Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bold Choices

My play has finished. It’s all over. The cast and I have said our drunken and tearful goodbyes, the dressing rooms have been cleared of discarded Press Night cards and my Sliding Doors have been dismantled. Well, I say dismantled. They have been yanked off their frames using brute force and ignorance by a second year LAMDA student who is being paid with beer (just the one) and a promise from Production Manager that they will ‘definitely get some paid work soon’.
I am now into Week Two of a four week rehearsal period for the next project and my days are spent sourcing props and furniture, making to do lists and attending to the needs of my cast and director.
I was in the Green Room this morning, reading my Rehearsal Notes when Rebecca, our intern, came in and put the kettle on.
Rebecca is with us on a three month internship programme which basically means that she earns absolutely no money. None at all. However, if you ask her to photocopy something she will automatically make you a spare and neatly lay it on your desk with a Post-It on top saying what it is. Whenever she goes to the Green Room, she calls out to see if anybody would like a cup of tea while she’s there and she knows off by heart who has sugar and how milky people like it. At the weekend she bakes delicious cakes and brings them in to work for everybody to eat during the Monday meeting. Her enthusiasm for theatre knows no bounds and she sees about three different productions a week. When people talk to her about her internship she tells them how lucky she is to work within such a creative building and that, even though the work is unpaid, she just adores every single moment.
We all despise her. But nobody is really sure why.
‘Cup of tea?’ she asks.
‘Er... yeah.’
‘White, no sugar?’
‘Yes. Thanks.’
‘Anything in today’s Rehearsal Notes?’
I scan the Notes in my hand and at first, everything seems pretty self-explanatory. Someone needs a handbag. The chair for Scene Three will be stood on and needs reinforcing. And Lead Actor is going to smoke a cigarette in Scene Five. I don’t take too much notice of that last one. I have discovered that during Week Two of rehearsals, a lot of actors make what we in the industry call Bold Choices.
Bold Choices usually mean trouble for stage management.
Lead Actor has made the Bold Choice that his character is a smoker. Lead Actor is a smoker himself and I can’t help but suspect that smoking during the scene is not so much a Bold Choice but more of a Personal Choice. As soon as a tea break is called he is the first out of the room and down in the yard quicker than you can say Ryan Giggs.
Anyway, what usually happens is that in Week Four, the actor gets presented with cigarettes, a cigarette case, a lighter and an ashtray. The ashtray is, unpleasantly, filled with KY Jelly to ensure that the cigarette is extinguished the second it leaves the actors fingers. Once presented with all of the fiddly yet necessary apparatus, the actor will suddenly find the scene intensely complex and he will struggle to organize the various paraphernalia which now occupies his costume.
The simple task of taking out a cigarette, lighting it, smoking it and then putting it out is made much more convoluted when you throw in the tedious chore of having to simultaneously act. Some actors will persevere stubbornly and accept the rod that they have made for their own back and if that is the case, then I too will surrender myself to weeks of having to deal with leaking, antique Zippo lighters. I will also cheerfully tolerate cleaning out ashtrays which are filled with a peculiar and slimy substance and it's the only kind of substance you can get if you mix half a tube of KY Jelly with cheap, half-smoked, lipstick stained cigarettes.
But sometimes I am fortunate enough to be saved from those dull and arduous tasks by an actor who is willing to admit defeat. Although of course, he will be quite cunning in how he admits that he has lost and will do it by making yet another Bold Choice. After another rehearsal spent hovering around the very specifically placed ashtray, waiting for a cigarette to be short enough to logically extinguish, an actor will usually sigh and wave a little white flag. Metaphorically speaking.
‘You know, I’ve been thinking about this. A lot. And actually, I don’t think my character does smoke.’
So there it is on my Rehearsal Notes. Lead Actor has made the Bold Choice that his character is a smoker.
I look up at Rebecca and smile.
‘No. Nothing of any interest.’
‘How are you getting on with the company?’
‘Erm... I haven’t been in the rehearsal room that much Rebecca so I don’t really know what to think of them.’
This is, of course, a total and utter lie. I have made snap judgements on every single one of them. But I’m not going to relay that information to Rebecca, who looks disappointed. But she perseveres regardless.
‘Lead Actor seems nice.’
I nod my head in a non-committal manner, but actually I don’t know how I feel about Lead Actor.  There may be people who read this blog who believe that all stage managers have an instant disliking for all actors and this is just not true. I have worked with gifted actors whose thought-provoking, heart-wrenching performances have touched my heart. I have worked with astute actors whose words of wisdom and considered advice have touched my life. And, let’s be honest, I’ve worked with some pretty yummy actors who have just plain touched me. On the boobs and stuff.
But at this moment I am unsure as to my feelings about Lead Actor. And this is due to an incident which took place on the second day of rehearsals. I had come in to the Rehearsal Room at the end of the day and was talking through the following days call with Leah. I had a pen in my hand (a nice gel one from Paperchase) and also a notebook. Lead Actor was still in the room and was on his mobile phone chatting to someone who I can only believe was his agent.
Halfway through me making notes about the schedule for the following day, Leah remembered she had something very important to tell me about her opinion on Cheryl Cole’s hair. As we discussed hair extensions and whether having big hair made you thinner, Lead Actor got closer to us, still on his phone.
‘Yep... Yep.... Monday?  Yeah I don’t think I’m called. So where am I going? Okay... hold on... I need to write this down.’
Lead Actor did the classic I’m On The Phone And I Need A Pen Quickly Dance, where you turn in a full circle one way and then immediately turn another full circle in the opposite direction, darting your head around like a pigeon and rapidly groping around in mid-air with your free hand. If people are near you, you carry on talking to the person on the other end of the line but perform a frenzied charade of somebody writing in the direction of anyone else in the vicinity.

