Nick just challenges you to join in and have fun

Nick Challenger, director of Wales Musical Theatre Company
Nick Challenger, director of Wales Musical Theatre Company

Enthusiasm, dedication, the ability to join in, that’s what Nick Challenger looks for when he’s casting a show.

The one thing the man behind the success of Wales Musical Theatre Company does not do, though, is hold auditions.

The community theatre group’s next production, Show Stoppers, comes to the Acorn Theatre in Worksop from September 14 to 17.

There will be an estimated 70 performers on stage, aged between five and 80, all of them giving everything they’ve got to a string of West End, Broadway and movie hits from a range of titles as varied as Matilda, Beauty and the Beast, Jersey Boys, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jekyll and Hyde, Sister Act and the Rocky Horror Show.

But what nobody in the cast will have had to do is stand in front of an audition panel and prove their dramatic or musical worth.

Nick insisted: “We don’t have any criteria for being in the show, absolutely no auditions for people to join.

“They just have to bring themselves along and I will bring out whatever I can see in then hopefully.”

It’s a decision based in part on the fact that Nick, 38, readily admits that he has always hated auditioning for parts himself.

He’s been acting and performing most of his life, starting with school productions, which is where Roy Staniforth, the man behind the Wales Methodist Church Pantomime Players, first saw Nick in a production of Calamity Jane and invited him to join the group.

Nick recalled: “I must have been around 15 at the time and here I am, 23 years later, still heavily involved.

“To me, being part of Wales is like being in a very special family, family who are all there for each other.”

But the one thing Nick has never become accustomed to is having to impress an audition panel.

He said: “I’ve been auditioned so I know exactly what it’s like.

“I don’t like being put in front of a panel, I don’t like the feeling of rejection if you don’t get the part and I can’t imagine many other people enjoy that feeling too.”

Nick now writes, produces and directs the famous Wales pantomime following Roy’s retirement – the next show, a new production of Cinderella, will be on stage in Sheffield in the New Year.

But when he decided to launch a new branch of the society, Wales Musical Theatre Company, he knew he wanted to make it a true community experience – which is why all his cast have to bring along is genuine enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

He continued: “I just throw everybody in at the deep end and let them get on with it.

“Really it’s a case of guiding them and bringing out the best, seeking out individual talents.”

It’s a unique approach and one that has seen Nick reach the national finals of the prestigious Britain Has Spirit Awards, in recognition of his long-standing work with the group.

Nick’s award citation recognises his tireless work on producing the company’s two annual shows.

The nomination reads: “He gives up his time to write scripts, manage rehearsals and spend time with individuals who couldn’t get into other groups.

“It provides an opportunity for people to try new things, meet new people and most importantly gain confidence.”

Because it is such an open door policy, Wales Musical Theatre Company also has cast members who otherwise might never get a chance to appear on stage.

Nick added: “We have one young member of the company who is autistic but who had become passionate about appearing on stage after coming to see one of the pantomimes.

“If we’d asked him to audition he would have walked away from the start but he came along and we didn’t really think he would get past the rehearsal period let alone make it onto the stage.

“He was the sort of boy who seldom left his room, who hated bright lights, who never spoke and was accompanied by his mum.

“But he came along, went on stage without his mother - and the change in his life was unbelievable.

“The simple truth is that if we had asked him to audition he would never have achieved any of the things he did.”

Above everything else, however, Nick is very keen to emphasis that the success of the group is down to the contribution of his cast members rather than he does himself, even though he is a talented player in his own right and will be taking to the stage in January to play Baroness Hardup in panto favourite Cinderella.

He said: “I really do have to point out that I am just one small part of what Wales Musical Theatre Company is about and that its success is entirely down to the endless work and enthusiasm of around 80 people, aged between five and 80.

“They are the real stars of this show and without them none of what we achieve every year would be possible.”