Saturday, 12 November 2011

While you were on-stage...

The shows are going well - only two to go now, and I've been busy keeping morale up front of house (that's what Jane said I was doing when I commented that I wasn't doing much, so I shall stick to it).  So, just so that you know what's going on while the cast are busy doing their thing on stage, here are two photos, taken my on my not-very-high-quality iphone camera.

Firstly, the wardrobe team, now that *most* of the mayhem and panic is over.  There have been zips to fix and hems to alter, but this is what they have been reduced to:

In addition, there is lots of washing up to be done and the wearing of a DJ does not preclude one's ability to set to:
Sadly, my photographic abilities are nearly up to the standard of my phone's capabilities, so you can't really see that Brian is washing up behind the door as Caroline came in to view, but I'm sure you get the general idea.

Other than that - GREAT SHOW, GUYS (AND DOLLS)!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

It's the Final Countdown...

Before the final rehearsal starts - lots of sniffles and waiting for the urn to heat up; distribution of gloves, long and short; discovery of alternative spaces for changing; checking out what is locked and what isn't with the caretaker; acquisition of some teaspoons from the Sixth Form Centre, courtesy of the caretaker; setting out of biscuits to go with the tea once the urn has reached a suitable temperature.  So, important stuff, then.  Oh, and changing into costumes.  It's quite cold so the Hot Box girls, who are thinking of renaming themselves the Refrigerator Fillies, compromise as they practise one of their routines, as evidenced by this fetching combination (note the thick lumberjack-style shirt under the satin dress):

We're ready for beginners now and Ali points out that since there is no overture, the call for beginners must be observed. Tonight's rehearsal is going to be run straight through as though real, with no talking on stage, no entrances from anywhere other than where they'll be on Wednesday.  So, with only the pianist to conduct, Martin gets us all started.  The lights are dimmed and then raised as the crowds start to populate Runyonland.

Follow the Fold: I've never noticed before how much the bobby soxers have to giggle while Sister Sarah is attempting to address the public. Teenagers clearly haven't changed much!

The gamblers start to complain about the lack of places to gamble and there is some disorder in the entries but Lieutenant Brannigan gets a promotion and we laugh through it. This is our last chance to get used to the time available for changing between scenes. The Oldest Established Crap Game threatens to disestablish itself briefly but Martin starts to conduct from the seats and it rights itself.

Sky and Nathan chat outside Mike's News although some kind of time warp is in operation as Nathan is able to acquire a recent copy of the Bicester Advertiser. New York must be  an even more incredible city than we realised.

The scene in the mission does not get off to a good start as the band are unable to find their way through the curtains to the door. Ali's solution is to have the set slightly further forward which should make it easier. It causes a brief interruption to the flow of the action but they pick it up again once they've made it through their entrance.

Other than a reminder from Ali that the curtains need to be opened for the Hot Box Club scene, the next section goes pretty well. The stagehands are clearly coming to terms with what needs to be done and it's definitely getting faster. Ali, meanwhile, has taken to watching from the back of the seats.

After we have been thoroughly instructed in male behaviour by Benny and Nicely-Nicely, the mission gals and guy are back, though a little too early - Martin has some music for them so they are sent off with the instruction to always wait for some music. That's a risky instruction even if appropriate for this entry.

The rehearsal continues through to Havana, with a more complicated scene change that happens relatively smoothly if silently. The opening music has plenty of performers dancing, though Ali stops Martin to see if there have been some additional bars slotted in as we seem to be taking a long time to get to the action. The debate is resolved and the scene progresses.  The fight choreography proves particularly successful tomorrow though the chairs all remain upright - I'm sure all the bar fights I've ever seen (admittedly, fictional ones on tv and the big screen) have resulted in furniture lying at haphazard angles as well as bruised fists and egos. [In conversation with one of those involved in throwing punches, this was a conscious decision as falling chairs would be too noisy. So, like a real fight then. :-)]

Back in New York, Sky and Sarah have their big love song before they are discovered along with the gamblers and act one is over. Ali summons the whole cast now for notes. These vary from trouser colour to timing of tambourine beats.  Martin raises the issue of one of the wigs since he is in danger of wetting himself. When Ali suggests she might give someone else a comedy wig instead, Martin advises her that she might need a new conductor in that case as he will be changing his trousers.  There is also a request for the mission to arrive sooner when Sky is kissing Sister Sarah, as there is a longer kiss involved than he feels comfortable with at present.  Neil claims he led the troupe as quickly as possible but someone stage-whispers that they were waiting just off-stage to see how long Sky and Sarah could go for.  Raised eyebrows...

