Archive for the ‘ Ramblings ’ Category

Finding my feet again

Having reached a place of despondency with Footloose, things managed to get worse before they got better.  Part of my attack of the glums was probably caused by general feelings of physical exhaustion, as the mildly stuffy nose turned into an uncomfortable sore throat and a somewhat more than mildly stuffy nose.  In order to ensure that breathing was at optimum level for singing, I became quickly identifiable (and quite popular) backstage due to the smell of Olbas Oil.  Several others had been ill in the lead-up to the show, and I believe a good proportion of the cast is now feeling the effects as well.

On the Friday night, I experienced one of my most terrifying moments on stage.  A few lines in to my solo, “Heaven Help Me”, my mouth continued moving, but not a sound came out.  So I sang ‘Someone’s got to … … … … If I don’t who will?’, which made very little sense (for the record, someone’s got to take the high road).  It was only a brief moment of nothingness, but it was truly terrifying.  My mind raced with the horrifying possibilities – what if my voice had run away and I had to continue mouthing the entire song?  Was there any way someone could rescue me, even though I was alone on the stage?  Thankfully, a deep breath at the end of the missing line, and things return to normal.  I still wanted the earth to open up and swallow me, but had to change from ‘at home’ to ‘at church’ costume ready for the final scene of the act.  I don’t know whether it was the nose and throat, some sort of mental affliction or just random fate which conspired to create those few seconds of personal horror, but it certainly galvanised me for the second act – I had to just pretend that act one had not happened and get out there and be the best darned Reverend Moore I could be.  Apparently, I found out later, it looked like a problem with my mic rather than with me, though that seems rather unfair to the hardworking sound man.

After the Friday night show, I opted to walk home, giving me a chance to experience some quiet, some fresh air and a chance to have a good long talk with God.  I expressed my frustrations and anxieties about the role, I told him about the feelings from life in general that had got tangled up with Footloose, and I tried to listen to Him in response (something I am so very bad at doing).

On Saturday, I was still feeling ill, but I was feeling calmer than I had felt all week.  And I started to enjoy the show.  I had enjoyed spending time with my fellow cast members and there was much entertaining people-watching to do, but it wasn’t until Saturday that I felt able to let go and enjoy the experience of performing the role rather than fretting and being neurotic about it.  It was still hard work – Shaw Moore is a very challenging part – but it became considerably more enjoyable than I had made it earlier in the run.  Whether you choose to put this down to God’s influence or to something else, this was most definitely a good thing.  It would have been a terrible shame to have been given such a great opportunity to truly act and then not enjoy it at all.

After the show on Saturday, quite a number of people I had never met came up to me and congratulated me on my performance as Reverend Moore, saying that they found it very moving.  This was very encouraging, and made me want to cry in a very good way.  I still feel I could have done better, but can’t we always do better?  However, I definitely found my feet and am sure I am stronger because of the experience.

Feeling Footlost

We’re two performances in to our five show run of Footloose, which means each set of main parts among the young performers has had their first night, and I have experienced the show once through with each daughter and each antagonist.   And I am feeling lost, footlost.  Last year, my character in Fame was quite adamant that “acting is the hardest profession in the world”, and I think he had a point (but then, so did the characters who claimed music and dance to be the hardest professions in the world, as neither discipline makes any sense to me).  Not just from the point of view of how difficult or technical the craft of acting might be, but from the emotional perspective.  There are the ups and downs of your character’s journey, which get mixed in with the ups and downs of backstage life and your own independent emotions.  For me, there is the desire to perform the part of well as it can be performed, and there is the crushing disappointment and self-directed anger when you know you didn’t do a scene as well as it should have or could have been done.

My young castmates are having an absolute ball doing this show, and I’m very pleased for them.  The feelings I have, however, remind me of how I felt when I did Me and My Girl (so long ago now that I hadn’t even started this blog), which was the first time since my school days that I had performed a principal role.  I felt absolutely awful, like I was letting the show and myself down.  I was unable to enjoy the experience, and all I wanted to do after the show was go home and curl up in a ball on my bed.  Feelings of inadequacy for parts have driven me to tears in the past.  Last night, I felt that I had really let Ren down in our scene together and I am aware that there is still a nebulous ‘something’ missing, a ‘something’ which I suspect will turn out to be the key to the character.  Looking back at my feelings from previous shows tells me that I probably shouldn’t pay too much attention to this – if there is a problem in general, or if some things didn’t work last night, then I have to trust the directors to tell me.  After all, I can’t actually see my performance.  They can.