Once he had completed the dance, he spotted the pen in my hand and lunged for it. No eye contact was made, no silently mouthing the word ‘pen’ at me. He just lunged. And snatched it from my hand.
Leah later said it was one of those times when everything goes into slow motion. Although for me it seemed to happen alarmingly fast. One moment the pen was in my hand, the next Lead Actor had it and was leaning on the desk, scribbling down the address of an audition he had to attend on Monday. He stopped to listen for a while and then casually, thoughtlessly, put the pen in his mouth and chewed the end. Leah audibly took an intake of breath.
Lead Actor finished his call and laid the pen on the desk.
‘Cheers for that. Laters.’
And then he left the room.
‘Oh my god,’ Leah murmured.
‘I know.’
‘He just...’
‘I know.’
‘And then he...’
‘I know!’
We didn’t say the word. But it hung in the air. Wanker.
This was a few days ago now but the rudeness of it has troubled me and I have found it difficult to forget the experience. But I don’t want to tell Rebecca about the drama of Pengate. She would think it silly and childish to dislike someone because they took your pen without asking and as I write this I think I may have over-reacted. But stage managers have strong feelings towards stationary and we like it to be treated with respect.
I realise that Rebecca is looking at me curiously so I indulge her slightly.
‘Yes. Lead Actor does seem nice.’
But if I’m honest,  I just don’t think we are going to get on.
At that moment, Leah comes into the Green Room. It’s eleven thirty. Tea break. She plonks herself on the sofa next to me and idly flicks through my magazine.
‘How was rehearsals?’ I ask her.
‘Yeah good. Oh, I’ll put it on Rehearsal Notes but just so you know, Lead Actor isn’t going to smoke anymore.’
‘Wow. That’s quick seeing as he only decided to smoke yesterday. Did he make another Bold Choice?’
‘No, actually. He said he realised that smoking in that scene was wanky and just gave him something to do with his hands. He also said that the only reason he decided to smoke originally is because he fancied a fag at the time and that he knew he was being a,’ Leah made the inverted commas sign with her hands,
‘”Dickhead Actor.”’
We both laugh.
Maybe Lead Actor and I will get on after all.


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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Getting to the Bottom of Politics