Act Two starts with the Hot Box girls dancing their showstopper, which distracts the eye from the uneven tinsel that was pointed out in the interval. But the rest of the act proceeds with minimal disruption, bar the occasional prompt. The cast are a bit shocked when, on the gamblers entering the mission, all the placards that have been propped up against the back wall slide noisily to the floor. Shock at such evil people daring to return, presumably.  There is also a little confusion over exactly which stage-props should be on stage when in the last two scenes, but the stage hands visibly make a mental note to correct it and we carry on!

The finale is reached and completed and Ali summons everyone for the second batch of notes while things are still fresh in people's minds.  Lastly, with the caretaker waiting in the wings to lock up after us all, a quick run through of the bows.

So, a final rehearsal later and are we ready for the show on Wednesday? Better buy a ticket and see.  And a huge thanks again to all the folks at The Cooper School for being so helpful and making sure that all our hard work hadn't been wasted - you have been phenomenal!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Dress Rehearsal with orchestra

The dress rehearsal with orchestra starts at 2.30 officially so when 'beginners please' is called at 2.35, we're clearly doing quite well. Most of the cast have been here since 1, and everyone is in starting costume and make-up, transformed in some cases into someone unrecognisable.  Ali was on a scaffold when I arrived, inserting branches into a palm tree.  One of the tarts is a little worried about the skimpiness of her outfit, but she looks really good. Sister Sarah, on the other hand, thinks she has the unsexiest skirt in the world, but since she is supposed to look unsexy, the rest of us think mission accomplished.  The urn is on, the orchestra is tuning up, microphones are attached where necessary and the chocolate biscuits have been opened. A word of warning from Ali about the flats - don't trip over them and if they start to fall, don't try and catch them, just get right out of the way.

And so Act One gets underway.  The orchestra has been cut to fourteen members plus keyboard player, although this is augmented by the Army members once we start to Follow the Fold, with several tambourine players. The trombone and trumpet on stage don't get used, though. Possibly a shame.

It doesn't take long before the distance from the changing area to the stage door is seen to be greater than previously realised, as Harry is called several times before the scene proceeds without him.  But at the next available opportunity, he is on stage with the rest of his partners in crime and the Oldest Established goes ahead full steam.

We get to the mission after some complicated scene changing and Sky and Sister Sarah have their first meeting. Ali has to get up briefly when she realises that the stagehands have forgotten to put the banners up, which normally wouldn't be a problem except Sky has to refer to one of them. But by the time Sky has to comment on it, the banner is in place. 

Picking up the starting note for I'll Know when the orchestra is playing is a little harder but after one brief false start, Sister Sarah is sorted and the song progresses. At the moment, the orchestra sounds a little loud compared to the singers, but sound levels are still being balanced.

Returning the stage from the mission to the Hot Box Club demonstrates the necessity for this kind of rehearsal, with the opportunity to rehearse the scene-change just as important as the opportunity to rehearse the singing, dancing and acting.

Even more eye-catching, however, is the rendition of Bushel and a Peck - the audience will enjoy the sight as well as the sound. This is followed by Adelaide's revelation to Nathan of the size of their family, although their partner in this scene is not Mimi, who hasn't made it to the wings in time, but Martin, apparently searching for his earring, which generates some laughter.  The balance between singer and orchestra seems better now though there is a gentle breeze rustling through the Hot Box backdrop, drawing attention to the step ladder that probably shouldn't be there.

The stage-hands have another detailed explanation of how to move the current bit of flat and I really hope they remember what they're doing because we're not going to be able to include the instructions during the performances!  I take the opportunity to check on the coffee 'backstage' (i.e. the classroom doubling as green room) and am somewhat concerned to see Kim in her next costume. There is nothing wrong per se with her costume but I have now seen here three times this afternoon and she has been wearing progressively less and less. What will she be wearing for the finale? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, back on the stage, the next street scene is underway, successfully completed and then we're off to Havana. We have palm trees! I was a little worried for them during the fight scene, but they remained upright and untrembled.   Back to New York for the repercussions of Sarah's absence and then it's the interval.

A break for coffee and the mystery of the step ladder is explained, as we continue to decorate the Hot Box Club. All too soon, however, the break is over and it's on with Act Two (time - 4.35pm).  The girls are on at the newly decorated Club to perform Take Back Your Mink, and I'm pleased/relieved to report that Kim is wearing more than when I last saw her (though I appreciate some people might be disappointed). Although as the song progresses... Hey ho!  This is a number where the wardrobe mistress comes into her own, as demonstrated when Ali wants to run the dance section of the song again.

