CLOC Juniors

I was very disappointed but not surprised to hear that Rock of Ages, due to be performed this coming September by CLOC Juniors had been postponed. A decision about the December show, Elf the Musical, was hanging in the balance but as I write this, word has come through that this too has been postponed.  I am disappointed not just for myself as someone who loves to watch their shows,  but for the young people involved who thrive and flourish within this group, and for the adults too, many of whom were members of CLOC as youngsters and have continued into adulthood.

Alex Coghlan-Forbes who directed High School Musical and is very involved in supporting the club, along with her husband Simon who has been the Stage Manager for the past four years commented wistfully:

‘It’s the first time in thirty years, I’ve not been involved in preparing for a production’

This photo shows Alex along with Hannah Filer who played Ms Darbus and Josh Banks who played Troy in High School Musical, at the Awards Ceremony held by the Somerset Fellowship of Drama. Alex and Simon’s son Des who played Ryan and was not at the event, won the award for Best Performer aged thirteen and under. The previous year, Des had won the Somerset Fellowship of Drama for the Best Youth Cameo – for his performance as Bullfrog in Honk!

Des who joined CLOC Juniors at the age of eight, is also a very proud member of the National Youth Music Theatre which he has to reapply to every year.

Des and his sister Evie aged thirteen and ten respectively are very avid club members but the blow of closure has been softened for them thanks to the commitment of Kerrie Bird who reformed CLOC Juniors in 2005 with Lynda Prescott; Manou Hicks, Musical Director for the last four years; and Mel Lamb the club’s Safeguarding Officer.

Since the start of lockdown, these three have facilitated three Zoom sessions a week: a quiz night hosted by a different junior each time, a tap lesson from Des and a ‘social night’ which changes each week. Of note, there has been a  Murder Mystery, an Escape Room Challenge and  a Harry Potter film readthrough. 

Seventeen year old Josh felt that this contact had kept him going through lockdown and helped normalize life a little, a feeling that was strongly echoed by the rest of the group. 

Kerrie and Lynda, the founding members of CLOC Juniors were both part of the Senior Section and the first show that they did with the youngsters back in 2005 was  Bugsy Malone. It was a roaring success and the group have gone on to perform a main show every September, and a concert every December since that date.

Kerrie and Lynda are both very proud of the group’s long history of awards from the Somerset Fellowship of Drama and NODA The National Operatic and Dramatic Association. This year, they had eleven nominations for their most recent show Our House and won five awards which is a massive achievement. These were the  Bright Technical Award – for the Our House Fire, Best Male Lead, Best Female Support, Best Chorus and the Best Direction.

They were most proud of their award from NODA for the South West Best Youth Production particularly in view of the high quality of shows across the South West. 

Des made me smile, when he said:

‘We worked really hard to get it to the best standard we could and we were really proud…..the award was fantastic, it was like making a cake and having someone come along and putting a cherry on it. Like a Paul Hollywood handshake!’

Isaac added:

‘I was over the moon! The club did so well to win Best Chorus! And of course I was very happy with my award for Best Male Lead, which I would never have been able to achieve without the amazing support of CLOC Juniors.’

Isaac spoke so highly of the group:

‘CLOC was one of my first experiences with amdram and musical theatre. Over the years with the club I’ve learned so much about performing, rehearsing and working with a team to produce something brilliant, I’ll be forever grateful!’

Isaac has been  lucky enough to secure  a place at Arts Ed, in London, an organisation of considerable repute which is not easy to get into. Some of the more well-known Arts Ed alumni include Julie Andrews, Tuppence Middleton, Martin Clunes, Bonnie Langford, Danny Mac and Finn Jones. Find out more about Arts Ed here:

I was very interested to know how the shows were chosen and who was involved in this choice. Kerrie explained that each show has its own production team which changes most years and there is a small committee who run the club in the background. Choice of show is decided by the committee and as you can imagine, it’s a complex process.

Consideration has to be given to the size and membership of the group; whether  the staging is achievable with the space and team they have at the time; and whether they can sell tickets based on the demographic that support the club. 

They also have to see what licenses are available as not all shows are offered to youth groups. For example Les Misérables is only licensed to schools, as are most West End and Touring Shows.

Although the main show is chosen by the committee, the Winter Showcase which usually takes place on the second weekend in December is a great opportunity for the Juniors to present an individual  performance of their choice. So even if they have not been chosen for the main show, they always have this to look forward to. Sixteen year old Luke described it as his ‘moment in the spotlight.’

Here’s a few more of the Winter Showcase!

I wondered how the club managed to keep the membership cost of £10 a month so low and Kerrie explained that everyone from the committee to the production team are volunteers. 

They also have a great support network from  parents and supporters of the club which includes many locals businesses in Clevedon that advertise  in their  programmes.   

Added to this, they were  very fortunate to have a donation from Tesco which funded sound equipment, and from Carol Kennway, the Musical Director for many years who asked on her death for donations to be made to the club in her name. This has also enabled them to buy much needed equipment.

CLOC Juniors which is for eight to eighteen year olds, meet every Thursday,  all year round from 7.00pm to 9.30pm in the very beautiful Sunhill House (Clevedon Community Centre and Princes Hall.) but once a production is cast they will very often have additional  rehearsals on a Sunday. When they are not rehearsing for shows they hold workshops to either complete team building activities or improve their acting skills.

