Friday, 30 September 2011

Captaining The Pinafore

2011 saw the commencement of my career as a director. For the first time, I got to see my ideas realised in full on stage, and with bountiful help from casts and crew alike I captained not one but two successful productions. This blog post has been in the works a long time and it is shameful that I let so much time elapse before writing it; looking back on the performance it is easy to forget the hassle, stress and hard work in the glory of reliving the moment, which is perhaps why we are fooled into doing these things again and again and again. The main aim of this post is to share with you the things I learned this year, through constant scrutiny of the management styles of other directors around me and over my illustrious maiden voyage as a Director.

As a side note, for more information on either of my shows, see Bette On Toast or Ralph Pocketwatch!

Here is me in action, directing like mad:

First, I learned that things get done best just by asking nicely. Whether it was asking for help, or getting a tour of the theatre, a polite word and a friendly smile goes a long way – it can be surprising what people are willing to help you with if you only ask!

Secondly, it’s not the costume you get, it’s how you wear it. Costumes can often be dull, ill-fitting, unflattering and sometimes even disgusting – but with the right attitude, regardless of your shape and size, you can make almost anything look good (from offstage anyway..!)

Things are NEVER as simple as you think. Getting three lines of people to bob alternately is a trick which is apparently profoundly difficult to master, regardless of how plain and simple it looks to the audience. Throwing something into the wings, sounds simple – will inevitably always go wrong when it matters. Most importantly perhaps – your friendly backstage curtains are easily manageable in rehearsal, but have a tendency to lure unsuspecting cast members into their exit-less depths when it matters most. Lesson: Always expect and accept that the simple things to be the ones that go wrong the most.

Time is incredibly important. It does sound like plain common sense to point this out, but this year I have personally seen countless hours wasted in indecision, and as a result of bad planning and time management. It seems one must always work on the assumption that there will not be enough time to cover everything so sacrifices will eventually be made, and that regardless of how good you are at making decisions, there are days when every single cast member needs to air their opinion about which hand to ‘finger click’ with.

I never realised until this summer how important it is to have a great warm up, and how rare it is to find a Music Director who can motivate a group of 40+ performers to wake up and feel energetic and enthusiastic. I deeply regret having not recorded all of the warm ups from The Mikado, and will endeavour to always strive to remember how fundamentally mood-altering an excellent warm up can be.

Character really is everything on stage. It sounds cliché and probably is, but as a performer, understanding and maintaining your character properly throughout a show is the effort that catches the audience’s eye. An excellent character can get away with almost anything on stage, be it spontaneous reactions, ad libbing or even mistakes as large as skipping half a scene – all can be forgiven and quite often go unnoticed in the face of a performer enjoying their character to the full.

Presumably, even in shows which don’t take place on boats, the value of being able to have “all hands on deck” is second to none. The process of setting up the stage for Buxton Pinafore was set to be one of the most trying of the experience (especially when it turned out the set didn’t exist anymore) but through team work and perseverance, we made an excellent job of it. From tying bunting to altering lights to setting up drum kits and even to buying tomorrows breakfast, everything happens much easier when everyone banded together for the effort.

When working with anyone and doing anything, at all, being patient is extremely important. The time that it is most important to be patient with your cast is under situations of extreme pressure; I discovered that though you yourself are so stressed you could pass out at any given minute, smiling and remaining (mostly) calm is the best way to encourage the faltering morale of any nervous cast. I am always grateful for a director being patient with me, and so I think it important to return the favour.

Something I learned the hard way this year is that you really can’t please everyone. Although there were no horrifically unexpected comments from audience members at any point, I was surprised to hear some of the critical points. As well as this, when directing I feel I personally suffer from the weakness of trying to please the whole cast, which leaves me tipping the artistic balance somewhat. I think in future it is important for me to remember that regardless of how much effort I put in to avoiding an unpleasant undercurrent, there is always someone at the end of it all still moaning. Better in future to put the effort into perfecting the show as a whole!

