Archive for the ‘ NaBloPoMo 2010 ’ Category

NaBloPoMo Scorecard


Well, I did it. I really did it.  I didn’t think I’d manage it, to be honest, but I have succeeded in posting once every day for the past month.  I have received some kind comments from folks who have been following the November marathon, some of them commenting on the blog, and some mentioning it in that strange thing known as the real world.  But since blogging is such an intensely self-centred activity, what do I think about it?  I’m rather pleased, actually.  Pleased that I managed to remember to post each day, but also pleased that most of the posts had something to say, rather than blogging for the sake of it.  I did have a few posts that obeyed the letter rather than the spirit of the thing, but for the most part I managed to write something which I’d like to think is worth reading.

The post I am most pleased with is about why I think Footloose is a good show, but I still feel there is more that could be said on the subject.  My review of Kiss of the Spider Woman attracted the most hits, largely due to someone involved posting a link on Facebook – naturally, people want to know what strangers wrote about them!  And the most discussion was generated by my musings on getting Christmas cake in a packet.  In retrospect, I think I may have been a little harsh on that one.  My most-used category was ‘Ramblings’, with ‘Theatre’ coming a close second – this probably says a lot about the ways in which being required to post every day caused me to deviate a little from the intended focus of the blog.  A better showing from ‘Library’ would have been nice…

Before I started on this glorious blogging adventure, I listed some topics I intended to cover over the 30 days, so let’s look back at that list and see how things turned out :

  • stage management – 6th November: Managing the stage, watching the champagne
  • issues with doors – 29th November: A tale of two theatre keys
  • my first premiere – 4th November: My first premiere
  • several shows I plan to attend – Lucky Stiff, 5th November / Kiss of the Spider Woman (Here comes her kiss), 27th November / South Pacific, 30th November
  • rehearsing for Into the Woods – 2nd November: I’ll have whatever they’re having.  There is much more I could have written on this subject, though!
  • laptop rage – 1st November : Laptop rage
  • higher education in general – not a word on that subject…
  • godfatherliness – 20th November : The godfather
  • Cole Porter – again, not a word!
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    So there are still a few possible blog entries floating around my mental space.  These ideas have been joined by thoughts on ‘Carefully Taught’, Pal Joey and songs where people claim not to be in love with somebody.  It will (or maybe won’t) be interesting to see which of these materialise, and in what order!

    I won’t be continuing to blog daily (not least because I will be away from the internet for at least a few days over Christmas, which is a scary thought), but I’m glad I did.  I’d like to think I’ll blog, or write in some form, more often in the future as well.  I’ve rather enjoyed NaBloPoMo 2010 and I hope my readers have as well.

    [Obligatory British P.S. – it is snowing, and that makes me very happy.]

    South Pacific in East Kent


    Earlier in the month, I went to a production of South Pacific performed in the area.  For some reason, I hadn’t quite got around to writing about it, so it’s really about time!  I went because one of my colleagues was performing in it, but I also found that I knew many other people in the cast and crew – the nature of amateur performance, I suppose!  It proved to be quite an effort getting to see it, as the show is long, and ended after the last bus or train back home.  After trying to work out various implausible travel options, I eventually managed to find someone who was going the same night as me and beg a lift from them.

    As is often the case, there were things to like about the production, as well as things to dislike and things to love.  The best thing for me was the performance of the leading lady, who made an absolutely brilliant Nellie.  She had a rich voice and an engaging stage presence.  She acted the part of the hick perfectly, and maintained her accent throughout, but was never wearing or annoying, which the character easily could be if played wrongly.  Running a close second were the men of the ensemble in their two big numbers – ‘Bloody Mary’ and the famous, much-parodied ‘There Is Nothing Like a Dame’.  Their energy was infectious, their harmonies were good and they were extremely watchable.  For the first time ever in an amateur context, I felt that the male ensemble outshone the female ensemble by many watts of brilliance.

    Some frustrations included the accents.  Maintaining an accent is hard.  I know.  I don’t always manage it myself, and accidentally go wandering around North America quite frequently.  But a few people just didn’t try, sticking with their British (specifically Kentish) pronunciation, and others noticeably drifted back and forth across the Atlantic.  Another strange annoyance was footwear.  I don’t often notice shoes (though I do try to find appropriate shoes for my characters), but I could not help but spot many anachronistic items of footwear on the stage.  Sandals, jelly shoes and so on of a distinctly modern nature which looked most out of place in a show that is very firmly set in the Second World War.  This was particularly frustrating in the case of one man who I thought would have been more likely to go barefoot.  It couldn’t have been a health and safety issue, as Luther Billis later turned up with nothing on his feet.  Sometimes the details can be most frustrating.

