Tag Archives: pantomime

Day 18 in the big Harrogate Theatre

By Tim Stedman

How do you learn your lines? The most commonly asked question for an actor after – what kind of acting do you do? (for which read have you been on the telly) and have you been on the telly? (meaning have you been on the telly).

My answer has always been fear. For some money motivates; many write out their lines or record and replay while some are blessed with a photographic memory.  But for me nothing motivates more than mass public humiliation.  Opening night, entrance music, my cue – you skip down the rake of that stage, the lights dancing up your body as you briefly find focus on the 500 public, press and critics glaring: “entertain me”.  150 head lights smack me in the face and the music dies.  I’m blind, deaf… Tim speak! Say your line! You try to engage the correct muscles whilst fully aware that others are busy letting go and then as if from nowhere…

So we’re nervous. But it’ll be alright on the… … on the… … …PROMPT!!!


Day 17 in the Big Harrogate Theatre

By Tim Stedman

Technical rehearsals started off pretty slowly and then ground to a halt.  Though dull for the actor it’s a great time to play and consolidate.  Whilst technical crew simultaneously flying in a cloth, moving set and scenery resetting a prop and assisting a quick change – I’ve discovered the genius of knocking my knees together.  How the crew must quake in awe of my creativity.

However I’m working with some talent.  As we wait to do the scene again and again I’ve time to listen to Gordon (Dame Widow Twankey) and Jim (Emperor of China) as they name drop with the great, good and famous that they’ve worked with and for.

The ideas and stories that come spilling out trigger further ideas and moments most of which get discarded, logged for another day but one or two which maybe we can use.

I have few stories to compare and fewer names to drop.  But I can say after rehearsals I went to the local Chinese restaurant with a Dame and the Emperor of China.

Day 16 in the Big Harrogate Theatre

By Tim Stedman

Today we moved into the black box; the house; the theatre.  Suddenly we’re into Tech Week – with the stage, lights, sound, make-up, costumes, scenery, props… the list goes on.  All is alien and nothing feels how you expected.  So with a step up in production levels comes a disproportionate fall in performance.

My hat won’t stay on, the prop isn’t large enough and my trainers don’t fit too well.  And so the diva emerges.  Everyone assumes you’re busy but you stand waiting to say your line amidst organised chaos.  If it’s not your scene you’re maybe sat in the dressing room, auditorium or just continue to practise.  People rush about with hammers and headphones stitching and sewing, moving lanterns on ladders, simply to help tell this story.

I invariably get bored having run the lines a couple of times.  I’m ready to “do.”  Why isn’t everybody else?  Let’s do this, that, the other and make it better, funnier and bigger.  But we “turns” get 3 weeks rehearsing; stage management, lights, sound, wardrobe and crew et al get 3 days to work it out and one days practice.

So before I’m smacked, stabbed and lamped with that hammer, needle and lamp: Stedman, shut it!

Day 14 in the Big Harrogate Theatre

By Tim Stedman

A very bitty day.  Notes and cuts from the director plus tightening sections of Act 1.  Lots of dance and fight practising – for which all clothing remained intact.

And costume fittings.  My fetching little number designed by the talented Philip Whitcombe provides me with the instant, unsubtle, friendly impact I need but led me to return to the rehearsal room and change my first entrance.

First impressions are important for all; for the idiot, comic (I guess ‘silly billy’ sums it up best) I essentially serve the interests of the children.  If they don’t like me from the start it’s so much harder to retain their interest and enthusiasm.  At 3 and 4 years old visuals and vocal tone are hugely important.

Lara (Aladdin), Liz (So Shy), Gordon (Widow Twankey) and I went to assist the switching on of the Harrogate lights extravaganza by singing a couple of songs.  Having done 9 pantos here before a few children recognised me and came up to say hello.  Not one of them called me Wishee, or Buttons (my character from last year) or Pickles, Muddles etc.  Every child called me Silly Billy.

So I guess Silly Billy does sum it up best.

Day 13 in the big Harrogate Theatre

We’ve done it! In front of a packed table we started at the beginning and fell to the end of the play.  Our freefall was no subtle, graceful or focused.  But we got to the final page.

I was especially pleased with myself for not needing the text.  Sure, there was the odd prompt or 12 but the relief walking home afterwards!

Tom and I have been working on our fight scene.  Though my role in the “fisticuffs” is limited, I ripped one pair of cargo trousers on Monday and a pair of boxers on Tuesday.  I was a little nervous about Wednesday.

Our dancing is improving.  The rehearsal room is quite tight so when all 8 of us are in a chorus line only 7 of use can be seen as a protruding wall juts out in front of the 8th cast member – me.  So I dance with my face 2 inches from an artexed wall.  This may only appear marginally more funny than my dancing, but my wall is becoming something of a partner and I shall miss her uncritical eye and her abrasive touch…

Day 12 in the Big Harrogate Theatre

As we continue to stumble through Act 2 fighting for word, move and motivation, it’s easy to forget the world is not revolving around me and my inability to master a dance step.

As I write this in the Green Room at 8am I can hear gentle Chinese music floating through the walls of the theatre.  Nick Lacy, our Musical Director, (GENIUS) sits creating amongst keyboards, cables and microphones like Doc out of Back to the Future.  Upstairs in wardrobe I can hear the footsteps of Nicola and her team furtively busying away at costumes like the borrowers surrounded by oversized frocks and hats.

Sonja and Lisa have been in since 7.30am cleaning up after audience and actor.  They chirpily hoover around me asking “how’s it going then?”

Our Deputy Stage Manager Katie arrives laden with biscuits, milk and good sense.  You can judge most things in rehearsals by the face of the DSM.  This facial barometer sits next to the director at the front throughout rehearsals clutching at the master script recording every word and move.  The communication hub – this lady knows if I said my line right, if I’m stood in the right place, if I got a laugh when I last said the line.  If Katie laughs it’s a good sign, if Katie smiles we actors are happy and if you can’t see her face… look a little lower and you’ll find it resting sobbing in the script.

DSMs like cuts in the script, don’t like props, enjoy pace to a scene and hates the actor who milks his pause… Like a demi god she controls time; disciplines my tea break.  To all she is the boss. I should know, I married one.

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!