The most important thing I learned all year was about friendship. When you perform with someone under another director, you bond with that person quite uniquely. If you are also friends outside of this, I think it helps strengthen the relationship and imbue it with a sense of united success. If you place yourself then in the situation of directing your own friends, it is important to remember people’s limitations. Knowing what a person would cope with in an everyday situation does not constitute being able to press harder on them than others, nor should you rely on friendship to make recompense for such liberties. I personally find it hard to remember not to hold others too firmly to my exacting standards, and sometimes I think in the chaos of rehearsals we all forget that we are friends first and foremost, and performers only as a hobby. However, despite these tribulations, it cannot be denied though that for an amateur performer, there are few finer pleasures than being able to perform an excellent show to a full audience alongside some of the people we love and respect most in the world. On this note I leave you, with the thought that the biggest thing I have learned this year is definitely how lucky I am to have such patient, brilliant and talented friends to tread the boards with, and to help me cut my directorial teeth with such success.

Here is us, celebrating our success on a tiny train:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Do choruses yield little consolation?

Saturday will see a rather momentous occasion in my life, as I will take up rehearsals for a show as chorus, without a leading role. Now, that sounds like I could be bordering in being a little vain; I did, of course, start my performing career in the chorus - I simply mean to say that it feels like so very long ago, because of how much life has changed since. I think the last show which I was chorus in was Iolanthe, aged 16, in 2004, in which I also understudied (if you can believe that girls catholic schools have such a facility) Private Willis. I suppose really when you consider I am now only 23, it doesn’t seem all that long a time. In years perhaps it is not, but in shows, it seems many.

I have been contemplating how to enjoy being in a chorus. Again, this sounds very vain, but I mean it in a positive way – when I was in the chorus at school I had a lot of fun, but when I moved onto principal roles, I suffered a lot of stress because my voice was very young and undeveloped, causing cracking and general embarrassment. Actually, the cracking problem is one I have only solved since late last year, but it became less of an issue past school age. Anyway, I seem to have memories of dressing up and being part of staging something, feeling included but being able to sit back and enjoy parts of the show at the same time. I wonder if being in the chorus for a show is generally considered relaxing? Having a solo role is certainly not relaxing. Should you have a small role, you spend your entire rehearsal period worrying about messing up your few lines with no chance to redeem yourself, and should you have a large one, you are presented with much more importance and exposure in which to potentially mess up numerous times. Being in the chorus, I imagine you feel some amount of pressure to keep the group standard up, but largely, the old saying of ‘safety in numbers’ must mean a whole lot of weight off one’s mind.

One thing that does concern me about my chorus adventures in the coming weeks though is my natural inability to remain unseen. I literally cannot bear to see areas of stage under used or directions unfollowed, and so I find myself (in the recent times I have doubled as chorus) naturally appearing at the forefront of the action, generally to try and lead. At a curvy 5ft 9in with bright ginger hair, it really isn’t hard to be seen anyway, so why my natural instinct feels it necessary to prompt me thus ways is rather odd. Perhaps it is merely that, without direction otherwise, I am an unintentional chorus ham. I suppose that is one theory I can put to the test!

Genuinely though, I am sure there will be moments of fleeting irritation, jealousy or disappointment through rehearsals in which I should very much like to have been singing a solo role; I presume this is something which bothers many performers, usually soloists, who find they do not fit the bill for a specific show but continue, undeterred, to be involed. One of the best things about the SavoyNet shows seems to be that almost everyone involved is of an exceptionally high standard, with almost all voices well able to hold a principal line if necessary. It is a pleasure to be able to sing with so many excellent singers, and I hope that this year I will be able to spend more time getting to know the people behind them and making friends, rather than focusing on line-learning and exacting dances. I look forward with anticipation to my experiences over the next few weeks and will most certainly be reporting back about how I find it.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Harry Potter's Final Filmic Installment

