Friday, December 16, 2011

Missed the panto? (Oh, no, you didn't!)

I know how gutted everyone unable to see the panto must be. So, it's thrilling to be able to tell you there is still time to catch my astonishing performance. (Yes, I can type with my tongue wedged firmly in my cheek.)

Until the end of December, the panto is available for anyone to download in two parts.

The first part includes Miss Mara's Gabriola children's dance troupe doing their opening number and act one, during which I appear not once, but twice!

The second part includes act two and a slide show. I do make an appearance in the final scene of act two: one word of dialogue and a sight gag. Blink and you could miss it. Keep an eye on the left side of the stage.

I know everyone's probably far too busy to sit down and watch a two hour show, but do (if you're remotely interested) take a few minutes to download now in order to watch later. As noted, the files will be taken down after the end of December, so, like my appearance in act two, if you blink you'll miss it.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Ho, ho, ho.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Panto in pics

Well, for those who weren’t there (which is pretty much everyone) and those who were and are now eager for of how much fun it was, here are some pics.

Widow Wobbly discovers a giant talking rat in her house.

General Scurvy trumpets the arrival of the Rat King.

The Rat King tries to remember why he’s there.

The Rat King is not very pleased with the day’s scraps.

Muddles and the Mayor work on plans for the village festival.

Widow Wobbly tells the Mayor her brilliant idea.

That’s Amore (or what was left of it after the cuts).

Muddles recruits the Pied Piper to rid the village of the rats. (The evil Piper comes up with his own evil plan.)

Oh, no! The rats are captured and the Piper is now the Mayor. (Oh, no he isn’t. Oh, yes, he is!)

Rattles and Daisy to the rescue.

The Piper about to be foiled.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. (Yes, that’s really what we’re all singing.)

Taking a bow.

Final cast photo for 2011.

See you next year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The show must go on

Well, between visitors and wind storms and power failures and cancelled ferries – not to mention four performances – it hasn’t been possible to write an update before now.

The dress rehearsal went well, although there was disappointing news for That’s Amore fans. Despite a frenzy of backstage lobbying (well, I’m not sure quite how frenzied it was), the song was not reinstated in its entirety. Oh, well.

No one has told me there is to be an invited audience for the dress rehearsal. Oh, my. This is the real deal. We are not allowed to walk through the front of house, but must enter through the stage door and wait in the green room until our various entrances. The room, which is not actually green, is, like the stage, quite small, barely large enough to contain one chair each for the actors. (Short pause while curiosity compels me to go on-line to find out why this area of theatres is called the green room. Turns out no one knows, although there are some interesting theories.)

All the actors – except Herb and I – are intently consulting their scripts. Surely they have memorised their lines by now? (Oh, ha, ha. If I had more than 20 words to remember, I’m sure I would be doing the same.)

Miss Mara’s children’s dance troupe, in their cute pink rat tutus, do their number to start the proceedings, then it’s time for Sonia’s Widow Wobbly to start wiggling and wobbling us into Act 1, Scene 1.

The invited audience is not large, but big enough for us to be able to hear their laughter from backstage. It is, one must confess, quite gratifying. I am particularly pleased that the one joke I have added to the script gets the laugh I was sure it would. (In the final scene, as originally scripted, the mayor invites the rats to come and live with everyone else in the village, promising to build the rats their own houses. Given how contentious – dare I say inflammatory? – any proposed new development on the island is, I pointed out that some concession should be made to getting permission in the Official Community Plan.)

The play ends, we take our bows, make our exits. Downstairs, various members of the invited audience arrive to tell us all how fabulous we are. And it’s true: we are fabulous.

A night off between dress rehearsal and opening night on Friday. I’m looking forward to spending it with my fans.

Curses. The second major wind storm in a fortnight (last one blew half a tree onto the house and knocked the power out for a day and a half) strikes on Thursday morning, delaying the arrival of two thirds of my fan base. Darryl manages to catch the last ferry leaving Sointula that morning, so does arrive Thursday evening, as planned. Morag and Catherine, coming from Vancouver do not do so well. After three and a half hours in the ferry line up at Horseshoe Bay, as sailing after sailing is cancelled and it becomes clear that, even if ferries start to leave, they’re too far back to get on one, give in to hunger and calls of nature, abandoning the queue. But they’re troupers. Back at Horseshoe Bay early the next morning, they arrive in time for lunch on Friday. Hurrah! My fans have gathered.

I leave them with the dinner I had planned to have with them all the night before and head off for the community hall for 5pm to get made up and ready.

No major hitches during the first act, although, meeting Catherine, Morag and Darryl for a fag during intermission, they tell me the prompter has been required a couple of times. They are loving the show. Morag, who hadn’t been to a pantomime since she was a child, is remembering quite how much fun they are.

All three mention how good Ginny is as General Scurvy and how good BJ is as the Rat King. I’ve known since Ginny turned up for the first rehearsal with her Scurvy voice in place that she was going to be a scene stealer. It’s not so much BJ’s Rat King voice that gets her laughs (although it’s good), it is the extraordinarily funny expressions on her face.

It comes as no surprise, as we pair off for our bows, that by far the biggest round of applause is for Scurvy and the Rat King.

Under the spell of the Pied Piper, l-r: Rat 1, Pied Piper, Rat King, Scurvy (I, alas, have been cropped out of this photo, which appeared in the local paper today)

Back home after opening night, I guzzle wine as Darryl, Morag and Catherine all tell me how wonderful I was – far superior, they claim (bless ’em), to Rat 1. Somehow, in the midst of all this adulation, I remember before I go to bed to throw together the dough for Jane’s amazing one-minute bread.

Saturday morning: We’ve got the fire going, made our coffees and tea, heated the oven. In goes the bread, off goes the power. Bollocks.

I ring Ginny. Does the Community Hall have a generator, I ask. She’s pretty sure it does. One way or another, the show must go on.

