Friday, 16 December 2011

The Shoe Report

I have done many daft things when I have been inebriated; agreed to run marathons, forgotten I’ve left my mobile in the ladies toilets of a pub, fallen asleep on the night bus and ended up in Essex, thrown up in my wardrobe...
But the stupidest things I do usually involve some form of technology. Like going on to E Bay after consuming the best part of a bottle of Merlot. Last year, when I was on a tour, I woke up in my digs with a fuzzy head and the vague memory of hitting ‘Commit to Buy’ on several occasions. Rolling over in bed I looked down to see that my laptop was still open and in ‘Stand by’ mode. It only took a couple of clicks for me to be informed that I had purchased some ‘Nautical wine glass charms’ and several pieces of costume jewellery with anchors on them. I had obviously been feeling rather homesick for the boat and had comforted myself by purchasing several maritime treats. According to the ‘History’ I had also viewed several rather beautiful vessels so I was fairly thankful that I hadn’t woken up to be the proud owner of a 60ft ‘project’ boat named Gemini Lady.
The other technology/alcohol related mistakes I have committed have obviously involved my Blackberry. There have been many mornings  when I have checked my Sent box with a heavy heart. Only to discover that I have texted an ex-boyfriend/someone I want to be my boyfriend/someone else’s boyfriend.
But my most recent blunder took place at the beginning of the tour that I have just completed. After a particularly boozy company meal which was then followed by more drinks in the pub and then a bottle of wine back at my Digs, I decided to write the Show Report. I was in exuberant spirits and went about the task in the way that I usually write a blog; slightly hammered and with the intention of entertaining.
The next morning I was woken by the throbbing in my head and the sunlight streaming painfully through the blinds. That distinctive heavy feeling was in my stomach and I could not shake the feeling that, once again, I had made a rather dreadful error. I checked my Blackberry but could find no trace of any indiscreet texts, only one to a cast member to say that I was home safe. It was timed at about 2am. But I knew I hadn’t gone straight to bed. I had done something else. I had.... written the Show Report. I lurched from under the covers and out into the little living room which I shared with another cast member.
On the table was my laptop. Still open and with the Stand By light flashing ominously. Standing guiltily next to it was a bottle of Merlot, devoid of any contents. A wine glass with my unmistakable pink lipgloss smeared round the rim was casually perched on the corner of the table. As I neared the scene of the crime, I shamefully noticed that my lipgloss was not only around the glass but the actual neck of the bottle. I disgust myself.
I audibly groaned and sank down into one of the chairs and hit a button on my laptop. My hotmail account flashed up before me, with the words.
‘Your message has been sent.’
Frantically, I brought up my Sent messages. At approximately 2.30am, I had sent an email to all of the creatives and the full technical team with the previous night’s Show Report attached. Although when typing I had evidently missed the ‘e’ key by a few millimetres. So it was actually entitled a ‘Shoe Report.’
I opened the attachment. As I scrolled down and read more and more of the document, I started to cringe. If I had ever managed to achieve the pretence that I was highly professional (which is admittedly very unlikely), I had probably managed to undo all of that with one single email.
The beginning of the Report started out normally enough. I said how many rounds there were, how many were in and all of the timings. But then I had ended the Report like this.
  • Matthew Kelly was in attendance. The cast were very excited about this. They had stars in their eyes.
  • There were big laughs for (insert several funny moments in the show here) Although the best laugh of the day actually came before the show when Mr Davies told us a story about the friends he is staying with. They have a young son and before his arrival, the mother told him that Mr Davies was an actor. The boy looked confused for a while but it later emerged that he thought Mr Davies was a tractor. Easy mistake.
  • After the performance, the entire company visited Kayal, Leicester’s most popular Balti House. If you are ever in Leicester I would recommend it. (Have the lamb.)

Jesus Christ.

The people who read the Show Reports just want the information. They don’t want to hear me prattle on about other things which I have privately found amusing. I dragged myself back to my bed feeling rather ashamed of my improper and disreputable behaviour.

However, a couple of hours later, I was roused from my dreams (a vivid nightmare where I had got my boobs out at a Company Meal) by my Blackberry beeping with a couple of e mails from members of the Creative team. The general feeling was that they had enjoyed my Show Report and had been amused by it’s slightly comical content.

Had they just been sent to me? No. The people who had sent it had hit ‘Reply all’. Other people on the Show Report list will have been aware that, although maybe they had found my Show Report inappropriate, other people had found it acceptable. The knot in my stomach relaxed slightly and I felt marginally better about going into work.

Once there, I was greeted by other people who had enjoyed the Show Reports.

Since then, I have felt happier to approach my Show Reports with a slightly more relaxed attitude. Of course, whenever anything serious happens, I abandon all humorous comments and observations and concentrate solely on whatever incident has occurred. But if the show has passed like a Mike Leigh film (enjoyable enough but nothing has really happened), I see no harm in putting my own mark on them.

Plus, having spoken to friends of mine, making the Show Report an enjoyable read can actually be beneficial. Many directors, sound designers and lighting designers have several shows running at the same time and so their e mail accounts can get clogged up with many Show Reports which then may just get skimmed over. But if yours is welcome in somebody’s Inbox and if it may even raise a smile when they see it pop up, it’s instantly more likely to be read properly.

Another reason why I like doing the Show Reports is that it helps me deal with my Abandonment Issues.

No, seriously.

On each show I work on, I get struck with the most unbearable Post Press Night Blues. The better the show, the more crippling it is and I know exactly why. The show I worked on before this last tour was a total gem of a production. The Creative and Technical team were adorable and even though the Tech Week was not without it’s issues, we all bonded and supported each other. The LD made everybody tea in our breaks and the Composer teased me fondly about my constant hair twiddling. The Set Designer and I started and ended every single day with a bear hug and we all laughed uncontrollably when he managed to set his own head on fire. All the Press Night cards that were exchanged between us were filled with in-jokes and complimentary words and then we all went and got hammered together in an R and B club in Notting Hill where I told my DSM at regular intervals that she was pretty and that I loved her.

The next day at work I came in, feeling undoubtedly hungover and intensely lonely. Everybody had left me and now I was by myself. No more camaraderie around the kettle or chummy banter. And if one of the cast set their head on fire I would be expected to do something about it and not just laugh and point.

When one of my actors arrived he found me slumped at my desk surrounded by empty champagne bottles and discarded false eyelash containers.

‘What’s up babe?’ he enquired.

I peered over my sunglasses and explained my mourning for the creative team and how every Press Night I was forced to deal with my Abandonment Issues.

‘Oh but this is the bit I love best!’ he exclaimed. ‘I love it when everyone leaves and then it’s just us. Just the actors. And you.’

I tried hard not to burst into tears at this terrifying prospect. And throughout the rest of the performance I nursed my feelings of loss. But once the show was over, I realised that I could still have daily contact with all of these people by using the Show Report. This actually cheered me up immensely and my sense of loneliness eased.

