It’s such a fearful play.
– It’s a marvellous part.
While I have mentioned this show already, it certainly deserves a post to itself.
It was suggested* to me that I go to the audition for this, which was being put on by a group I knew nothing of but was reasonably nearby.
To my amazement I walked away with a part, playing ‘Sorel’ the daughter of the retired actress (Deja vu anyone)?
What a lovely opportunity to work with the most friendly and welcoming people, to improve my Parisian geography (the Rue Saint-Honoré does not lead into the Place de la Concorde) and to have the fun of being a stroppy and rather sarcastic teenager every night.
The set was wobbly but functional (and importantly the staircase was rock solid) and looked great. The costumes were lovely (I had two beautiful dresses and got to wear my silky pyjamas in act three) and thankfully there was a lovely makeup lady to make sure we all looked great.
Thanks too, to the Stage Manager, particularly for their liberal use of white gaffer tape and ever entertaining dressing room calls. It was all much appreciated.
What fun then to act in such a wonderful play.
Of course, while the cast were wonderful and the audience clearly appreciative they reserved the biggest laugh every night for the comedy moment with the barometer, a feat of comedic timing performed by the youngest member of the crew (who may just happen to be my daughter).
So what a wonderful time, putting on a great play, and how lovely to make new friends, who were so welcoming to the very shy newcomer to the group.
*Insisted is far more accurate. But James dragged me to the auditions and got made Stage Manager for his trouble, so that seems fair. 😉
See How They Run
Have you seen the one about the retired actress, with the French doors and the staircase?
I was recently asked to do props for a delightful farce featuring a retired actress, several members of the clergy and an escaped German soldier. The play (See How They Run) features a charming set comprising of a living room with French doors, a staircase and doors on each side.
The show was fantastic, funny and great fun to work on. I’d never done props before but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the cast were all great to work with.
While all this was going on I was simultaneously rehearsing for another play. This one featuring a retired actress, her family and their several houseguests. The play (Hay Fever) features a startlingly similar set.
The deja vu was heightened by the appearance of a barometer on each set, and the astonishingly similar sounding door bell (blame the sound engineer/stage manager respectively).
Further parallels within each play include the rehearsal of part of another play within it, the mention of “If” and…well I could go on.
Double the fun for a busy but satisfying month.
Everybody has weak moments. One of mine was at an after show party when somebody (you know who you are, James) twisted my arm into agreeing to direct a “Green Room”.
In our little theatre group a “green room” is a one-act play put on, for one night only, for the members as a social occasion and as an audition piece, as it were, to be considered able to direct a full show. In this instance there were two of us, potential directors, and we agreed to put our plays on together.
I won’t bore you with tales of the stress of trying to organise everything, cast the show, actually directing and working backstage (in my case lighting) that went into making the evening happen.
I will tell you it was a fascinating challenge and an awful lot of fun, that we had wonderful cast and crew who made it possible and that the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I will also tell you that all production meetings should also involve ice cream sundaes.
So, whatever the official verdict (and I’m still waiting for that) I think we did ourselves proud.
Why am I telling you this now you ask. Because somebody (you know who you are, James) gave me a very special Christmas present; a framed copy of our programme. And it turns out, just for a moment, I felt like a real director.
This year’s pantomime was a slightly unusual Victorian style affair. The songs were old music hall numbers, surprisingly tricky to learn and sing. The run started with a degree of apprehension, even the director seemed less than one hundred percent confident in it all after the last dress rehearsal.
Yet, somehow in front of an audience it all came together beautifully. Lines were remembered, cues delivered. The village idiots built their part every night providing wonderfully light relief. The audience actually joined in with some of the songs. The special effects, especially the flying car drew applause and even more importantly proved that there is a good use for PowerPoint!
I found myself playing an interesting array of parts. In what might be considered typecasting I was once again a servant (this time male – yay for panto) who spent most of his time running away from the Dame. One hundred years in the future (you remember the plot of Sleeping Beauty I hope) I was a futuristic senator with the ability to produce a surprising array of items from up my sleeves.
Best of all though, I was the head of a wonderfully impressive dragon although sadly I lost the fight with the Prince every night. How is that fair?
And so, with a happy ending every night, a happy cast and crew and an equally happy audience, we put on quite a show.