I miss the next section of the show as I have some tedious tidying to do but the strange sight of the Hot Box girls rehearsing in scanty costumes in the middle of the foyer is a reminder that the show is still going on. I'm back in time for Sky to roll with Lady Luck. Halfway through his solo, it seems, the microphone is turned on although in this scene and the next the lighting levels still seem a little erratic. There's a sense of continuing experimentation but they settle eventually and we can see who's on stage.

After Adelaide and Nathan have done Sue Me again, we're back to the mission. It might be my imagination but I think the scene shifters are getting quicker at the job and needing less guidance from Paddy. This bodes well for Wednesday as they still have tomorrow for further practice.

Once the Boat has been suitably Rocked (or not), the scene has to change again for Broadway. This is slightly more time-consuming as there are props to be carried on and this is the first time they have set the stage for Broadway under pressure, but we're soon at the final scene. The two girls who had some trouble on Wednesday with their words have clearly spent some time checking them as they are far more fluent today.

It's gone 5.30 and the orchestra pack up to go - most of them have been here since about 10.  Ali asks people to walk through the finale steps and song, singing a capella (we're a choir, we can do that).  In the meantime, there's a rehearsal with the piano tomorrow and I have a pantomime rehearsal to go to tonight! Keep your fingers crossed for us all.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Same Show, New Venue!

Sunday's rehearsal at Cooper was a little chaotic, I am told, as we discovered our new performance space. The stage directions are changing to accommodate the different space but we are all aware that we have paying customers very imminently so the changes will be learned.  In case I haven't said it before, huge thanks to the folks at Cooper for being so accommodating at our time of potential disaster.

Tonight it's act 2 as Ali doesn't think it's been run right through. A few blocks have been set out in the wings to demonstrate areas like the mission, the raked seating has been rolled forward, and Martin has marked out where the pared-down orchestra will be sitting.  A slow start as some of those backstage seem unable to hear Ali's comments but after her plea for a megaphone, their deafness diminishes.

Amanda is surrounded by Hot Box Girls and some attendees at the Hot Box Club, and she  makes a start on Take Back Your Mink. Some of the dancers have high heels on while others merely pretend but they make a decent go of it. Some of their stage audience look mildly distracted but probably they'll act better with a full audience on the main seats.  At the end of the number, Ali reminds them that they will all need to practise the dancing in high heels.  Other notes are given to the 'audience' and we move on, as the Hot Box Girls leave carrying some rather exotic looking pink satin outfits!

Our next scene involves Sky and some alcohol. We are still perfecting American accents as well as learning the new stage entrance points but there's not much need for the prompt at least.  The scene leads into Adelaide's Lament but we don't get the whole of it and then we start a scene with the mission band, although there is some debate about where the last chair is to be left after the club scene has been dismantled.  The mission band march straight on and then straight off again, leaving Arvide and Sarah to perform their scene together and an opportunity for Neil to sing his solo.  Judging by where the chair has been moved to, Neil is now performing a mirror image of the scene as previously rehearsed but he shrugs it off anyway.  Round of applause!

On to the crap game. This is a slang name, not an adjective describing the performance.  A couple of reminders about the dance steps but most of them manage, including when the hint of 'Superman' is given. I really wish I'd been at more of the crap shooters' rehearsals...  There's something with hats too, but it's better seen than described, so I won't spoil it for you. Big Jule comes in now and there are plenty of laughs as he outmanoeuvres Nathan but he's dropped the deep gravelly voice I heard him use in a read through a few months ago - presumably the rumble would have wrecked the sound system.  We get to the fight with a few prompts and a reminder about what happens when one is punched in the solar plexus. That section is replayed and Big Jule clutches his stomach suitably.

We move on through the lines until the beginning of Luck Be A Lady - one of the crap shooters asks if they should all still be looking at the ground. Yes, say Ali, because then she can't see their eyes move.  They run through the whole song and then Ali asks if Martin wants to do the chorus section of it again. As if there was any question!  They run through it again, this time with occasional interruptions for Martin to remind them of certain harmonies.  It's run again without interruption now and the chaps are repositioned to create a better tableau effect.

There's another scene between Adelaide and Nathan next, the one that was done during the auditions, so even though I've not seen it since then, it still feels familiar if done without books (except when Nathan has to borrow one because he left his copy of Adelaide's mother's letter somewhere) this time. It still makes me laugh.