    The glory of South Pacific is in its score, which grips you right from the opening notes of the overture, the three notes which are the leitmotif for Bali H’ai, the special island which holds much intrigue and allure for the American characters.  Treasures such as ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ and ‘Younger Than Springtime’ are included, glorious melodies coupled with romantic lyrics which just send the heart soaring.  There can sometimes be problems with the script of the show, as it is tricky to direct and perform well, but those songs are surefire hits.  Almost every one of the numbers landed really well.  I just wished there was a way to shut the audience up during that magical overture.

    There is an aspect of the show which I intend to return to in another post, and that is its anti-racism message and particularly the song ‘Carefully Taught’.  This is the hardest aspect of the show for modern theatre people and audiences, and in this case, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, it didn’t quite work for me.  But it was certainly an enjoyable evening in the theatre, and no doubt ‘Nothing Like a Dame’ echoed through everyone’s heads for quite some time after seeing it.

    A tale of two theatre keys


    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the hour of doing nothing, it was the hour of activity, it was the season of competence, it was the dawn of embarrassment.

    It came to pass that the Singing Librarian, unable to sing in a particular show, took on the responsibility of stage managing.  He took his duties seriously, looking out for the safety of all involved and trying to ensure that the show was as smooth as it could possibly be.  He operated the tabs (knowing very well that the general public would call them curtains), he assisted with the lighting rig and he moved props around the theatre.  At the end of the short run, there came a day with two performances, a matinée and an evening showing.  The company dispersed to various watering holes to refuel, but the Singing Librarian was the keyholder, and so after a brief walk, he returned to the theatre to ensure that any member of cast, crew or band who returned would be able to get in.

    Enjoying a few moments of quiet, he ate his packed dinner and buried his nose in a good book, sitting in the theatre’s bar area, dimly aware of the sounds of a cleaner, the only other person in the building, working in the auditorium.  As she finished her work, the cleaner passed through the bar, exchanged polite greetings with the Singing Librarian and made her way out of the building through the stage door.  After resuming his reading, the Singing Librarian heard noises from the direction of the stage door.  He shrugged, dismissing them as simply the sounds of someone struggling with the pass code, which they would no doubt remember shortly.  As the moments passed, however, the sounds did not stop.  Closing his book, the Singing Librarian made his way through the dressing room area to the door.

    From outside, he could hear several voices, and the tone was not a happy one.  Wondering what could have caused the whole company to forget the code, he grasped the door handle and attempted to turn.  Nothing.  It refused to budge.  Those outside noticed this escape attempt immediately – “what are you up to in there, Singing Librarian?”  “Stop playing around and let us in!”  Another attempt to open the door, and another failure.

    Slightly worried now, he could see that the door had been locked, even though he had left it needing only the code for entry.  Clearly, the cleaner had been on autopilot when she left and had locked the door behind her.  This was not a problem, as he had the key – needed the key to open the theatre each day.  He withdrew his keyring from his pocket and inserted the key into the lock.  Nothing.  It would not turn to either side.  “I can’t unlock it!” he called, a claim that was greeted with a mixture of amusement, disbelief and frustration.  Apparently, some cast members needed to powder their noses urgently.  However, an idea soon formed.  If they key would not work from inside, perhaps it simply needed to be used from the outside.  “I’ll throw the key down from the green room window!”  Or he would have done, if the window actually opened.  The toilet window proved equally immovable.

    Outside the door, speculation grew about what the Singing Librarian might have been doing while everyone else was out?  Was he hurriedly hiding his harem away?  Did he need time to hide evidence of a prank?  Was he simply taking revenge on them for some unnoticed slight?  Eating cheese rolls and reading a German novel was clearly not an exciting enough way for the Singing Librarian of their imaginations to have spent the break.  Feeling increasingly foolish, each side tried their entry methods again – code and key failed once more.