So much for the lovely breakfast I was planning to make. (So much for the loaf of bread I’ve just put in the oven.) Off we go to Robert’s, the only eatery on the island with a generator. No surprise that there’s a queue. We eventually get a table, order our bacon and eggs, which arrives with enough time for me to eat it before I have to head to the theatre to prepare for the Saturday matinee.

Turns out the hall does not have a generator, but it does have the capacity to plug generators in. At least three will be required to run the lights, sound and the pump for the toilets. The call has gone out and people are bringing their generators from home. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough light in the make-up/changing room to do the make-up, so we are sitting in chairs in front of the big picture window on the landing.

Doris, the assistant stage manager, is at home, ringing every business on the island, encouraging them to get their tellers to let customers know the show will indeed be going on.

The first generator is successfully set up. We have stage lighting. Hurrah! They’re still trying to figure out how to attach the second generator to the pump when the power comes back on. Salvation!

When Mike and I used to go to the pantos, we always went to one of the evening performances. Our neighbours, Sally and Jamie, always went to the matinees, because, they said, it was more fun being there when the audience was full of kids. Performing a panto in front of an audience which is nearly half children certainly is a different experience.

For one thing, the show runs longer, as every “Oh, no I didn’t”/“Oh, yes you did” exchange has to be repeated several extra times to satisfy the crowd.

One young lad at the Saturday matinee is particularly – and occasionally unhelpfully – vocal. When Rattles appeals to the audience to advise him on how he can thwart the Piper’s evil plan, this young gentleman yells at the top of his voice: “Kick him in the – ” (backstage we suck in our breath, waiting to hear how he will finish this sentence) “– face!” Phew! Not “balls” or “nuts” or any of the other alarming possibilities which have flitted through our minds.

There isn’t all that much time between the end of the matinee and the evening performance on Saturday – particularly if make-up is required. So it is agreed that we will all keep our make-up on between performances. I come home in full Rat mode to check in with Darryl and Morag and wolf down a sandwich. They decide, after I tell them about the energy the kids give the matinee performance, that next year they want to see the panto in the afternoon. Are they seriously coming back for more? Oh, yes they are. Excellent.

No dinner for me for the second night in a row, so I top up the sandwich with some crudités and some of Sue Whitton’s excellent curried mayonnaise dip. (Her Thai lime and tarragon dip ain’t bad either.) Waiting to go on stage later, I realise I’ve got a piece of carrot wedged in my throat. Gah. Sip water, suck mints, go outside to try coughing it up. (Have a fag while I’m out there. What the hell.) Nothing during the first act will dislodge it, but I manage to deliver my five lines without choking. (What a pro.) During the intermission, a small bowl of Nancy Nevison’s most excellent espresso ice cream does the trick. Medicinal ice cream. Who’d’ve thought?

At the end of the Saturday evening performance, something extraordinary happens. As I am making my exit down the side of the audience, a couple flag me down. The woman says, “We just loved you! You had so much attitude.” Gobsmacked, I thank them profusely.

It’s one thing to have your friends tell you how great you were. (To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?) It’s quite another to be flagged down with compliments by complete strangers. Gosh.

Home again to guzzle more wine and catch up with my company. Catherine has texted Morag from the ferry en route back to Vancouver to say that she’s just seen a super pod of at least 30 orcas frolicking in the water. (Good for her, but damn! Why am I never around when the orcas are?) Darryl and Morag have been out for what turned out to be a quite romantic and most excellent dinner at Woodfire, the best restaurant on Gabriola (where I had to take my friend Krys when the power went out on her last night here during the last bloody windstorm).

Just as we’re getting ready to go out for a last fag before retiring, the lights go out again. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. Find the lamps, find the torches, light the candles. Brush teeth with bottled water, wish I’d had shower when I first got home, go to bed. Wake up at ten to eight. The lights are back on. Hurrah!

Make breakfast, bid Darryl and Morag a fond farewell, head off for the final matinee performance.

There is to be a cast and crew party after the show. Apparently this is always hosted by Doris. As I am changing into my costume, I ask Sarah if she or Ginny could come in my car to show me the way. Sarah is surprised that I don’t know. I tell her this is my first performance, so I haven’t been to any of the previous parties. She asks, somewhat incredulous, if this is the first time I have ever been on stage. Well, no, I say, but the last time was when I was in school – more decades ago than I care to remember. “Oh,” she says, “I never would have guessed. You look so comfortable on stage.” I laugh. “That’s because I only have 20 words to remember,” I say. (Is it even 20 words? I’m not sure.) “No,” she says, “it’s not that. You’ve really developed your character.” Blimey.

The kids at the Sunday matinee crack us up. I should have written down their best comments at the time, because now, of course, I can only remember one. When Muddles consults the audience about how the mayor can get rid of the rats in the village and reports back that the boys and girls have suggested the Pied Piper, one little boy yells out: “He doesn’t make pies, you know.”

Later, it is Vivian/the Pied Piper who cracks me up. After putting all the rats into a trance, she begins her speech about her evil plans. The kids are booing and hissing so loudly she can’t be heard. An actual professional performer, she responds by leaning over to look into the front row and saying, “Shush, you lot – or else! You haven’t heard my entire plan yet. It gets much worse.” The eyes of the kids widen as they clap their hands over their mouths. Perfect. Just wish I wasn’t supposed to be in a trance so I could laugh out loud.

Oh, the glamour of it all. Our final bow, the cast photo, then it’s time to start the hoover and break up the set.

Well, at least we still have the party. Joyce and her husband Cecil, who live d the road, offer to give me a lift, which means I can actually have a couple of drinks. Hurrah.

The invitation suggests that, in addition to booze and nibbles, we bring a poem, skit or song to share. I’m not sure that even under the best of circumstances (whatever those might be) that I would have been ready to perform for my colleagues, but, what with visitors and power failures, I’ve come with nothing. (Belatedly occurs to me that I could have got Herb to sing my rewritten version of the Mercedes-Benz song with me. Oh, well.)

