The Big One: UCL student's award-winning musical theatre project
16 April 2014
An innovative student-led volunteering project, involving a partnership between UCLU Musical Theatre Society, the Volunteering Services Unit (VSU) and two local London schools (UCL Academy and Regent High School), recently staged the biggest musical theatre production they have ever attempted: High School Musical.
A 32-strong cast of school
students aged 11 to 18 took to the stage of the Shaw Theatre in
Bloomsbury, delivering three high-energy performances to over a thousand
audience members over three nights.
Sam Lansdale (BSc Natural
Sciences) founded The Big One project in his first week at UCL, after approaching
the UCLU Musical Theatre Society and the VSU.
He was originally inspired by
the singer and television presenter Gareth Malone's community choir projects, with outreach being an important part of the project's philosophy.
The Big One aims to give something back to the community and give opportunities
in the arts to those who might not otherwise have them. This year they
held a free matinee performance inviting school
students and young people from local community projects to watch the
As part of the Innovations
Programme, the VSU nurtured the process of learning and helped with
funding through the project's early stages before handing the reins
over to Sam to run the project in its second and
third years. This year, the project had a budget of £17,000 part-funded by
UCL's Social Enterprise Grant Scheme and UCLU.
The recent performance of High School Musical followed a successful run of Hairspray! in 2013, for which the
project received the UCLU Arts Project of the Year and UCLU Arts
of the Year awards. Sam was also shortlisted for National Student
Volunteer of the Year and received the Santander 1-UCL Excellence and
We have witnessed the students involved grow in confidence, become more inquisitive and form close friendships whilst developing as performers and I sincerely hope that they take away great memories.
The project is not just
about a successful performance, according to Sam, but the unique
relationship that develops between the university students and the
school students during the process. He said: "People think that
the project is just the show at the end, but really it is the whole
process and the social impact on the children."
Highlights from the rehearsal process included the cast of the UCLU Musical Theatre Society production of Hair coming together with the High School Musical cast to perform songs for each other and Roger Wright,
star of the West End's Lion King, running a workshop for the school students.
Positive effects of the project are still being felt now, as the cast recently returned to UCL to watch their filmed production.
Sam has already been testing
the water for enthusiasm from students for future productions and has
had a strong response. Next year, he hopes to set the project up as an
independent charity and produce similar shows
working with students from across the country.
"We have witnessed the
students involved grow in confidence, become more inquisitive and form
close friendships whilst developing as performers and I sincerely hope
that they take away great memories. My thanks go
to everyone who made it possible and especially my production team who
approached the project with unyielding enthusiasm and dedicated hours of
their time voluntarily."
- (Top) Rehearsals for High School Musical (Bottom) Sam Lansdale and Natalie Smith at rehearsals