The theatre I am working at has asked me to stay on for the next show.
This hopefully means that they like me. And I think it also means that I have been forgiven for an unfortunate incident which occurred during Tech Week. This incident involved myself, the sound designer, the sound designer’s expensive leather shoes and an open tin of gloss paint. I won’t go into details about what happened but let’s just say that if in the future I decide to randomly start dancing to the sound check music again, I will first ensure that anything in my hands is stored safely away or at least has some kind of lid on it.
That’s the amazing thing about theatre. I just never stop learning.
I got to the theatre one afternoon and found Production Manager in the Green Room, stretching out his tape measure. I have a genuine theory that all Production Managers do absolutely nothing except spend their days on their I Phones, loitering in empty rooms. But when they hear someone approaching they swiftly whip out a tape measure and hold it against the nearest object. In this case a microwave.
Production Manager saw me and instantly his face coloured. He looked rather worried.
 ‘Erm....I think we need to talk about the pub downstairs.’
Oh. That again. We have an ongoing issue with the pub downstairs. We have to share a stairwell with them which goes directly past our stage so any noise made on this stairwell carries through and interrupts performances. (See ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ in the April file for more info). I generally spend most of my time either sending the Pub Manager, David, polite yet firm emailsor trying to calm my irate cast.
‘Well, I think the noise situation is getting better. On Saturday’s it’s still bad but....’
He interrupts me. ‘No, it’s something else. Erm... how do you think your relationship with the pub staff is?’
 ‘Well. It’s okay. I think. Why?’
Production Manager looks serious, ‘I only ask because.... some graffiti has appeared in the Gents toilets of the pub.  And it’s about you.’
‘Me?!’
 ‘I’m sorry honey. It’s not very nice.’
‘How do you know it’s about me?’
‘It mentions your name.’
‘Well so what? My name is pretty common. It could be about anybody.’
‘No it’s definitely about you.’
‘How can you be sure?’
‘Because it says ‘Jess from upstairs has a massive arse’.
I take a sharp intake of breathe, ‘I don’t believe this!!’
‘Do you want to see it?’ he offers helpfully ‘I took a photo on my I Phone.’
‘No!’
Production Manager looks sympathetic but still rather earnest. ‘I think you need to improve your relationship with the pub. Especially if you are going to work with us again. When Mike worked here...’
‘Yes I know.’ I snap,’ Mike had a great relationship with the pub staff. And if it wasn’t for the fact he turned up drunk he would probably still be the stage manager.’
‘Maybe.’ He sighs. ‘I’m sorry but you really need to sort this. We can’t have it as an ongoing issue. People from The Office are getting annoyed and if they know that you have fallen out with the pub....’
‘Okay. I’ll sort it.’
Production Manager sees my crestfallen face and puts an arm round my shoulder.
‘But so what if you have a massive arse? Nigella Lawson’s got a whopper and I still would.’
As something inside of me dies, Production Manager’s mobile rings and he leaves the Green Room. I call Shelley our Marketing Manager, and summon her outside for an emergency fag. After a few minutes and several puffs on a Marlboro Light I have relayed the awful story to her. She chooses her next words rather unwisely.
‘Bummer.’
Yes. Bummer. Big fat massive bummer. In spite of myself, I have to laugh.
‘Oh, Shelley. What the fuck will I do?’
‘Don’t worry babe. Everyone here likes you. I mean they’ve asked you to stay haven’t they?’
‘Yeah. But just because I’ve been given the job, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Maybe they just gave it to me because the last person fucked it up so badly. Maybe I got it because I was the best of a bad bunch. Sometimes people get jobs and it’s very thrilling and exciting but it’s not long before they have fucked it up and everyone hates them.’
Shelley takes a drag and considers this. ‘Like Nick Clegg?’
Oh God. Maybe I’m the theatrical equivalent of Nick Clegg. With a massive arse.
But sometimes I reckon those politicians have got it easy compared to stage managers. But then, I always think that stage managers have the hardest job in the world compared to any other profession.
A couple of years ago after one particularly stressful Dress Rehearsal, I went home to my then boyfriend who Did Not Work In Theatre and who had a keen interest in Human Rights. I flopped on to the couch and instantly relayed to him details about my dreadful day and moaned about how exhausted and over-worked I was. I looked expectantly to him for sympathy and a cup of tea, but instead he picked up a newspaper and read an article to me about the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay.
I listened intently as he told me all about those poor captives in their orange jumpsuits and what they were subjected to. Apparently they would be locked in a dark, windowless room for up to fifteen hours a day. They were deprived of food and water and their captors would randomly flash bright lights on them and play odd sounds to completely disorientate them. After periods of bright lights they would then be plunged back into darkness. The prison guards would then scream in their faces and ask confusing questions over and over and over again. Eventually they would be let out to sleep for a few short hours but then they would be dragged back into the room and the hellish process would start again for another fifteen hours.
He proudly laid down his paper and looked at me with a smug grin. ‘So,’ he said triumphantly, ‘What do you think about that?’
I said it sounded like a pretty average tech week.
I didn’t get my cup of tea and was single soon after.
‘Why do you think the pub staff hate you so much?’ asked Shelley.
‘I don’t know. My e mails are always really polite.  I put up laminated signs about being quiet on the stairs but I made sure they were very friendly.’
‘So you’ve never spoken to them?’ Shelley was incredulous.
‘Of course I bloody haven’t. They’re fuckwits, I avoid them like the plague.’
Shelley fixed me with a knowing look.
Oh.
So, just before the show, I ventured into the pub and asked to speak to David, the Pub Manager who I had exchanged such regular correspondence with but never actually met. The surly bar maid said that he was in the office and she would ring him for me. She picked up the receiver from a wall mounted phone and dialled a number.
‘There’s someone to see you’. (Pause) ‘It’s Jess.’ (Pause) ‘From upstairs?’ I almost leant in and shouted ‘With the massive arse!’
She eventually hung up and told me that he was on his way. A few short moments later, David appeared. He was younger than I imagined, probably only my age and he had a kind face but it darkened slightly when he saw me. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin and I noticed a small scar on his left cheek. It almost looked like a dimple.
‘Jess?’
‘Yes. Hi.’
He considered me for a second and then gestured to the sunny pub garden.
‘Step into my office?’
Outside, we sat opposite each other at a table. He ran his hands through his hair, rested his elbows on the table and spoke first.
‘This isn’t working is it?’ The expression on his face was so pained and sorrowful that I half expected him to tell me that he had met somebody else and then ask for the spare keys to his flat back. I took a breathe and recited my carefully thought out speech.
‘I think it can work. Really. And I’m sorry if my cast and I are being a pain. It’s just, we really care about the play and want it to be the best it can. It really distracts the actors when they hear all the noise from the stairs. They get so easily distracted.’ David considers this for a moment and lights a fag.
‘Well it would help if you and your precious cast said hello to us once in a while.’
This completely and utterly throws me. He carries on, obviously quite keen on this topic.
‘I mean, we see you on the stairs but you never speak to us. We just see all these different people from all these different casts in mad clothes and carrying weird shit and you never say hello. Maybe if we even knew what we were being quiet for it would be different.’
‘You mean..... you’d like to see our play?’
‘You think because I run a pub I have no interest in theatre?’
I don’t know what to say to this so I do what I always do in these situations. I light a fag. Then it comes to me.
‘Well... we will be starting rehearsals for our next play soon. Maybe you could be guests at our dress rehearsal or something.’
David looks away from me and into the pub where the rest of the staff have huddled behind the bar and are looking out at us. He slowly turns back and begins to smile.
‘I think we’d really like that.’
After a couple more fags, a pint of (free) Diet Coke and some tapping on my Blackberry, I have arranged for the pub staff to attend the dress rehearsal of our next show with free programmes thrown in. David shakes my hand as I leave and some of the pub staff even offer a tentative yet wary wave as I walk out the door.
That night’s show goes smoothly and while I hover next to my Sliding Doors, I listen out for any stair noise. But there’s nothing.
‘Problem solved!’ smiles Leah, as she types up the Show Report (with a comment of how undisturbed it was) and e mails it off.
But I struggle to share her celebratory mood, as despite solving the issue, there is something still upsetting me. I go downstairs to the pub and see the staff behind the bar, busy trying to serve the evening rush. They haven’t spotted me enter and nobody notices as I slip to the Toilets and veer towards the Gents. I take a breathe, push open the door and seeing that it’s completely empty, I gingerly step inside.
Sure enough, there it is. Scrawled crudely with thick black marker above the urinals;
Jess from upstairs has a massive arse.
I swallow hard.  Hearing about it was bad enough but being faced with it is tougher. The staff may be quieter now but I can’t deny the writing on the yellow tiled wall. Just as I am making a solemn vow to myself to only eat when the lightheadedness gets too much, I notice something else. With much neater handwriting and a red marker, somebody has crossed out ‘massive’ and written above it ‘quite nice’.

