Posts Tagged ‘ performing ’

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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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!

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.

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Audiences – a vital ingredient


Theatre does not exist without an audience.  Live performance of any kind is only really performance if it is being watched – if not, then it might as well be a rehearsal, a game or a private jam session.  This is not simply due to the ego of those acting, singing or dancing, but it is a result of the vital role that audiences play. 

At any theatrical performance, the audience can enhance or detract from the production on offer.  Mobile phones, flash photography and random talking can be distracting (sometimes dangerous) for the cast and irritating for fellow theatregoers.  A badly timed noise can break the spell in a tense or moving moment, puncturing the suspension of disbelief that has been built up and reminding everyone that they are, after all, watching people pretending to be other people in a small, dark, warm building with mildly uncomfortable seats. 

For the actor, the response of the audience can be vital.  Continue reading

Cooling down


It has been just over a week now since the final performance of Hot Mikado, and I am still getting people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed the show.  Part of this was due to the standard of the performances, apparently, but part of it was because the show has a real fee-lgood factor.  Bright colours, lively music, a happy ending and even (in our production) a shower of confetti during the finale – all ingredients which added up to a cast having great fun and audiences leaving with big smiles on their faces.

We didn’t please everyone, of course, though you never do.  But I had a fantastic time, we had a lot of laughs backstage and we heard a lot of laughs coming from the auditorium.  The highlight for me was the act one finale, which was a sequence where for all intents and purposes I stopped being my character and was simply ‘a gentleman of Japan’, merrily celebrating the impending nuptials of the romantic leads and/or reviling Katisha, the older woman.  It was a joyous explosion of music and dance, and I always looked forward to the moment when the men strutted out with their tambourines, heralding a shift in time signature and hot, hot gospel.  The various facial expressions in the audience were a joy to behold, changing from horror (there must be many people who had traumatic tambourine incidents as children) and puzzlement at first to excitement and exuberance as we worked towards the finale’s climax.  Dancing my bright orange socks off and exclaiming ‘Joy, joy, joy!  Joy reigns everywhere!’, I could not help but grin, and I’m certain our enthusiasm spilled out into the audience.

Joy really did reign everywhere around.

We are gentlemen of Japan!


What happens if you cross the satirical wit and sparkling melody of Gilbert & Sullivan with flashy waistcoats, tap dance, close harmony and a whole bucket of Brylcreem? You get Hot Mikado, that’s what you get, and that’s what I’m doing all this week, up at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury.

I play a fellow who delights in the name of Pish-Tush, the coolest Gentleman of Japan (or at least, that’s how he sees himself). I spend much of the show either sneering at the other characters in disdain or dancing my bright orange socks off – some of the time, I’m even doing both, which is an exciting challenge. The musical style of the show is rooted in the 1940s, with blues, swing, scat and scorching hot gospel combining to give the score an uplifting ‘zing’. The ‘Three Little Maids’ sing their number beautifully, in a close harmony arrangement which sounds like an Andrews Sisters number, and Katisha, the femme fatale, displays an amazing gospel voice which utterly blows me away even as Pish-Tush mocks and sneers at her.

I’m fairly certain that this show gives me more to do than any other recent show, even though Pish really is the most minor of the principals. In addition to a male trio where I take the top line and a quartet where I take the bass line (a ridiculous range from top note to bottom note is required!), I’m involved with all of the chorus numbers which gives me a wide variety of harmonic and choreographic challenges – my heart races so fast at the end of the first act, simply due to the high energy of the dance routine, that I worry for my health. Thankfully, I sit the big tap dance out (it’s really not in my skill set), and instead provide backing vocals for the number as I kowtow to the Mikado (the only person Pish-Tush remotely respects). My head is spinning with everything I have to remember, and there are still a couple of tricky corners which I’m not 100% confident about. Seven syllables of ‘Swing a Merry Madrigal’ will probably haunt my nightmares forever – how hard can it really be to sing “Hey bob-a-ree-bob swee-dee-pow”? Harder than you’d think! Still, exhausting as it is, I’m absolutely loving it. Putting it on before an audience for the next five days will be a complete and utter joy.

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?

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