I want to enjoy the show, I really do.  But to be honest, I’m not.  I’ve had people tell me that my performance is really good, but we’re back to that old, dangerous thing of thinking “well, you’re my friend, of course you’re going to think that.”  I’m not going to get another chance to play a part like this for some time, if ever, so I should be enjoying it for all it’s worth.  But frustration, a slightly blocked nose (which can be heard in whistly breathing through the mic from time to time) and an exciting selection of self-doubts have so far stopped me from doing so.  I know I can do better, and I will try to do so.  But instead of feeling overwhelmed and footlost, I need to feel…  I don’t know.  Something else.  Something better.  Something healthier.  The show is a good show.  The production is a good production.  There are only 2 days left to enjoy it, so I really ought to take that opportunity.

A week in the Tower – Prelude

Today’s the day when the cast of All Shook Up officially takes up residence at the Tower Theatre.  The technical team has already done so (I suspect they slept there last night, as Facebook-related evidence leads to the conclusion that the were still there at 3am).  My bag is packed, complete with costume, make-up, food rations and other essentials.  In a little over half an hour, I will meet my lift, and we will head to sunny Folkestone for a long few days in the theatre prior to opening night.

We were there last night for the band call, which was absolutely amazing.  I can’t repeat the phrases used by other cast members to describe the band, as there was much use of sweary superlatives which a mild-mannered librarian wouldn’t dream of using.  The band is absolutely smoking, and the buzz that the cast got from hearing them was incredible.  So much credit is due to our musical director, who has coaxed a fantastically full vocal sound out of the cast of 20 and has assembled such a crack team of musicians.

Today we’ll be polishing, balancing the sound, working out spacing and engaging in the delights of technical rehearsals.  Tomorrow, we work towards a full run with everything from lights to make-up in place, and then Wednesday, we’ll be making sure the opening night’s audience get more than their money’s worth.  Though everyone is tired, and there are likely to be few frayed nerves, there is excitement bubbling up all over.  Assuming I have access to a computer, I shall attempt to chronicle the week’s activities here.


I don’t know what to write.  On Saturday, we lost one of our housemates (or should I say ‘beloved fellow house dwellers’ as a fellow dweller puts it?) to cancer.  His presence in my life means a great deal to me, yet I struggle to find the words to express it.

Stuart was a people person.  While he could come across as quite gruff sometimes, he loved being with people and he loved making people happy – I believe he was happiest not when he was on the stage, but when he was cooking for friends, particularly for one of his birthday gatherings.  He would always cook far too much, every single time, and it was clear from his face that his friends enjoying what he had made was something that made him very happy.  Whether it was lasagne, apple cake or an unlikely ice cream flavour, it was a great joy in his life to create and serve it.  He loved to spend time with people.  Quality time.

Stuart was a gifted performer who knew how to work an audience.   Things didn’t work out for him as a professional actor, but he used his skills at work (teaching drama and directing school productions) and as a hobby.  I first met him when we were both in the chorus of The Beggar’s Opera, and I got to perform with him in Tosca and in Titanic as well.  There were things about theatre (and particularly amateur theatre) that would drive him absolutely crazy, but he certainly knew what he was doing.

Stuart was honest.  He was one of the few people who would be happy to tell me what was wrong with my performances as well as what was right.  A scene didn’t land the way it was meant to?  He’d tell me.  I was playing two characters, but one of them really didn’t work?  He’d tell me.  But he also encouraged me to try different things – to sing in my baritone register, to pursue less comedic parts and to just go for it in as wide a variety of roles as possible, even if some of them didn’t really work.

I will miss him terribly.  I already miss him terribly.  The fact that he cared, really, really cared about his friends.  The pronouncements that a particular show, or a particular episode of Doctor Who, was either amazing or terrible (with no room for disagreement).  His faith.   His love of singing harmony (oh, so much harmony in church settings).  His love-hate relationship with his career.  His honesty, always wearing his heart on his sleeve.  And just him.  A good friend.  I hope he knew how much we loved him.  Although it hurts, I know that he is safe now in our Father’s hands.

“Are you an actor?”

