Combining feel-good entertainment with charity fundraising, The Wight Strollers are a huge asset to the Isle of Wight.
Described by long-standing Stroller Emily Scotcher as a family unit which sparks a remarkable passion in its members, the theatre group is made up of Islanders of all abilities, ranging in age from six to 75.
The company is best known for its vibrant annual pantomimes, musicals and carnival routines which are put on in aid of local charities. Over the years, The Wight Strollers have managed to raise an incredible £245,000 – every penny of which has stayed here on the Island.
Every member of the team gives up their time and skills for free. This includes around 80 people who either direct, write scripts, choreograph, make costumes, act, provide music and technology, to name just a few of the roles.
The Wight Strollers started life as a dance school, with records dating back to at least 1897. The group has taken on a few identities over the years, most recently as The Nesta Meech School of Dance. Owner Nesta retired in 1981 and the team of students became The Wight Strollers. Many of the core members have been a part of the company for a large chunk of their lives. Emily’s mother and Wight Strollers’ director, Sarah Scotcher, started at just nine years old, while 29-year-old Emily joined at the age of four. Other key members include head of costumes Geradline Tulloch, who has been a Wight Stroller for an incredible 52 years, and 75-year-old Judith Day, who works tirelessly to fundraise for the group.
This year’s production of Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood raised money for six fantastic local charities; IW Foodbank, West Wight Sports Centre’s C.O.O.K Project, IW Search and Rescue, 1st Ryde Brownies, IW Alzheimer Cafe and the World Scout Jamboree IW team. An impressive £7,500 was split between them.
July 2018’s musical, Priscilla, was The Wight Stroller’s biggest production yet. It was the first time the show required an age limit on both the cast and audience and took an incredible 18 months to plan. Hours can be incredibly long in the lead-up to a show, the team rehearse in halls across the Island – wherever cost is low.
Medina Theatre has become the home for many sell-out performances by The Wight Strollers, since the 1980s. Over the years, they have produced a long list of quality shows, with Jack in the Beanstalk, Snow White, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty and Dick Whittington among the highlights.
Each show has its own ‘relaxed performance’ – and The Wight Strollers generously invite local children from charities such as Beaulieu House and St George’s School over to watch, with an extra special meet and greet.
The Wight Strollers doesn’t just stop at pantomimes and musicals – the company has put on a number of other fundraising events over the years, including a charity auction, a sponge pudding drive and dog shows, to name a few. They particularly enjoy helping charities with a set goal, such as Wessex Cancer Trust’s new cancer wellbeing centre and local scout and brownie groups who needed to replace broken equipment.
The Wight Strollers were approached by the IW Ambulance Service in 2015, which was looking to roll out public access defibrillators across the Island. As a cause close to their hearts, they set out to buy one of the £1,275 life-saving machines per show. Incredibly, they have now funded nine across the Island – and have already heard the heart-warming news that lives have been saved with this equipment.
“Being a member of The Wight Strollers has always been a big part of my life, and it always will be,” said Emily. “Absolutely nothing would stop me from performing with and being a part of this fantastic group of people who do such incredible things for the Island community.
“Anyone who joins The Wight Strollers is welcomed whole-heartedly into our very special family. Even if you’re not a performer, there’s a place for you within the company. We find people’s strengths and really play to them. I feel that’s something we excel in.”
The company is proud to operate a general ‘no audition’ policy, which takes a lot of the pressure out of being part of a theatre group. They like to mix up the cast for each show, giving every member their chance to shine. The youngest member to take to the stage was a two-year-old golden nugget in Aladdin.
“Every member is a key part of The Wight Strollers team. It’s like a well-oiled machine – if even one cog was missing, it would impact everyone,” said Emily. “You can always recognise any former Strollers in the audience, they all join in with our famous finale song!”
“Being part of a theatre group like ours is extremely rewarding, and I’m not ashamed to say I get very emotional when I see and hear the audience feedback – we got a full standing ovation for the last performance of ‘Robin Hood’ and that was amazing. The post-show blues hit afterwards, too, and you start to miss all the people you’ve been spending 30 hours a week with at the height of the panto. But we don’t sit still for long – there’s always the next show waiting to be planned!”