Who's Who ?
Chris Fox. Co Founder.
The late Chris Fox loved everything about shows, musicals and pantomimes.
Born in Cheshire he always had a fascination for the theatre and even at the tender age of 11, he had a regular part in "The Cartwright Family" on The BBC radio production of "Children's hour".
On leaving school he joined a rep company and went on to appear in numerous London and provincial productions including “Annie”, “Salad Days”, “Showboat” and “Anything Goes” to name but a few.
Over the years he had the unique distinction of having appeared with many of the now legendary musical hall stars such as Hetty King, Hilda Baker, Sandy Powell and Elsie and Doris Waters, to name but a few at virtually every theatre in the country.
One of his last tours was playing Chesney Allen in the Flanagan and Allen Story, which he also directed.
Leeds audiences will remember him as dame in a run of over 13 successive pantomimes at The Old Civic Theatre where he had both the children and adults crying with laughter in his various portrayals. He was widely known as Leeds favourite pantomime dame and was renowned in the business as being one of the best in the country.
Chris was always writing new scripts for not just pantomimes but musical plays as well and he felt strongly that most youngsters coming to audition for his tours and shows were lacking in their training across all the disciplines in the industry.
“There were so many aspects that have not been explored and taught that are necessary for a career in the entertainment industry". "These are the nuts and bolts that young performers need to know but are sadly not taught these days or skimmed over" "But these are the things producers and managements are looking for when casting” said Chris.
With this in mind, he decided to set up The On Stage Theatre Arts Academy, a school of his own in consultation with the cofounder and now sole principal Liz Coggins where even the "Nitty Gritty" of dance, drama, movement, speech to name but a few could be passed onto willing students.
"It is always important for an artist to have an understanding of the majority of the disciplines in this wonderful industry from which they can learn to fly, to move forward, to stand out above the rest.”
His love and high standards of the industry are still at the forefront of the training all the students receive at the On Stage Theatre Arts Academy which his co founder Liz Coggins and her staff maintain and build on in every class.
Liz Coggins - Principal &
Liz paid her first visit to The Grand Theatre at two year's old when her mother had to pay full price for two seats – then almost a week's wages for her and her daughter to see a performance of The Royal Ballet starring two of the greatest ballet dancers Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova. Spellbound by every part of her visit the young Liz was instantly hooked on theatre.
“All through my childhood and teenage years my mother and I went every week to see some production mostly at The Grand. I loved everything from light opera, musicals, ballet and plays to open air productions, summer season shows at the coast, pantomimes and watching variety shows at the Empire”.
“I learned so much from seeing some of the greatest performers of our time such as Flora Robson, Sybil Thorndyke, Margaret Lockwood and Julie Andrews to Marius Goring, Ralph Richardson, John Guilgud and Peter O’Toole. Those strong and powerful performances still live with me today decades later and have helped to give me inspiration for my own characterizations”.
Because of her talent for writing and a yen for adventure, Liz initially bypassed a stage career and started to train as a journalist. “I did manage to take part in a few productions along the way. My first being Betty in Priestley’s Dangerous Corner at the age of only 16.”
Over the ensuing years, when time allowed, Liz would tread the boards playing roles in plays and musicals including Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, Calamity in Calamity Jane and Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly. She also was in demand as a producer/choreographer for amateur operatic societies around the Yorkshire area. “Along with Chris Fox I was one of the youngest around in those days”.
All this stopped when Liz married an Australian and headed out there where she worked in radio and T.V. for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as a reporter and later a producer spending some time in the drama department working with some of Australia’s finest actors.
When Liz returned to the U.K. She concentrated firmly on her career but her now extensive knowledge and love of the theatre was still in her blood and became part of her work and she started to see life from the other side of the footlights.
As a journalist, editor and author Liz has covered everything from Australian bush fires to the Paris haute couture collections and as a travel writer has seen a lot of the world. She has also interviewed hundreds of stars and top liners in the entertainment profession including Barry Manilow.
Liz studied singing in Leeds with the late Muriel Smith and to consolidate her teaching qualifications took and passed with flying colours a general teaching degree, presented to her by the well renowned actor of stage film and TV, Patrick Stewart as his first job as Chancellor of Huddersfield University. Liz also obtained some of the highest qualifications in media makeup and wig technology from one of the country’s leading academies.
For the past 16 years, she has been a theatre critic for The Yorkshire Post and other newspapers and last year she was invited to become a member of the Critics Circle, the greatest honour a reviewer can receive.
Liz worked for Chris Fox’s production company in numerous roles and together they formed Brainstormer Murders one of the most still sought after in this current day ahead of other professional murder mystery companies in the country. Liz still runs, performs in and writes all the plots for Brainstomer Murders.
