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.