Thursday, 27 December 2012

Hello Goodbye

It’s almost the end of the year. I have just enjoyed a particularly fabulous Christmas and rather hope that my readers and friends did too. If you are an actual acquaintance of mine I have no idea what your Yuletide was like having purposefully avoided Facebook and Twitter from about one pm on Christmas Day onwards. This is so I can avoid the usual social media activity which accompanies this festive period. You know the sort; Dozens of ‘I said YES!’ status updates, hundreds of pictures of little Oscar and Tamara opening their presents (‘their  little faces were a picture’) and a billion Instagram photos of ‘lush’ turkey breasts, piggies-in-blankets and homemade stuffing.

I am starting to worry how far people will take this Taking A Picture Of Every Fucking Thing You Ingest trend. I can only imagine it will eventually result in people Instagramming the contents of their toilet bowls several hours after the delightful ‘nom-noms’ have been consumed; ‘Look at THIS Food Baby! Megalolz!’

Admittedly I am also guilty of sharing a photo on social media on Christmas morning. But it was definitely with the intention of amusing those who saw it.

For those of you who don’t know, my beautiful cat Molly who I got as a kitten when I was twelve, passed away earlier this year. She was an impressive eighteen years of age (do the maths) and her demise was heartbreaking but inevitable. She was very old but had a life of love and comfort.

My parents knowing that I was missing her, decided to get me some kind of replacement. My working life means I am unable to take on another pet so they got me the next best thing. They found a photo of Molly as a very small kitten and took it to a company who turned it into a suedette cushion.


It should be stated that they did do this in jest although I am now faced with the dilemma of where to place this object. Flatmate has expressed her lack of willingness for it to take up residence in our living room and I feel that the bedroom will also not be a suitable resting place for it;

‘Oh that? That’s the face of my dead cat blown up to nightmarishly large proportions and emblazoned across a suedette cushion. I sleep with it every night. Why are you putting your clothes back on?’

Spare room it is.

Anyway, I am very much looking forward to 2013. 2012 certainly had its ups and downs, and this seven month tour couldn’t come at a better time. For Christmas I got a beautiful new leather organiser which will soon be filled with digs addresses, receipts and train tickets. Just the way I like it. (Although experience has told me I shouldn’t keep all of my Nando’s receipts. After my last long tour I got a phone call from my accountant to inform me that there was no way the government would stump up for ‘that much chicken.’ Spoilsports.)

I even got given a Kindle which means I will be relieved of dragging several books around the country with me and can also read Cheryl Cole’s autobiography in public places without judgement.

So yes. 2013. Bring. It. On.

Some fun things happened with this blog over the past few weeks which I would also like to explore in 2013. As some of you know the link to it got tweeted by a well-known person to their 35,000 followers which resulted in a huge rise in the number of hits I got and some lovely responses from other people in the industry. I even got contacted by the Stage Management Association and asked if I would like to maybe contribute to their magazine, Cueline, in the future.

Yes, yes, I know. Cueline is not exactly a well-known publication and I am not going to get paid for it. But look at Charlie Brooker. He started off writing very small articles and comic strips (the brilliantly named ‘Cybertwats’) for the little-known ‘PC Zone’ in the mid nineties and look at him now; well known media personality, own TV show and he bagged an ex Blue Peter presenter.

Admittedly research has shown that Brooker gained notoriety and consequently furthered his career by actually getting ‘PC Zone’ removed from the shelves of many British newsagents. He did this by creating a one-shot cartoon titled ‘Helmet Werstler’s Cruelty Zoo’. It professed to be an advert for a theme park created by a Teutonic psychologist for children to take out their violent impulses on animals rather than humans. It was accompanied by photoshopped pictures of children smashing the skulls of monkeys with hammers, jumping on a badger with a pitchfork and chainsawing an orang-utan.

I can’t imagine Cueline allowing me to do something in a similar vein but you never know.

Seriously, I am looking forward to the challenge of being given an actual topic to write about and a word limit instead of rabbiting on about nothing at all until I eventually bore myself and admit defeat.

I also recently found an article about Improving Your Blog which I read with interest. I have never really got that geeky about my blog. I know how to look into its statistics but I have never got fancy or adventurous with graphics or lay-out or links or anything like that. I just like to write it. However, apparently I can generate more interest by doing the following.

a)      Adding pictures. (Tick. See above.)

b)      Writing every day.