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
20 July 2011

The final filmic chapter in the Harry Potter series is significantly less disappointing than its predecessor. There continue to be a number of scenes written specifically for the film version, and many deviations from the flowing plot line of the book, but the viewer is less inclined to notice and indeed can look favourably on the embellishments for certain characters (Matthew Lewis’ homely hero Neville Longbottom, for example). The film balances story telling and resolution with heavy amounts of magical action, and though at times the balance is a little skewed, the overall effect is fantastical. Emma Watson’s Hermione continues to be mildly irritating but Daniel Radcliffe’s all too wooden portrayal of Potter is less offensive than in previous years, and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) simply never fails to please. Disappointing perhaps was the use of some of the older stars of the piece – Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent and even Julie Walters are given an extremely meagre portion of the action. As well as this, the film skirts over the emotional capacity of the deaths of some of the popular characters in favour of more flash bang action.
Overall, the film really is a must for anyone familiar with Potter. Fans of the books may be slightly disgruntled at the editing and invention of the final instalment, but it is a valiant swan song from the Potter cast and crew. How it fares in 3D remains to be seen, but the old fashioned 2D version was most acceptable.


It has been some time since I published any sort of review. In the spirit of 'getting back into' academic writing in time for October and an upcoming MA, I have decided to make a special effort to resume these reviews. However, in order to sustain interest and personal challenge, and to reduce waffling, I intend to limit these reviews to 250 words or thereabouts. Here goes!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A little list of Gilbert and Sullivan exploits!

Roll up Roll up, Ladies and Gentlemen, Attention Please Attention if you please! I present you with my G&S history, in pictures!

The Yeoman Of The Guard – 2002

In 2001 I helped out with Pirates, but that was before the invention of cameras. 2002 saw me take to The Boards for the first time ever, as a Yeoman – Not only was I considered too tall to be a girl, but the tall girls were split, with the taller half being Yeoman and the middle half being men. Shy and quiet and largely unable to sing, Yeoman was certainly a new experience, but remains one of my favourites. For anyone interested, the school reinstated ‘Laughing Boy’ and ‘Jealous Torments’ but retained the cut of ‘Rapture Rapture’ – which I for one am only too grateful for. See how many other familiar faces you can find on this cast photo:

The Mikado – 2003

Slightly older and slightly less shy, in The Mikado I was male chorus, had two wives, and carried a banner as part of the Mikado’s train. Start small, as they say. Digital cameras had been invented by then, so here is me sporting full Japanese attire, and yes, those are tights on my head.

Iolanthe – 2004

In Iolanthe I was the tallest person in the cast, and as some sort of bizarre reward for this achievement, was the only member of the Peer’s chorus in blue, thus identified easily from miles away. Intriguing costuming decisions saw us wearing white bloomers with shirts tucked in, and personal pride rendered my mustachios the largest and most impressive around. I even took public transport home while wearing it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is style.

Ruddigore – 2005

My first principal part. For those of you familiar with the story, Old Adam is a great little part for a character actor and was a good part for me to get started on. Racked with nerves, I made mistakes with the singing every night, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Especially getting my costume ripped on stage, and terrorising the female chorus with a stuffed rat, and fake-crying really loud during the leading lady’s solemn second act solo. I also got measured for my costume standing on a chair in the headmistress’ office in the middle of one of her important meetings, having spent all afternoon in the pub. Ruddigore also saw the start of that infamous school nick name – ‘ugly old moron’ – those were the days.

The Gondoliers - 2006

My last year in school was emotional for many reasons, but none more so than that I was forced to leave the comforting grasp of the Opera. Playing Don Alhambra was fantastic, Gilbert did, after all, write his finest roles for men, and not many women can boast of having played them. Several large solos and countless libretto lines later, on the last night I was so distraught at the prospect of leaving that I cried all the way through the final scene, and positively collapsed after the customary last night speech. Which was a shame really, as I had been partly responsible for re-writing the end-of-show song that year and didn’t get to enjoy any of it! (I will endeavour to find and replicate said song one day). Here I am, gloriously grey:

HMS Pinafore – 2007

The established G&S society was one of the reasons I decided to go to Hull University, and I was lucky enough in my first year to secure a good part with a promising young cast around me – the HUGSS society enjoyed a large influx of members in 06/07, among them a full suite of G&S principal performers – soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, comic lead, bass - meaning that Pinafore, although raw in presentation, allowed performers good creative flow, and set the foundations for lasting friendships. Here is me, resplendent in my first ever female role:

Iolanthe - 2008

My second Iolanthe, this time as a principal. Fairy Queen Kayleigh was also President Kayleigh, aptly termed by the director in his ‘Thank You’ card after the show ‘Lord High Everything Else’. I got involved with everything possible and probably largely compromised my final degree grades by throwing myself into the part with such ardour. Nice costume this year, a little bit sexy is a good look for the Queen I think. My favourite bit of the show was almost definitely being given japanese ‘kabuki’ streamers to play with at the end of Finale Act 1 – amazing!

The Pirates of Penzance – 2009

My first role in Pirates, and not an attractive one – directorial vision saw Ruth in men’s clothing, having obviously worn out her female attire while living with the pirates. The overall effect was brilliant, with all the pirates in tweed - but I doubt I will ever have a less attractive costume! The show was largely set in the 50’s with swing skirts, beach huts, bright colours and my little brother playing the (Geordie) Sergeant of Police. We also won the ‘Best Society Event’ award from the University for our efforts! Two pictures here, to show you my rather hideous main costume, and also my make-over costume for the end of the finale:

The Mikado – 2010

After being forced to leave University (bad times indeed) I reluctantly sought G&S action elsewhere – and became a member of St Andrew’s in Roker. The Mikado was the first time I had ever played a ‘young’ girl, which I found ridiculously hard to adjust to – and the show run was the longest I had done to date (6 nights including Dress). Playing Pitti-Sing was also the first time I had acted with appropriate aged principals; the three maids and Nanki-Poo were passing young enough, and the other characters were passing old enough to be real adults. Overall a brilliant experience, which also set my directorial ambitions in motion.

The Gondoliers – 2010

Words cannot describe how simply amazing my experience at Buxton was. Invited to Buxton with SavoyNet Performing Group to sing in the Opera House, ‘Tessa’ was my biggest and most difficult role to date, having to take on the ‘romantic’ leading lady for the first time ever. I couldn’t have asked for a better Guiseppe, more enjoyable rehearsals or a fuller Opera House (sold out!). Audience members actually cried in the emotional exit of Marco and Guiseppe at the End of Act One, and I discovered that actually I can dance quite well!

Ruddigore – 2010

The oldest role I have played to date, Dame Hannah is clarified from the off as an ‘old’ character, so I found it quite difficult to effect this, being barely twenty two. Still, I gave it a good go, donning prematurely greying (but visibly still red underneath) matron hair, wrinkles and a stern Scottish accent. High point of this one – being dragged through the audience with a sack over my head, screaming!

Iolanthe – 2011

My second role with Roker, my second Fairy Queen and my third Iolanthe – I definitely knew all the words this time. My Fairy Queen this time took a much more childish direction, channelling ‘Queenie’ from Blackadder, as she led the Suffragettes to victory (enjoyable insertion: The Soldiers Of Our Queen from Patience, but to the words ‘We are the Suffragettes/We fight for equal status’). I had the most amazing costume I have ever encountered and was absolutely devastated to have to give back, and enjoyed building on friendships formed during Ruddigore. Here is me, commanding the stage, as it were!

The Grand Duke – 2011

Every G&S collector needs a ‘Grand Duke’ under their belt and I was lucky enough to be invited to become a member of Newcastle University G&S for the privilege. Working with students again was absolutely brilliant, and The Grand Duke presented opportunity to get involved with makeup and costumes again, as well as making lots of lovely new friends. Baroness von Krackenfeldt is amazing fun to play (especially in this interpretation) – highly strung and thrifty in Act One with Rudolph, angry and haughty in the fantastic Act 2 entrance with Ludwig and Julia, and in this, the opportunity to be a delightful drunk, throwing glasses of champagne over an unlucky chorus before marrying the strapping Prince of Monte Carlo. Theatrical Bliss!

