Posts Tagged ‘ rehearsals ’

Midnight Strikes again


WMS 2013 flyer

Lightning may or may not strike twice, but midnight most certainly can. During the last two weeks of August, I revisited a show I first performed in during 2010, When Midnight Strikes. Although this production of the show was with the same company as the first (Lights Up Productions), there were many differences – only a few cast members were the same, it was performed in a different venue, and we put it together over an intensive nine days of rehearsals. For me, though, a key difference was that I was playing a different character. Quite a challenge, and quite a fascinating experience seeing the show from a different perspective.

Last time I did the show, I was worried about letting others and myself down because the role was so different to the sorts of things I usually do. This time, I was worried because the role was quite similar to my usual casting – a character who exists almost entirely for comic purposes, a function much needed in what is quite an emotional show. What worried me was knowing that the comedy needed to be funny, but my character, Edward, needed to remain real. It would be detrimental to the style of the show if he came across as a broad caricature, and given that I have played several parts recently where hamming it up was strongly encouraged, I didn’t want to give in to that temptation.

Edward is one of the outsiders at the party which the show follows. Although he was invited (unlike some of the eventual ‘guests’), he does not fit in, to the extent that even the host and hostess don’t really want to talk to him. He falls in love at first sight with another character, but is far too nervous to actually talk to her, and makes a number of social mistakes throughout the course of the evening. For me, to make him real, I had to live inside his world for the whole show and think whatever he was thinking, even if I was sitting on a chair at the back of the set. Whether he was trying to join a conversation, working out how to talk to his intended love, or wondering whether a shocking announcement was true, he was always thinking something. And although he sometimes put on a cheerful front (particularly once the alcohol had been flowing for a while), there was a profound sadness to him. He desperately wanted to fit in, but knew that he didn’t. Even when things began to go his way, in his/my mind, he couldn’t quite believe it was really happening. Most of these thoughts and feelings would have gone completely unnoticed by the audience, but they helped me a great deal.

Nine days of rehearsal was a tight schedule, but still allowed for plenty of character work alongside the technical necessities of working out who goes where and when everyone’s head should move in the ensemble numbers. We would often stop to work out what each character’s reaction to a particular moment was, and we were strongly encouraged to develop our own storylines when we weren’t directly involved with the action. As the show is set at a party, we were all on stage for much of it – what were we doing, thinking, feeling during those times when we weren’t talking or even when we weren’t aware of what was being said by other characters? The ensemble nature of the show meant that the 12 different personalities interacted in numerous (sometimes quite complex) ways, and exploring these was fascinating.

Our director and musical director were both very keen on details. There were times when we all had to breathe in a song, regardless of whether we needed to take in air. There were head movements that had to happen at exactly the same time. Certain props needed to move from one place to another at exactly the right moment. Good enough was not good enough – we were aiming higher than that. All of this (in addition to the individual details) helped bring the ensemble together as a true ensemble. By the time we arrived in the theatre, the whole team (actors, musicians, stage management etc) was a team. We were all doing this together and it was worth doing.

We know it was worth doing from the reaction we’ve had since. People really enjoyed the show, and fed back positively about everyone involved. There really wasn’t a weak link in the cast (if we’re honest, we all know that there usually is, and we always know who it was) and it is a privilege to have been involved with the production. We coped with some major challenges, both emotional and technical and put on a great piece of theatre. Personally, I know I made a far better Edward than Christopher (the role I played last time). There are still things I’d like to have done better, but this was definitely a productive use of two weeks of my annual leave. There aren’t many shows I feel the need to revisit, but I would happily have midnight strike a third time in my life.

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Related posts (about When Midnight Strikes, the first time around):

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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Living forever and learning how to fly


Fame flyer

Fame flyer

So I’m back rehearsing with Phoenix Performing Arts.  And it’s good.  This time, the implausibly talented young performers are doing Fame, which makes my head hurt sometimes – I’m rehearsing a scene about a rehearsal, with a group of trainee actors and dancers playing a group of performing arts students…  As in West Side Story, when I doubled up as Doc and Officer Krupke, I am an imported adult, playing the drama teacher Mr Myers.  This is very much a supporting role, giving the student characters someone to react to in various scenes (indeed, someone to be cross with for quite a bit of the show), but is good fun.  Myers does not sing, so it’s another chance to concentrate on the acting side of things, and PPA always make sure that I pay proper attention to this – I do more character work with them on my minor roles than I do with anyone else on larger roles.

Working on the character side of things is interesting.  Continue reading

Things that panto rehearsals have taught me


Flyer for Aladdin

Flyer for Aladdin

This week, I have mostly been rehearsing for Aladdin, the pantomime to be performed very, very soon at the Winter Gardens in Margate.  On Tuesday, the cast (sans Dame, who arrived on Wednesday), met and began blocking the scenes.  We were soon into the swing of audience participation, learning the songs, figuring out how much teasing people can take and generally getting the show ready.  It’s always nice when casts get along together, and we do.  I have also discovered that we have much to teach each other.  I’m sure I have much still to learn, but for the benefit of my readers, lessons from the first week of rehearsals include:

Men should not moisturise. Ever. According to Princess Jasmine, it is unmanly.  As are many other things, including shaving your armpits (but really, why would any man want to shave their armpits?).  Baking biscuits is a good thing according to all who consumed the ones I took in on Wednesday, but it is also unmanly.  Drat!

I come as a package deal with the Emperor of China. To be fair, we are friends, but we seem to be seen as a unit, possibly a double act by some people.  If we were to become a double act, we could definitely use our middle names as the title of our act, but I shall leave that title as a mystery.