Personally, I do not have the time to blog every day. My heavy routine of wine-drinking, ‘Heat’ reading and bitching prevents me from doing anything useful. BUT, as I am about to embark on a long tour I am going to endeavour to write at least once a week. Even if it is just a short paragraph reviewing whichever delightful right-wing town I am visiting accompanied by a photo of my temporary digs bed complete with BHS dust-ruffle

But enough about me….time to write about stage management stuff.

During the run up to Christmas I was simultaneously rehearsing for my new tour during the day and still stage managing the final week of my Greek Tragedy in the evening.  At five o’clock I would leave rehearsals in Elephant and Castle in order to race across London to do a speedy re-set for the evening’s performance of the other job.

I was shattered and in desperate need of an E.T. Day. Now, this is not a day where I settle down on the couch to watch the emotional tale of the Extra Terrestrial, but rather a day where I choose to behave like him. So basically this involves shuffling round my flat in my dressing gown, pulling random food out of the fridge to stuff into my mouth, then getting drunk and falling down.

Like E.T.

But the Greek Tragedy has now ended its run, so when I return after the Christmas break I will just be in rehearsals for the new tour.

It was very hard to say goodbye to my Greek tragedy company as they were a great bunch of people and I am pretty confident that we will be able to sustain friendships. (And I am talking about actual friendships which continue beyond the realms of Facebook and Twitter.) But as I was already in the throes of starting a new production, I have to admit that I was naturally pulling back and beginning to put focus on to my new cast and company as this is a group of people who I will be seeing on a daily basis for the next seven months.

Seven whole months.

I was pretty nervous about starting rehearsals. It still is and always will be like the first day of school. I have actually written about what first days of rehearsals are like before (Meet and Greet) so won’t go into it in major detail again. But this one was no different, although if anything maybe I felt even more nervous as, for the first time in a long time, I did not previously know one person either in the cast or the stage management team. Having spent so much time working with the same companies and actors over and over, it was quite unnerving to step into a room of strangers again.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was still doing my evening performances too which was definitely contributing to my unsettled feeling. But even on Thursday, feeling weary but with the knowledge that I did not have to be anywhere after rehearsals, I still felt a bit awkward and slightly yearning for the familiarity which comes with being in a rehearsal room with old friends or at least people who you are accustomed to.

However, by Friday evening I was feeling in a better place. Mostly because I had been able to sleep and also because I was in a pub. With two of my cast members.

As the rehearsals were winding down at six pm, I had been tempted to suggest to my new company that we go for a drink before the Christmas holidays but shyness (yes really) prevented me. Despite my desire to visit a nearby and welcoming establishment.

Every day during rehearsals I had passed a small mock tudor pub on the corner of a busy main road.

The Tankard.  

At lunchtime middle-aged men with flat-caps, misogynistic views and nicotine-yellow fingers sat on the exterior benches. But in the evening I could hear muffled donkey-like guffaws and see the lattice windows steaming up, almost blocking the tantalising yellow and orange whiskey glow which lit up the chewing-gum stained pavement outside.

I was desperate to go inside. Nothing intrigues or pleases me more than a proper London boozer. You can keep your All Bar Ones, your Bar 38’s and your Pitcher and Piano’s. Give me a Guinness and black, a packet of pork scratchings and a landlady who looks like Amy Winehouse’s mother any day of the week.

So once I had closed the Prompt Copy at 6.00pm on Friday afternoon and was doing up the buttons on my duffle coat, resigned to a night on the sofa, my ears pricked up as I heard one of my actor’s voices.

‘Anyone fancy a pint?’

I whirled round to see one of my cast near the rehearsal room door, standing expectantly with raised eyebrows and open palms.

Myself and an actress vocally ventured that yes, we would like a festive tipple to begin the Christmas celebrations.

‘Great,’ he replied, clapping his hands together. ‘I know there’s some good places further into town. But… does anyone fancy that funny little place on the corner? ‘The Tankard’?’

My heart leapt at the realisation that Someone Who Likes Pubs That I Like was in this company. I like to think that this is always a good start when bonding with other company members.

‘The Tankard’ definitely did not disappoint. The drinks were unbelievably cheap, there was a life size moving Santa Claus, the barman continued to have a ferocious argument with his girlfriend (who was on my side of the bar) as he served me, and we got repetitively accosted by a drunk seventy year old man who was convinced that Actor Who Likes Pubs That I Like was David Seaman.