Unlike me, others come prepared.

Jean, appropriately, does a short reading from Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin poem.

The costumers do a funny song about how useful GIRO (Gabriola Island Recycling Organization) is for finding fabric, shoes and everything else they need.

Nancy has rewritten ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas to include characters from the panto.

Joyce does a funny piece of stand up about the things no one tells you the assistant stage manager is supposed to do.

Sonia read an excerpt from Widow Wobbly’s uncensored biography.

The props people have another funny song.

Now I’m really kicking myself for not bring the Mercedes-Benz lyrics. Even if Herb wouldn’t do it with me, I could sing it on my own. Oh, well.

Performances over, we gather around the dining room table, laden with everyone’s nibbles. (Jean’s spinach dip is a particular hit.) Several people ask me if I will stay involved, kindly saying I have real promise. I thank them and say I will certainly keep going, as I’ve enjoyed it so much. Michael and I chat about the evening of the auditions. I tell him (possibly not for the first time) that it was obvious he would be cast as Rattles, given that he was the only actor of the right age and gender at the auditions. (Ditto Nadine as Daisy.) He astonishes me by saying of my own Rat 1 audition that he’d thought at the time that anyone who could get so much out of such a small role clearly had a lot of talent. Really? I don’t actually know what to say. (And those who know me know that doesn’t happen often.)

I tell him I think 20 words is probably my limit. I’m not sure I could manage to memorise more than that. He further astonishes me by telling me that he went from having two lines in last year’s panto to a lead in this year’s. Really? Okay, he’s at least two decades younger than me and has lost far fewer brain cells to booze and drugs. But what’s this Ginny’s saying? She went from a small role in the 2009 panto to the starring role in last year’s. And she’s my age. Hmm.

My first reaction when I heard about the casting call back in September was: Oh, the panto. Mike and I loved going to the panto. I’m not sure I can face going on my own this year. And then I thought: Or I could go to the audition, maybe get a small role, have some fun, meet some people and get out of the house. Well, I did have a lot of fun and I did meet some wonderful new people. Yeah, I’m hooked. I’m up for the next panto.

But what am I going to do with myself until then?

I check my e-mail this morning. What’s this? Nicola Cavendish has had a cancellation in her very busy schedule and has offered to do an acting workshop for Gabriola Players next Sunday.

I’m in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Know thy place

The final tech rehearsal. This time the fart is timed perfectly. The music cues, on the other hand, still need some work.

Herb, Ginny and I, as agreed, arrive early to practice a bit more what I laughingly refer to as choreography. Jean, who plays the mayor, wanders over and says she thinks it’s a real shame our song was so brutally curtailed. It is, she says, one of the best things in the show. We, of course, agree completely, but are far too humble to say so. (It is, after all, the only “big” moment Dino/Herb and Sammy/I have in the show.)

At the break between rehearsing act one and act two, Ginny excitedly informs me that there is some sort of back room (back stage?) lobbying of the director going on to get our song reinstated in its entirety. Turns out we really aren’t the only ones who feel cheated. Watch this space.

We rehearse act two, including our bows and exit. The first bow is taken by the four villagers (who have absolutely no lines), the second bow by Herb and me, the third by the mayor and Muddle, the fourth by Scurvy and the Rat King, the fifth by Widow Wobbly and Pickle, the sixth by the Piper, the final by Rattles and Daisy.

The director (noticing for the first time how ridiculously small the stage is?) feels something must be done about how crowded it looks by the end of the bows. Her solution? The villagers, Herb and I must take a step back after our bows to allow the rest of the cast to spread out in front of us. Well, that’s me put in my place. (If I wasn't really genuinely humble earlier, I am now.)

Full dress and make-up rehearsal tonight. (And last chance for reinstatement of full rendition of That’s Amore.)

Tomorrow my “fans” (ha, ha) arrive to attend Friday’s opening night.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Timing the fart

Our first rehearsal at the community hall where the panto will be performed. Ginny comments that if she ever wins the lottery she will give them the money to build a proper stage. I understand what she means: the stage is tiny.

For the first time I truly appreciate the sets which were designed for previous pantos.

Last year’s production of Scrooge.

Somehow they managed to give the sense of a full-sized stage. It ain’t.

The space for the stage had been marked out with tape on the floor of the rehearsal room, so I suppose I should have had some sense that there would not be much room to move around, but tape isn’t walls. Now there are walls. Yikes. It’s a tight squeeze.

Tonight is a technical rehearsal: lights, sound effects and music. The Rat King’s fart comes in a bit late, which is very funny for the cast watching, but needs to be corrected before Friday.

Man, the lights are bright. Nancy comments on this when she does her entrance as Muddles. Despite this warning, I’m wishing I had sunglasses on when I walk onstage.

Disaster struck last week after the full play rehearsal ran well over: our song has been cut. Not completely, but drastically shortened. Scurvy, Rat 1 and I all agree this is a shame. It is actually one of the best songs in the show. Better, we feel, to keep it in its entirety and cut something else. (Let’s be honest: What exactly does Daisy’s rendering of “I Can See Clearly Now” bring to the party? Not much. Meow.)

Not only is it disappointing, but the shorter version has thrown off our fancy footwork. We do not need the director to tell us we need to go back to the drawing board – although she does. More work required last minute. How will we remember new steps? (Well, I say “steps”, but, as previously noted, it’s more swaying with a little shuffle.)

We agree amongst ourselves to come in a bit early tomorrow to practice. Somehow, I tell myself, it will be all right on the night. (And if it’s not, I’m sure Darryl and Morag will let me know.)

Two more rehearsals to go, including full dress and make-up rehearsal. Then a night off.

Then the show must go on.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dressed for success

A couple of missed rehearsals as I take my stinking cold to Vancouver for birthday celebrations. Not quite the same as hopping on the Eurostar for a weekend in Paris (as I used to do when I lived in London), but staying with my friend Krys (in town for a conference) at the lovely and surprisingly continental Sylvia Hotel is a very close second.