Tradition! I love panto, and I love all the traditions of the genre, but it has been very eye-opening to see just how many traditional elements and rules there are, sometimes competing with one another.  Most people are also very protective of their character and their gags, which can be quite amusing.

Padiddle. This is a wonderful game to play with a car full of people on a wintry night.  If you spot a car with one headlight out, then you shout ‘padiddle!’ and score a point.  Simple, but most amusing – well done, PC Pong, who introduced the game to us.  Apparently, according to my extensive research, it has been played with varying rules for decades, but this simple version is fine for me.

Black canvas trainers are de rigueur. They are spreading like a plague among the cast.  My favourite panto rehearsal picture so far is the shot at the foot of this post, looking down at the matching feet of the Genie, Aladdin and PCs Ping and Pong.  I did let the side down by wearing a different pair of trainers to today’s dance rehearsal, though.  We may be able to make them official uniform by the time we’re finished.

The funniest thing I can do is sing. The role of the Genie of the Lamp is not a comic role really (which is OK with me, truly it is), but I did manage to raise a huge laugh during the session where we went over the finale in our music rehearsal.  Everything in the show is in a somewhat unusual style for me, but something must have clicked in my head on the second sing-through and I cut loose with my vocal.  This took those who have worked with me before by surprise and made them laugh.  At first, I was alarmed, and thought that I might have done something awfully wrong, but I was reassured that the reaction was because it was ‘so right’ but ‘excessively unexpected’.  Of course, being me, I now fear that I have peaked too soon vocally.  But at least I know that I once did it well enough to make people laugh.

I really ought to charge an ‘Ask a Librarian’ fee. It amused me that when Aladdin wasn’t sure how to pronounce a particular word, he asked me.  Others have checked geographical facts with me (yes, there is a Thebes in Egypt, and yes, Egypt is in Africa) or otherwise sought explanations for the more esoteric aspects of their lines.  However, I drew the line at researching “he’s so fat he…” jokes.  A librarian’s powers are not to be squandered!  I am known to some as ‘D– the librarian’, not just ‘D–‘ or ‘thingummy who plays the Genie’.  This just goes to show that you can take the librarian out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the librarian.

Panto is hard work, but fun. I think I already knew that, though.  And of course, if you’re in Kent, want to experience the fun, and see the Singing Librarian alongside a whole bunch of talented people including Ben Mills and Mark Arden in Aladdin, come along to Margate Winter Gardens from 16th-25th January.  Tickets can be booked by telephone on 01843 296111/292795.  I, the great djinn, the genie of the lamp, would be delighted to see you there.

The WordPress ‘spellchecker’ function does not recognise the word djinn. How strange.

Proof that the cast of Aladdin all have the same dress sense?

Proof that the cast of Aladdin all have the same dress sense?

Rehearsals are odd: Cowpats, jugs and potential RSI


It occurred to me, while rehearsing for Titanic this week, that companies in rehearsal develop their own language to one extent or other, whether verbal or visual, such that strange sayings or actions go completely unremarked by all concerned, when an outsides would find them seriously bizarre.  Dance steps acquire strange names which surely aren’t in the standard choreographic dictionary, scenes get named after a small piece of business which happens in them, characters have their names shortened in quite disturbing ways and certain phrases will inspire fits of giggles for no easily discernible reason.  Just as a group of professionals will share their jargon and close friends will adopt the vocal tics of others in their circles, so the cast and crew of a show, who spend a lot of time in close proximity with a clear focus, develop their own forms of expression.

The reason this occurred to me was due to Titanic‘s cowpat.  Not, perhaps, as famous as the iceberg or the grand staircase, but a key element in our production nonetheless.  Readers will be relieved to learn that there are no animals in the show (unless one of the dogs that have occasionally turned up to rehearsals decides to play Kitty, Mr Astor’s airedale), and the cowpat is simply a piece of the set.  It is a ‘truck’ (movable bit of set on wheels) consisting of a raised platform shaped like half an octagon, but none of us have actually seen it yet, for the set doesn’t arrive until tomorrow.  This piece of set is right in the middle of the stage and gets used for all sorts of interesting things – the captain’s table in the first class dining saloon, the radio room, the place where the lifeboat will be lowered from and so forth – but at one point, the director found it to be frustrating and oddly-shaped, so it gained its name, which promptly stuck.  Anyone told that they are ‘up on the cowpat’ for a particular scene knows exactly what is meant.  It will be quite a letdown if it doesn’t actually resemble a cowpat in any way.

Another oddity is the use of a jug on stage.  Not as a jug, but as a megaphone, used when boarding the passengers and declaring the ship lost.  It goes utterly unremarked, and the shared visual language of the cast equates jug with megaphone.  I’m hoping that when we start the show proper, there will be a megaphone – audiences are less willing to enter into the shared world of the cast to quite that extent.

Finally, for me, the potential for repetitive strain injury is a little worrying.  During the second act, there is an extended musical scene between the Captain, the owner and the architect of the ship, which takes place in the radioman, with Harold Bride as a mostly silent witness to the proceedings.  During their arguments, the radioman is continually sending the distress call, alternating between the old CQD and the new SOS.  This is a lot of rapid wrist movement which quickly becomes tiring and painful – and this after just five or so minutes.  It is no wonder that typists and telegraphists frequently suffered from RSI.  In context, the least of Bride’s worries, but it is somewhat frustrating not to be able to stop and shake the joint out, as this would apparently be rather distracting!

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