HMS Pinafore – 2011

Yet to reveal the finished spectacle, I wont go into too much detail about Pinafore – but a full account of my first directorial project will no doubt follow. Directing is fun despite the stress, and playing my own Buttercup gives a sense of freedom which I haven’t encountered in anyone else’s theatrical vision. That, and I get to stand in for anyone who is currently missing, so a myriad of characters is always eager to get out! Here is me being Sir Joseph Porter in rehearsal:

And that, devoted readers, is that! More information on any of the above is available on request should you ever want it (unlikely) but I leave you now to attend to Pinafore business. One day I might even branch out to performances which aren’t G&S, though still high on the ‘To Do’ list are Phoebe in Yeoman, Lady Psyche in Ida, Lady Jane in Patience and one of the twins in Utopia. But anyway, to business - I go, I go – look how I go! Swifter than an arrow….

Monday, 28 March 2011

Hundreds of amateurs, half empty audiences - why?

The north-east amateur dramatic scene is always busy, as I am sure it is in other areas of the country. However, every society out there has been standing on the stage facing a half-empty audience at some point in their theatre career. It did previously strike me as very odd that the musical dramatic types didn’t band together and help each other out now and again to create allies and a fall-back support net; after two years of experience, this has become mildly infuriating.

All societies are always looking for male members. Always. Bar none. They are quite often also always looking for YOUNG members. Now, within the confines of the Gilbert and Sullivan Societies of the North East at least (though I am sure it applies to a good many others), why cannot the major societies get together sometimes and discuss their show and rehearsal dates? If they could swallow their competitive pride enough for this to happen, we might actually get somewhere. Performances being spaced out around the calendar, without clashing rehearsals, would give anyone who wanted to be involved with more than one society the time to do so without ruining their own lives with incessant rehearsal, thus sharing out the male/young talent pool and preventing the stagnation of unsuitable performers. I am already sufficiently jaded enough to know that this will never happen. But it is nice to consider the possibilities.

The biggest issue I find within the NE societies is support (or lack thereof) for each other’s performances. While at University the creative groups supported each other without much encouragement; the fierce competition between the societies and departments was suspended temporarily in a movement of support and curiosity, resulting in a full audience for those playing. Even if all it meant was that you, the audience member, could be justified in belittling the dramatic efforts of a rival, because you had paid, sat through the show, and earned your opinion. In the NE creative groups might have one or two links with other societies, but by and large will have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Now this is very unfair. Numerous times I have sat through performances which were absolutely piteously ridiculous, in the name of ‘local support’ – but where are the members of their society when the curtain goes up on our shows? Did the local groups ever support one another? This anti-support movement must have started with someone similar minded to myself wondering why they bothered themselves to stew in the cringe worthy boredom of local society events for no return, and giving cause to an uprising against it. Or perhaps way back when these groups were formed it was forbidden to fraternise. Who knows. Perhaps in future I will withhold my support for those who I feel would benefit from it; but how would I ever know who was worth supporting if I didn’t attend the shows?!

Don’t get me wrong, support between some of the G&S groups is quite consistent through the concentrated efforts of some individuals, but between the G&S groups and most of the more mainstream Musicals Groups, virtually nothing exists. The least these people who consider themselves to be at the top of the am-dram/musical food chain could do is ‘Maybe’ attend rather than ‘Not’ attend on Facebook. I mean come on. We all know you are too puffed up with your own self importance to sink to the level of actually coming, but it wouldn’t cost you anything to pretend.

Rant over.

For today at least :)

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Temporary Pauses

Quite, quite often, I forget about this blog. I have seen many many shows since the last one and have forgotten to create anything about them. How irritating. Perhaps from now on I might remember, and even once of twice publish retrospectively...just in case the mood strikes anyone to read it :)