Roy issues casting call for ‘Mem’ set musical about Fountain of old

It’s all set bar the casting: a year after officially announcing his intention of producing a new full scale musical telling the story of his beloved Fountain, Roy Arbuckle, has issued a call for acting talent with auditions set for the ‘Mem’ on September 24.

Speaking at the Apprentice Boys of Derry Memorial Hall on Friday, September 11, Roy also explained how the production is now on a much more certain financial footing having secured the sponsorship of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, who are contributing £15,000 towards the opus.

Playwright/author Roy Arbuckle pictured front centre with Gilly Campbell, Arts Council Northern Ireland, outside the Memorial Hall on Friday last. Included from left are Eamon Baker, Towards Understanding and Healing, Stephanie Hilditch, Siege Museum, Michael Nangle, Director, Paul McCole, Sandwich Company (main sponsors), James Rutherford, Society Social Club (hosts) and Nadine Sweeney, choreographer, Fireworks. INLS3615MC009

Playwright/author Roy Arbuckle pictured front centre with Gilly Campbell, Arts Council Northern Ireland, outside the Memorial Hall on Friday last. Included from left are Eamon Baker, Towards Understanding and Healing, Stephanie Hilditch, Siege Museum, Michael Nangle, Director, Paul McCole, Sandwich Company (main sponsors), James Rutherford, Society Social Club (hosts) and Nadine Sweeney, choreographer, Fireworks. INLS3615MC009

That said Roy, and the team behind the musical - an across-the-divide love story set against the dance halls of the 1960s and the devastation of the Troubles that followed - would still welcome further funding and ideally a corporate sponsor to ensure all the actors, musicians, soundmen, choreographers and back stage staff receive a fair rate for their contributions.

Roy says they’ve come a long way since last Autumn and whilst ‘The Fountain’ will debut in the ‘Mem’ on November 25, there have also been expressions of interest in the new work from as far afield as Hong Kong, Canada and the United States.

“Last September we did two scenes, very early versions,” Roy told the paper.

“I had most of the songs at that time already written but not arranged, but now we’ve got the script, pretty near finalised.

Playwright/author Roy Arbuckle pictured outside the Memorial Hall on Friday last. INLS3615MC011

Playwright/author Roy Arbuckle pictured outside the Memorial Hall on Friday last. INLS3615MC011

“We’re still discussing it, you know, the finer points of the script, which is great and I’ve had Tom Newman [of Tubular Bells fame], my producer, working on the songs.

“They are orchestral arrangements, a completely different sound than they were before, which is very interesting,” he added.

Roy says the main focus now is on casting the show with Michael Nangle’s script pretty much done and dusted.

He’s looking for young actors to come along to the auditions in the Memorial Hall on September 24 before they get into “serious rehearsals” throughout October and November.

“The whole month of November will be rehearsals and the show at the end of November.

“It’s an exciting time. We’re on a roll. We just got word three weeks ago that the Arts Council came in and gave us some money.

“We’re still looking for more money if anybody’s listening! Obviously, times are tight at the moment, especially for arts funding.

“So we are trying to get some corporate sponsorship on board. Whatever money we can get.

“We’ll do it. It could just mean, maybe, we’d have to ask people for favours but, I’d rather, as a professional musician, pay people for their work.”

Commercially, the new musical certainly seems viable, and it’s got the romance, the music, the dance and the unique cultural backdrop and sense of place. And it’s already garnering interest overseas.

“We have interest in the play from Hong Kong, unbelievable, a Derry guy that works in Hong Kong has been emailing me and saying: ‘What will it take me to get you to bring this to Hong Kong for an Irish festival next year?’ So we’re looking at that.

“And it’s possible it’s going to go to Canada as well. There’ll be more around Belfast as well but that’s all down the road a bit until we get this first production over.”

‘The Fountain’ is a natural development from Roy’s 2008 LP, ‘Songs of the Fountain,’ a tribute to the streets and people, that were the backdrop of his formative years.

As previously reported hereabouts ‘Songs’ is Roy’s personal ‘Chavez Ravine,’ a nod to Ry Cooder’s psychogeographical lament for a Latino community dispossessed for the benefit of a carpetbagging baseball franchise in Los Angeles in the 1950s.

Roy says this sense of place is extremely important in the new musical.

Speaking with the Memorial Hall at his back, Roy said: “The ‘Mem’ is one of the locations in the play, a lot of the action takes place within the ‘Mem’ dance hall in the sixties where I started playing when I was a kid, you know, in the resident band there.

“So a lot of the action of the play takes place in the ‘Mem,’ no matter where it’s going to be done, the ‘Mem’ is central to it.

“It’s great. It’s one of those things. It’s a site specific work and there’s something special happens when you do that, you know, you’re doing the play in the place that you are writing about.

“Something else happens. I don’t know, the ghosts of the place or the spirit of the place enters as well.”

That follows on from ‘Songs,’ his eulogy to a Fountain long gone, and which was also importantly recorded on location.

“We recorded that in the Fountain school, which was very important for me. It adds, something, I find it a bit hard to describe - spirit - is that the word. It adds a spirit to it that you don’t get doing somewhere else.”

‘The Fountain’ opens in the ‘Mem’ on November 25.

There’ll be songs of the streets, of the 11th night, of the neighbourhood shops, pubs, schools, the city’s famous shirt factories, songs of crack, innocence and rock and roll before the menace of the Troubles, songs of loss, songs of belonging, songs from a community bulldozed into a corner, yet here, through Arbuckle’s words and music, springing again to life.

Gilly Campbell, Arts Development Officer for Drama and Dance, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said the project really ticked all of the boxes.

“The Arts Council is delighted to support this new musical production from Towards Understanding and Healing and Roy Arbuckle.

“The arts have a unique social value, a gift, for bringing our people and communities together and this wonderful production tells the tale of a much-loved and iconic part of Derry-Londonderry, the places and its people and I wish Roy and the cast every success - a must-see this autumn.”

A final word to Roy: “I’m really delighted to bring my experiences and those of the communities I’ve worked with, to the stage of this great city. I’m delighted too with the support we have had from the Apprentice Boys who have offered us their space for rehearsals and performance.”