This is a major commitment for the young people involved who also have many other interests. For example, sixteen year old Luke who joined at the age of eight has a long list of other interests which includes being Sergeant in the Army Cadets; long distance walking and mountaineering, he has  done Ten Tors twice;  politics, he is  involved in his local constituency; and music, he plays in a band and sings.

Membership may involve a huge time commitment  but it also brings with it huge rewards which the young people themselves shared with me, on yes you guessed it, the dreaded Zoom meeting! I say dreaded because I have one almost each day and it’s never really an uplifting experience, but this was different, it was so full of energy, positivity and optimism.

The group spoke at length about why they loved their time at CLOC and a number of common themes quickly emerged. They all talked about their sense of belonging to the  CLOC family, and the idea of being accepted regardless of age or ability which led to a great sense of security. The idea that they could relax and be themselves in a non-judgmental setting came across very strongly.  There were many examples of them looking out for each other as families would.

I loved the story of Josh who would have been in Year 11 at the time, seeing Year 7 Des walking to school by himself, and suspecting Des might  be anxious, he left his group of friends to walk with him.

They all mentioned the confidence that being a CLOC member had given them, confidence in themselves, their musical theatre ability, their ability to solve problems, their ideas, their opinions and their social skills which in turn has led to high levels of self-esteem.

Eighteen year old Evie who joined CLOC at the age of thirteen and is seen here with her twin Isaac, said:

‘ClOC has helped me in so many ways. I was always so quiet and shy and I never really believed in myself. With the support of my amazing friends from CLOC and the rest of the team I started to! – I truly believe CLOC has been the main reason I am the confident person I am today and the reason I really believe in myself! And, of course, CLOC has helped me develop all my musical theatre skills!

Des commented:

 ‘Before joining CLOC I  was  quite shy, I wouldn’t have applied to the National Youth Music Theatre had it not been for CLOC’

I have to admit that came as a bit of a shock because I had recently seen Des in his school performance of Grease as the ultra-cool Danny Zuko and he exuded confidence!

Luke touched on the increased opportunity to make friends and be more confident about his social skills. Growing their social circle and creating strong friendship bonds which are so important during adolescence was echoed by all of the group.

‘I love being involved with such a diverse group of people and being a member of the group has helped me make friends and helped develop my social skills. You’ve got eight year olds hanging out with eighteen year olds which could be quite daunting when you first arrive…. but it works…..it’s  a very welcoming club which is very easy to step into.’

Interestingly, they don’t see these friendships as short term or transitory, Josh talked about making the sorts of friends that would be best man at his wedding

Linked to confidence was the idea of affirmation, Des loves the recognition of the audience clapping and getting a standing ovation. Josh loves being in an award winning group, the professionality of rehearsals and the quality of productions. Ten year old Evie described the sense of euphoria she felt after receiving such a rapturous reception for her performance in the Winter Concert.

Every single young person I spoke to mentioned the very warm welcome they had received on joining the group so if you think you might like to join then you can look forward to the same. Luke even mentioned that he would very deliberately look out for new members and make sure they had somewhere to sit, as someone doing this for him all those years ago had been something he remembered and appreciated.

The penultimate recurring theme that was mentioned was that of team work and an appreciation of those working off the stage. It was very clear from our conversation that these young people communicated well with each other, they displayed excellent listening skills; they were committed to each other, not hesitating to share their feelings and quick to offer support; between them they had a huge range of skills, and they were totally focused on achieving their end goal of a first class production.

They fully realised the importance of collaboration between the various teams involved in putting on a show and as luck would have it Simon Coghlan-Forbes – father to Des and Evie and the Stage Manager for the last four years was on the Zoom call.

There was a tangibly warm relationship between Simon and the group, who like Kerrie and Alex expressed huge pride and ambition for their members.

Here’s Simon with the backstage crew of those who look after props, lighting, sound and Isaac’s dressers for Our House. I think it was Josh who said there wouldn’t be a show without this team and given the culture of the club, I’m sure they feel hugely appreciated.

And the final message that I got loudly and clearly was that CLOC is fun and the social aspect of the club was just as important as the creative side. Members enjoy going somewhere they can relax, enjoy themselves and off load if they are feeling low. Ten year old Evie spoke warmly about the social aspect of the club and the trips out, on several occasions.

I was curious as to which show they had enjoyed most and although Honk was mentioned a couple of times Our House was the clear favourite.

Given their passion for drama and their great friendships, lockdown must have been very challenging for these young people and indeed for the adults who live, breathe and sleep CLOC. They have a hard road ahead of them negotiating the challenge of social distancing and people’s anxiety about attending mass gatherings but I am sure that given their passion, their creativity and their tremendous work ethic they will make it work and their loyal followers will support them.

If you’d like to know more about CLOC Juniors, check out their website here: https://www.clevedonlightoperaclub.co.uk/cloc-juniors-info

They have a great Facebook page with photos of their latest shows https://www.facebook.com/CLOCjuniors/ and they are also on Instagram @clocjuniors

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