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.

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