Archive for the ‘ Theatre ’ Category

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.

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.

Getting All Shook Up


Once again, I’m on countdown to show week.  In one week, I’ll be at the Tower Theatre, Folkestone, for the start of technical rehearsals for All Shook Up.  This show is an insane comedy inspired by Shakespeare (largely Twelfth Night, but with dashes of the others thrown in for fun), with a score consisting of two dozen numbers from Elvis Presley’s vast repertoire.  ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ and many more songs are merrily whirling around in my head, several freshly laundered shirts are waiting to be ironed before our first dress runs, and soon more than half of my waking hours will be devoted to the show, spent in the company of the good people of Lights Up Productions.

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Quick changes


One of the most important skills to learn in theatre, whether as a performer or a member of the backstage team, is the art of doing things quickly and quietly, often in the dark.  The set has to be shifted, microphones need to be switched from person to person, props need to be put in place, complicated traffic systems negotiated so that the right people are on the stage at the right time, and most entertaining of all, costumes need to be changed, often faster than you would think possible.

I have written before about the excitements that costume changes brought to a production of Dido and Aeneas, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ll never experience anything quite so manic again.  Most shows, though, offer their moments of fun and games with costume – so much so that it’s almost a shame when a show comes along which involves the same set of clothes throughout.

One of the most exciting costume changes I’ve ever had a hand in was not my own.  This was during Titanic.  The actor playing Charles, a second class passenger, had not been attending rehearsals and eventually dropped out of the production, leaving us with a bit of a problem.  Frantic phone calls were made to practically every man who could act and sing in the area, but with no joy – given the size of the cast, we already had more men on stage than you would normally expect, and those who weren’t involved had already decided not to do the show for their own various reasons.  So the man playing Wallace Hartley, the Titanic’s bandleader, was asked to step in, as there were no scenes where both Charles and Hartley absolutely *had* to appear on stage at the same time.  He was cunningly disguised to aid the illusion of Charles and Hartley being different people (Charles now had glasses and a beautiful moustache), but we were left with one moment which was going to be very hard to pull off.  Shortly before the end of the first act, before anyone starting worrying about icebergs, Charles and his fiancée (Caroline) had a scene and walked off stage – this was immediately followed by a scene in the first class smoking lounge, where Hartley was supposed to be playing the piano.  The piano was dispensed with, as it was considered too heavy to shift about, and Hartley’s violin substituted – still, how did the same actor appear at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next when there was no break between them, only a change in the lighting state on stage?

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Dancing fools!


Just give me a chance and
My tuxedo pants and
Presto! I’m a dancing fool.

– ‘Dancin’ Fool’ from Barry Manilow’s Copacabana.

I have mentioned before that dance is not my strongest point in terms of stage performance.  This is probably due to a lack of training as much as anything else (but when would I squeeze in time for dance lessons?).  Still, I do enjoy it and with each show enjoy it more.  I also appreciate more and more how useful my memory is when it comes to dance – no matter how much pizzazz I may or may not display, I am a fast learner and worryingly good at remembering things.  This sometimes leads to a strange situation where a trained dancer who has worked professionally in the field will ask me what the steps are – they can obviously do them an awful lot better than me, but can’t remember them as well as I can!

Luckily, as well as my memory, I have an additional secret weapon when it comes to dancing, and that’s my characters.  Continue reading

A final toast to midnight


My involvement in When Midnight Strikes is now over, and I have a few hours to turn around and get ready for the Pajama Game show week.  I will certainly miss the show and miss the cast and crew, who were really wonderful to work with – a truly supportive ensemble where we were all equals.  In a show like that, with a cast of 12, often all on stage at the same time, working together as a team was even more important than it always is in theatre, and this team really did bond well during rehearsals.  During the final few rehearsals and the performances, it was fascinating and rewarding to see little touches in each person’s performance which cemented their character and made their relationships with others on stage more believable.  For various reasons, I was often offstage and could observe what was happening in the background of the scenes, seeing another level of drama play out.

I shall miss playing Christopher West, so different to my usual sorts of roles, though it will be quit a relief in a way as well – he wasn’t the nicest man to have under my skin, and he certainly got in there somehow.  I will most certainly miss his second-act solo, which was an absolute pleasure to sing.  The song, ‘Like Father, Like Son’ takes in the whole of the character’s life and partially explains some of his actions and attitudes.  Christopher is a very complex character, and I feel I was only just starting to inhabit the whole role by the final performance.  The show’s composer, Charles Miller, came to see the show last night, and it was great to get to meet him.  I didn’t really know what to say (I have never been very good at meeting new people) and have no idea how much sense I managed to make when I talked to him.  I was fascinated to learn that Christopher is based on a real person and the party is based on a real party.  I did wonder, but didn’t ask, whether ‘Christopher’ and the others know that a show has been based around them and what they’d think of seeing themselves on the stage.

I was exceptionally nervous doing this show, due to it being so far outside my normal performing comfort zone, but it was an amazing experience which I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  Beautiful music, a complex character, a show that flipped so readily between comedy and tension, a supportive company, lots of laughs and a real sense of having achieved something worthwhile together.  The only thing I won’t miss is the phrase “happy new year” – I think we’re all a little tired of that after four months of saying it over and over again.  But still, as we sang at the close of act one, “Cheers – here’s to you all!”

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