An excellent exhibition and a couple of films add to the feeling of getting away to the big city.

But the best thing is, of course, spending time with lovely friends.

Back on Gabriola, an e-mail informs me that we will be rehearsing all of act one in costume.

Mine (sorry, no photo) is a trenchcoat, white shirt, bow tie and fedora, complete with rat ears. (Happily, the furry legs seem to have fallen by the wayside.) Certainly not the greatest challenge facing our excellent costume department.

They’ve gone to town on Sonia’s Widow Wobbly ensemble.

Michael’s not entirely sure why Rattles is wearing lederhosen, but, oddly enough, it works.

Herb and I may have escaped the furry legs, but Ginny’s General Scurvy gets ’em. Rather her than me.

And Jean’s Mayor Stevens is coming along nicely.

Did I mention that out of eight male roles all but two are actually being played by females? I’d say it was a deliberate piece of panto gender bending, but it truly is a case of needs must. For whatever reason, 90% of the Gabriola Players are women. (Makes finding plays a bit of a challenge.)

So, we’re all costumed up and the rehearsal begins. A considerable reduction since last week in the number of times people have said “Line” to the prompter, which speeds things up to slightly longer than we want act one to be. People need to pick up the pace a bit.

We await the director’s verdict. She wants to run through two of the scenes again.

Neither of the scenes involve the rats. Yes! Ginny, Herb and I exchange high fives. The rats continue to be perfect. (Well, more or perhaps less.)

Next rehearsal is all of act two, in all of which Herb and I share a one-word line. I think we can probably manage it.

Thursday we will be doing the full play.

And then we move to the actual venue for technical and dress rehearsals.

Oh, my god. It’s coming up fast.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What’s in a name?

Apologies for lack of updates recently. Facebook friends will know I have been smitten with the cold from hell. (After wondering for some days where the hell the chicken soup fairy is when you really need her, I discover she’s in Belgium, so no bloody use to me.) The cold drags on and on. It’s as much as I can do to haul myself to rehearsals (where I am semi-quarantined by other cast, fearful of catching my lurgy). Rest of the time spent under a quilt on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and rewatching The Wire. (Every cloud has a silver lining…) Lemsip with whisky helps, but nothing kills the cold.

So, let me see if my phlegm-soaked brain can summon up some panto highlights.

(Slight detour as the word phlegm coming so soon after a mention of Belgium reminds me of the excellent Monty Python Prejudice Game sketch.)


It is in the lead up to our first rehearsal of the panto’s long final scene when Herb and I finally find our shtick. We appear halfway through the scene and between us share one one-word line. In response to the Piper yelling “Rats!” when he realises we have escaped, we reply “What?” Not a lot to work with, and yet suddenly it becomes obvious to us: We’re the Rat Pack, right? So, of course our response should be a rat packish shrug and a somewhat insolent “What?”

The first run through we do our big shrug “What?” Big laugh. Well, reasonably big. Enough to let us know we’re on to something. How has it taken so long? Never mind channeling Del Boy or Arthur Daley. I am, of course, Dean Martin personified. Sorted.

Well, not quite. At the next rehearsal, Jean, who plays Mayor Stevens, asks if my character has a name. No, I tell her, Herb and I are simply Rat 1 and Rat 2. Oh, no, you aren’t, says Jean in true panto fashion. She insists we must have names and decides I will be Sammy and Herb will be Dino. Sammy? I want to be Dino. No, no, no, says Jean. Herb’s the tall one, I’m the short one, ergo he is Dino and I am Sammy. Well, I can’t fault her logic, so Sammy it is.

While we’re in the rehearsal room wowing them with the fancy footwork for our big number (well, okay, it’s more like semi-synchronised swaying), the make-up artists are busy in the back room. Having used me as the guinea rat, they are now taking on the challenge of using the basic formula to create variations. Although Daisy does have to look like a rat, she also has to look at least a little bit pretty.

These people may be amateurs, but they’re bloody good at what they do.

The next challenge is creating make up for BJ's doddery old Rat King. Again, bloody brilliant.

There are certain characters it is already clear will be scene stealers. Sonia's Widow Wobbly is quite endearing - and we haven't even seen her wobbly costume yet. Ginny's General Scurvy is also going to be a hit. And then there's BJ. The Rat King voice is good, but it's the facial expressions she comes up with which are truly hysterical. I don't know how far back the audience will be able to see these, but those who do will be howling with laughter.

Yes, it's all coming together nicely.

Or so I think until we have our first off-book rehearsal of act one. One of the most frequently uttered words is "Line", addressed to the prompter. So, not as off-book as we're supposed to be. Rather a lot of fluffing of lines, too. Oh, dear. Not to worry, says Ginny. There is apparently always one rehearsal during which everything goes wrong. It seems this is it. (How smug are Ginny, BJ, Herb and I when the only two scenes Jenny does not want to repeat are the ones we’re not in? Pretty bloody smug, truth be told.)

Three weeks to go. Yikes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Totally made up

A major role change for me tonight. Instead of playing Rat 2, I am to be Guinea Rat, the first of the rodents to be transformed into character by the Gabriola Players make-up artists.

An image of rat make-up has been found and downloaded from the internet. The challenge now is to figure out how to recreate the image onto an actor. (Oh, get me. An actor.)

Taking the lead is Maddie, who starts off whitening my face as the other five watch and take notes.

Then there’s adding the rat cheek definition.

Then comes the challenge of giving me a ratty red nose and turning my upper lip into rat teeth. Coming along nicely.

The make-up photo from which Maddie is working does not include whiskers, but Jenny, the director, is quite insistent that whiskers are required. Maddie draws them on.

This, it is agreed by all, is a disaster. The whiskers are drawing away from the lines defining my rat teeth. Time to bring Jenny in from the rehearsal for an opinion. One side whiskers, one side not. She can see the problem, but she still wants whiskers.

