Archive for the ‘ Singing Librarian flashback ’ Category

Singing Librarian flashbacks : Snow


Tonight’s rehearsal for Into the Woods is cancelled due to the exciting weather we’re experiencing in Britain at the moment, and this got me thinking about other rehearsals which have been affected by the weather.  The last time snow decided to see how good the British infrastructure is (answer: not all that great, really) was in February this year, leading to a couple of cancelled rehearsals for the shows I was involved with at the time.  However, “it snowed, so we didn’t rehearse” does not make a particularly interesting story, does it?

More interesting was a rehearsal for Me and My Girl.   Continue reading

Singing Librarian flashbacks: Shouting!


One of my favourite lines in The Pajama Game comes from the female chorus during one of the songs.  The leading lady has been denying that she has feelings for the factory’s new superintendent (in a musical, a sure and certain sign that she most certainly does have feelings for him) and states “When I fall in love, there’ll be no doubt about it, cuz you will know from the way that I shout it!”  The girls wait for the slightest of moments and respond “You’re shouting…”  It makes me smile every time.  And shouting has become something that my stage personae do an awful lot of.

Continue reading

Singing Librarian flashback: Trying to make an entrance


In most shows, every performer will make at least one entrance, unless they are on stage when the lights go up and remain there until they are no longer required, which would be a sad state of affairs.  It may be as part of a group, or as an individual.  It may be unobtrusive or it may be spectacular.  It may be from the wings or it may be from above or below the stage.  Sometimes, and perhaps trickiest of all, it can be from the auditorium itself.

It can be a strange feeling as an audience member when your safe, comfortable area on the other side of the footlights is invaded by a show’s characters.  It can be just as strange for the performers, entering into a strange limbo area that both is and is not part of the world you inhabit on stage.  For me, this has been part of the routine in four shows (that I remember, anyway): Grease, Kiss Me, Kate, Rodgers With an H and most recently West Side Story.  In Grease, the two gangs made their first entrance zooming down through the school hall’s central aisle and singing the rude version of Rydell High’s school song.  In Rodgers With an H, logistics meant that occasional entrances and exits had to be through the auditorium to avoid colliding with other performers, though this was a very short distance, so didn’t really matter all that much.  Kiss Me, Kate involved slightly longer in the auditorium, as I appeared there at the beginning of ‘Cantiamo D’amore’, singing rather high notes very loudly in a ridiculous costume before joining the rest of the chorus on stage. All three presented their own challenges of various kinds, but it is the most recent example, West Side Story, that is the most interesting.

Regular readers may recall that I played, somewhat improbably, both Officer Krupke and Doc in a production of the show in August.  In addition to the joys of changing costume and make-up (as well as voice, stance and so forth) between characters, the staging of the show presented fun and games in the second act.  At this point in the plot, the main characters have been scattered following the disastrous rumble which kills off two of the key players in the tragedy.  A-rab and Baby John, members of the Jets, encounter one another in the streets and share some of their anxieties before they are rudely interrupted by the arrival of rubbish policeman Officer Krupke, who wants to see them ‘hauled down to the station house’.  This entrance was made by crashing through one of the sets of auditorium doors about 20 rows back from the stage.  A blow on Krupke’s trusty police whistle and a yell, and I then had to lumber down to the stage ready for a brief scene threatening the boys.  Before long, they turn the tables, cause him to tumble and scarper.  A little bit of comic peering around, and I then had to repeat my entrance in reverse, lumbering back up through the auditorium and out through the doors.  Then I had to race down through the foyer and bar, punch in an access code to the dressing rooms, race along the corridor to my own and change into Doc as quickly as a jolly quick thing, but that’s another story. 

By now, you may be wondering what the point of this tale is, anyway.  Other than the possibility of falling down the steps in the dark, or treading on an usher, which I very nearly did, what challenges could this entrance possibly present?  It is worth noting that this is one of my favourite ever entrances due to its high impact value, but it was actually the moments before the entrance which caused difficulty, and largely due to factors beyond my control.

The trickiest thing about making an entrance through the auditorium is timing, as it would spoil the illusion to betray your presence too soon.  And timing depends on being able to hear the action on stage, which is not always easy through a thick door.  Noise on your side of the door is therefore not particularly helpful.  Distant sounds of activity from the box office can be screened out, but other interventions are harder to deal with.  And other interventions there were, from someone who should have known better and from a member of the paying public.

The first was from the person who should have known better.  As I approached the door to the auditorium for one performance, it opened and out came an usher, who began to speak into her mobile phone before the door had fully closed behind her, organising her shopping trip for the next day.  She didn’t move very far from the doorway, and seemed utterly unconcerned about the presence of a young chap in a hot and heavy police uniform complete with truncheon and whistle.  Even after drawing the curtains around the door area which prevent light from leaking in, it was still a struggle to hear the Jet boys over the travails of her socioeconomic life.  I don’t know how long it took her to work out which shop was the best meeting place, and whether they should have a coffee first, but these important decisions must have been made at some point between my dramatic entrance and dramatic exit.  Now, never having been employed as an usher, I can’t be sure of these things, but…  Surely…  Surely, a job which requires you to be present in the auditorium at a live performance is a job where your mobile really ought to be switched off?