    But inspiration struck.  Earlier in the week, the Singing Librarian had been talking to the House Manager as she opened the door for the audience at the front of the theatre.  Concentrating hard, he remembered where she had hung the front door key and dashed through the theatre.  Finding the correct key, he unbolted and unlocked the heavy front door, and called out to the waiting cast and crew that the door was open.  After they had streamed in and headed for the dressing room, he dashed round to the stage door where they had been waiting and unlocked it on his first try.  Puzzled, he retraced his steps, closed up the front again, replaced the key and did his best to assure the rest of the company that this had not been a deliberate turn of events.

    As he began his pre-show rituals, changing the batteries in the microphones and checking the location of the props, he could not help but ponder – why would you have a key that only worked from one side of the door?  It was a far, far stranger keyhole than he had ever known.

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    Advent


    Today is Advent Sunday in the church calendar, the day when preparations for Christmas officially begin.  Of course, in the retail world, preparations for Christmas began as soon as the Hallowe’en stock was removed, or in some cases even earlier.  And other aspects of festive activity have also begun in earnest – baking of cakes, rehearsals for nativity plays and pantomimes, switching on of lights and selection of presents.  But in the church, Advent Sunday is the day when we are supposed to begin spiritual preparation, looking forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth, or rather of his incarnation.

    As well as the opportunity (sadly missed this year) to get cracking with singing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, the start of advent means something very specific.  In my house, it means decorations!  The boxes of sparkly, shiny objects, the Christmas trees, the sack of cuddly toys with a vague Christmas theme and the bag of tinsel will not make an appearance until this day of days.  And then, the level of activity is high.  Furniture must be moved (unearthing long-forgotten dog toys in the process), lights must be strung on the plants in the front window, nativity sets must be compared and re-arranged, and tinsel must adorn every possible location.  The cellophane will be removed from this year’s edition of Carols For a Cure, and the tracks will be listened to and variously enjoyed, discussed and laughed at.  A lengthy conversation about the optimum date for viewing the Muppets Christmas Carol will ensue.  There is little that is overtly spiritual in all of this, but it is an important time for the household, a few hours to share and enjoy, a ritual which has become an essential part of the rhythm of our lives.

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    Related posts :

    Here comes her kiss


    On Wednesday, I went up to London with a friend to see a production of Kiss of the Spider Woman: The Musical, presented by SEDOS.  This group has an excellent reputation as one of London’s best amateur performing societies, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch one of Kander and Ebb’s musicals which I hadn’t seen before (though I know the score well through the two cast recordings).  The venue was the Bridewell Theatre, a small and fascinating venue.

    The show is based on the novel of the same name by Manuel Puig (which has itself been the basis for a play and a film), adapted by Terrence McNally with songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb.  Kiss of the Spider Woman tells of the unlikely and complicated friendship between two prisoners in a South American jail cell – Valentin, a revolutionary, and Molina, serving time for sexual relations with an underage boy.  Molina survives jail by refusing to see what he doesn’t want to see and by recounting the stories of the films featuring screen idol Aurora.  However, he is haunted by the fear of one of her cinematic roles – the Spider Woman, whose kiss means death.  Most of the action takes place inside the jail cell or in the imaginations of the prisoners – Aurora’s films come to life, and we see the two men imagining those they love outside the prison.  The gentlemen of the chorus are prisoners, guards and Aurora’s four dancing men.

    This is not one of Kander and Ebb’s best known works, unlikely to eclipse Cabaret, Chicago and New York, New York, but it is a fascinating show.  Molina and Valentin are deeply flawed people to spend an evening with, but very interesting.  McNally’s adaptation succeeds in making them interesting people, and gives little hints about the other characters, who are aptly described as “the people in Molina’s life” – as we see them, they mostly exist as his imaginations.  The Warden is seen as his real self most of the time, but everyone else gets only a few moments in act two where we find out what they’re really like, and how well they match Molina’s idealised version of themselves.  Aurora is deliberately a chameleon, with her presence being the biggest change from the source material in the musical.  In each fantasy sequence where she appears, she takes on a different persona, but is always beautiful and compelling, even as the sinister Spider Woman, who seems to haunt the prison due to Molina’s fear of ugliness and death.  Given the setting, much of the score has a latin feel to it, but twisted beyond expectations – there is a ‘Morphine Tango’, for instance.  Many of the lyrics are about escape, about denying what is real in order to embrace what is not, for this is Molina’s philosophy.  But there is also a searing, soaring anthem in ‘They Day After That’ and a recurring theme of anger, frustration and longing in ‘Over the Wall’ as the various prisoners imagine what is going on outside their jail.  The title number occurs towards the end, but is teased in fragmentary form throughout the show as the Spider Woman’s deadly kiss comes closer and closer to the lead characters.  Everything builds towards a final few scenes which are simultaneously sad and beautiful, tragic and fitting.  Even knowing what was coming, I still found ‘Only in the Movies’, sung by Molina and the People in His Life exceptionally moving.