But back to my last tour. Once I was safe in the knowledge that my audience did not think my chirpy Show Reports  inappropriate, I started to take real pleasure from entertaining those who read it. As I was too busy to write or blog, it was a joy to have a genuine and professional reason to write daily. It should also be noted that the creatives and the producer, as well as being unbelievably talented and exceptionally professional, also had a fabulous sense of humour. Plus the production itself was jovial and the tone of my Show Reports slotted in with the show. I sometimes ventured off the topic of the performance and gave my opinion on the theatre itself and the venues that we were touring to. Sometimes I passed comment on the activities that the cast had partaken in during the day and what my digs were like.

So then I started asking other Stage Managers how they approached their Show Reports and was delighted by some of the responses I got. It turns out that the best way to write these all-important documents is to use honesty, humour and Spell-check. Apparently one Show Report mentioned a ‘full standing ovulation’ at the end of one performance. And I also got sent a Show Report which talked about how a cast member had been feeling poorly because they had been bitten by some kind of insect.

The Show Report itself stated that ‘Ms Davidson was feeling under the weather due to an incest bite.’

I got sent a Show Report written by a CSM who had simply had enough of a well-known actress who was very high maintenance. Let’s refer to her as Ms Jenkins. The Report went something like this.

·         The Stage Left truck has a downstage wheel sticking and needs attention.
·         The cuff on Mr Andrews’ right hand sleeve has started to unravel and needs attention.
·         Ms Jenkins, as a rule, just constantly needs attention.

The other fabulous thing about live theatre is that sometimes stuff happens and you don’t even need to try and make the report funny. It just is. Like when during a Shakespearean piece somebody says ‘upgrade her’ instead of ‘upbraid her’. Putting that in a Show Report is sure to make someone smirk.

The other great use that Show Reports have is that the actors actually get slightly terrified of them.

‘Am I in the Show Report?!’ they quiz you, accusingly. I find that no answer is required. Just a smile.

There is no question that I will work on some productions where doing my style of Show Reports is not acceptable (I doubt that if I worked for Nicholas Hytner he would want to hear about a jolly company surfing trip) and I will certainly sometimes demonstrate some self-censorship. But while I work for companies who embrace the fun and sheer joy of theatre as much as I do, then I will continue to write my Reports with those elements in mind.

There have been many requests for me to make my Show Reports public but actually, as I read through them now, there are many things which, out of context, don’t actually make much sense to someone not involved in the show. Plus out of respect to the company, who have been so wonderful to me, it may not be appropriate to publish private documents.

And of course I am still dreaming of the day when my semi-autobiographical novel (!) gets published and makes me my fortune. So maybe I will just save them all for that. This is the novel which of course then gets turned into a hit comedy/drama series with Sheridan Smith playing myself and Benedict Cumberbatch playing my hot actor love interest. (I can dream, can’t I?)

Last Saturday I sent my last Show Report to the team and was delighted by the responses I got. I like to think that in a few years, not only will these reports tell me the running times and audience figures, but also trigger memories of the time we spent together and the incidents that made me laugh. I am also keeping a record of all the things which have been sent to me and have relished the intriguing insights into other companies productions.

After a long, hard show when all you want to do is get home/get to the pub, it can be hard to muster up the energy and the brain-power to then compose your Report and it can be all too easy to poke at the keys and come up with standard sentences such as ‘clean show’ and ‘attentive audience.’ Believe me. I have done it.

But I love the feeling that by throwing in something vaguely funny, I may have made someone smile after a long day. I have even gone and purchased a Thesaurus so that, in future, I can chuck in some clever long words. So now, if there is an accident and one of my cast starts bleeding, I can write in the Show Report that they were suffering from haematogenesis.

Get me.

I’ll just always remember to Spell Check.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Playing Teacher to the Taliban

Like a lot of people, I’m not really a fan of the Taliban.
They do rather nasty things, don’t they? Like banning chess and kite flying and other fun things. And randomly slitting people’s throats, publicly flogging women and cutting off their fingers as a punishment for wearing nail varnish.