‘DAVID SEAMAN!’ he bellowed, jabbing his finger at the actor. ‘IT’S DAVID FUCKING SEAMAN!’

Actor Who Likes Pubs That I Like politely yet firmly told this man that he was not the popular Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman. But this did not stop this man repetitively pointing and shouting ‘DAVID SEAMAN’ whenever he passed our table.

We were all in the kind of mood which meant that these events enlightened our evening rather than dampened it. And as I rode on the tube home, emitting the kind of glow which only four pints of Guinness’ can emit, I realised that it was okay I didn’t already know anybody in the company. Here was a whole new group of interesting people for me to go round the country with. I am not expecting all of them to like me or always agree with me or become my Bestest Closest Friends. But I am definitely looking forward to more pub trips, more Guinness’ and more tales.

Actually, I can’t frikking wait.

Thank you so much for reading the above post. My last post got such an unbelievable amount of traffic which was largely down to how many people posted, shared, tweeted, followed etc. You have no idea how much I appreciate every single person who passes this blog on and every bit of support is hugely appreciated.

If you liked this blog, please click on 'Share' at the top of the page. You can also 'Like' my Facebook page which is 'Girl In The Dark' or follow me on Twitter (@agirlinthedark). If you want to tweet it you can use this tinyurl which is Also do leave a comment if you enjoyed. I LOVE to get your feedback.

Hope you all have a wonderful new year and I hope to keep babbling in 2013.

See ya!


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Things I Have Learnt

What have I learnt?

This is a question I try and ask myself towards the end of every production. Being a stage manager can be an odd thing and the skill set required varies from job to job. Despite doing this for over a decade, it is very often that I step into a job and realise that I am going to need to learn something new and learn it fast. Drama schools can really only teach you so much about How to Be a Stage Manager and there are many tricks and helpful hints which you gather along the way. And I truly think I am yet to do a job where I learn absolutely nothing. Even if the only thing that I do discover is that I am completely useless at papier mache and that casually commenting to an actor that they probably won’t be called till next week because they ‘don’t really say much’ will cue a One Man Campaign of Hate and Vitriol which will last for the duration of the five week run.

My current play will be ending shortly so as I start to eye up the set and decide what might be worth keeping (a fake Louis Vuitton handbag and a vintage Scrabble set – merry christmas mum) I am starting to really think about what I have learnt.

And I have learnt a lot.

First of all there is all the Actually Quite Educational stuff. In this instance, Greek Tragedy. I rather lost interest in secondary school and all I can really remember is photosynthesis (engrained in my brain forever) and wondering if the purchase of a ludicrously expensive Helly Hansen sailing jacket would instantly make me more popular. Many years on and I am pretty happy to report that the Helly Hansen thing was one teenage craze which I did not partake in. Seriously girls. I know we lived in close proximity to the River Mersey but what were you expecting, a flash flood?

So to do these plays and learn about Helen of Troy and the Trojan horse and the tragedy of baby Astyanax is all pretty cool and these details are ones which I can try and retain for future pub quizzes in a bid to look worldly, intelligent and Smart In A Sexy Way. As satisfying as it is to win a much-needed point for your quiz team, nobody is ever overly impressed when you can name every single Big Brother winner and put them into chronological order. And nobody wants to go home with you.

However, if you can confidently confirm to your whispering team mates that it was Paris who Helen eloped with (‘No Ben, it wasn’t Hector, he was the other son. Honestly….’) , you are hopefully going to gain respect, gratitude and the possibility that you have convinced your team mates that you are something other than a thirty year old woman with no A-levels, no degree and just an encyclopaedic knowledge of Heat magazine. My cripplingly low self-esteem about my lack of superior and intellectual knowledge has made me an avid and eager student in the rehearsal room.

Then there is all the prop stuff I have learnt on this show.

This play has been a bugger to prop. As I sat hunched over the script the week before rehearsals, casually scanning the text but scrutinising  everything in italics, (that’s what everyone does right?) my heart started to sink and I began to see the next few weeks stretch in front me; a seemingly  eternal abyss of fruitless Ebay searches, pleading phone calls and Merlot-infused evenings of despair.

But, as always, I made my list and tried not to get too overwhelmed by my lack of budget and the extensive catalogue of desired items. There were a few props which I knew were in other theatre’s prop stores. But how to get them? Well, here is a Lesson I learnt several years ago.

