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My first première

At the start of half term, I had a new experience – attending a film première.  It was a small-scale affair, but the requisite red carpet and champagne were involved, so all was as it should be.

The première was for Marty’s Project, a short film which will be doing the rounds of the amateur film festivals next year, and was a closed affair for cast and crew only.  As each participant arrived, we were photographed on the red carpet before being treated to champagne (or non-alcoholic alternatives) and nibbles.  Once we were all gathered, we made our way into the auditorium and nervously took our seats, intrigued to see what we would all look like and how the film hung together.  Along with the other main members of cast, I was terrified of being rubbish, and worried that my experience of performing in theatre would translate badly to the screen.

Over the next 57 minutes, there was much laughter and a few gasps of surprise from those who had not been permitted to see the full script.  I was ashamed to spot a scene where I had forgotten to remove my glasses (I’d had a strange feeling this had been the case, but apparently none of the other audience members noticed).   We applauded, of course, once the end credits rolled, and after some words from our director and producer (who presented each of the main cast with a card and a DVD copy of the film), we were treated (or subjected?) to the out-take reel.  We watched people pre-empt the call of “action!”, forget their words and struggle with props.  We watched the ‘Future Kids’ try to keep warm on a very cold day of shooting and the travails of the many and varied people who held the clapper board.

Certain scenes took up more of the out-take reel than others.  Most of these didn’t, thankfully, involve me, but there was one scene which I had entirely forgotten about.  This scene took place in a cinema auditorium (filmed in the same place as the Marty’s Project première was held) and featured three of the main characters along with some extras.  Due to the logistics of filming that day, the extras ended up being the director, cameraman, sound man etc. as well as one of the other main actors, well disguised and only half in shot so as to remain anonymous.  Even when the scene (which contained only five words) came up in the film, I didn’t remember shooting it, but as soon as the first out-take from it came up, it all came flooding back.  We were all tired and stressed, and we desperately wanted to get home to watch Doctor Who.  And so, of course, a few seconds of film became a near-impossible task.  We couldn’t arrange ourselves properly to make the shot work.  We had costume issues.  We’d get distracted by what shot number this actually was or the position of an arm which belonged to someone otherwise out of shot.  We’d dissolve into giggles.  We’d regain our composure then dissolve again.  The lines made us laugh.  The reactions of the others made us laugh.  The out-takes form a fascinating Singing Librarian character study.  At first, I’m messing around, but only because the director is as well.  Then, I’m struggling to get on with the business of shooting the scene (you hear me say “So…” quite a number of times, as I attempt to get back on track).  After everyone starts laughing, you see me struggling to contain myself, and managing.  And then, just as everyone else has regained their composure, you can see that I’m still struggling, and I lose the battle.

I don’t think I lend myself to screen acting all that well, but the filming process was fun and fascinating, and the première was a truly enjoyable experience.  I cannot judge my performance, or the film, objectively (but you may be able to – follow the link at the foot of this post to see for yourself), but I’m glad I did it, if only to have had such fun finding geeky t-shirts for my character and getting to walk up the red carpet.


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Cold taxis – cutting edge comedy?

Most theatrical productions include moments which mean more to the performers than to the audience – lines or bits of business which, for whatever reason, acquired particular resonance during rehearsals or performance.  Sometimes it may be because someone was struggling with something, so it becomes a shared joy when a moment finally works.  Sometimes it’s a choreographic moment which is universally loved, so that the wings get crowded with cast and crew watching every night.  Sometimes there’s a funny rehearsal story attached to a particular line.  And at other times, there is no reason for it at all.

In My Fair Lady this week, it is my lot to deliver one of this production’s lines, a line which many in the company find extremely funny indeed, and yet none of us can work out why.  The line is this zinger:

Eliza, it’s getting awfully cold in that taxi.

Not exactly comedy gold.  My character, the perfectly useless Freddy Eynsford-Hill, is only in this scene in order to get Eliza off the stage and allow her father and the chorus to launch themselves into ‘Get Me to the Church On Time’.  It is dawn, so it would be rather cold, even in a taxi.  There are numerous ways I could say this line to make it funny, and I have experimented.  There’s the suggestive, the teeth-chattering, the whiny.  Rather than spoil the scene with any of these, we are going with a simple statement of fact, yet the first time we reached the scene in question with the whole cast present, it provoked chuckles, giggles, titters and outright laughter.

This has continued to be the case and as the dress rehearsal is in only a few more hours (that’s all the time we’ve got…), it is surely now a problem.  Nobody can put their finger on why the cast are amused, including the director and others in positions of authority.  The only explanation that has been forthcoming is from the lovely chap who plays Alfred Doolittle, who says it’s because it’s “just so good”, which really doesn’t explain things.  Unfortunately, he is on stage as I deliver that blasted line and struggles to maintain a straight face.

It may just be my imagination, but I’m sure the tension now mounts among the cast as that line approaches.  We know we can’t laugh and we know it’s not funny, but that makes it so much worse.  The last time we did  the scene, in the last full run-through (which you have to treat almost as a performance), even I was struggling to keep a straight face and I never, ever, corpse in performance, no matter how ridiculous the scene might be.

You can guarantee that the whole cast will remember that one line for years to come, while the rest of the lines, harmonies and dance steps fade away.  For a few dozen people, those few words will live forever.  All we have to do now is make it through one dress rehearsal and six performances without laughing at them.

Make ’em laugh

Comedy MaskLaughter in the theatre is almost always a fine thing, a sign that the actors and director are doing their jobs, that the script is up to scratch and the audience are enjoying themselves.  Sometimes, of course, it’s a sign that something has gone hideously and inappropriately wrong, or, if it happens on the other side of the ‘fourth wall’, that a private joke has accidentally wormed its way on to stage and caused a (hopefully) temporary fit of hysteria.

Getting a laugh as a performer is a wonderful thing, but it’s also rather tricky.  It has been my privilege to play two amusing characters over the last 2 years, very different but united in their ability to raise a chuckle from the audience.  Much of the work is done by the script, of course, but it is entirely possible to make a funny line land like a piece of wet lettuce, and also to bring out the humour in a moment that doesn’t absolutely have to be funny (“it’s the way that I tell ’em…”).  I’m certainly no expert, and I have yet to perform in a non-musical comedy (which would require much greater levels of discipline), but that won’t stop me from throwing in my tuppenceworth.

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