Plus they have a very annoying habit of losing their socks on a regular basis.
‘Jeeeeeeeeess!!’ one whined at me. ‘I’m missing my socks!’
I exhaled deeply and blew my fringe up into the air.
‘Did you put it in the laundry last night?’
He pulled at his beard ‘I.... think so.’
‘Right. Okay. Let me go check the basket and I’ll be back in a bit.’
As I hurried out of the room, I passed another one fiddling with an AK47. He looked up at me, his big brown eyes just visible beneath the swathe of his turban. ‘I think this is broken,’ he mumbled forlornly.
‘Yes,’ I snapped, grabbing it from his hand. ‘It will be because you all keep playing with them. They’re not bloody toys, you know!’
I marched onwards, now brandishing the AK47 which was definitely looking a bit shoddy. I would have to attack it with some super glue on my next break. In the laundry room I hunted high and low for the thick grey socks but to no avail. I grabbed some spares in the hope that they would fit. If not, he would just have to go and terrorise innocent Afghans sporting just his sandals. I managed to locate him with his feet up, reading the Guardian. Upon his feet were the aforementioned grey socks.
‘Where were they?!’ I demanded.
‘I found them under a hijab.’
‘Jesus...’ I mumbled under my breath.
Back in my office, I flung a bunch of poppies off my chair and slumped down heavily. My DSM looked up from her paper. ‘Alright, love?’
I sighed before uttering a sentence I never thought I’d say.
‘The Taliban are really getting on my tits today.’
At that moment a loud rumble of raucous laughter echoed in the corridor outside our room. I calculated that it could probably be heard onstage during a quiet scene so stuck my head out with a finger pressed to my lips. They all recoiled immediately but just as I was about to close the door behind me, I heard one of them casually comment,
‘Jess is so like a disapproving teacher when she does that.’
This wasn’t the first time I have heard that comparison.  And as I have done several shows since, it also hasn’t been the last.
That’s one of the occupational hazards of being a stage manager. It can sometimes feel as if you are stopping everyone from having fun. You have a group of actors being slightly giddy about the opportunity to run around, sporting very realistic false weapons. Yet you are having to explain, at regular intervals, the danger of running with bayonets and the importance of spending a good twenty minutes a day on cleaning your false beard with acetone.
Remember the moment when the final school bell would ring and you would chuck your  Zig and Zag pencil case into your United Colours of Benetton bag, eager to get home to watch an episode of ‘The Biz’ ?(just me?) Only to have the teacher stand there with their hands on the waist, loudly proclaiming,
‘Sit back down. That bell is for ME, not you!’
The equivalent for these actors, was chucking their socks and white robes  into the laundry baskets, eager to get to the pub, only to be stopped in the doorway by myself, brandishing a toothbrush and demanding to check everyone’s fake facial hair.
Many times during that show I felt like a teacher. And not like Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘Dangerous Minds’ or Jack Black in ‘School of Rock’. More like the teacher you had who was at the forefront of the anti-Marbles campaign and who confiscated your Mizz magazine, leaving you unable to read the Paul Nicholls interview or discover which member of Eternal you were most like.
Sometimes, an element of being a stage manager just means being a bit of a killjoy. Which sometimes people confuse with your actual personality. In normal life, I don’t consider myself a killjoy at all. Quite the opposite. On a night out I am generally the person encouraging everyone to stay for  ‘just one more’ and am usually held responsible for any social activities which end up with people getting the first tube home at 6am because I have dragged them to ‘Heaven’ for dancing and then Balans to indulge in 4.30am Eggs Benedict swiftly followed by vodka martinis.
But in a theatre? Forget it. I’m Miss Trunchbull with a stopwatch. Which is someone I don’t always want to be.
Of course, this kind of behaviour is usually borne out of some dreadful situation that you have had to deal with because of someone ‘breaking’ a rule.  For example, take the ‘no liquids other than water onstage’ rule. There’s nothing like having someone spill a cup of tea on a stage which you have just swept and mopped to put you in a bad mood. But then this of course means that you have to scold every single actor who ventures onstage with a cup of tea. It’s hardly the crime of the century. But with a cast who insist on bringing drinks onstage, you can become a real nag. Which can instantly make you pretty unpopular. Especially when you are dealing with a hungover actor on a matinee day when he has just made himself a coffee.
And then there are the more extreme situations. Most people think that I am being overly sensitive about actors leaving the building after the half hour call. And admittedly I used to be pretty casual about it. But that was until I had to deal with the totally unfunny and very unpleasant situation of witnessing one of my cast being arrested at the five minute call.
In full costume.
Okay, so maybe it was a little bit funny. But only about six months later when I was telling the story to a rapt audience in Joe Allen’s.
But anyway, as ‘fun’ as I am, there are times when I have to do things like Put My Foot Down. I have a different voice for it and everything. My father used to be a science teacher at a secondary school in Liverpool and would sometimes amuse my sisters and I with horror stories of when he had to tell the kids off.
‘And then....’ he would say, leaning in, ‘I used my ‘Teacher Voice.’ We would widen our eyes at the severity of the situation as we had all, at some point, experienced my dad’s ‘Teacher Voice’. My sister was on the receiving end of it when she dropped me as a baby. I got it when I set the living room carpet on fire and almost burnt down the house.
After a particularly bad day with the Taliban, during which I had used my Teacher Voice, I called up an older Stage Manager friend of mine, Deb, and relayed to her my worries about turning into some dreadful Teacher figure.
‘Of course we’re like Teacher’s,’ she casually replied. ‘Just without the teaching bit.’
‘Go on,’ I encouraged.
‘Well, we’re there to monitor punctuality. Get them back in after their fifteen minute playtime. Make sure they’re doing their homework.....’
‘Homework?’ I interrupted.
‘Learning lines,’ she explained.
I held the phone between my chin and my shoulder as I poured myself a large glass of Merlot.
‘Jesus, you’re right. It’s a pity we can’t phone up their parents when their work isn’t good enough.’
‘Well, no. So we phone up the next best thing,’
‘Whose that?’
‘Their agents.’
Even though it was funny, I struggled to laugh at Deb’s wit. ‘Oh, Deb. I don’t want to be a boring teacher. I didn’t get into this so I could constantly tell actors off.’
‘Being a teacher isn’t a bad thing,’ she consoled. ‘Didn’t you have really cool teachers at school? You know, the ones who you wanted to do really good work for. Or the ones who randomly brought in sweets for everyone. Or the really funny ones.’
‘Okay.’ I started to cheer up slightly. ‘What kind of ‘teacher’ do you think I could be?’
She paused slightly before replying.
‘The sort who gets into trouble for sleeping with her students.’
The conversation was terminated by myself not long after that comment. But the idea of being a teacher stayed with me for a while after and I found myself remembering the teachers I had experienced when growing up.
Was I like the rather overbearing Mrs Kinnear who made me weep with despair because my six year old handwriting was not up to her rather impossible standard? Or was I like the rather wet Miss..... I forget her name... who stood there with tears rolling down her cheeks as the entire class, as one, toasted the frogs that we were supposed to be dissecting on our Bunsen Burners.
For the rest of the run, this feeling nagged at my sub conscious. Right up until the final day.
In between the matinee and the evening show, I got told that I needed to go to the mens dressing room immediately. I found every single one of my Taliban, plus the rest of the company, brandishing a large envelope with my name on it. Inside was a couple of hundred pounds worth of Sanctuary vouchers which was easily enough for myself and a friend to go and spend a day in the famous Spa itself. Very few moments in my life have left me completely speechless but this was definitely one of them.  
It can be genuinely tough sometimes to enforce the ‘boring’ rules of theatre upon your actors. But like many teachers, you aren’t doing it to be dull. In fact, the more I care about a project and a company, the stricter I become as all I want is for the show and the actors to achieve their full potential.
And now, as I think about the struggles I had with Mrs Kinnear and Miss Wetwipe, I realise that it is Mrs Kinnear who actually sticks in my mind, whose name I can actually remember. And who, on the last day of the year, probably ended up with a half decent present.
I admittedly may have nagged, reprimanded, exasperated and tutted over that cast. But the memory I hold dearest about them is that moment in their dressing room and feeling like a teacher on the last day of term; proud to have worked with every single one of them.
And despite whatever had happened, slightly heartbroken to have to let them go.

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Am I Having Fun Yet?

Working in theatre is fun.


I got into this industry under the impression that I would never need to rise from my bed before midday and could skip into a theatre, do some cues for a couple of hours and then fall into a pub to spend my easily earned cash on whole boxes  of Merlot  and sugar bowls over-flowing with cocaine.

Of course, the reality is very different. Admittedly, throughout the early stage of my career (The ASM Years), I did generally stay in bed till noon.

Well, okay. Three forty five

I would then rise, reach for the Nurofen and trot into my venue at about six pm. The next hour would then involve swanning about and placing the props in (approximately) the right place before spending the performance reading ‘Heat’, deciding which of the cast I most wanted to sleep with and counting down the minutes until I could fling myself down the stairs of the Phoenix to kill off several hundred brain cells and lose a few more ounces of dignity.

Ten years on and things are pretty different. And there are days when theatre is no longer ‘fun’.

It’s like a family game of Monopoly. It all begins with smiles and giggles but then an hour in and your dad puts a hotel on Mayfair and suddenly the fun and games are over. It’s dull and depressing and you realise how much the game actually resembles your own pitiful financial situation; skint and owing a lot to your parents.

You get into the theatrical world because it looks fun and enticing but the further down the career path you get, the more you realise it is a lot more serious than you originally thought.

For instance, I sat down to watch ‘Pleasantville’ recently (stay with me) and for the first five minutes I enjoyed Tobey Maguires geeky performance and Reese Witherspoon’s smart-ass, slutty  character. The two of them get sucked into the TV and are transported from the 90’s back to the 50’s. I had seen the trailers and assumed that the film would be about Tobey and Reese going through a series of hilarious japes in their attempts to get back to modern day. A bit like ‘Back to the Future’ (arguably the best film of our time) but without the weird incesty bit.

But be warned. It’s not like ‘Back to the Future’ at all. It turns out that ‘Pleasantville’ is NOT a hilarious time-travel comedy and is actually a really serious film about prejudice and racism and repressed desire and all kinds of other issues. I expected 'Back to the Future' but got 'To Kill A Mocking Bird.' And don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it just wasn’t what I expected. And I had an overwhelming desire to watch 'The Goonies' immediately after.

So in conclusion, I am saying that working in theatre is very similar to watching the film ‘Pleasantville.’ (Not my best analogy I know).

It’s great but I sometimes wonder if it’s what I signed up for.

