heavily fiscally, with one dance sequence costing over £40,000 in costume alone.

  • How long does it take each year to decorate the theatre ready for the Christmas show?
    JC: A team of 22 start in early September and work non-stop to get everything ready. The Christmas trees themselves will have been felled and fireproofed at the end of August!!

    Thursford Christmas Spetacular
John Cushing at rehersals
  • Where and how do you audition for the show?
    JC: Our company manager has a website dedicated to employment on the show itself He will start placing advertisements for auditions as early as February/March for vocalists. He normally gets about 1,000 applicants that are then sifted through and cut down to about 300 who are invited to audition April/May/June. These auditions are normally held in Central London. Singers are asked to prep 2 pieces that show the widest variance in their voices. They all need to be able to blend!! That is crucial. They also may be given sight reading tests and a light movement call. Dancers can attend an open audition in about July, though we do ask them to pre-register on the website so we can know numbers. This year we had 350 turn up! This is then whittled down to about 40 girls who are recalled a few days later, and then whittled down again to 23 we instantly offer contracts to, 10 reserves and the remainder rejected. This process is always slightly heart-wrenching!

  • Is the orchestra hired as a whole or it is made up from individual musicians?
    Quote ...I know what I want, and what works for our demographic. We are not afraid to invest heavily fiscally...
    It's a scratch orchestra, though interestingly we seem to have a lot of players who also busk in Covent Garden! There are a lot of players this year that are new to the job and they have absolutely embraced the wonder with open arms, even to the point that on some shows they do an acapella VOCAL encore!

  • Is the scenery built in-house or do you use an external company?
    JC: We have an onsite carpenter, but do use a Norwich based prop firm sometimes for some of the larger or more complex pieces….

  • Why do you think people travel for hours to come and see the show, rather than see their local show?
    JC: For the Spectacle of the largest Christmas Show in the UK!! The quality and size, every year I push it to be bigger and better and (touch wood) have succeeded this year! Over 130,000 people will see it!

    Thank you John for this enticing interview and... Merry Christmas!!!

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