    The setting for this production was simple, with the set largely consisting of two beds and four movable sets of prison bars, wheeled into different configurations depending on the demands of the scene.  Chairs, a hospital bed on wheels and a raised walkway stalked by both the prison’s warden and the sinister Spider Woman were the only other additions, with everything else relying on the imaginations of the characters, actors and audiences.  As Molina spends much of his time living in a fantasy world, slowly taking Valentin with him, this all made perfect sense – we had to exercise our imaginations in the same way he did.  His idol Aurora would appear from various different places to elucidate his philosophy, provide a distraction or enact a movie, bringing life and colour into the jail.  The shadows naturally provided by the theatre’s balcony were used effectively, with the ensemble appearing from the gloom.  Particularly striking was ‘The Day After That’, wherein Valentin recalls how he joined his leftist cause, remembering a rally where people remembered their disappeared loved ones.  The members of the company appeared bearing candles and pictures of those they had lost.  For part of the number, the artificial light was killed, leaving just their faces illuminated by flickering flames.

    The direction and choreography were inventive, keeping everything moving, so that there was always something happening – the prison bars on wheels even made the set changes look interesting and engaging.  The band, up on the balcony, sounded super, and the sound in general was excellent.  I know all too well how hard it is to get good sound, so the technical team should be feeling very proud of themselves.  The singing was excellent, with strong harmony (a mostly male musical with strong harmony?  It can be done!).  And the performances from the leads were very enjoyable.  The quartet ‘Dear One’, always a beautiful number, was ravishing, and the trio ‘Anything for Him’ was fascinating and chilling at the same time.  Best of all was the performance of David Walker-Smith as Molina – at turns funny, vulnerable, admirable and touching.  His acting, singing and stage presence were worthy of any and all superlatives.

    Kiss of the Spider Woman is a brave choice for anyone, not least an amateur group.  The show is dark and strange, the score has moments of haunting beauty, pulsating rhythm and spine-tingling calls from the Spider Woman.  The production met all of the demands of the show head-on, producing a truly fantastic night at the theatre.  I definitely hope to return to a SEDOS production again, and would certainly encourage others to do so.

    Dream error


    I had a dream.  In my dream, I arrived at a community centre I had never seen before.  It was a grey, shabby sort of place but had plenty of car parking.  I knew why I was there – it was this was the next venue for the small-scale touring production of Guys and Dolls I was performing in.  Obviously.  In the twinkling of an eye, I was inside, changing into costume in an impractically small dressing room alongside other cast members, some of them people I have worked with before, others without names, yet still familiar.  In my costume, which included a brightly coloured shirt and a gangster-style hat, I then sat in the small hall, watching my castmates run through part of the show which needed some attention.  They sang the number ‘Too Darn Hot’ and some tweaks were made to the choreography to make it fit the space available.

    It wasn’t until I woke up that I thought to question any of this, and there was one burning issue in my mind.  Not “why would you put on a pocket-sized production of Guys and Dolls when you need at least a dozen men?”  Not “what on Earth was my role in the production?” – there is no obvious part for the Singing Librarian in this show.  No, the question I asked as I awoke was “what on Earth was ‘Too Darn Hot’ doing in Guys and Dolls?  Which is a very good question, as it’s normally found in Kiss Me, Kate.  My subconscious mind really should have known that!

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    Related post :

    Application


    I have spent the evening filling in a job application, hence the lack of a particularly interesting post.  Applications are hard, because selling myself is not something I’m good at – it feels rude, somehow, to go on about positives.  Which is, I admit, ridiculous.  It’s not quite done yet, and the closing date is tomorrow, so I’d better get back to setting out just how well I could be seen to fit the person specification.

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