When thinking about this, the incident which springs to mind is something which occurred recently. I was working on a show as CSM and was backstage during a matinee, assisting an actress with a quick change when my Deputy suddenly said my name over the headsets. I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was serious.

‘What?’ I quickly responded.

‘An actor has fallen through the stage.’

I honestly believe that when I am on my death bed and various points of my life flash before my eyes, that moment will definitely be one which I revisit. (That and the moment Freddie Flintoff hugged me in the Press Club). I felt the Pret A Manger Chicken and Pesto sandwich I had consumed two hours before regurgitate itself in my throat as I conversed with various departments about what to do whilst trying to remain calm.

It turns out that a section of the stage had a slight structural issue (unknown to us all) and that when the actor had stepped on to it, his foot/ankle/leg had gone through. The actor managed to extract his leg from the hole and continue with his speech without barely pausing for breath. Although the stage was still left with a gaping hole in it.

We had about ten minutes of the performance left and as the rest of the play was to take place on a section of the stage away from the hole, we decided that it was not a Show Stop Situation and that we would continue. Although obviously there would be a huge aftermath to deal with.

What then occurred was a flurry of phone calls and e mails as I tried to arrange for the issue to be solved before the evening’s show.

I always remember a Post Show notes session I attended after a particularly disastrous preview of another production. The acting had been bad, the scene changes had been bad and we had several major technical issues. All in all, it was a disaster. The director stood in front of us all and solemnly announced,  

‘That was so bad that I closed my eyes and wished I wasn’t in this theatre.’

I remember thinking that not only was that a pretty wanky and over dramatic thing to say, it was also a fairly odd way to deal with a terrible situation. I thanked myself that I had never been compelled to do something similar. But on the day that The Actor Fell Through The Stage, I did actually choose that director’s method of dealing with a shit situation.

I closed my eyes and wished that I was Cheryl Cole.

It didn’t work. Obviously. So instead, I decided that the far better and more mature way to deal with the situation was to pretend that I was actually in my very own episode of C.S.I.  

I roped off the area of the incident and took many pictures of the hole in the stage. I spoke to everyone involved using a very grave and serious tone and then instructed my Deputy with very short, rapid fire sentences.

It seemed to work although even I admit that wearing the shades was a step too far.

The stage was eventually fixed and the evening performance passed without incident. The actor was made a fuss of and accident books were filled out. I finally left the theatre having sent out many reports and photos and making sure that everything was well documented.

At 11.00pm I flopped into a tube carriage with my earphones jammed into my ears and tried to block out the Saturday night London life which was going on around me. I was tired and grumpy and not in the mood for shrieking, pissed up revellers. But at the same time I didn’t fancy going back to the boat for a cup of Horlicks and some hummus. As the train pulled into Tottenham Court Road station I made an impulsive decision to jump off. And within minutes I was inside the Phoenix.

The barman recognised me instantly.

‘Not seen you in here for a while?’ he grinned.

‘Yeah, I’ve been busy. Merlot please.’

Just as I pulled out my wallet to pay, I felt my Blackberry buzz for the millionth time that night within my pocket. I pulled it out and read an e mail from somebody very senior from The Office. Instead of a rant about the poor quality of the stage, it contained praise for myself and my team, complimenting us on how we dealt with the tough situation. The sick feeling which had sat within my stomach for most of the evening was replaced with something a bit warmer and altogether more satisfying.

I admit that the days of long lie-ins, no responsibility and late call times are definitely over.  Sometimes I do still miss the simple and joyous period of ‘The ASM Years’. But as I have got older and accepted more responsibility, I have to admit that the amount of job satisfaction I get is more valuable to me than an incredible night out.

The large glass of dark red liquid appeared on the bar in front of me, just as I heard my name called from the other side of the room. I turned to try and locate who was yelling out my name and soon saw an actor I had worked with a few years ago weave his way towards me. We caught up with each other and once our glasses were drained we ordered another bottle of wine and launched into a full on drinking session. It was Saturday after all and I didn’t need to be anywhere the following day.

I told him about the traumas of the evening and he looked suitably horrified.

‘Christ!’ he exclaimed. ‘Sounds like fun!’

Naturally, he was being sarcastic. The events of the evening had been anything but fun. But the e mail that I had been sent reassured me that I had helped to make a truly dreadful situation okay again.

I am still having fun. It’s just a more serious kind of fun.

Just like 'Pleasantville'.