Header photo ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)
Having developed a real love of being backstage I thought I’d put some effort into learning how to do it a little better. So I signed up for Crew Class training.
It’s primarily aimed at people who want to work in the industry full time but as someone who always wants to do the best job I can (and is not averse to the idea of being paid part time for doing something I love either) I thought I’d give it a go.
So off I went to a little theatre in London to meet an assortment of people and spend the day learning about the world of backstage work.
Simon who ran the training was enthusiastic and entertaining. It was a long day with a lot of information being thrown at us but it was never boring and our attention was held throughout.
A major part of what we learned was terminology. From things we all knew already (‘upstage’, ‘downstage’) to terms I’d never heard before (‘socapex‘,’tallescope’). These were accompanied with pictures and in some cases returned to again and again to ensure we’d remember them.
As well as that we covered how to put a show together. Power, lighting and sound were examined and explained in a way that made sense. We were given good practical advice on working in the industry. (I’ll give away here the fact that the first rule was ‘Don’t be late’). There were practical examples given from real experience which certainly gave me a few new ideas.
For me the day felt like revision (and validation) of what I’d already learned and de-mystification of some things I’ve not yet encountered. I left feeling more capable, more positive and able to go on to bigger and better things. At least I’d like to hope so.
A year ago I helped with the lighting for the first time in our little theatre. While not my first ever lighting job (I’d helped with a folk gig some years before) it was practically my first and my first as a ‘house tech’. Over the year I’ve done a variety of things and it seems a good time to review what I’ve learned.
- It’s never routine.
No matter how much you think you know what is required for an event, on the day you will end up improvising, making do and making it so much better than you expected.
- We’re all winging it.
You think you know what your job is, but then again you can end up doing something that surprises you. I’ve done lighting, sound, crewing, followspot and production assistant (that means I ran around fetching things). It all depends on what is needed and that’s the way i like it.
- I’m not really a sound guy.
I’m sure I can do enough sound for a play (and that’s a win) but I’ve watched enough visiting sound guys for a variety of gigs to know I really don’t have the ears to do live mixing.
- I love doing lighting.
I’m a visual person so lighting is more my thing. I’ve learned you have to look (and concentrate) all the time. But it feels so good when you get it right. A sense of rhythm can be useful too.
- Every show can use a black sheet (or two).
From turning a pile of pallets into a professional followspot stand to propping up a sound desk a large piece of black cloth is your best friend (along with a huge supply of tape and sharpies).
Before / After
- There’s never enough time.
No matter how early you arrive at the theatre you will be wishing you had another hour or two to play with by the time the house opens.
- There is no better kind of tiredness than the end of a show.
By the end of the day you’re exhausted, achy and still have tape to get off the floor and cables to coil and put away, yet somehow you feel better than you ever have before and you’ll mark today down as a fantastic day. Once you’ve got some sleep that is.
And so I wake up the next day to reflect on finding myself followspotting Hats Off To Led Zeppelin a year after I first sat at our lighting desk (also for them) and I’m actually amazed at how much I’ve packed into that year, how much I’ve learned and how much I still have to learn.
But I am having the best time ever.
While I usually write here about my experiences performing (in one form or another) I have been taking an increasing interest over the past year or so in working backstage. I’ve enjoyed helping out with sound and lights for various visiting performers at our local theatre but then I accidentally fell over* an advert asking for backstage crew for a production in Oxford, a show called “Seeing Grace“.
So allowing serendipity a chance I duly offered to help out and to my amazement they said yes!
The project was a fascinating one. A challenging topic (human trafficking and prostitution) rendered through a mixture of drama and dance. Much of the cast were still quite young but all incredibly talented, hard working and professional.
My job was easy; move chairs and tables, oh and keep track of an array of props including an ever increasing amount of crumpled paper. It was, despite the seriousness of the topic, a lot of fun. There was a great camaraderie and even one night an impromptu yoga session.
The run was far too short, only two nights, but those two nights saw a show that was simply breathtaking, powerful and emotional. I’m very glad I could be part of it.
The photos are some we were able to take dring the dress rehearsal.
*Google search results can be unpredictable but I’m certainly not complaining. If every search brought such an opportunity I’d be delighted.