Over the last few months, I have spent some time filming with Kanga Reel Productions for their next short film, Marty’s Project, wherein I play an irritatingly enthusiastic young man.  Each day of filming has presented its own unique challenges (not least because I find the differences between stage and film utterly baffling), but one encounter has particularly lodged in my mind.  On this day, we were filming various exterior shots, and in addition to the joys of remembering words, managing to stay in shot and not look directly into the camera lens, we had passers-by adding interest to the proceedings.

In one of the day’s final shots, I had to bound up to the other characters and encourage them to hurry up as we all gathered outside a convention centre.  This was proving tricky, as I was far too far away from them to hear their dialogue, so had to be cued for my appearance visually from quite a distance.  As I was waiting, a couple of teenage girls came up to me and asked what we were doing.  I explained about the film, and they looked suitably unimpressed, as teenagers are required by law to do.  After a moment, though, one of them asked in hushed tones “are you an actor?”  I think what she meant, of course, was “are you famous?”, since fame seems to be the most important commodity to the young.    Sadly, for her, I am not even a Z-list celebrity – I have been spotted in a bookshop by someone who saw me on stage before, but that doesn’t quite qualify for big-time name recognition.  I didn’t really get to answer her question, as I was called into action at that point, but it stuck with me.

I’m not famous.  I’m not (usually) paid for performing.  But on reflection, yes, I am an actor.  It is at least as important a part of my identity as being a librarian, probably more so.  It may not be healthy, but I feel most alive when I’m involved with theatre, whether on the stage or dressed in black in the wings.  The combination of adrenaline, camaraderie, enjoyment and sense of accomplishment is unbeatable.  In both areas of my life, I strive to do the best I possibly can – performing arts may well be my hobby, but it is important to me to be the best that I can possibly be in each new role.   It’s not easy (as anyone who has had to deal with my backstage panics knows), but it feels like what I’m meant to do.  Having had two months away from the rehearsal room, I really miss it and am eager to start on my next theatrical projects.  It may be odd (and it sounds unbelievably pretentious!), but I think that while being a librarian is what I do, being an actor is what I am.  It is my passion and my gifting – doing it for fun rather than for a living doesn’t make that any less true.

Excited and scared

That’s how Little Red Riding Hood describes her feelings about meeting the wolf in the midst of the forest in Into the Woods – excited and scared.  I know how she feels.  Over the next two weeks, I’m performing in two different shows.  My librarianing will be drastically reduced, as I’ll be working on only five out of the ten potential working days over this period, but this is probably sensible.  I imagine I’ll need a bit of time to lie down in a darkened room.

I’m excited because shows are exciting.  I’m scared because shows are scary.

I’m excited because shows are the ultimate adrenaline rush. I’m scared because shows are exhausting, and I don’t really know whether I have enough energy reserves.

I’m excited because both shows will stretch my skills in different ways.  I’m scared because they might be stretching them further than they can go.

I’m excited because Charles Miller, composer of When Midnight Strikes, is coming to see the show.  I’m scared for exactly the same reason!

I’m excited because the dance routines in The Pajama Game are really good fun to do.  I’m scared because quite a few of my friends are real dancers, yet some of them haven’t seen me ‘dance’ – I’m not sure what they’ll make of it if they come.

I’m excited because When Midnight Strikes gives me the opportunity to portray a complex character with three dimensions with a true dramatic arc.  I’m scared because I don’t want to overplay the emotions and ruin the drama.

I’m excited because the shows both seem to be coming together well.  I’m scared because I always am at this stage in proceedings.

Above all, though, I’m excited.  Excited because performing is my passion. Excited to sing songs old and new.  Excited to jive, tango and do some comedy character-based dance. Excited to have the chance to portray two such different people.  Excited to be working alongside some good friends and some amazingly talented people who truly blow me away (there is, I hasten to add, definite overlap between these two categories). Excited to use the gifts I’ve been given to entertain. Excited to be heading back on to stage.

Well…excited and scared!

I can do this!

As part of my mission  to change my worldview from ‘the Singing Librarian sucks’ to something rather more positive, this post is a record of some of my achievements – apparently, I’m rather too good at downplaying them.  So in some ways, the post is more for me than it is for anyone who might happen to read it.  Normal service will be resumed shortly, potentially consisting of musings on rehearsals, an examination of why I like Cabaret and some gushing about modern theatrical composers.  But for the moment, there’s this.

I can sing.  I can act.  I may not be a dancer, but I can remember routines very well indeed.