Maddie tries adding much smaller whiskers. Compromise wins the day. We’re done.

Oops. Turns out no one has brought any cold cream. How to remove the make-up? Not to worry, I say, I’ll do it at home.

Come home, surprised make-up does not frighten cat. Apply Body Shop face wash to face. Yikes. At least 90% of make-up is still on face. Wash it again. 75% of make-up still on. Wash face again. And again. And again. Fill wastebasket with cotton balls. Make-up eventually gone.

Note to self: Buy some cold cream.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Doing choreography

I’m not sure what it is I’m doing in the scene where Herb (Rat 1) and I are called upon to remove Rattles and Daisy from the Rat King’s presence, but it gets a laugh every time, so obviously I’m on to something. I don’t suppose I will know until I buy and watch the DVD. (Oh, yes, boys and girls, it turns out the panto is to be filmed. Mercifully copies will not be available on Amazon.)

It is, however, clear at the rehearsal – as it has been since the first time Ginny, Herb and I performed it – that we need some help with our number. There is, of course, no help for the fact that I cannot sing. I just remind myself that it’s a panto, definitely not the opera, so making a fool of myself goes with the territory. Herb has a fairly booming voice. With any luck he will drown me out.

No, where we need the help is with, for want of a better word, choreography.

(At this point I had hoped to embed a link to the Danny Kaye “Doing Choreography” number from White Christmas, but, alas, the only link I could find for it had been taken down from YouTube, so have this instead.)

Turns out Ginny’s partner Sara used to be a professional dancer and she agrees to provide much needed assistance.

And so we gather in their livingroom, Sara sitting on the sofa to watch us perform That’s Amore in the half assed fashion we have so far adopted. Sara’s very good. She doesn’t laugh (in a bad way) or roll her eyes at the hopelessness of the cause. Apparently I have a good sense of rhythm. Apparently Herb (who would never deny it) doesn’t. Thus I am (apparently quite obviously) having to compensate. There is some suggestion of adding a bit of basic footwork. (At the moment, Herb and I are just swaying – occasionally in time with one another – behind Ginny.) This suggestion is vetoed by Herb, who feels swaying and singing at the same time are as far as he is able and willing to commit. Fair enough.

We decide it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a go with the actual Dean Martin song playing in the background. Ginny digs it out and puts it on. Ginny has a revelation. She has up until now been singing the song in three/four time, when it should actually be in four/four. What, oh what can this possibly mean, non-musical me wonders.

We do the song again. It sounds exactly the same to my untuned ear, but, wonder of wonders, for the first time ever I do not find myself swaying out when I should be swaying in and vice versa. How did that happen?

Much, much better, says Sara, allowing us a moment to bask in the glow of our progress. Except… Uh, oh. It seems that when the song slows down, Herb and I are still losing the plot a bit. Or, more appropriately, the beat. Oh, dear. Fortunately, she has a suggestion: Just stop “dancing” (can I really call our swaying this?) for a moment, as if we’re savouring the sentiment of the line. (“When there’s cheese in your dream, but you know you’re not dreaming, signore.”) Then jump back in for the finale. Herb considers this for a moment, decides he’s up to it, and we give it a go. Big round of applause from Sara. By Jove, I think we’ve got it!

We do it again, just to make sure our first, successful attempt wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t.

Sara predicts we’ll bring the house down. I rather think we might.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Oh, get me

When you’re starring in a play at the same time as you are producing watercolour masterpieces and finishing the great Canadian novel, occasionally you need a break from the whirlwind of creativity.

So, a weekend visit to Sointula to see theatre fans Darryl and Morag. Two trips to the rocky shores of Malcolm Island to witness the awe inspiring spectacle of humpback whales breaching.

Pretty amazing, eh? Yes, it would have been. This photo was stolen from Google. On the second day of our whale watching, a humpback did actually breach (and I’m sure it was every bit as impressive as this). Unfortunately, by the time it happened, Morag and I were engrossed in our books, so Darryl was the only witness. (Although I did get to see the splash and the boom.) Oh, well.

Recharged by almost seeing a humpback breaching, I return to Gabriola for rehearsals.

I have another line! Two more words. If this keeps going, I could have at least 25 words to memorise. I hope I’m up to it.

Tonight we are rehearsing Act 1, Scene 5. Last week I only had two lines in this scene, now I have three. It’s a challenge, I know, so early in the rehearsals, but I decide for the second run through to go off-book. (For the non-thespians out there, this is the point in rehearsals when the actors have memorised their lines and no longer need to read from the script.) And it works! I remember all three of my lines, all 14 words. Yes! God, I’m good. So good, in fact, so seamless in my performance, that the director neither notices nor comments on this breakthrough. That’s fine. Clearly she can see me for the pro I am.

Of course, I do still have the problem of figuring out my rat voice. I’m still all over the place with it. I could sit around the house on my own trying out voices (and walks, I must not forget the walk), but, let’s face it, I’d feel like a pillock. (So, not such a pro, after all.)

Morag is coming to Gabriola this weekend for the art trail event. Perhaps I can try a few voices out on her? Hmmm. Perhaps not.

What would Olivier do?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

Big artsy fartsy day starts at 9am with the first beginners watercolour class. (Did I say 9am? Yes, I did. Bloody morning people.)

Melinda, the excellent instructor, asks if I’ve done any painting over the summer. Yes, I say, but although latex paint is water-based, the painting I’ve done has been of the decorating variety, not the watercolour variety.

Yes, yes, I know this is supposed to be about my adventures in pantoland, but, come on, I produced something which actually looks like something.

A bit of boasting is called for, surely? No? Okay, I’ll move on.

Tonight is the first night of rehearsals during which Rat 2 appears. It’s all very exciting.

The size of my role has increased by 40%. I’ve gone from five lines to seven! Okay, the extra two lines only involve five more words, but it’s a start.