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Monday, 5 September 2011

Why I Hate David Nicholls

‘One Day’ has come out at the cinemas and unlike the vast majority of my friends I won’t be going to see it.  Definitely not.
This is nothing to do with how I feel about the book. I read it on tour and quite enjoyed it. Nor is it anything to do with what I have heard about Anne Hathaway and how her accent apparently does a two hour pitstop tour of the British Isles, mostly lingering between Surrey and Reading yet never really making it to Yorkshire.
And I’m not scared of the sad ending either. If you haven’t read the book I won’t ruin it for you. Let’s just say there is an incident involving a bicycle, Anne Hathaway and a lorry. And one of them dies.
Usually, an afternoon in an air conditioned cinema watching a fairly mindless movie is just the sort of thing I like to do. But this is one movie I will be giving a miss.
The reason for this is my longstanding issue with David Nicholls.
David Nicholls is an ex actor and has also written a novel called ‘The Understudy’. It’s pretty rare that somebody writes a novel about the theatre industry and when I purchased it in Waterstones, earlier this year,  I was pretty excited about scurrying off to Holland Park, tucking myself under a tree with a Caramel Machiatto and devouring a  hundred odd pages of theatrical based modern literature before dragging myself into my own place of work.
Approximately twenty minutes after settling down with my Starbucks cup and some edamame beans, I was storming back to Waterstone’s, book in hand, and asking the bewildered looking assistant for a refund.
‘Why do you want a refund?’ he asked me.
‘This book is offensive!’ I hissed, ‘I don’t want to read it.’
The assistant pushed his glasses up his nose. ‘I’m not giving you a refund.’
‘Why not?!’
‘There’s froth on the spine.’
In my haste to pack up my belongings from the park I had accidentally spilled some of my Caramel Machiatto onto the odious item. Damn.
‘Fine.’ I spat, shoving the soiled book into my bag, ‘But I’m not reading the rest of it.’ And with that, I turned on my heel and hurried to my venue while the shop assistant smirked from behind his counter. Research has since shown me that David Nicholls used to work in Waterstone’s so they are obviously all in league with him.
The book starts off okay enough. We meet our hero, Stephen, on the set of a murder mystery. He is a jobbing actor and is currently playing the role of a dead body in a morgue. A scene of mirth unfolds as we get a sense of the pitfalls of the industry; the shame, the humiliation etc etc. But then once filming has wrapped, Stephen heads to the West End theatre where he is understudying Josh, a hot and successful movie star. Stephen is late for the half hour call and is met at Stage Door by Donna, the Company Stage Manager.
And it is at this point that my total detestation of Nicholls was born.
Donna is described as a ‘short’ and ‘wide’ woman with a ‘large, blunt’ face. Her hair is ‘brittle’ and ‘ex-Gothic’. Apparently she has the ‘demeanour of an embittered games teacher’ and is ‘permanently’ dressed in ‘regulation black denim’ and always carries the ‘regulation bunch of keys’.
Well thanks a lot Nicholls. Thanks a fucking bunch.
For years now, I have struggled with the stereotype which is bestowed upon stage management and have fought valiantly against it. But again and again I am confronted by people who seem unnerved by female stage managers who don’t spend their whole lives resembling the love-child of Kathy Bates and Zach Galifianakis.
I once attended a Press Night party of a dear actor friend of mine who introduced me to one of his cast members, a young actor who I thought I recognised from an episode of Waking the Dead.
‘Are you an actress?’ he enquired.
‘No,’ I shook my head, ‘I’m a stage manager.’
Young Actor scrunched up his forehead. ‘Oh.’ He swigged his drink. ‘You don’t look like a stage manager.’
Take into account that I was at the party of a production that I wasn’t actually working on so why I would look like a stage manager was beyond me. I was wearing a rather lovely purple shift dress from French Connection teamed with gold kitten heels and the obligatory Press Night false eyelashes. But this had obviously confused Young Actor who expected me to be wearing head to toe black and sporting a stopwatch in order to record the running times of the night’s festivities.
I pressed him on the matter.
‘Well what do stage managers look like?’ I asked.
He smirked before leaning in to me in a conspiratorial fashion. ‘Well, you know. Stage managers are usually a bit,’ he looked around before delivering his verdict,
I contemplated telling him that I had noted from his biog in the programme that he was from RADA. And how I thought graduates from RADA were usually a bit.... talented. But decided against it. I get into enough trouble by offending  my own cast members, never mind somebody else’s.
I politely detached myself from Young Actor’s company but was troubled by his words. Were stage managers really viewed by the acting fraternity as ‘rough’?
The next day Billington reviewed Young Actor’s performance and described it as ‘tongue-tied’, ‘gauche’ and ‘lacklustre’ which made me feel marginally better. And after a few days I had forgotten his comment and found an actor within my own company to be annoyed about.
But then I read the first few pages of ‘The Understudy’ and all these feelings came back to the forefront.
So lets pick apart Mr Nicholls description of ‘Donna the Stage Manager’.  Who is also apparently the Anti-Christ.
She is a ‘wide’ woman, apparently. Now  I am not fat. I have boobs and a bum admittedly. And the kind of little tummy where the twice weekly Nando visits tend to sit. But fat? No. I even attend regular Bikram Yoga sessions to fight this. And I don’t even really know any fat stage managers. Backstage areas are usually tight enough as it is and it would be logistically impossible to work back there if you were the size of Ricki Lake during the Compulsive Eating Years. Even as a size 10 I often find myself pressed up against an actor during a quick change as I try to squeeze past in time for my next cue.
Although admittedly, that’s not always an accident.
Now let’s take the clothes. What word did Mr Nicholls use?
Regulation. Regulation, faded, black denim.
I don’t like the word ‘regulation’. According to my thesaurus, it also means ‘law’. Is the author suggesting that it is the ruling that all Stage Managers have to wear faded black denim clothes. Not one piece of my blacks clothing is denim. When I shop for black clothes I will usually find well-fitting black tops which accentuate certain.... features.
Listen, I spent years praying for boobs and now I have these 32F’s, they’re not being hidden under some baggy, loose-fitting hoodie for three hours a night.
And when shopping for work trousers, I will spend a good twenty minutes in the changing rooms bending over, stretching and jumping up and down. Some productions require a lot of action and movement from Stage Management and when I am at work I like to be safe in the knowledge that I am being judged on my ability and skill. Not whether or not I have a muffin-top or a builder’s arse.
One night, as I was applying a slick of lipgloss at the five minute call, a wardrobe girl looked at me quizzically.
‘Who are you trying to impress?’
The answer is nobody. But why am I not allowed to look presentable when at work? Many people go to work in offices wearing clothes worth hundreds of pounds and full make up. They don’t do their job to an audience, the way an actor does, but they still make the effort and nobody questions why they do this. So why do I get teased and questioned for making myself presentable despite spending most of my work time in the dark?
Plus, as a Stage Manager, you never know when something may happen during a performance. A couple of years ago I had to deal with an incident where one of my cast collapsed onstage during a performance. Going onstage to handle the situation infront of four hundred gawping audience members was pretty horrific.
But at least I could do it safe in the knowledge that I had plucked eyebrows, a straight fringe and well applied mascara.
And the ‘surly demeanour’? It may come as a surprise to you, David, but I sometimes do something a bit crazy with my cast members.
They Become My Friends.
We do things like Spend Time Together Out Of Work. Would they do this if I was churlish and disagreeable? I don’t think so. Yes, they sometimes annoy me and admittedly I can lose my temper with them. But I don’t spend my time permanently stomping around like an ‘embittered games teacher’ (except maybe on matinee days) and nor do I know many Stage Managers who do.
So, in conclusion, Mr David Knickerholes, while the rest of the world flocks to the cinema to see the movie of your book ‘One Day’, I shall not.
I shall spend my days attending Bikram Yoga or trying on tiaras in Accessorize. Maybe I will read a little bit of Hardy (you know, a proper author) before getting my hair carefully highlighted. Perhaps I shall visit the Kings Road to purchase new, sleek black clothing.
And in the evening, if my cast are late, will I be ‘surly’?
Will I greet them with a ‘blunt’ face and ill fitted black denim clothing?
Will I jangle my ‘regulation big bunch of keys’ at them.
Probably, yes.
I have to exert authority somehow.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Thieving Bastard