Sometimes, talking about my hobby (which is really more than that, as I pour so much of my time and energy into it), people will ask about the roles I play and comment that I must be good to get so many good parts.  I tend to shrug this off – in the circles where I move, men who are willing and available to perform are few and far between, and even fewer of those can carry a tune.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  And the proof of the casting is in the performing.  I hate to watch myself perform, so I now turn to others for proof that this is something I am good at.

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Changing my mind

Recently, it seems as though the universe, or God, or a strange conspiracy, is trying to get a message to me, and that message is that my mental habits need to be broken.  Warning: serious introspection ahead, and proof that a friend’s assertion that I say things on my blog which I’d never say face to face is indeed true.

I have written before about how hard I find it to take a compliment, and that has not changed (in fact, looking back at that post, I fear I’ve become worse).  There is a loud voice inside that says “yes, maybe, but…”  For example, if someone tells me they enjoyed a performance of mine, I immediately draw up a mental list of reasons why they are wrong (any wrong notes, mispronounced words, moments where the character wasn’t clear, fumbled danced steps, mis-timed breathing, awkward arm movements and so on ad infinitum), a list of people who could have done it better and probably a list of reasons why that person is biased, ill-informed or otherwise not the best person to make that judgement.  This extends to other areas of my life as well.  I am very quick to decide that things are my fault, frequently call myself stupid and tend to say “I can’t do this” at least once every day.  I am always perhaps too aware of the need for improvement in my theatrical endeavours, of failings in my professional life, of ways in which I am socially awkward, and I have a tendency to look in the mirror and despair.

It has been pointed out to me many times that all of this is not healthy, particularly for someone with a history of mental illness (past downward spirals have had serious Consequences).  Recently, a peculiar combination of a few blows to my ego from external sources and a surge in unsolicited encouragement has convinced me that I need to do something about it.  I have been told good things about myself, sometimes very forcefully, but the mental habits explained above mean that this isn’t generally very effective.  I have also been reminded that I should try to see myself as God sees me.  I don’t know what He thinks about my exploits on stage (other than that He’s probably very pleased that I enjoy it), but I should know that in Him I am deeply loved and treasured.  This is something that I believe, but don’t really seem to accept.

I vow to now start living up and mean just what I say
Making resolutions, you must hold on fast…
Made my resolution now the die is cast,
I will succeed!

‘Resolutions’ from When Midnight Strikes, Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds

It’s a little late for New Year’s Resolutions, so I’m starting small with a New Week’s Resolution.  For the next seven days, I am not allowed to say anything negative about myself, or utter the words “I can’t do this”.  I’m not sure how well I’ll manage, even for just seven days, and I know it won’t transform my life instantly, but I’m pretty sure that  it will help.  Maybe not saying these things will mean that I think them less as well.  It is, at the very least, a start.

Other steps are needed to change the way my words and thoughts about myself run, and will require the help of God, people and time. But this is something I can do right now. And after I succeed with one week, I can aim for longer, until eventually I build new mental habits that are less destructive. And that is a good way to change your mind!

Bad vibrations

I’m picking up bad vibrations.
They’re giving me palpitations:
Bad, bad, bad, bad vibrations!

Yes, the sparkly new learning centre has turned against me, clearly determined to drive me away.  For the past few weeks, the floor in my office has been vibrating, sending shudders through my desk, my chair and my body, and sometimes causing the shelves behind me to rattle.  Some of my colleagues have also been experiencing the vibrations, though some of them are only aware of the phenomenon when it visibly affects an inanimate object, such as causing water bottles to shake or computer monitors to jiggle from side to side.  And those who are aware of the vibrations react differently.  Unfortunately, I seem to be particularly sensitive to them.

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Brief encounters

The festive season can mean so many things – connecting with family and friends, enjoying good company and good food, reflecting on the birth of our saviour, singing seasonal songs and filling up endless recycling bags with brightly coloured paper.  This year, it included a small dose of strangers on trains.

I don’t drive, and am unlikely ever to do so, as the thought frankly terrifies me.  Thus, I tend to rely on the great British public transport system to get me from A to B when B is not within walking distance of A.  Thankfully, Kent is blessed with a decent (though not always timely) bus network, meaning that I can zoom around the county to rehearsals and performances with relatively little difficulty.  Longer distances tend to mean the train, largely because the Victoria Bus Station makes me want to cry.  This year, I made a few train journeys during the twelve days of Christmas, and had two very different encounters as I did so.

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