Jess from upstairs has a quite nice arse.

My Blackberry beeps with an email from Production Manager in response to the Show Report.
‘Well done honey. Great work.’
I flush with pride and duck quickly out of the Gents, making a beeline through the revellers to the door and smiling at the thought of the negotiations which took place out in that pub garden.
As I sashay out of the pub I consider the possibility that maybe I’m not like Nick Clegg after all. Maybe I’m a bit more like Winston Churchill.
But with a ‘quite nice’ arse.




(Follow me on twitter @agirlinthedark)

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hopes, Dreams and Men Who Wear Waistcoats




I had a date.

I like going on dates for various reasons. Firstly because I am a normal girl in my late twenties with wants and needs. And secondly because I work in theatre and we rarely say no to a free meal. Complimentary food in general is always accepted with gratitude and if I am going to an event where I know there will be canap├ęs, I will always attend carrying Tupperware. At the last Press Night I went to I came away with nine vol-au-vents and a cupcake. The caterers may have smirked at me but who was laughing at breakfast the next day? Me, that’s who.

Anyway, the man I went on the date with was a friend of a friend and most excitingly, he Does Not Work In Theatre.

This is positive and exciting for the following reasons. The fact that he Does Not Work In Theatre means that unlike people who Do Work In Theatre;

1. I haven’t slept with any of his friends.
2. He hasn’t slept with any of my friends.
3. He has not been told the now infamous tale of how I once got so hammered in the Players that I loudly booed the pianist, flipped the finger at Diana Vickers and snogged a Jersey Boy. When they threw me out I announced that I was ‘fucking leaving anyway’. My friends found me outside MacDonalds on the Strand, clutching a Big Mac and trying to light a tampon. ‘I need to go home,’ I hiccoughed, ‘but I don’t have enough money for a cab.’ The terse response to this was ‘Well it is only ten fifteen so you can probably get the tube.’

Anyway, I got invited to a house party thrown by Jenna and Mark, friends of mine who Don’t Work In Theatre. I got there fairly late having just done a show and made a beeline for the kitchen in order to catch up and reach everybody else’s fairly inebriated level. After a couple of tequilas, and some red wine, I was confident that I had ‘caught up’ but had not made the common mistake of ‘taking over’.

Jenna and I were still hanging in the kitchen a couple of hours later and I was trying to concentrate on a conversation about her hatred for Fearne Cotton when through the door, I noticed a guy in the living room wearing an unbuttoned waistcoat over a blue shirt. I am unquestionably interested by men in waistcoats and have absolutely no explanation for it. But maybe it wasn’t just the waistcoat. Maybe I noticed him because he had a nice smile. And green eyes.

‘Who is that?’ I asked Jenna. She turned round and took him in before whirling back to me.

