Stuart Macbeth talks to stage director and primary school deputy head Guy Briggs

Director and choreographer Guy Briggs got his break in showbusiness thanks to “a very musical, acting family” with whom he made his stage debut at the tender age of 10.

Now 44, he combines his time as deputy headteacher of Dr Radcliffe’s Primary School in Steeple Aston, near his Bicester home, with frequent spells in the limelight, directing both Oxford Operatic Society and Music Youth Theatre Oxford.

“Music and theatre have been all around me for as long as I can remember” he reflects. “My mum specialised as a vocal coach and my dad was an amateur actor”.

Guy vividly recalls his debut, appearing with his parents and sister in a production of Finian’s Rainbow.

“Stepping on to the stage for the first time was as nerve wracking as it was exciting. It wasn’t a professional theatre but I still remember being scared.

“My sister and I had to hold a rabbit while someone sang Cottontail. We had to stay perfectly still – even when the rabbit weed all over us!”

And his favourite musical?

“It would probably be Billy Elliot.

“It’s beautifully danced and set against the backdrop of the miners’ strike. As a musical it could have made light of that but it really doesn’t, and there’s a realism to it that I truly admire.”

Guy’s career in theatre could have stopped there.

Although he continued to play the piano throughout his teens he admits that he kept his playing a secret from his classmates.

“I never told anyone I played, because I was far too self-conscious.”

It all changed when Guy secured a place at La Sainte Union, part of Southampton University, to read history and French.

“As soon as I was there I joined a theatre workshop“ he enthuses. “Suddenly I found it was okay to play the piano and perform. Suddenly there were all these other people interested in the same things as me.”

So how was he did he eventually take the plunge into directing, and choreography?

“When I finished college in the early 90s, jobs were scarce. I started working as a teaching assistant because really, there was nothing else for me to do.

“But as soon as you move into a school and they find out you play piano, that’s it. First they put you in charge of the choir, and then all the school shows.”

In 2004 Guy received a phone call from the chair of the Musical Youth Company of Oxford asking him to play piano for the show, at a rehearsal of Les Misérables. He was very clear about what he wanted.

“I said I’m not that keen on playing piano for you – but I wouldn’t mind directing! So that was the beginning of my directing career and it happened entirely by chance.”

Guy’s directorial debut came in 2005, leading the MYCO production of Pirates of Penzance. He also seized the opportunity to develop his skills as a choreographer, a subject he speaks of with enviable passion.

“My model as a choreographer was always the musical A Chorus Line, especially when they go into the routine for One (Singular Sensation). I still look at the gold outfits, the kick routine, the top hats and think it’s my ultimate, dream number! It’s the style of movement I love the best.”

“The first dance show I did was Crazy For You in 2006. I can clearly remember buying a book at that time so I could teach myself to tap dance. It was very basic tap dance at first – and it all just rollercoastered from there.

“To date, my biggest challenge as a choreographer has been 42nd Street, for which I directed Oxford Operatic Society.

“I remember the thrill of the opening night, looking out as over 40 pairs of legs danced under the hem of the curtain – it was everything I had envisaged.”

Not that each job doesn’t have it’s own hurdles.

“I directed a production of The Full Monty some years ago. It was based on the American stage adaptation of the film.

“We had an 11-piece band and some superb dancers who, of course, strip as part of the story.

“As they removed their clothes in rehearsal it became apparent to me that we had a problem. Where were we going to put the microphones?

“We tried a number of experiments, hanging the microphones from elastic plasters and dangling them from the ceiling.

“It does prove however that a director’s job is never simple!”

Next year Guy will also direct MYCO, whose participants are aged 12-19, in their own production of 42nd Street.

But what of his own primary school pupils?

“I teach year six and drama work across the school from ages seven up to 11, so I can get children interested in acting before their inhibitions kick in.

“When it comes to teaching boys it helps that I’m a man. It means there isn’t this sense for boys that acting and dancing is something that only girls can do.”

For the past 12 years Guy’s pupils have won their sections at the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts, and they’re back there to compete this week.

Guy admits there’s a huge pressure and “almost an expectation now that we will win”.

“It all takes a tremendous amount of effort from everyone, and every year it gets a little harder to create something new and interesting.”

But there are tremendous rewards to be had: “It’s the most fantastic feeling to see any child who is shy and reticent transformed by the end of the year into a confident performer.

“That confidence reflects on all aspects of their school work too.”

Guy’s next task is directing Oxford Operatic in a stage production of Legally Blonde, based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon. The production opens for a four-night run at the New Theatre in Oxford next Wednesday.

“I spend about six months listening to the soundtrack.

“It‘s important for me to get a real feel for the songs before I even pick up the libretto and develop a clear idea of what I’m going to do. I’ve literally listened to nothing else since July.”