A couple of performances later in the run, and another effort was made to sabotage the entrance, but this time from a member of the paying public, who can be granted some leeway for having been kind enough to part with some hard-earned cash to watch the show.  On this particular occasion, I was in position a little earlier than normal.  As I waited for the action on stage to approach my entrance point, a gentleman appeared from the foyer area, having evidently felt the need to spend a penny or two.  He stopped in mild confusion when he saw me and asked whether I was about to go on.  Why, yes, I was.  I did have to wonder what else he thought I’d be doing in the corridor.  Was I listening, he asked.  Yes, I was.  He kindly volunteered to wait until my entrance to regain his seat, and I duly thanked him as I pressed my ear to the door, knowing that my cue was coming up, grasping my truncheon and positioning my whistle in my mouth.  There was a brief period of silence in the corridor, as the dialogue approached the crucial juncture, then he spoke again with astonishing insight, though a definite lack of good timing.  “It must be very difficult standing out here trying to hear what they’re saying.  Do you have to –”  Sadly, I don’t know what it was I may have had to do, as A-rab gave my cue line just as my new friend made his own speech.  Do I have to deal with many people talking when I’m trying to listen to something else?  Do I have to struggle to get into character when surrounded by heavy blue curtains?  Do I have to train hard to look quite so ridiculous in a uniform?  Tempting though it may have been to answer whatever question he wanted to pose, there was only one course of action that I really could follow.  As ever, I burst through the door, whistle blowing, and entered the scene.  However, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how easily everything could have been disrailed.  A loss of focus, concentration and character could so easily have followed, and certainly would have done if the lovely man had succeeded in drawing me into conversation.

Sometimes, making an entrance can be complicated by the most unexpected things – people.  But what would an actor do without them?

Acting like a duck


You keep paddling like the clappers,
Just keep paddling with your flappers,
While seeming to be dreaming and calm.
Just beneath the surface
You may struggle to get by.
But nothing can deter you
If you hold your head up high.

So sing a mother and son pair of ducks in Honk! as the ugly duckling learns to swim.  The image of a duck or swan gliding serenely across the water while its legs are working nineteen to the dozen beneath the surface is particularly apt for theatre.  No matter how polished a performance the audience may experience, you can guarantee that backstage is complete chaos, involving many people whose existence would surprise the paying punters in the audience.  Actors may be dashing about at breakneck speed, changing costumes and locating props.  Crew members all in black will be changing microphones, getting sets into position, acting as crowd control, clearing the stage of hazards, grappling with velcro, safety pins and gaffa tape.  There’ll be a deputy stage manager constantly whispering into his or her headpiece to communicate with cast, crew, lighting people, sound people and more.  Miles of electrical cable coil like snakes around the building, clothing rails are hidden in the strangest places, the sewing machine is very rarely turned off and at any given point, several people will be in the middle of a nervous breakdown.

Continue reading

Singing Librarian flashbacks: Disasters


This week, I have given much thought to those times when theatre just goes horribly wrong.  When the set decides to cave in, the follow spot overloads the electrical system, the pyrotechnics explode three scenes too soon, or everyone forgets what they’re supposed to do.  It happens to everyone involved in theatre at any level sooner or later, as I have been reading.  In Great Operatic Disasters, one discovers terrible disasters that have overtaken performances in venues as prestigious as La Scala and Covent Garden, while the ever popular Art of Coarse Acting describes the ways in which amateurs and others essentially bring such disasters down on their own heads.  The schadenfreude-seeker in me is now anxious to get hold of a new compendium of real disasters called Stop the Show!, and of course there are many further examples to be gleaned from the biographies of our great stage stars.

Of course, over the years, I’ve encountered a few of these wonderful moments, though nothing to top the more outrageous events recounted in these books.  Continue reading

Singing Librarian flashback: S Club Library


Last weekend’s charity concert of The Pirates of Penzance put me in mind of another charity singing event, and one that was much stranger than dressing up as a pirate and a policeman.  I was, however briefly, a pop star.  With screaming fans, signed photos, farewell performances and everything else that goes with great fame.

When I joined the merry staff of the Library of Doom, men were few and far between on the front line, and young men even more of a scarce commodity.  But after a while, a number of young men were recruited almost simultaneously and someone remarked that we now had enough to form a boy band.  The seeds of a very silly idea were sown.  As the annual fund-raising opportunity of  the BBC’s Children in Need appeal approached, I decided to attempt transforming this ridiculous idea into a reality.  Why not, for one performance only, form a library boy band to raise some cash for this very worthy cause?  Unfortunately, one of my colleagues chickened out after initially agreeing to take part, and we were left with a trio, including one chap who just can’t sing (much like many members of real boy bands, then).  The obvious solution was to invite a couple of carefully selected young lady library staff members and form S Club Library, a take-off of a group who were very popular at the time (November 2002).

Continue reading

Singing Librarian flashback: Courtenay


It’s time to buckle those swashes, brandish those placards and be generally revolting in an agricultural way, as the Singing Librarian flashes back to Courtenay, performed at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury and the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, during July 2003.

This show is quite unique in my experiences.  It’s the only through-composed musical I’ve ever performed, it’s the only show I’ve been in that’s based on a true story, it’s the only time I’ve had a death scene, and it’s the only time I’ve joined a show mid-way through the rehearsal process.  Courtenay is a pretty new show, first fully performed in an outdoor venue (Theatre in the Park) during the summer of 2002.  After some re-writes, the authors (Christopher Neame and Ethan Lewis Maltby) were ready to bring it to the more conventional stage during 2003, and I answered a plea for more men to add to the ensemble.  Therefore, when I came along, most of the company had been familiar with the musical for at least a year, and all (apart from myself and two other fresh recruits) had been rehearsing with each other and the new director for some weeks.  Thus I had to scramble to catch up with learning the music, at the same time as learning Dido and Aeneas.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: