We’re up! Everybody has a smile back on their face. Wardrobe, sound, lights, stage management have had a tough production week and looked tired and relieved. Front of house departments listened out for feedback as the audience departed and discovered many booking for next year.
It was great to run it in front of an audience but it is work in progress. Exasperated with my own ineptitude over jokes, plots, lines I should cut, timings, pace, energy and pauses. From entrances to exits, lines that are feed or punch, I felt misled over missed opportunities, making obvious choices rather than dangerous and braver decisions. In my head I felt so much frustration for things to be different.
And so I emerged from the dressing room after the performance into the bar and this party atmosphere. My parents had driven up from the south; there were kids excitedly collecting autographs and their parents thanking us all for a wonderful evening; friends of the cast and crew saying, “How is it always so good?!” Even theatre staff: “I was crying with laughter”, “…we loved it…” etc.
So what do I know? I thought. Maybe I’m wrong. 10 years in Harrogate pantomime, what experience have I gleaned? But after a pint or two of orange juice and watching everybody’s joy and happiness and a phone call to the wife – I realised I’m right, I just care! It’s a truly traditional pantomime – we don’t do blue, we don’t offend. If you’re 4 or 94 you will both laugh and share the experience that is live and fascinating theatre. And I love it.
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!!!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.