‘Oh my god. That’s Stuart.’

‘Stuart?’

‘Twenty nine. Single. Teacher.’

I do love Jenna. There was more.

‘And...’ she squealed. ‘he goes rowing!’

I was a bit confused. As a girl, I knew that we dutifully did squealing for firemen and sports therapists. But rowing? I vocalised this.

‘ You’re squealing about rowing?’

‘Shoulders,’ she hissed. I rolled my eyes and turned back to examine Stuarts’s.... strapping, powerful shoulders.

‘Stuart!’ called Jenna, and beckoned him to the kitchen. ‘New beer?’

‘Sure.’ Stuart came over and while Jenna rummaged in the fridge, he turned to me and introduced himself and I got a bit lost in the strong handshake, green eyes and Dolce and Gabbana aftershave. As Jenna gave him his fresh beer, she performed her hostess duty of starting a conversation. She did this by using a phrase I have heard parroted at many social functions.

‘Jess works in theatre.’

Stuart turned his full attention to me. ‘Are you an actress?’

‘Oh no I’m a Stage Manager’. I replied. And then had an overwhelming urge to say ‘But I’m really good in bed.’

I didn’t though.

At ten past midnight I complimented him on his waistcoat. At quarter past one I made him laugh with a rubbish joke about which cheese to use to hide a horse (mascarpone). And then at twenty past three he asked for my phone number.

Over the next few days we had several text message conversations which could all be deemed as successful. Oh, except one when he finished by saying ‘well I’m off to hit the gay.’ This transpired to be the result of some unfortunate predictive text messaging and what he actually meant was ‘I’m off to hit the hay’. We both laughed (well we LOL’d) and then, satisfied in the knowledge that he wasn’t a violent homophobe, I agreed to go on a date with him.

He took me to an Italian place he knew in West London with soft lighting, great service and thick linen napkins. And he wore a waistcoat.

The evening passed by in a giggly haze of wine, mozzarella, warm dough balls and hands that brushed against each other ‘accidentally’.

But waistcoats and shoulders aside, he made me laugh and was intelligent and even managed to remind me that my job is actually quite interesting. I think I forget that sometimes. And I genuinely found his job interesting. He taught English Language/Literature at a secondary school in North London and I asked him why he enjoyed his job. He took a swig of wine and said,

‘Working in a school means that even as a teacher, I never stop learning.’

Nice.

An hour or so later, the remnants of a shared tiramisu were being cleared away and he asked me about my Hopes and Dreams.

I’m not a massive fan of talking about Hopes and Dreams. Mostly because I’m not entirely sure what they are. At the age of 29 you would think I had a better idea but I am still fairly flummoxed. I didn’t even have an incredibly strong ambition to work in theatre and kind of ‘fell’ into it. I guess that my Hope is that one day in about ten years I will ‘fall’ into something else. I’m crossing my fingers it will be Managing Director for a company that makes yachts for millionaires but I’m prepared for disappointment.

Stuart and his unbelievable green eyes are looking at me over a cappuccino, expecting me to divulge what my Hopes and Dreams are. I don’t want to disappoint so decide that the best option is to lie.

‘I want to travel to Haiti and build a theatre for orphans.’

He’s impressed. I turn the question back on him ‘What about you?’

‘Well, my father died a couple of years ago.’

I tut and do my god-thats-really-awful face.

‘And he left me a lot of money.’

I swallow and try very hard not to do my oooh-are-you-actually-quite-loaded face.

‘So now I’m thinking that maybe I will use it to do what I really love, you know? Maybe have a bit of faith in myself.’

‘Totally.’ Without thinking I rest my hand on his. He has lovely hands. Bit callousy but I’m assuming that’s from all the rowing and it’s rowing which gives him the Shoulders so I’ll forgive it. He smiles at my touch.

‘I think I will leave teaching soon. I’ve done it for a while now.’

‘Wow.’ I lean in closer. ‘So what will you do?’

He takes a breath.

‘I want to be an actor.’

In one fluid movement I have pulled back my hand and signalled for the bill.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Handymen and Heroes

