Archive for the ‘ Musicals ’ Category

Cutting loose?


Tonight we gotta cut loose, footloose!
Kick off your Sunday shoes. 

It’s that time again – show week!  It seems like I only just got off that particular emotional roller-coaster, largely because All Shook Up was only last month.  Now I’m on to Footloose, with the young people of Phoenix Performing Arts (the group where I am brought in from time to time as an “adult”).  In some ways there are many similarities between the shows: in both of them, an authority figure has sucked the joy out of a town; in both of them, a young man arrives and shakes things up; in both of them, I play(ed) the father of the female lead; in both of them, I walk(ed) out part of the way through an emotional song being sung to me.    But in more fundamental ways, they are completely different.  All Shook Up was a comedy, whereas Footloose is a drama with some funny bits.  When I saw a production of the show last year (by Lights Up Productions, before I was involved with the group), I was surprised by how much genuine drama there is in the show, with some complex relationships and some quite serious themes.  Now, having been rehearsing for the last three months, I am still coming across new layers to my character and trying to work out how to make these come through.

I play Reverend Shaw Moore, who essentially runs the town of Bomont.  Everyone there does what he says and follows his guidance.  As Rusty, Urleen and Wendy-Jo explain to Ren, “Reverend Moore? He is the power.  He is the law.”  His leadership has resulted in the town having a curfew for all young people, and bans in place on alcohol, drugs and (more surprisingly) dancing.  Due to these rules and his rather strained relationships with his wife and daughter, he functions as the antagonist to the young leads through the show, blocking their hopes and plans at every turn.  Yet, he is not a bad man.  He is motivated by a genuine desire to protect the young people of the town, to care for and guide his daughter and to do God’s will.  Unfortunately, his judgement has been clouded by an event in the past, an event that casts a shadow over the entire town due to his reaction to it.  He is a persuasive man and a frightening man.  He is a caring man, but an unseeing man.  He is a good man who cannot see that his actions are causing harm.  He cares deeply, but doesn’t express it as he should.  He buries his pain, but he also treasures it in a way.  All of these things need to come through in my performance somehow – so no pressure…

Actually, an awful lot of pressure.  Performing with PPA always brings with it a sense of responsibility.  I am there as an “adult” so I feel I need to be some sort of role model in the way I behave backstage and in rehearsals, in addition to fulfilling the demands of the role and giving the younger cast members an older person to bounce off.  In this role, I know that the way I perform will inform the performances of Ren, Ariel and Vi at the very least – I have to give them everything they need for their characters.  I have a series of scenes towards the end which are wonderfully written, but which scare me immensely – they have to be so, so right to make the show’s conclusion work.  I’m probably not making things any easier for myself when in the back of my mind, I am always aware that one of my last conversations with Stuart before he died was about how much he thought this role would be a good one for me.  And in my heart of hearts, I know that he could have performed it better than I ever will.

As ever with PPA, rehearsals have their strange moments.  The Rens (most of the non-adult roles are double cast, meaning that I have two very different daughters and two very different antagonists) being told that entering a room was like being thrown into a shark pool, with me as the biggest shark.  Running around the acting coach’s garden and delivering a speech breathlessly to see what happened (answer, I couldn’t get to the end as I am clearly less fit than I thought).  Discussing what our characters would wear in bed.  My daughters comforting me as if they were a lioness or a domestic cat, to see the difference.  Rehearsals are, as I have mentioned before, odd.

It is a great privilege to play this role.  It’s extremely scary as well.  There are emotions in it that I don’t want to touch on, but really have to.  The character continues to elude me, and show me more sides of himself which I doubt I can portray.  I have vocal issues in the dialogue which have been pointed out numerous times, but which seem to be getting better only slowly.  But the script is wonderful, and I am sure the show will be a great experience once I manage to cut loose (though not footloose, given Shaw’s antipathy to dance) and just go with it.

A week in the Tower – Day 6


So after two months of living and breathing All Shook Up, it finally had to end.  One last journey to the Tower Theatre, and two last shows.  One last day with Lights Up Productions and the several dozen people whose work made the show happen in so many ways.  It had been a hard couple of months, in terms of the number of hours of rehearsing and in terms of emotional stresses both connected to the show and otherwise.  I had tried hard to keep my personal life outside of my show life, and hopefully succeeded (on Day 2, though, being in the theatre made me miss Stuart immensely and I needed a good cry, but I saved it until the lunch break).  Dance routines had driven me literally to the point of tears when trying to get them right at home.  The tight jeans had almost given me nightmares.  One of the scenes did literally give me some very disturbing dreams.  But I had met, and re-met, some amazing, talented, dedicated people and we’d put together a show we enjoyed and which we were proud of.  Now it had to end.

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A week in the Tower – Day 5


Day 5 could have gone better for me.  An awful lot better.  During the afternoon, I read over my notes from the various run-throughs and performances over the last 10 days, and sang through ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ numerous times, as I know that’s the number I find most challenging vocally.  It stays very low and my character is supposed to be nervous while singing it, a combination which can mean that I descend into incomprehensibility if I don’t concentrate.