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes bad things happen to people like me; predominantly good but fairly bitchy and often forgets birthdays.
Okay, so I don’t always stand up on the tube for old people because I am tired from dragging my old lady shopping trolley around and my Vivienne Westwood flats are rubbing. But I don’t commit crimes or hurt people. Not on purpose anyway. If you get in the way when I’m pulling my old lady shopping trolley and I clip you round the ankles, that’s your own stupid fault, not mine.
But yes, I believe that I am generally a ‘good’, law-abiding person but I am certainly not naive enough to believe that everybody else in the world is just like me. I am more than aware that the world is also inhabited by total scumbags. I sit in front of my TV when I get home at night with a bottle of wine and happily watch episode after episode of ‘Road Wars’ and make negative judgements on all of the people on it whilst being reassured of my own law-abiding goodness. It’s practically a hobby.
But it’s still a shock when you come face to face with a ‘bad’ person.  And I am talking about an actual ‘ bad’ person. I’m talking about the ‘bad’ people who I got told about at primary school via the magic of eighties public information films. In those films there were ‘bad’ people who tried to lure children into the backs of Ladas with the promise of some sweets or the chance to see some puppies. I guess eighties kids were easily pleased. These days the ‘bad’ people would need to drive a Renault Megane and own an IPod complete with Angry Birds for a ten year old to even consider getting into the back.
And then I got older and went to an all girls Secondary School where retired police officers turned up and told us about ‘bad’ people who also wanted to get us into the backs of cars. The policeman would never go into detail about why these men wanted to get girls in school uniform into the backs of their vehicles. They tended to just mumble something about shouting ‘Fire’ before handing out free rape alarms.
I have also dealt with ‘bastards’ (ex boyfriends who corrected my grammar and raised their eyebrows when I ordered dessert) and I have dealt with ‘badly behaved’ people (actors who were constantly late for the half and hid pornographic images amongst the props on a kids show) but they weren’t bad people, although I question the motives of somebody who feels the need to look at porn while standing about two feet away from a hundred twelve year olds.
But none of these people were truly ‘bad’ and certainly not capable of causing another person to feel fear. The ‘bastards’ simply made me feel that I wanted to be single again and the ‘badly behaved’ actors just made me feel the need to phone up friends who were also Casting Agents and have a little chat. Seriously, if you have ever really pissed off a stage manager and then your auditions have dried up, it ain’t no coincidence.
 A couple of weeks ago I came home at about one o clock in the morning after an evening with my sister. I was looking forward to a quick half hour of ‘Night Cops’ before bedtime and skipped happily into my abode, only  to discover a ‘bad’ man in my living room. He was rummaging through my belongings and it only took me a moment to realise that my laptop was not where I had left it. The bottle of red wine which was running through my veins dulled my senses and prevented me from panicking. (See, wine is a good thing.)
 I know that I am not the first person in the world to interrupt a burglar but I am almost certain that I am the first person to interrupt one with the words ‘Excuse me. Can I help you?’
The burglar didn’t seem to be too distressed by my presence but then I doubt anybody would be that alarmed by the presence of a 5’3” girl clutching a doggy bag of left over pizza and swaying slightly. On closer inspection, I realised that the intruder was actually not much taller than me and was just a bloke in his mid-thirties with a saggy belly and droopy, loose flesh on his arms. As he acknowledged me I noticed that he too was swaying slightly. I assumed that this was also due to booze and correctly ascertained that he was definitely more intoxicated than I was.
Once I was certain that the drunken little twit was not that capable of hurting me, I decided that I really wanted my stuff back, especially my laptop. I was in the final week of rehearsals before we went into Tech Week and everything was on that laptop. Setting lists, running lists, costume plots and paper prop templates. Tech Weeks are difficult and stressful enough without some fat loser nicking my laptop.
I did try to prevent him leaving but my efforts proved pretty fruitless. He may have been short but he was a fat, solid lump and his halitosis alone meant I was kept a good foot away. I know it sounds like a ridiculous thing to say but I was most disturbed by his pure ugliness. His face was pasty and pock-marked and his eyes were black and piggy. Even his nose didn’t sit in the middle of his face and seemed pushed to one side. His mouth hung slack and he seemed to be sneering at me.
Soon we were both outside my property and it appeared that he was going to escape into the night with my things, leaving my Tech Week ruined and my living room in chaos. The chubby little prick had even knocked over my large hole punch and the floor was now covered in tiny white paper circles.
I made a rather half-hearted attempt at blocking his path but this was met by him snarling ‘Get out of the fucking way or I’ll punch you in the fucking face.’
Obviously it was very upsetting to be spoken to like that but it did trigger something within me.  Some blokes have treated me pretty badly and I have let them. But this ugly, nasty piece of vermin had entered my home without respect and then taken what was not his. To threaten me with physical violence was just one step too far and I felt frightened yet frustrated tears spill out over my cheeks.
I have no doubt that a man in my situation would grab a nearby kitchen implement, develop an American accent and say ‘I don’t think so motherfucker’. And with the correct training in Martial Arts maybe I could have rocked out some ‘Kill Bill’ moves, cleverly used my Robert Dyas pizza slicer as an offensive weapon and overpowered the ruffian.
But I am a girl and I have no training in any self-defence methods. I also haven’t carried a rape alarm with me since an embarrassing incident in C and A when I was sixteen. So I decided to do what drunk Northern girls do best.
I threw a tantrum.
The burglar had obviously never witnessed an irate, half-cut girl from the Wirral venting her frustration before (believe me, it’s a sight to behold) and looked fairly startled before he once again attempted to escape.
But my shrieks and wails had the desired effect and although the burglar tried to flee, my neighbours came to my aid. The police were called, arrived impressively quickly and then chased after him. I was disappointed that the police weren’t accompanied by a camera crew because then I could have been on ‘Night Cops’.  But I did get to shout ‘He went that way!’ And then point.
The burglar was caught attempting to burgle another property and my laptop was found about his grubby, pathetic little person. I grabbed it and hugged it to my chest and it was only because I had such a large audience that I didn’t repetitively kiss it. I then turned and screamed obscenities at the burglar which didn’t help matters but it made me feel tons better. There have been a couple of moments in my life when I have felt the need to point at somebody and scream ‘YOU FUCKING CUNT!’ in their face. But those situations have usually arisen when such actions would be deemed very inappropriate, so to be given the opportunity to do just that and have my audience deem it perfectly acceptable was actually quite satisfying.
Night soon turned into dawn as I gave statements and held cups of tea which went cold. The wine evaporated from my system and was replaced with pure adrenalin which left me exhausted yet wide awake and emotional.
 My incredible neighbours offered me a bed for the night as I felt uncomfortable sleeping in my abode alone. I drifted off for a couple of hours but before I knew it my alarm was going off and I took myself into work in a bedraggled and shell-shocked state. Even though he hadn’t laid a finger on me, I felt like the Rebel Without A Clue actually had punched me in the face.
It was the penultimate day of rehearsals before we started teching the show on Monday and the theatre was a hive of activity. I sat at my desk and cast my half-closed eyes over my large To Do list which suddenly seemed fairly daunting.  I had made my To Do list the previous day and all of the tasks had seemed perfectly achievable. Not all of them were particularly pleasant (even when I haven’t been a victim of crime I’m still fairly unenthusiastic about approaching the political nightmare of dressing room allocations) but at the time of making the list, I had felt confident that by six pm, I would have all the items on my list ticked off and could go home to ‘Night Cops’, safe in the knowledge that everything was done and ready for the final Rehearsal Day.
But that evening I had starred in my very own episode of ‘Night Cops’ and it hadn’t been exciting or entertaining. It had been crap.
‘Jess? Could I borrow your hole punch?’ asked the costume supervisor, clutching her Wardrobe Plots.
‘No. It’s at.... home.’
I thought about where my hole punch was. Splayed open on my kitchen floor surrounded by stupid little white dots and the invisible footprints and fingerprints of a man who had blundered his way into my neat little sanctuary and tried to take away my hard earned possessions. His ugly, gurning face came into my sleep-deprived head at regular intervals during the day but I scolded myself for taking it so badly. I mean, I had not been hurt and my prized objects had been returned to me, but I still felt sad and uneasy.
Just looking at my To Do list was making me feel exhausted and I briefly thought about my bed. But as I did, I knew that I would not sleep in it that night and that I would take up the offer from good friends and accept a spare room. Just one small event and I had been reduced to somebody who could not sleep alone and needed the light left on. I was back to being a little girl and scared of the ‘bad’ man.
The stuffy and airless atmosphere in The Office was suffocating me. People offered kind words and asked if I was okay and generally I lied and said I was. Eventually I slammed my notebook shut and got out of the room, heading to the theatre itself. My ‘To Do’ List could wait. I had time left and the majority of the show was in good shape.
It was a very hot, humid day and as I stepped into the cool, dark theatre I instantly felt better. The lighting designer and technicians were doing the focus and the majority of the stage and auditorium were in darkness. I moved to a seat at the back and plonked myself next to the board operator who was sat, slouched slightly, at the lighting desk which was half buried under Pret A Manger wrappers and Tesco carrier bags. I took a large Tupperware box out of my bag and put it under his nose, watching his face light up.
I always go into Tech weeks with a large container full of Haribos, Fizzy Fish, Jelly Babies and Wine Gums. Even the grumpiest of lighting designers at nine o’clock in the evening can’t help but smile at the sudden presence of Tangtastics.
The board operator and I sat in a comfortable silence, sucking on Cola Bottles, and I turned my attention to the stage which was predominantly in darkness. I could just make out the dark figures of the Lighting Designer and Production Manager as they stood together in the centre.
‘Go into Cue 49?’ called the Lighting Designer. The board op straightened himself slightly and tapped a few buttons on the desk before leaning back again.
I took an audible intake of breathe. The set was now practically glowing and all of the furniture and props seemed to pulse slightly. Our play is set in a 1920’s bedroom and the designer and I had pored over hundreds of images so that we could capture the era and present it in this small space. A chest of drawers stood proudly stage left and on top was placed a heavy telephone. The handset rested in a gold cradle and the dial was mounted on a green and white marble base. Next to the chest of drawers rested an antique doctor’s bag. I had found it in Spitalfields market and got it for a good price. It’s leather was slightly cracked and worn but its locking mechanism was well oiled and snapped shut in a satisfying manner, something I thought an actor could have fun with.
On stage right there was a delicate dressing table covered in various paraphernalia, but my favourite tiny prop was a powder puff. Such a small detail but with it’s ivory handle and feathery, swansdown base, it set off the dressing table and you immediately understood the essence of the woman, the character, who would sit there.
‘Have you got any jelly babies?’ The Lighting Designer had perched himself on the row behind and was delving into the Tupperware box from over my shoulder.
‘Naturally,’ I replied. ‘God, it looks so..... beautiful.’
The three of us sat there for a minute, taking in the splendour of the set. I always relish these peaceful moments. On Monday I knew that the set would suddenly be filled with actors getting used to the differences between a rehearsal room and a stage but until that happened I could take some ownership of the space.
‘Sorry to hear what happened mate,’ offered the Board Operator.
‘It’s okay honey.’ I sighed.
And actually, I wasn’t lying. I had everything I needed for Tech Week and my face had not been punched or rearranged. Tech weeks are never the easiest of things to get through but this was one was not going to be made any more difficult by the slightly fateful meeting between myself and a rather unsightly man.
There will always be ugliness and unpleasantness in this world. But as I sat and looked at the stage, which I had helped to create and which many audiences would also sit and admire, I knew that as long as I was here, at my place of work, I would feel safe and secure and utterly protected.
Because in here, it’s always beautiful.