We rehearse the first scene. Disaster! I’ve lost my voice. No, I don’t have laryngitis, but I simply cannot remember what I did for my audition rat voice. I know I thought it was pretty funny then and, as noted, I suspect it helped me get the part, but it’s gone. How does Rat 2 speak? What does he sound like? I’m all over the place with my two lines. I’m thinking maybe a bit of a spiv. Try it out. Not bad, but I also need a walk to go with my character. This requires some serious work. I’ll need to do some research when I get home.

Time to move on to the second scene. Oh, crap. It’s the song. Yes, That’s Amore has been rewritten to make it cheesier. Although the idea originally was to get Bas to sing it, with me doing back up (ha!), Herb, as Rat 1, like me, has no intention of taking the lead on a musical number. So, it’s down to Ginny in her wonderful General Scurvy voice to do the honours. Dean Martin this isn’t.

But it is funny. Herb and I both ham it up and are a hit with the director and cast. Okay, I have to admit, this is a lot of fun. It is only after the first run through that we are told we will be wearing trench coats and fedoras and will be carrying martini glasses in this scene. Oh, my god, the mind boggles.

During a break, Ginny suggests that the three of us should get together and try to do a bit of choreography for the number. Herb's not keen and I`m not sure. However, after we do the scene a second and third time, during which we`ve been directed to sway together and abysmally fail to do so, I begin to think Ginny has a point.

Get home and decide to spend a little time on character development. I can't afford to be buying DVD box sets – or wait for them to be delivered - so I head to YouTube for some spiv inspiration.

Del Boy is one possible role model.

Yes, there’s definitely potential there.

Then, of course, there’s Arthur Daley (little dodgy maybe, but underneath ’e’s all right). I type the name into the YouTube search. One of the hits that comes up is a sudden reminder of that other "great" British seasonal entertainment tradition: the crap Christmas song.

This cynical annual cash grab was perfectly portrayed in Love Actually. Annoyingly, I don't seem to be able to embed this one, so please click on this link. (You won't regret it.) For those lucky enough to have never seen the film, there is now really no need. This was the best moment in it.

Anyway, my Arthur Daley search throws up (and "throws up" is appropriate) a novelty item from 1983 which makes every top 10 list of the all-time worst crap Christmas singles ever.

Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. Pen and ink, indeed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The cheese is the method

Decide to send Jenny my Mercedes-Benz lyrics. She likes them, but says she doesn’t think the song will fit in the show anywhere. (Phew.) She does, however, ask me to have a look at the lyrics she’s written for one of the numbers.

Every panto contains a number by Miss Mara’s song and dance troupe from the local elementary school. During the read through last week, someone misread their line, saying “village people” instead of “village folk”. Much hilarity ensued. Jenny decided “YMCA” would make a good number for the kids. I do a bit of tweaking, send it back to her. She’s quite pleased.

I really need to do my homework. It is a significant challenge, given that I only have five lines to work with. Let’s see…

Write down as many adjectives as you can to describe your character: Lazy, louche, lackadaisical, relaxed, bored, uninterested, distractible, shifty, sneaky, idle, sly, crafty.

What is your character’s main objective? Getting hold of some of the cheese.

What obstacles do you need to overcome to achieve your goal? My own laziness.

What actions (verbs) can you use to help you reach your goal? Creep, sneak.

Determine if you are pleased with yourself or not. Yes, because I do manage to get some of the cheese.

Does your character have any personal dreams or desires? What? To get some cheese.

Watch out Marlon Brando, I’m ready to start method acting.

The first rehearsal. I’m not actually in any of the scenes which will be done tonight, but I go along anyway, because I want to see what the process is. Also, because I’ve been told Herb (who will now be playing Rat 1) will be there and I want to meet him.

Well, it’s certainly true that I am no longer the taller of the two rats. Herb is about six foot six. So, my distinguishing characteristic is now that I am the shorter rat. Okay, I can work with that. (As long as I still get the cheese.)

Herb reckons we need a funny handshake. No, he isn’t suggesting we join the Masons, merely that, if we’re going to get noticed at all, we’ll need some comic turns. I agree. He starts humming That’s Amore. Oh, I say, that’s still in, is it? He nods. Never mind, I say, I won’t be doing anything except backup vocals, not singing the song itself. He looks surprised. Does he know something I don’t know? Uh, oh.

The rehearsal begins. I’m blown away by Ginny (who played Scrooge in last year’s panto). She’s already turned General Scurvy into a fully blown character with his own bow-legged swagger and Thuffering Thuccotash voice. (Think John Wayne meets Sylvester.)

If everyone was as far along as Ginny, I’d be completely intimidated, but, no, she’s the star. Even though we, the audience, have the script in front of us, her delivery of the lines has us chortling. Plenty of time for the rest of us to catch up, but at the moment it’s looking as if Ginny is going to steal the show.

During the break I approach Jenny. I’m not sure what the deal is with making suggestions, but after each rehearsed scene people have made comments about what works and what doesn’t, so I’m thinking it’s okay. Having now read the play a couple of times, something has struck me: At the end of the play the mayor invites the rats to come and live in the village, promising homes will be built for them. If we want to tailor some of the script to make it more Gabriola-specific, I think we need to add a line here: “Assuming we can get the zoning.”

Nothing on Gabriola is more controversial or divisive than zoning. I certainly don’t side with the developers who would like to see unfettered and disastrously unsustainable growth on the island. That said, there is another school who object to absolutely every proposal. For example, at the moment my road is a dead end. There is a 25 acre lot at the end of it. The owner has said he will pay the cost of putting in a road himself – which would allow the fire truck and ambulance to get here in five minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes it now takes – if he is allowed to subdivide his lot. Does he want to put in 25 houses? No, he wants to subdivide into five five-acre lots. The screaming about this proposal – which has been repeatedly endorsed by the fire chief – is ear splitting and incomprehensible. Not sure how incomprehensible the zoning debate on the island could be? Try reading this article from one of the local papers.

