PODS member Marianne Jones recently received her 25 year National Operatic and Dramatic Society (NODA) medal. Here’s the story that she shared with us when her medal was presented at our Annual General Meeting on the 5th April 2017.
In the early 1990s, when my daughters were teenagers, I went back to work as a school secretary in a large secondary school in Birmingham. I was in the staff room one day, putting letters into pigeonholes, and singing something from South Pacific, when one of the teachers, Ray, (who incidentally was on a ‘free period’ and the only other person in the room) asked if I liked singing. We talked about liking music, the radio always being on as a child, and mum always singing whilst she did her housework. The result of this conversation was an invitation to audition to join the Bournville Musical Theatre Company based at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Bournville. Their next production was ‘South Pacific’. Talk about fate! Ray said they needed younger members in the company. I didn’t like to tell him I was 42!
I’d never done anything like it before, and a whole new world of musical theatre opened up for me. Like many people, the mere mention of ‘amateur’, and falling scenery, poor sets and sound production spring to mind, but the BMTC was a fabulous company with a very good set up. After a few months, I found the confidence to audition for principal roles and was pleased to get parts in productions including Carousel, Calamity Jane, Hello Dolly, My Fair Lady and my favourite, Irma, in Anything Goes. I was always happy to be in the chorus too. I couldn’t believe that I’d found such a wonderful pastime.
Many people don’t realise that there’s 750 seater Concert Hall within the Cadbury factory and this is where our shows were performed. The Art Deco hall, built in 1927, wasn’t particularly conducive to big musical productions as it was built for organ concerts and cinema, but we got used to the lack of the usual sort of dressing rooms and back stage space and put on some super shows – sometimes being accompanied by the smell of chocolate! One time, we were putting on a concert and in my hurry to change for the finale, I fell down some steps under the stage, banged my head and hurt my arm. I was on my own at the time, but eventually the security staff were alerted and I was stretchered to the medical unit. I was dressed in a very tarty costume with wild hair, heavy make-up and fishnet tights. I can remember the security chap (who incidentally looked terrified) saying ‘Excuse me madam, but you didn’t come dressed like that, would you like me to enquire as to where your clothes are?’ I ended up at A & E, with a broken arm, the biggest lump on my head, and lots of bruises – and getting some very strange looks!
Our last show at Cadbury’s was in the year 2000, to allow for refurbishment of the building, and continued putting on productions at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre.
When my husband and I left the city behind in 2008, I really didn’t think I’d find another musical company to match the BMTC. I’d had a great send off when I left Bournville to move near to Pershore and there was even talk of a company called PODS which was very good but ‘they had a waiting list and no way would I get in there’. But a visit to a shop in Pershore where I met Mary turned out to be very fortuitous, as she told me that PODS were auditioning for chorus members for Into the Woods after the production of Kiss me Kate. What’s more, they always needed altos. We went to see Kiss me Kate and were absolutely knocked out. It was fantastic and I knew I had to join this company.
I must mention my husband Rod who has been such a huge support; ferrying me to and fro, calming any nerves, selling programmes and raffle tickets, and, in the early days, looking after our daughters during rehearsals and show week.
I am very happy to receive the 25 year NODA award after being a member of two great companies. PODS is such a well-regarded Society and the last few years have been very enjoyable, enabling me to keep up my association with NODA. Here’s to the next few years!