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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Dime Bars, Tequila and Good Will Hunting

A friend of mine, Lily, teaches stage management in a Drama School and is introducing a ‘Mentor’ scheme. The general idea is that a professional stage manager, the ‘Mentor’, is introduced to a student who is about to graduate and for the first twelve months following their graduation, the student is in regular contact with their ‘Mentor’. The contact will mostly be through texts and e mails but the Mentor is expected to meet up with the graduate about once a month.

Lily is one of my Grown Up friends. This doesn’t mean that she is any older than me. It just means that she owns a house and a car and a fifty five piece cutlery set. I on the other hand, rent a boat, drag a shopping trolley around with me and own a Tesco’s cutlery set which is missing a teaspoon because I threw it out with an empty yoghurt pot when I was hungover.

I love hanging around at Lily’s although sometimes it means that i leave feeling slightly deflated, wondering how somebody the same age as me and in the same industry as me has ended up living such a different lifestyle to me.

One Saturday night I was hanging round at Lily’s, lounging on her Grown Up Habitat sofa, drinking wine from a glass the size of a small goldfish bowl and watching ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. She was telling me about the Mentoring thing, although I was only really half-listening. If I have to either concentrate on a body-popping Romanian or someone talking about stage management, the Romanian will win hands down every time.

'I think you should do it,’ suggested Lily.

‘Go on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’?' I suppose I could do my trick with a beer bottle....’

‘No, you tool. Be a Mentor.’

I turned my full attention to Lily. ‘How the hell would I mentor someone?’

‘It’s easy. Just, you know, meet up with them occasionally, encourage them, pass on your knowledge....’

‘My knowledge!?’ I struggled not to spit my Merlot out across her Grown Up, fluffy Heals rug.

‘Oh, come on,’ sighed Lily in a Grown Up exasperated fashion. ‘You’ve been doing this for ten years, you must have some knowledge.’

I took another gulp of my wine and focussed on the much more entertaining spectacle of a middle-aged couple playing the theme from ‘Titanic’ on hand-bells and tried to ignore Lily who was still talking about the mentoring thing.

‘I think you’d get on with her,’ she said.

‘Amanda Holden?’

‘No! Fuck’s sake. This girl on my course. She’s about to graduate and I think you would get on with her.’

I rested my glass on the Grown Up John Lewis coffee table and peered at Lily through my fringe.

‘Do I get paid?’

‘Nope.’ Lily shook her head firmly, ‘No money. Not even expenses. But think of how good you’d feel, knowing that you are helping someone. You might even make a friend.’

‘I have friends,’ I muttered before rolling my eyes and picking up my wine glass again. But I could feel Lily’s eyes boring into me in her slightly disapproving Grown Up way. The very same way that she had stared at me when I confessed to her that I sometimes used a friend’s old ‘Baby on Board’ badge so that I could always sit down on the tube, even when it was rammed. Teamed with a hand resting on the small of my back and a big lunch I was pretty much guaranteed a seat every time.

‘I’ll think about it,’ I promised, reaching for the Grown Up bottle of wine from Selfridges and generously topping up both of our glasses.

By two am, Lily and I had finished three bottles of Grown Up wine and were dancing around to All Saints videos which we had found on You Tube using Lily’s Grown Up 27 inch iMac (although at this point Lily was behaving in a far from Grown Up manner). And then at three am I even demonstrated my beer bottle trick which involves me positioning an opened beer bottle in my cleavage, putting my mouth around the top and then going into the crab position and downing the entire bottle in about twenty seconds without spilling a drop.

I doubt that it would get me on to the Royal Variety Performance but it’s a hit at Press Night Parties.

The next morning I woke up in my own bed  with a throbbing headache and the vague recollection that I had drunkenly agreed to mentor one of Lily’s students in return for a bottle of Tequila, a family pack of Dime Bars and (according to Lily), the opportunity to be “just like Robin Williams in ‘Good Will Hunting’.” It only took a quick scan around my bedroom for me to locate a half drunk bottle of Jose Cuervo and several empty chocolate bar wrappers which explained the toffee stuck in my teeth.

I groaned and rummaged around in the duvet for my Blackberry. Sure enough I had a text message from Lily with the name and number of the girl who I was going to ‘Mentor’.  Although sitting up in my cheap Ikea futon at ten o clock on a Sunday morning, clutching a half-drunk bottle of Tequila and contemplating having a Dime bar for breakfast, I didn’t really think I was fit to be put in charge of or advise anyone younger than myself.  

Surely it would be like asking Lindsay Lohan to be Brown Owl.