Notes were at five o’clock, preceded for unknown reasons by a game of catch that soon became violent.  Much laughter was shared by the company, and I proved that I have no sense of aim whatsoever.  I know people who hate notes during a run, but the whole point of them is to make sure that the show gets better and better, as there’s always room for improvement.  They can also be encouraging – if someone does something particularly good, that will be picked up on and praised.  As long as everyone involved knows that the purpose is notes is for good and not for ill, then all is well – I certainly have had many notes over the years which improved my performance, generally suggesting things I’d never have thought of myself or catching errors or problems I hadn’t noticed.

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A week in the Tower – Day 4


Day 4 in Folkestone’s Tower Theatre began a little late, as traffic was seriously snarled up around Canterbury.  But once we were all gathered, we began with notes – what went wrong and what went right on All Shook Up‘s opening night.  There were many positives, and also several scenes that needed attention, largely the complicated scenes at the end of each act.  So we sorted out our props and costumes in leisurely fashion while each of these scenes was worked on the stage, sometimes with the intention of increasing the pace, sometimes to make the story clearer and once, for me, because I wasn’t milking a joke enough.  We spent some time rehearsing some gasps of astonishment and also ran the curtain call several more times as we’d experienced some traffic problems with this on the opening night.

Unlike the previous day, backstage talk was varied and unpredictable.  The bat had figured prominently in conversations leading up to the opening night, but since it hadn’t made an appearance, we mostly assumed it had moved on elsewhere.  A second bat-free night seems to have confirmed this theory.  This takes away a level of unpredictability and excitement from the experience, but it does make it more likely that the audience will pay attention to us rather than to the wildlife.

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A week in the Tower – Day 3


So, opening night.  The moment of truth.  That was the end point of Day 3.  First, though, we had a day in the Tower to get through.  Starting once again at the top of the show, we ran through in costume, stopping to deal with technical issues (mostly scene changes, tightening up the choreography of the arrival and departure of the tables, chairs, statues and so on) and to fix some scenes that hadn’t been working as well as they should.  Sadly, we didn’t have time to work on my insanely quick costume change, but we did stop to work on a moment which had been causing significant anxiety for a while – a kiss between myself and another character.  It had been stressing both of us out, but the moment was reblocked to make more sense in context.  A weight off everyone’s mind, I think.

After our lunch break, which happened a few scenes into our work, the cast sorted out the curtain call in the theatre foyer while the crew finished off some more tasks on stage – getting some scenery items up into the flies, fixing flats and so on.  Throughout the day, they were busy with finishing touches on paint jobs and securing the last few props we needed.  Hard-working doesn’t even begin to describe the crew and technical team for this show!

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A week in the Tower – Day 2


Day 2 in the Tower was both encouraging and dispiriting.  We have a great show on our hands.  But I have a *lot* of work still to do, with less than 24 hours before the opening (sold out!) performance begins.

Most of the day was spent staggering through the show, working largely on set changes and on spacing in some of the dance routines that hadn’t been covered the previous day.  During act one, the set changes come thick and fast, requiring each and every member of both cast and crew to have their heads well and truly screwed on.  Careful choreography was required for getting our various props and set pieces on and off in time and each change was rehearsed over and over again.  My main responsibilities in terms of set changes have turned out to be some oil drums and a round table, but I also get to spend some quality time with a bar stool, a bus stop sign and a statue of the goddess Venus.

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A week in the Tower – Day 1


Day 1 of the week in the Tower began at 11.30am, arriving in the dressing room and hanging up the small collection of shirts and trousers which makes up my set of costumes for the show.  In all, I get through one t-shirt, three shirts, four pairs of trousers, two jackets, a waistcoat, a tie, a bow tie, a hat, a pair of boots and two pairs of shoes.  This requires quite a bit of organisation!  It transpired that the technical team had been there until 6am, somehow surviving on a break of about five hours.  Naturally very tired, they still continued to work hard throughout the day, which was mightily impressive.

As there were still some stage-related issues to be sorted, the cast had an extended lunch break, with our hard work beginning in the afternoon with several hours of spacing.  This meant going over and over the big dance routines, checking each and every new formation to ensure that we were all in exactly the right place in relation to the set and to each other.  For the first number, I was not required, so helped the stage crew put up some safety rails on a raised portion of the stage, but I was soon kept busy on spacing for several hours.

After a shorter meal break, we had our mics fitted and checked, and all sound issues were explained to us – exactly when each mic would come on and when it would be switched off, so that we would know when we can talk backstage and when we can’t.  Then began a stagger through of the show, stopping to deal with issues of traffic, set changes and so forth.  We didn’t make it all the way through, which is fairly normal.  The stage crew have a lot to deal with and will need a lot of help from the cast, which is fine with me.  A detailed list of which actors need to help with each set change will appear this morning.  It also became apparent that the sound guy really has his work cut out for him balancing our vocals with the amazing band.  I’m sure this is more than possible.

Today we’ll be in from 10 to 10 to work through the remaining set changes and traffic issues as well as to polish up the staging issues which we’ve not had a chance to look at.  The show is starting to gel together as a complete entity, and by the end of the day all aspects – sound, lights, set, costumes and people – should form a coherent whole.

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