The situation with the pub has got worse.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about you need to read  a previous post called Upstairs, Downstairs. My blog isn’t like ‘Lost’, you know,  I’m not going to do a re-cap at the beginning of each entry.)
The shrieking is continuing and our play is still constantly being disrupted. I have sent several e-mails to the Pub Manager, David. And he replies dutifully to every single e mail.  I have put thought and great care into the e mails(probably not as much as I put into this blog but I always run a spell check)  and it is clear that he is doing the same but we are going round in circles. I am running out of polite and gracious ways of saying ‘our play is the most important thing in the world so when it is on, you and your staff must shut the fuck up’. And he is struggling to find ways to say ‘I run a pub, not a bloody library’ without causing offence. Each day these e mails pass between us but I can tell that we are growing weary of each other. He has stopped beginning his with ‘Dear’ and I have ceased to put kisses at the bottom of mine. Hey, I can be a right bitch when I want to be.
He does always promise though that they will try to ‘keep it down’. Whatever. When people say they are going to try to ‘keep it down’, they invariably don’t. It is one of those great lies of life and I regard it with suspicion. You know, the same way you are suspicious of people when they say ‘The taxis just round the corner’, ‘your cheque is in the post’ and ‘I won’t come in your mouth’.
Whole meetings have been dedicated to this (the noise issue, not what to do about men who come in your mouth without warning), and people are always coming up with various solutions. At one point, somebody from The Office suggested that we place an Usher IN the stairwell for the entire duration of the performance. Our Ushers are very sweet locals who volunteer and are only paid with the privilege of watching some fabulous free theatre. They do not come and give their services for nowt so that they can then be placed in a dingy, lightless stairwell to confront the pub staff when they get rowdy. Having to deal directly with the public is bad enough.
We have yet another meeting with people from The Office and we decide that the Ushers should not be expected to deal with the pub staff and that we need to think of something else.  Various ideas fly backwards and forwards. There are some we can’t afford (sound-proofing the doors) and there are others that are tempting but not really realistic (planting vast amounts of cocaine behind the bar and getting the pub shut down.) That was my idea.
One of my cast is getting increasingly fraught as the shows go by and has a suggestion of his own.
‘Can’t you just kill them???!!!’
I was in his dressing room at the end of a particularly badly interrupted performance and watched him as he tore off his costume and threw it in the laundry basket.
‘I mean, these people should die. Die!!! They are so fucking disrespectful!’
Actors appear to have murderous thoughts about a lot of people; audience members whose mobile phones go off, bloggers who write about shows during previews (not guilty) and people who eat crisps loudly and continuously during plays. One of these days I swear that one of them will crack, go on a bloody rampage and after a four day manhunt be tracked down to a West End pub where there will be a tense stand off. After fifteen hours of bargaining they will get dragged into a Police van screaming ‘I was doing a monologue and the phone went off twice! Twice! And he didn’t stop it! In the middle of my monologue!’
Just as one of these ‘what do we do about the noisy pub staff’ meetings is wrapping up and I’m yanking my Marlboro Lights from my pocket, one of the admin girls comments loudly,
‘It’s very strange. We never had a problem when Mike was the stage manager.’
Wow.
In this entire situation, I had assumed that we, as a theatre, had been directing our murderous feelings of hatred and resentment towards the pub. It had never even crossed my mind that my stage management ability was under scrutiny.  I don’t wait around for the standard post-meeting tea and cake and flee The Office, shamefaced and slightly distraught.
In the theatre I locate my Production Manager who is measuring something (measuring, always measuring) and casually ask him about Amazing Mike.
 ‘Oh yeah. Mike. He was the stage manager here. He was great.’
‘Great?’
‘Yeah. Great team player and amazing carpenter. So useful to have around.’
This is bad news. Especially as I struggled to assemble my Ikea wardrobe and even now the right hand door swings open for no reason and I have to jam my radiator against it.
So the score is Mike 1 –Me Nil. Production Manager sees my crestfallen face.
‘But it’s great having you here too! You’re really great at... the scheduling. Mike was crap at that.’
Tis true. I like a good schedule and tackle them with relish. One all.
‘Soooooo...... how was the pub situation when Mike was here?’
‘It was very good. He was very good at dealing with it.’
Mike 2 – Me 1
After further questioning it transpires that one night, Amazing Mike overheard one of the Pub Staff moaning about a broken cupboard in the kitchen. Amazing Mike heard this cry of distress, sped down there with his toolbelt and fixed the dodgy cupboard in a flash. Within minutes the Pub Staff were carrying him around on their shoulders in a celebratory frenzy and jubilantly chanting his name.
Okay so maybe that didn’t happen but that’s the image I get in my head. I also can’t prevent myself from picturing him clad head to toe in skin tight lycra, a picture of a purple hammer emblazoned across his chest like some kind of superhero. Carpenter Man.  Armed only with a Leatherman he is saving the world from badly assembled furniture, one chipboard cupboard at a time.
From that day on, he went down to the pub after every single performance. He befriended all of the pub staff and was a regular at lock-ins. They all absolutely adored him and called upon him to fix and refurbish their rather dodgy pub furniture.  In return for his services they kept quiet on the stairwell and crept about silently, in fear of upsetting Mike and having to repair any breakages themselves.
Now how the hell am I supposed to compete with that? I rack my brains but struggle to work out what services I could offer the hostile pub staff. In a moment of need and crisis, nobody wants Scheduling Woman to appear on the scene equipped with a Filofax, post-it notes and a biro.
‘But he never works here anymore?’
Production Manager sighs. ‘No. I had to fire him.’
Things are looking up. ‘How come?’
‘He turned up to a matinee still pissed from a lock in the night before.’
Game Over.
So yeah, maybe I do struggle with electric screwdrivers. Okay, and normal screwdrivers. And, yes, I’ll admit that if anyone ever presents me with a broken piece of wooden furniture I instinctively reach for the Gaffa tape.  But turn up inebriated for work?  I wouldn’t dare.
‘By the way,’ Production Manager continues ‘speaking of schedules, I have been looking at the one for next week and it’s a real head-fuck. Could you please give me a hand and sort it out?’
He hasn’t even finished the sentence and I have produced (seemingly out of nowhere), a biro, my Filofax and some small post-its.
It’s Scheduling Woman to the rescue.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Party Pooper

