Michael Alexander speaks to the director of Dundee University Operatic Society Neil Lavin – and finds him to be in fine voice!
By day, 4th year Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art digital interaction design student Neil Lavin develops mobile phone apps and websites as part of his course.
By night, the Edinburgh-raised 23-year-old can be found treading the boards as director of Dundee University Amateur Operatic Society, commonly known as Dundee Uni Op Soc.
He joined Op Soc when he arrived in Dundee four years ago and has been involved in a few shows on and off stage since – performing, doing technical stuff and directing.
But one of the unique things about Op Soc, he says, is that they operate an open chorus policy which means anybody who wants to be involved in the show can be – even if they can’t sing.
“The majority of members have done theatre when they have been at school and things like that,” he says.
“There’s a few people who come to Uni and want to try something new so join.
“But I would say the vast majority are people who have done shows. We’ve got a few in the theatre who specifically chose Dundee because they knew we had a decent theatre society.
“We do auditions for our principal parts and specialist dancers and things. But the chorus is open to anyone.”
Neil explains that he first got involved doing “technical stuff” backstage.
The first show he directed was Heathers the Musical in 2016.
Recently he came back to direct Nine to Five which has been enjoying a four night run at Dundee’s Bonar Hall and ends on March 10.
“I’ve been involved in shows since I was 10 years old,” he says.
“I did community theatre and things like that then moved more to the technical/directing aspects of it.”
Through Op Soc, Neil has also started his own Fringe company – Room 29 Theatre.
He works with Dundee University alumni James Leggat.
“Our first show at The Fringe was last year,” he says.
“It went really well. It sold out and got some good reviews.
“We managed to win an award as well. We won the Broadway World UK Award for favourite musical or opera.” This summer they will be back at the Fringe with Dog Fight.
He explains: “It’s about this group of Marines who are spending their last night in San Francisco before they get sent off to a growing conflict in Asia.
“It later transpires it’s the Vietnam War. It’s a legitimate tradition – it’s an awful thing – where they throw these parties and they all put money into a kitty. And the Marine who brings the ugliest date wins the money!”
Neil enjoys being on stage. But he prefers being behind the scenes.
“For me theatre is all about telling stories and communicating stories to the audience, and I think while I enjoy being part of that I much prefer having more control over the story and things,” he says.
“I think it’s more creative for myself anyway sort of navigating the story of what we’re presenting.”
Neil thinks it’s “hugely important” for there to be a vibrant arts scene and he is concerned about the arts being seen as a “soft touch” when it comes to cuts.
The “big decision” he’s got to make soon is whether to pursue a career in web design or attempt to make theatre his full time living.