‘I try to see things as an actor would see them’

Michael Burnie
Michael Burnie

Worthing-based director Michael Burnie is once again in charge as Brighton Theatre Group Youth bring Grease to the stage at Brighton’s Corn Exchange (June 10-14).

After sell-out success for the youth group with Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, Michael is hoping for more of the same with the modern classic, which features numbers including You’re The One That I Want, We Go Together, Beauty School Dropout, Summer Nights and Greased Lightning.

“I have been involved with the Brighton Theatre Group for 25 years. I moved down from Lancashire. I joined as a member and then I went off to do various jobs including a few musicals and tours and then I came back to directing.

“I have always done lots of directing, and even when I was acting, I was always thinking how I would do things. I remember as a seven-year-old thinking ‘Well, I would bring this on here!’ and things like that, I suppose moving into directing was always a natural progression for me to get into. It wasn’t by accident. I had always had a passion for it.

“I did the musical Hair for a couple of years in Europe. I came back, stopped acting and the directing took over.”

He’s convinced the acting background gives him an advantage: “I try to see things as an actor would see them. I try to think of everything, about how quickly they have got to change. I try to think of everything that I used to panic about and that people wouldn’t tell me about, and I think the actors can sense that.

“The thing is that I try to fill all the little gaps because I know what it is like, such as working with props. I try to make sure that we have all the props really early so that they can get used to using them.”

If the props turn up too late, for the actors it can all seem a little like having to pat their heads and simultaneously circle their stomachs.

If, say, you can rehearse with a cigarette in hand, you will know where the ashtray is and when to use it.

“If you can start using the props early, then it is much easier, and the same with the costumes.

“They have got three minutes to get out of their prom dresses and get into Beauty School Dropout. You have to design the costumes so that they can do that quickly.”

Michael directed the Brighton Theatre Group adults for many years before doing Joseph with the youngsters. He followed it up with Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, after which it was time for something different.

“We had something really serious and dramatic, with people dying... and then Grease was mentioned. It was really odd, in a good way.

“When we started rehearsals for Grease, everyone knew all the songs. When we did Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, apart from the really well-known songs, people just didn’t know them. It was really tough teaching the music.

“I am not saying Grease has been easy, but it has been easier.

“And we have laughed a lot. It is a really happy show. Doing Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, there was no smiling at all. I really felt for them a lot. We had a good time in rehearsals, but it was all very intense. I tried to break it up for them as much as I could, but it is great now to be doing Grease, which is such a happy show.”

Tickets on 01273 709709 or visit www.brightondome.org.