It was just before the show and I was backstage, sporting my headset and waiting to be told that all of our audience were in their seats and that we could start our performance. Waiting in the wings with me were Adam and Chris, two of my actors. Both young, attractive and brimming with fresh talent. I had come to the conclusion that with the right agent, at least one of them would appear in an ITV murder mystery in the next six months.
I had been chatting away on my headset to Leah, my fabulous DSM, and Austin, my lighting board operator. Austin graduated about a year ago. He is a whizz at programming an ETC Ion and when he’s sporting his harness, he swings expertly and adeptly around a rig like a monkey. A bespectacled, slightly overweight, Super Dry wearing monkey.  I would have a lot more time for Austin if he didn’t assume that his extensive knowledge of various lighting desks meant that he was also an authority on absolutely everything, including how I did my job. He reminds me of a young Piers Morgan. And I’ve told him that.
I checked my watch; 7.31. We had loitered here for about five minutes and the boys had gone through their usual warm ups. (Lots of punching the air and humming loudly) All I was waiting for was for my DSM, Leah, to tell me over the headset, that we had Front of House clearance. Once that happened I would give Withnail and I the signal, and as soon as they were in position, I would get back to her and tell her to start the show.  
‘That’s clearance’ Leah trills.
‘Thank yoooooooou. Let me tell the boys.’ I waved to Adam and Chris who nodded that they were ready. Some last minute punching happened and then they both settled. I crossed to my Sliding Doors and opened my mouth to let Leah know she could start. Then suddenly, in the darkness, I felt a hand grip my arm. I looked round. It was Adam.
‘I can’t go on.’
Bloody hell. I had heard about things like this happening; actors getting actual stage-fright and just suddenly being unable to perform. Stephen Fry famously walked offstage during a 1995 West End production of ‘Cell Mates’ and was only discovered a week later in Belgium. (Who knew that vast quantities of chocolate and beer could cure stage fright.) And Ian Holm was struck by such awful stage fright during a 70’s production of ‘The Iceman Cometh’ that he didn’t grace the stage for almost two decades.
The grip on my arm was tightening and even in the darkness I could see Adam’s pale face and the whites of his eyes. The panic started in my stomach, quickly rose through my body and made the vein in my temple throb wildly against my headset.
‘What do you mean you can’t go on?’ I hissed back, bracing myself for him to suddenly flee the wings and hail a cab to Gatwick. He gulped and I could now see small beads of sweat on his forehead.
‘I need to poo.’
Jesus.
‘Really? Right now?’
‘Yes. Seriously.’
‘No. We’ve got clearance.’
‘ It’s a Party Poo. It’s urgent.’
‘Party...?’
But he’s gone. He has left the wings and fled in the direction of the Gents. I turn to Chris who is nodding solemnly.
‘What was that all about?’ I ask him. ‘Party poo?’
Chris is wise and knowledgable in the ways of Party Poos.
‘Its when you’ve been on a heavy one the night before. The next day you have an upset tummy and your poo is....’ He looks uncomfortable.
‘Go on.’
‘.....a bit runny and unpleasant. And it smells reeeeeally bad. But it’s totally necessary. He has to go.’
‘Right.’ Despite my annoyance I flick a switch on my headset and relay this information to Leah.
‘Adam has gone for a poo.’
‘But we’ve had clearance.’
I sigh. ‘Yes I know but it’s a Par..... It’s urgent.’
Austin wastes no time in telling me his opinion. ‘You shouldn’t have let him go.’
‘Well I didn’t have much choice.’
A minute passes by but it feels like a lot longer. The audience are shifting in their seats. All of these people are tense with the anticipation of the theatrical magic which is about to unfold before them. I am tense with the knowledge that the play can not start until one of my cast has had a poo. God he’s taking his time.
‘He’s been ages.’
 ‘Yes, thank you Austin. I’m going to go and find him.’ I remove my headset, leave the wings and head off in the direction of the Gents Toilets. On the way I bump into the Front of House Manager, Rob.
‘Oh hi Rob.’
He looks aggrieved. ‘We gave you clearance ages ago. Why haven’t you started?’
‘It’s Adam. He needs to po.... prepare.’
Despite my current annoyance with Adam, I always feel a very odd sense of loyalty towards my company. I love them all dearly and am not prepared to disclose information about Adam’s  embarrassing bowel issues to other theatre staff. But Rob isn’t buying it.
‘Well tell Adam to prepare quicker. The audience are all in and if we don’t start soon I’ll get complaints. And if that happens,’ he pauses for dramatic effect , ‘I’ll tell them we’re having technical difficulties.’
Bastard.
‘Oh for fu.... Fine. Fine. I’ll get him,’  I promise and march past.