So, anyway, I make my suggestion. Jenny and the others, happily, all grin and agree that a line needs to be included.

The same three scenes are rehearsed again after the break. Ginny is even funnier. She’s setting a high bar.

Herb asks if I have a voice ready for Rat 2 and I panic. Shit, I did have a very good rat voice at the audition. I suspect this is what got me the role. But what was it? I don’t remember. Yikes. Hopefully it will come back to me when our scenes are rehearsed next Tuesday.

In other (non-thespian) Renaissance Woman news, next Tuesday is also the first day of the 10-week watercolour course I am starting. This time I am doing the beginner class which I actually signed up for in January, but which was cancelled as I was the only taker. Yes, I did agree to jump in at the deep end and do the intermediate course, and, yes, I did manage to produce some half-assed paintings.

But I never actually felt as if I had any idea what I was doing. Starting again with the basics is, I think, a very good idea.

All this and the possibility of a new novel next year. Is there no end to her talent (ha, ha)? If only any of this actually paid a living wage.

Oh, well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Oh, Lord, won’t you spare me from singing a song?

Off to the Rollo Centre to find out who else has been cast in the panto and have our first read through of the full play.

As I suspected, Michael and Nadine have been cast as Rattle and Daisy, the young lovers. Process of elimination, really. They’re the only ones young enough to play the roles. (Michael, I am told by another cast member, actually wanted to play the Rat King and had to be cajoled by Jenny, the director.) I commiserate with them about this blatantly ageist casting.

Widow Wobbly, the pantomime dame, is to be played by Sonia, whom I have not met. As she’s been involved in past productions, Jenny agreed to let her audition before she went off on a holiday which conflicted with the casting call.

Fear not, panto fans, despite the dame being played by a woman, there will be a considerable amount of cross dressing in the production, including the Pied Piper, the Rat King, General Scurvy and the Mayor, all to be played by women. In fact, Michael is the only man playing a leading role character. The only other male involved in the production is Bas, a 12-year-old boy who will be playing Rat 1 to my Rat 2.

Before we start there is tea and cake. How jolly. Made by one of the cast members, whose name I will eventually remember, the cake is chocolate zucchini (courgette, for any UK readers), an end of summer attempt to use up the overflow. (This is a challenge for anyone who’s ever grown this crop. Although I haven’t, I’ve ended up with several, thanks to my neighbour Pat. I plan to make a lot of my friend Becky’s delicious soup.) The cake is… okay.

We are given our copies of the play. I am armed with a highlighter so I can mark all my lines. All my lines? Hmm. In the scene I read in the auditions, Rat 2 had two lines. In total, I discover, Rat 2 has five lines. I know I wanted to ease into this with a small role, but… Like Rupert Murdoch, testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee, I am feeling humble. Five lines in the whole show? Oh, well, I’m here for the fun of being involved, not to land a Broadway role. (Just as well, really.)

A round of introductions before we start the reading. In addition to the cast, various members of the crew are present, including the women in charge of wardrobe who will, we are told, be measuring us all during the course of the evening.

Young Bas has not been able to come tonight, so I get to read both Rat roles, bringing my total of lines to eleven.

Although there have been some rewrites to add Gabriola-specific jokes, the script is obviously British in origin. It is quickly noted that references to pounds will need to be changed to dollars. There is also a bad and quite funny pun delivered by the Mayor and involving Weston-Super-Mare. Ginny says this will have to go. Catherine, another ex-pat Brit, and I argue for keeping it. There is, after all, a reasonably large ex-pat Brit contingent on the island. Besides, as I point out, the non-Brits will think he’s said Western Super Mayor, which is also funny. The line stays.

One of the wardrobe women taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can come to be measured. No problem, I say. I don’t appear until page 31. We go off into the other room. Somehow the surprise voiced about how remarkably slim my wrists are does not compensate for the grim reality of the other measurements they have written on their chart. It’s not as if my metamorphosis from bean pole to pear shaped is news, but, sheesh, are these really my measurements? One of the wardrobe women kindly points out that I am wearing a fairly thick shirt. My, isn’t she sweet? (The shirt’s not that thick.) Oh, well.

Back to the reading. Woo hoo. Between Rats 1 and 2, I have six lines to read before the break. People actually laugh after two of the lines. Obviously my funny rat voice is working.

Not included in the read through are the songs which feature in all the pantos. It occurs to me that, under the circumstances, it is likely that a Rat Pack song will feature somewhere. It also occurs to me that one thing I am quite good at is rewriting lyrics. During the break I mention this to Jenny, in case help in this area might be welcome. She confirms there will be a Rat Pack song, which she’s nearly finished. It will be That’s Amore. She then tells me it will be sung by Bas with me doing back up vocals. Seeing my alarm, she assures me that I will not be expected to carry a tune.

I am suddenly reminded of a time, many, many years ago, when my friend Lynda (a professional singer) and I for some now inexplicable reason sang the whole Janis Joplin Mercedes-Benz song together. At the end of it, Lynda looked at me, somewhat surprised, and said I’d found my song, the only thing I can carry off without hitting a bum note. (Of course, the song only has about two notes, so not a major achievement.) I tell Jenny about this. She immediately sees some potential there. Oh, dear.

We finish the read through. It’s taken two and a quarter hours and that’s without any song or dance numbers. Cuts, Jenny says, will have to be made. I point out that if I lose any lines I will disappear. She laughs and tells me I’m safe.

Good grief. We have homework. Between now and the first actual rehearsal next week we are to read the play at least twice and then answer various questions, including:

What is your character’s main objective in each scene? Well, gee, with no lines in most scenes, I suspect my objective is to get noticed at all.

How is your character distinctive? Hmm. Well, Rat 1 is a 12-year-old boy who’s at least a foot shorter than me, so I guess I’m the taller one.