Next we're off to the mission hall and although Ali thinks we need to imagine the benches, some have been miraculously acquired, so the stage is set up the way we need to have it for the scene and then the cast exit, ready to enter during a 'blackout', at which point they have to look as though they've been there for hours.   We run through the scene which leads to the song Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat. It's interesting for a change to see them from the front as opposed to my usual position and once they've all perfected it, they'll look really good.  The next few lines need a little revision as several folks don't seem to be entirely certain of what they have to say, but there's nothing like having to take a prompt in front of the rest of the chorus for focussing your line-learning.

Ali is a little concerned that we will run out of time to finish the act, but Trevor takes a moment to reassure her that she has much longer than she thinks. Perhaps we will finish act two after all!

The scene with Adelaide and Sarah hasn't been blocked yet so there is some discussion before the second half of the scene is performed. Sky has no difficult posing as a young man holding a baby, but Nathan's pose is more reminiscent of a candelabra. However, the blocking and the lyrics of Marry the Man Today are a little patchy.  Ali makes more notes and they do the song again. The second time is an improvement but they'll still need to work on it.  Martin adds some lyrics that may be prompts but actually sound as though it's a trio rather than a duet. The ladies offer to do the last section again but Martin is adamant that it can wait until tomorrow.

Changing the entrances etc for the final Broadway scene should be simple once the newspapers have been moved and the cast will need to be in their Runyonland costumes. While Ali is talking to the cast about knowing where they need to be and get to, the lights come up, which garners a collective ooh.  One of the lighting guys has been here this evening, taking notes and he's just tried out a setting. 

The music starts and the cast reenacts Runyonland even though the music is slightly different from the opening number.  This causes a couple of problems but these are swiftly overcome. After a few placements, Ali asks if there is anyone who doesn't know what they're doing. The cast is surprisingly silent!  Ali asks to run it again now, complete with wits.

There are some wits in evidence for the final dialogue, including a Vulcan death grip and laughter at the proper name of Sarah's beloved. But they quickly pass and we're onto the finale, which gets a well done from Ali. Though she then adds an -ish. A couple of notes from Ali and then from the top again. I think she means the top of this number, though given its initial similarity to the opening number, it may take me some time to notice. This time it gets a hooray from Ali. Once more to ensure that people are raising the correct arm at the correct time, and then Ali wants to work with the crap dancers. Amanda has a quick word about hairstyles and Steve mentions headshot photos for the front of house. Ali also wants to call an extra rehearsal on Saturday at 4 for a walkthrough with the scenery in situ,  which it seems quite a lot of people will be able to manage.

Costume call at 6.30 tomorrow with a complete run through starting at 8, at St. Mary's as usual, bearing in mind that other people are using the school hall at 6.30 so we will need to be quiet.

...much like Ali wishes people would be now, as she tries to work on the crap dancers' routine, so those who have finished are asked to leave the hall and talk elsewhere.  Ali works with the small group on stage, while a handful of people round up the stage blocks and help to dismantle the raked seating.  All right, we don't dismantle it, we flatten the chairs and take out the handrail, before David is able to press the button that miraculously deflates the entire thing.  But it was still cool. :-)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Don't panic!!

   I suppose it was inevitable that the moment I went on holiday, all hell broke loose.  Nobody volunteered to take notes for me at the rehearsals, but given the circumstances, I don't blame them.
   Essentially, just to keep readers almost up to date if not entirely in the loop, our venue has had to change.  Quite apart from the various meetings and thousands of emails flying through the virtualsphere (which have completely blown my monthly cap of downloaded material, by the way!), even once we had confirmed the new venue of Cooper School in Bicester, the amount of *additional* work necessary has been phenomenal.  Since I'm still away but taking advantage of some free internet access to update this (my phone won't let me anymore!), I don't know all the details of who has had to do what and what is still to be done, but the staging, the choreography, the seating, the front of house, the ticketing - all this and more has had to be re-examined.  So if ever anyone tells you that doing an amateur production is easier than a professional one, tell them to think again.  I know there are some very exhausted people out there already and we haven't started performances yet!
   I hope to be back on Wednesday for the rehearsal, so will fill in any gaps after that, but in the meantime, if anyone can lend some of the necessary props or help with painting the set, for however short a time, I gather it would be very much appreciated!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Topping and Tailing

This evening's rehearsal began with a serious buzz, partly because we were a little late starting.  The stage area was defined, the cast gathered, an invitation was issued from Martin for principals not needed to grab him in the staff room (apparently to rehearse their solo songs) and the time finally has come to start setting the finale.  Groups are summoned - salvation army band, bobby soxers are placed. Then it's back to Runyonland characters to be placed, since so many people multitask. Hotbox girls have a special place next, then Ali starts to place individual people.