I discover Adam in the Gents toilets where a cubicle door is, thankfully, preventing me from seeing what is happening within . Sadly the door does not stop me from being able to hear Adam’s extensive and strenuous battle with his Party Poo. I quite fancied Adam when I first met him. I don’t anymore.
‘Adam babe. You really need to hurry up.’
‘I’m........ trying,’ is the strained reply.
When I started this career in theatre, I was excited about where it would take me and who I would meet. I never envisaged myself in the mens loos of a small theatre, waiting for an actor to empty his bowels. And I’m not even waiting for someone important or worthy of a dinner table anecdote like Rupert Everett. I’m  waiting on an actor who has starred in a Burger King advert and is yet to even audition for Midsomer Murders. As I contemplate a career move, I hear a door creak behind me. Adam and I are no longer alone. Rob has joined the party. He’s gripping a walkie talkie and looking very pissed off.
‘What the hell is going on and what are you doing in the mens?’
These are two very good questions and ones I am beginning to ask myself. Rob doesn’t even give me a chance to reply.
‘Helping Adam prepare are you?’
I know exactly what’s being insinuated here and I am painfully aware that this situation looks slightly dodgy. But as I have said before, I am fiercely loyal when it comes to my cast and am not ready to embarrass one of my male leads in front of other theatre staff. However, I do enjoy working at this theatre and would like to again. Being caught in the gents, with an actor, when the show should have started is not the way to go about it. Bollocks to it. Sink or swim.
I point accusingly at the cubicle door.
‘Adam has to poo.’
Rob looks unimpressed. ‘Poo?’
‘A PARTY POO!!!!’ comes the anguished wail.
Rob looks from me to the cubicle door. ‘A party poo?’ He contemplates this. ‘Feeling rough mate?’ he calls.
‘Yeah.’ Adam whimpers.
‘Good night was it?’
‘Blinding, mate.’
‘Nice one!’
‘Yeah. Think I need a pint to sort me out now though, bruv.’
Rob leans casually against the doorway and plays with the antennae on his radio.
‘Well, come the pub with us after the show mate.’ He suggests.
‘Ace.’ And with this we hear the flush of the loo and Adam emerges from the cubicle, looking satisfied and triumphant. The battle with the Party Poo is over and Adam has emerged victorious. A nation rejoices.  ‘Which pub?’
‘One round the corner. The Rose and...’
‘HELLO!!!!’ Both of these men seem to have completely forgotten my presence and I am starting to wonder if I should be ushering the audience in here so that they can witness a scaled down theatrical version of ‘Brokeback Mountain’.  As far as I am aware however, both of these men are very straight so maybe its more like ‘Bromance Mountain.’
‘Adam. Backstage. NOW.’
Adam reluctantly exits the loos and I follow him. In Scene Two he serves food and drink to other cast members. He hasn’t washed his hands. Nobody needs to know.
Backstageand next to the Sliding Doors, I replace my headset and check my watch. Christ, we’ve been gone for ages.
‘You were gone for ages.’
‘Yes thank you Austin. Leah, we’re ready. You can start’.
7.41. The show hasn’t even begun and I am now officially In A Strop. Through gritted teeth, I growl ‘Stand by.’
Adam is now standing behind the Sliding Doors, awaiting his entrance. He stands tall, shoulders pushed back and presumably feels a pound or so lighter. He looks over at me sheepishly and apologetically.
‘I’m sorry,’ he mouths.
And when I look at him, something inside me softens. He looks so handsome in his medieval costume with his strong jawline clearly visible in the backstage gloom. His hair falls across his face and when he takes that preparatory breath, his shoulders rise and fall as if he is readying himself for war.
I try to forget what has just taken place and I remind myself that I must not take for granted what a privileged position I am in. Every night I get to witness story telling at its greatest and work with truly talented individuals and Adam is definitely one of those talented individuals. Reviewers have used words such as ‘mesmerising’ and ‘rising star’ when describing him.
I make a mental note to try and treat Adam with slightly more respect. I have shown him little so far and was maybe not as sympathetic towards his pre-show panic as I could have been.  As his stage manager, I should be somebody who he feels comfortable to approach in his hour of need. Not somebody who begrudges him a few short minutes so that he can feel totally at ease when appearing before an audience.
I return Adam’s slightly nervous smile with an encouraging and supportive grin to show that I forgive him and that all is well again between cast and crew. Just before the Sliding Doors open he again mouths something at me. Another heartfelt apology?  It takes a second for me to work it out but then the smell of rancid milk and overcooked cabbage hits me.
‘I’ve farted.’
He passes through the doors and I slam them shut behind him, practically locking myself within the stench of his hungover innards.
Wanker.