Her fashion editor skills kick in when she is dressing a production and is a stickler for everything being correct from hair and makeup to shoes and accessories and is often invited to act as a stylist and design and undertake specialist hair and makeup for all manner of productions. “Our senior students are taught how to do a modern stage makeup, do their own quick changes and the importance of dressing room and back stage discipline.”
“I know every aspect of my craft from props, hair and makeup, costume design, production and choreography to stage management, theatre etiquette – I have even been a house manager for large professional productions in my time! I feel that every youngster needs to learn a little and have an appreciation of these skills, which is why most of them are incorporated in our curriculum making our training so diverse. You need to be multi-talented and aware to truly succeed.
“Children are never too young to experience live professional theatre of different genres. I still draw on my early experiences of watching those great actors, variety artists and performers, when I occasionally step behind the footlights. Characterization is one of the things we put great emphasis on at On Stage Theatre Arts Academy.
Liz has written two shows performed by the academy based around the long gone and present theatres of Leeds and their histories. This year she has written a one-act play with music of the era based on theatre and entertainment during the First World War and links to the Leeds Pals.
This will take to the stage at The City Varieties. This will of course include the students of the academy in the show.
Tony Peers, Impresario & Patron of On Stage Theatre Arts Academy
Tony was born in Wigan, but as a young child, the family moved to Liverpool. From an early age, he loved making people laugh and recalls at school being “the class clown”.
After leaving school Tony worked for five years in a gentleman’s outfitters. “It was just like the archetypal ‘Are You Being Served’ shop."I used to amuse the other staff by mimicking customers, the boss and just being funny. I never had any intention then of going into show business”.
In 1969, all was to change, when Tony spotted an advertisement for Redcoats at Butlins Holiday Camps in the local paper. He applied and was successful and that summer found himself working as a Redcoat at the Minehead camp.
“In those days being a Redcoat was the training ground for getting your foot on the ladder in show business. So many of our comedy legends, top stars and comedians came through that route in those days"
“You also learned people skills, which is very important. It is such a shame this route into show business has all but gone. Although there are still holiday camps these days, the youngsters do production shows and it doesn’t teach them how to talk to or react to an audience, just to sing at them and not, to them”
“It was a great preparation for work in the theatre, as despite what many people think, it is a profession that needs both stamina, discipline and energy, something that I am pleased to see is very much a part of the training the students receive at On Stage Theatre Arts Academy”.
With this in mind from the past I was honoured to be asked to become a lifelong patron for On Stage Theatre Arts Academy as Chris and Liz were teaching in a way that was clearly giving the students not just the basics and the ambitions but importantly, learning about the history of this wonderful business, how to smile, stage presence and discipline as well as pronunciation techniques sometimes sadly lacking in other schools"
During the following decades from his early years, he played every camp and hotel on the Butlin circuit going from Redcoat to Bar Host to Principal Comic in the Reviews and in 1974 became Resident Compere at the Filey Camp.
Tony was quick to put down roots in Scarborough and in 1999 made a decision to form Tony Peers Productions specialising in high quality production shows for theatres and cabaret show lounges around the UK.
“Summer shows had become a bit of a joke with past their sell-by-date acts, out of step chorus girls, predictive sketches, tatty sets and costumes. Audiences were slipping away from the seaside theatres and seeking other entertainment in clubs, bars and hotels. The summer season was set to become a thing of the past and something had to be done”
"The tradition of summer seasons was dying"
True to his word, Peers did do something about this. His company took over the longest six day summer season in the country at the Spa and re-branded, revitalised and turned it into a successful, sophisticated, glamorous and modern production show.
“It brought new life to the resort’s entertainment and also encouraged visitors and locals to come into the town and see the show”, says Peers, who this year celebrates his involvement in over 2,500 shows at The Spa as a performer, director and producer.
From that followed presenting the pantomime at the Spa, which snowballed into Peers being asked to stage pantomimes at seven other theatres the most recent being in Beverley.
Peers is a firm believer in giving young talent a chance and always tries to cast newcomers in most of his productions and in his capacity as the patron of On Stage Theatre Arts Academy he regularly finds "a spot" for the academy students in his annual "family fun day" at Scarborough's open air theatre.
Often referred to as Mr Scarborough, Tony is well loved in his adopted home town of Scarborough, and was invited to compere the opening of The Open Air Theatre in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.
He was presented with an Outstanding Contribution to Tourism in the town’s Tourism Awards and in 2010 made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Scarborough, which sits well alongside his 1990 installation as a Freeman of the City of London for his charity work.
Tony is pleased to be associated with On Stage Theatre Arts Academy and has he says, "Who knows, I could be booking the stars of tomorrow direct from the Academy in the future".
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Christmas came early to the City Varieties when On Stage Productions presented their 8th Chris Fox Memorial Pantomime, Dick Whittington.