Does your character have any personal dreams or desires? Yes, my character wishes she wasn’t pear shaped. Oh, no, wait a minute, that’s me. Hmm. Getting my hands on some cheese?

With this thought in my mind, I come home, pour myself a glass of wine, sit down at the computer and write:

Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a big round of cheese?
I’m counting on you, Lord. I’m down on my knees.
Prove that you love me and answer my pleas.
Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a big round of cheese?

What, am I crazy? Am I trying to give myself a song? The lack of lines is going to my head. Darryl and Morag are coming down from Sointula to see the panto. Hardly worth it for five bloody lines. Yeah, but me singing? Oh, no, no, no. I have to live on this island afterwards. A song is out of the question.

Next day there is an e-mail message from Jenny. It seems Bas will not be able to take on the role of Rat 1. He’s been replaced by someone named Herb who I may or may not have seen at the auditions.

Does this mean I am no longer the taller rat? Shit, I’m going to have to dig deep to come up with some other distinctive trait.

Does this mean That’s Amore is off? Although the idea is oddly disappointing, it is also a relief.

The wardrobe women have told me I’m going to have furry legs. I think that will make me ridiculous enough, without singing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What the hell

Gabriola may lack a cinema and, tragically, our book store may be about to close, but the island isn’t a cultural wasteland. One aspect of the arts which is alive and kicking is theatre.

For one thing, we have the amazing Antony Holland, the creator and long-time head of the Langara Theatre programme, who for many years after retirement from the college continued to run a theatre school (which gave performances) on the island. Mike and I used to attend regularly. Now 90 and still performing, Antony no longer teaches, but he does run what he calls the No Bells & Whistles Theatre Company, regularly bringing former students and other friends in the profession over to the island to stage no frills performances.

And, of course, there’s the August extravaganza, the annual Gabriola Theatre Festival.

This year my friend Robert (himself and actor/writer/director) came over for the festival. He’s good value, is Robert, and it was fun to go to performances with him. (He also helped me get over the hump of attending the festival for the first time without Mike.) We saw three top notch shows.

Between shows I stopped at the Gabriola Players table. This is the local amateur dramatics group which does three or four performances a year, including, somewhat surprisingly, a panto every winter. I was surprised when they began. Pantos are, after all, such a marvellously, ridiculously English institution. How would it translate on a gulf island? Wonderfully well, it turned out. This is one of the island’s must see events. Last year, reversing the tradition of the pantomime dame, they staged Scrooge with a woman in a suit playing Ebenezer. I decided it was time to take out a membership, if for no other reason than to ensure I didn’t miss any future performances.

Two weeks later I received an e-mail informing me there was a casting call for this year’s panto. Hmmm, I thought, that’s interesting.

I used to do some acting and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, it’s true, some decades have passed since I trod the boards, but my performance as Miss Skillon in See How They Run did bring the house down in the school production.

And, if Widow Twanky was good enough for Ian McKellen, panto was most certainly good enough for me. (Plus, let’s face it, I need a reason to get out of the house these days and I could really do with getting to know a few more people on the island.)

Oh, what the hell.

So, off I went last Tuesday for the casting call. Before we were put through our paces, the director explained what the show was going to be this year: The Pied Piper and the Rat Pack. In this version, the piper is an evil bastard and the rats are the good guys. We are warned there will be singing and asked to note on our forms any talent we may have in this area.

There are 10 roles: The Rat King, his daughter Daisy (the ingénue), Rattles ( who loves Daisy), General Scurvy, Rat 1, Rat 2, the Pied Piper, the Mayor, Widow Wobbly, and her daughter Pickle. I’m figuring that if they don’t even have names, Rats 1 and 2 probably don’t have a lot of lines, so these are the roles for me. Unfortunately, there are 12 people auditioning and, other than me, they’ve all been in previous pantos. Hmm. Not so good.

The first scene to be read involves major characters. Ginny, who played Scrooge so well last year, volunteers to read the Piper. Michael, the only guy auditioning who’s in his twenties, reads Rattle. A girl whose name I don’t remember reads Daisy. These last two pretty much have a lock on the roles of the young lovers, what with being the only performers available who are under 40+. They’re all very, very good and I’m beginning to feel rather intimidated.

The second scene to be read involves the nameless rats. I volunteer to read Rat 1. Pages go by with me scratching my ass (stage direction – Rat 1 is supposed to be bored by the proceedings) before we get to the first of my four short lines. I’m supposed to be a rat, so I find myself doing a funny rat voice. Where did that come from? Oh, well, sounded like a minor rat to me.

A third scene is read, this one involving all the human characters. Again, everyone seems very, very good.

Scenes are repeated to give people a chance to read multiple roles. I’m actually asked to read Rat 2 when they do the second scene again. Even more pages go by before my one line. I do it in a probably indiscernible variation of my Rat 1 voice.

To my surprise, someone volunteers me to read Daisy when the first scene is repeated a third time. I can’t help pointing out as I stand up that my ingénue days are far behind me. (In fact they never existed: I didn’t even get the ingénue roles when I was in school.)

Readings completed we are asked to hand in our forms, specifying our first and second choices of roles (no brainer there, gotta be Rat 1 or 2), our singing ability and whether or not we would be willing, should we not be cast, to perform some task in the crew. I say on my form that I’m willing to help out in any way I can. I also feel they should be warned about my musical ability, so print, in capital letters, PEOPLE BEG ME NOT TO SING.

As we’re leaving, Michael, who will almost certainly be cast as Rattles, comes over and tells me how good I was. Really?

I come home, pour myself a glass of wine, wondering what sort of job I might get in the crew. Everyone else was so good and there were more people auditioning than there were roles.

The phone rings. It’s Doris, the stage manager, ringing to inform me I am being offered the role of Rat 2. I have been cast in the panto. As I say in my Facebook update the next day, what larks!

Tonight we meet for the first full read through. Next week rehearsals begin in earnest.

Watch this space.