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.