One sausage and egg McMuffin later and I was starting to feel relatively more responsible but was hardly in Robin Williams territory. As I munched on my third Dime Bar of the morning, I composed a text to Charlotte, the girl who I was apparently going to Mentor. (My Mentoree?)

I fired off a text (friendly, casual, no kisses) about how I’d be happy to meet her for a drink one night. She replied quickly enough and after a few texts, we had arranged to meet at a pub in Soho on Wednesday night once I’d finished rehearsals. As the days passed by I started to feel slightly more high spirited about our forthcoming rendezvous and the possibility of being a wise, firm and less beardy Robin Williams to her unguided and fledgling Matt Damon.

She was waiting for me when I arrived at the pub and I recognised her from the picture that Lily had previously texted to me. She looked younger than her age (twenty one), with natural ash- blonde hair cut into a fuzzy bob which framed her pale, freckled face. Her eyes were green and heavy-lidded with mascara-free, light eyelashes and on her nose rested bright red, square framed glasses.

Charlotte’s clothes were baggy and black and her hooded jumper had the name of her drama school emblazoned across the front. I hadn’t really needed Lily’s photo reference. 

I would have known it was her.

We made our slightly awkward introductions and I saw the half empty glass of coke sat in front of her.

‘Shall I get you a drink?’ I offered.

‘Yes thank you. I’ll have a coffee if they do them.’

I dutifully went to the bar and sure enough, they had fresh filter coffee bubbling away in a machine underneath the spirits. Personally I don’t really see the point of going into pubs and asking for coffees or soft drinks. I think that it’s the equivalent of going into a brothel and asking for a hug.

I bring the drinks back to our table and perch opposite Charlotte on a little red stool, wondering why I feel like I’m on a first date. Charlotte is playing with her beer mat and looking down at her lap. I decide to do what I often do on first dates and take a long gulp of wine.

‘So....’ I prompted, ‘Not long now till you graduate.’

That was enough to start Charlotte off and she told me in a lilting Midlands accent about her course and the people she liked and the people she didn’t like and what she would miss.

‘I like it at insertnameofdramaschoolhere,’ she states, ‘The tutors are more like friends. Most of them anway. I’ll keep in contact with them all when I leave.’

‘That’s nice,’ I smile, realising I sound like a patronising Auntie. There is a silence and I desperately resist the urge to ask her about her hobbies.

‘So what do you want to be?’ I ask, making sure I don’t finish the question with ‘when you grow up?’

Charlotte bites her bottom lip and looks up at the ornate pub ceiling.

‘Start off as an ASM, I guess. Then work my way up to CSM.’ She peers back at me, her bespectacled eyes blinking slowly. ‘Lily said that’s what you did.’

‘Yeah I guess I did.’

‘Is that the right way?’ she fires back.

‘Erm. I don’t think that there is a right way. It just kind of happened like that.’

Charlotte looks disappointed and I also feel slightly deflated. I don’t ever remember a scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where Robin Williams said that things ‘just kind of happened like that’ before nervously draining the dregs of a wine glass. I try to think of a suitable ‘Good Will Hunting’ quote but now is not the right time to look Charlotte in the eye and softly say ‘Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.’

I’ll save that one for later.

Charlotte goes to the toilet and I get us a couple more soft drinks, no wine, as I am self-conscious of being less Robin Williams and more Robbie Williams(circa 1995).

When she comes back I ask her if she has found a job to go to and sure enough, she has just accepted the role of Stage Manager at a small pub/fringe venue for a very low fee. She plays with the elasticated cord at her hood while she tells me and brings her shoulders up towards her ears.

‘I’m quite nervous about it actually,’ she confides in me.

At this point, Robin Williams would stand up, point his finger at Matt Damon and shout ‘Why are you still so fucking afraid of failure!’ but if I did that it would get surely back to Lily. And then she would be annoyed with me and that would mean the end of drinking expensive wine on Grown Up sofas, which is always preferable to knecking cheap tequila whilst sat on my futon. Not that I do that.


So instead I say, ‘What is it that you’re nervous about?’

She chews thoughtfully on the cord. ‘It’s just.... the props list. It’s quite long and some of it I don’t really know where to start.’

‘Okay. Well why don’t you tell me some of the stuff. Maybe I can help?’

Charlotte rummages around in her bag and pulls out an alarmingly Grown Up filofax from which she pulls out her Props List and I scan over it.

It’s pretty tough. It’s the kind of props list that if I was presented with it, I would spend the first day of rehearsals phoning up more experienced stage managers and asking them for their input. And it’s a fairly frightening moment when I look up at Charlotte’s hopeful, freckled face and realise that in her eyes, I am the more experienced stage manager

‘Well’, I start hesitantly ‘I think that there is quite a lot of stuff here that is pretty tough. But most theatres will have it in their props stores. And I’m sure I can help you as I have some contacts.’ I look back down at the list and rack my brains for something more inspirational and helpful to say but nothing comes.

Sat on my worn stool with my soft drink in front of me, I don’t feel anything like a Mentor. Or Robin Williams. I feel just like I did when I was back in Drama School; nervous and incompetent and terrified of looking like a dick.

But when I look back up at Charlotte she is smiling. It’s the first time I have seen her smile properly all evening. Her lips part to reveal even, white teeth and the corners of her mouth dimple her cheeks. She looks pretty when she smiles.

She should do it more often.

‘I’m kind of glad that you also think it’s a hard list,’ she explains. ‘I would have felt really rotten if you had just looked over it and known exactly where to get everything from. Then I really would have felt like I was out of my depth.’

I laugh and shake my head.  Charlotte’s shoulders relax and she rests her elbows on the table before carrying on

‘I thought that people like you in the industry just knew everything.’

‘Well that’s definitely not true. You spend a lot of time just making it up as you go along. But there’s never anything wrong with asking for help. If you don’t know how to do something you can always find somebody who does. For instance, I know jack shit about woodwork and tools but I also know that if I point my breasts in the right direction I can usually locate someone willing to help me.’

Charlotte blushes and giggles into her empty glass. I get my wallet and stand up.

‘Why don’t I get us some proper drinks?’

She nibbles her bottom lip again. ‘Okay.’

An hour and a half later, Charlotte and I parted ways at the mouth of the tube with promises to meet up soon and I jumped onto a Jubilee Line tube which was absolutely rammed so I was forced to stand. My ‘Baby on Board’ badge was in my handbag but as I was clearly quite inebriated I decided against using it. Nothing angers the British public more than a pissed and pregnant woman.

Back at home I clambered onto my boat and straight into my little futon to watch ‘Road Wars’ (my favourite late night viewing) and considered the evening’s events. Just as Lily had predicted, I thought that I may well have made a friend and did actually feel slightly better about myself. When I had told Charlotte about my rather Un Grown Up boat her eyes had widened and she had clapped her hands together.

‘A boat? That’s so cool.’

And maybe I didn’t know everything that there was to know about stage management and maybe there was still a lot that I didn’t know about. And maybe I didn’t have a Grown Up flat with a wine rack and a Jospeh Joseph chopping board and Molton Brown hand soap.

But as Robin Williams once said to Matt Damon,

‘People may call those imperfections, but no. That’s the good stuff.’






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