We're now going to learn the dance routine to the words of the finale song, which Ali is certain we have sung before.  First the right arm is out, then the left arm raised and lowered - I hope someone is taking better notes than this! There's turning and bending of knees and all sorts, in unison. En masse. In some ways, if everyone's doing the same thing, it's easier, because chances are each bit will be remembered by *someone* - the difficulty is working out who has correctly remembered which bit.  We go through the first verse a couple of times and Ali is quite pleased with it so far. Then the second half of the song, and some of the actions parallel the words, so that should make it simpler for the recall process.  We get to the end of that section successfully too, and now Ali tells the main body of the cast to rehearse those steps quietly while she goes through the routine she has in mind for some Salvationists.  There is plenty of rehearsing but unfortunately everyone is on the same bit and therefore singing the same bit which distracts Ali from the bit she's trying to show her group. Complicated stuff.  However, undaunted, Ali completes that bit and then talks to the hotbox girls. Now it's back to the top for everyone, so that Ali can see if any of it needs to be refined.

The piano joins in and we sing it through, complete with steps. Most of the refinement Ali needs to apply is a reminder on exactly how to do certain steps.  Then it's through a couple more times as Ali checks the way the different routines are fitting together.

Meanwhile, I go in search of Gillian, our costume lady, with her cup of tea.  I locate her in a classroom, surrounded by assorted colourful costumes, some for Havana, some for New York. Gillian's background is in design and fashion, whereas Victor's background is in tailoring, so together they make an excellent team - Gillian picks out appropriate items from her stock and Victor alters them to fit. She is 'borrowing' individuals on and off throughout the evening for fittings.

Back to the hall. Before we forget, we practise Runyonland again, topping and tailing the show in one evening.  It works well, leading straight into the Tinhorn Fugue (which as you all know is probably my favourite song. I may have mentioned this before).

Hotbox girls are now called for costume fittings, and the chaps sing through the oldest established, again without having to pause for correction. Then it's straight to Havana, which fouls the plans of a few people who had thought they might have time for a cup of tea. Unfortunately this results in a very hot cup of tea being spilled over someone so the tables in Havana are not as full as previously while basic first aid is administered in the ladies.  The waiter is looking good, however, brandishing a cymbal as his tray, but without attempting to balance drinks on it. (Probably just as well given the record this evening with drinks.) Ali takes a moment to talk through the particulars with a couple of the cast and then we go through it again.  This time we include the dialogue between Sister Sarah and Sky, interposed with dancers.

The ladies are about to be dismissed until Ali suddenly remembers that we haven't done Sit Down yet this week, so the invitation to go is hastily withdrawn and the chairs are set out for the next song.  Most of the moves from last week have been remembered although some of the swaying is a little ragged.  But at least Luke is able to stand at the front and remind people when the various moves happen. Ali tells us that we need to learn the moves, however, so she goes through the different waves and stands again. Apparently Luke won't always be there!

Having spelled out the moves so clearly, Ali optimistically starts the song from the beginning again.  It mostly works so the ladies are released - joy!

Back to the oldest established. Ali would like to rehearse with the chaps next Tuesday so please check your diaries. The numbers have changed since the last proper rehearsal so there is some deliberation about the on-stage groupings but Ali makes a decision and they proceed. The dance routine doesn't work properly since it hasn't been rehearsed enough unfortunately so Ali simplifies it.  Walking will still happen and hats will still be raised, however.  Back to the beginning and after a brief discussion about the cue that needs to be given, they start with the recitative section. Ali wonders if the new move is too frantic but the verdict seems to be that it's okay.

Now it's on to the gambling circles and there are a couple of changes for people to be aware of. Also, Ali would like the gamblers to find out on the Internet how to play craps. I really hope they don't just google 'crap' because that may not give them the answer they need.

Most of the chaps are now dismissed but Ali keeps a few to rehearse dance steps. It would be so much easier if they could make the rehearsal on Tuesday, which will be in a proper studio with mirrors and everything!  There's a certain amount of punching going on, rehearsed to a count at the moment. Music will be added at a later date....  Meeting in the foyer of the sports centre on Tuesday, rather a different use for it.