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Day 7 in the Big Harrogate Theatre

by Tim Stedman

Moving through Act 2 today.  The second half of panto often contains more of the drama both in story and design.  But vast changes in sets between scenes invariably mean front cloth scenes to hide the stage management and crews ferocious battle with getting the set changed and dressed before that front cloth flies out.

So today’s challenge was the front cloth scene.  A narrow strip of stage available and 7 actors crammed on it.  Chorus line acting can be very dull to the audience, because with little space nobody can move and the directors problem is a washing line of static thesps.

Panto is, however, one of the few styles where this apparent challenge can be a joy.  Synchronised hands, mass shuffles across the stage, even breaking the fourth wall convention and asking fellow actors for room to deliver that killer line to the face of the actor at the other end.  As a director from my past once said “…don’t apologise for a deficiency, relish its use.”

Today we played and failed and played.

Day 6 in the Big Harrogate Theatre.

By Tim Stedman

Returning after the weekend it was straight into interviews for me. One for a newspaper, another for Stray FM and some voiceovers for the Christmas Lights Switch On as ‘Wishee’. Not being terribly good at interviews I focused on damage limitation but soon became distracted by the sound of my own voice – wouldn’t take a Parkinson to turn me over.

In the afternoon we did a stagger of Act 1. This mixed blessing allows you to wallow in the false security that you’ve “done half the play” whilst drowning in the knowledge of how poorly you know it. Liz and Tom were very good. Grounded, off book and certain of the decisions they’d taken. Jimmy and Gordon too looked comfortable and content with where they were. I was like a rabbit in a set of headlights – should I use the script and feel bad for needing it or plunge headlong into a faltering fight with my memory? My indecision led me to try both. I set myself a reasonably low target and then failed to meet my own expectations.

But today wasn’t a test regarding line learning. It’s about sewing the seeds of characterization, the growth of relationships between characters, of humour, drama and most importantly the seeds of a good story. Knowing your lines is very important. And so is knowing why you’re saying them and what purpose they serve. Sorry there was no blog on Day 5 – I was learning my lines!

Day 4 in the Big Harrogate Theatre rehearsal.

By Tim Stedman

Today we broke the back of Act 1 by rehearsing quite late into the evening.  A long day after a morning of singing eventually got us to the ‘slosh or slap’ routine.

I had scenes with Aladdin and then Widow Twankey joined, then the villain Abanazar. Finally we did a front cloth scene with all of us and the Emperor, Policeman and attendants.

Most actors want lots of lines; as inveterate show offs lines mean the focus of the audience is on you and therefore you are important.  In most pantomimes my character has huge importance at the start with scene setting, communicating plot and as a warm up but fades with the arrival of the dame and lovers and most importantly story.

With that see saw of importance the natural reflex as an actor is to fight such a demise.  I’ve always been happy to shed lines in my opening swathes of monologue.  Be funny, fast or get off!  Pace, a huge concern for a director, often dictates we need cuts.  But towards the end of today I was stood with 6 actors all who had masses to say whilst I had to listen on the end of the chorus line.

Beside myself for a titbit of spotlight I was suggesting ideas, disagreeing over blocking, trying to be part of the creative spotlight.  I even brought on a chair to sit on so the director would realize how little I was involved.  All in jest and good humour but a message nonetheless.  With a Paddington bear stare from the director I hastily returned to standing.

And then bizarrely a bit of training kicked in.  I just listened.  And then I listened as my character would listen.  And from nowhere on a head turn mirrored by Widow Twankey, as we glanced at each other, the DSM (deputy stage manager) laughed at Gordon and I listening.

DSMs are normal people who rarely wish to be on the stage or show off.  They’re the nearest gauge we have to an audience much better than fellow actors or even the director.

Back in the scene I was now listening.  Supporting the others and telling the story.  The story is King, Stedman.  The story is King.

Day three in the Big Harrogate Theatre House

By Tim Stedman

Spent the morning dividing up the singing.  Who sings what, where and when.  The ladies of the company sound amazing singing their number together.  James (Emperor) and Gordon (Widow Twankey) also have a potential showstopper with their duet masterfully arranged by Nick Lacey, our Musical Director.

In the afternoon we sat about paying due homage to this classical drama with more rehearsal.  Wishee Washee’s relationship with Aladdin and Widow Twankey is going to be one of the keys to the way he comes across and indeed the whole family.  It might be as read but audiences, if they don’t see it at least feel – even in the midst of a tirade – whether we still dote on each other.  Having working with Lara before that brother/sister rivalry and banter is huge and creates (I hope) a natural chemistry as brothers on stage.

First rehearsal with Gordon (Widow Twankey) went well.  He’s full of energy, confidence and generosity.  We made fast choices and fell headlong into a double act.  At this stage whether it is the right double act doesn’t matter.  What is wonderful is energy and creativeness and he has bags of it.