Booze Gets You Props.

So for the price of two decent bottles of Chablis and a couple of Smirnoff Ices, I managed to borrow two hospital beds, an antique wheelchair, several army blankets, a whole load of medical equipment, a rare whiskey bottle and an AK47.

And it was whilst borrowing the AK47 that I learnt my next lesson.

You Can’t Take Guns On The Tube.

Now obviously I wasn’t planning on strolling onto the Central Line, swinging my Topshop handbag and a lethal firearm with gay abandon. But with no transport budget and only a few tube stops to go, I decided to take the risk. My floral shopping trolley and a cleverly placed bin bag appeared to completely keep the gun from view and some internet research showed me what you are meant to do when carrying fake/prop/deactivated weapons.

You have to carry a letter.

So when I perkily skipped through the London Underground, smiling winningly at the staff and putting all my efforts into looking as innocuous as possible (I even put Dido on my iPod. No terrorists listen to Dido), I knew that the pink and green shopping trolley I pulled alongside me not only held a very large and threatening rifle, but also a note. And on this note (which was on headed paper) it clearly stated that the rifle I was carrying was indeed an AK47 but that it was deactivated and intended for theatrical purposes.

So that’s okay then.

I must admit that the protection of a letter left me feeling less than confident. Had I slipped and fallen on the escalator, my trolley tumbling before me and the offending weapon clattering out of its binbag and across the floor in front of startled commuters, I am not sure how much time the special forces and the station staff would give me to squeal ‘WAIT! I have a NOTE! On headed PAPER!’

Let’s be honest, if a blind man with a white stick can get accidentally tasered, then me and my menacing shooting iron wouldn’t stand a chance.

But the trip occurred with no events and the AK47 made it safely to the rehearsal room where all the boys took turns holding it and saying lines from action films because that’s what boys do.           

Something else which I learnt on this show is that it is okay to ask for help. More specifically, it is okay to turn to social media for help. This is something I have never really done before, but with my number of Twitter followers gradually growing and the majority of my Facebook friends being theatrical professionals, I decided to start putting out requests for help, advice and hard-to-find props. The responses were immediate and undeniably useful. I managed to obtain a brand new Iphone 5 box and many leads on various difficult objects.

It was incredible really. Moments after I had logged on and put my propping desires out into the ether, the suggestions came flooding back in. My iPhone beeped and buzzed with replies and offers. 

It was like Grindr but for props.

 Is this considered as cheating? I know that older stage managers say that we have it too easy these days with the internet (‘In my day you just had to prop a show using an out of date Yellow Pages, morse code and a compass!’) but is this something which we will see more often? Stage managers reaching out into their respective social media communities and asking for support? Or has this actually been going on for years and I have only just stumbled onto it, like Dropbox.

(That is another thing I have learnt on this show. The wonder of Dropbox.)

I was amazed by the responses that I got when I started to ask for help and was glad to see that the showbiz community is not too stuck up to offer advice to each other. I personally do not think it is cheating. Especially as I try and answer questions just as much as I enquire. It gives me a great sense of pleasure to go on Twitter and share the Things I Have Learnt;

‘The best fake blood? Pigs Might Fly by Nick Dudman. You’re welcome!’

‘Hmm. Try the Tricycle. I think they still have a couple of coffins. Good luck! ’

‘As you build up speed, keep your hand in a fist at the shaft and relax your throat. Enjoy!’

Those are just some of the little pearls of my acquired wisdom which I feel should be bestowed on others in order to enrich and ease their lives.

However, on this show I have learnt many things and if I talk about them all in the same detail that I have so far, then this blog will rattle on endlessly with no point or conclusion. So instead I am going to just do bulletpoints and list the Many Things I Have Learnt.

Okay. Here goes.

I have learnt that….

·         you can achieve a lot with Dirty Down spray, circular key-rings and a little imagination. And with these three elements an old Primark handbag strap can be easily transformed into a perfectly plausible AK47 shoulder strap.

·         when using office-style water- coolers, you need a completely new and un pierced cap each time you change the bottle. The company that provide the bottles only provide you with one cap per bottle so if you are planning on using one bottle many times, you need many caps. It is good to have this information early on when dealing with water coolers, and not just discover it the day before tech.

·         they sell water bottle caps on EBay. And they do next-day delivery.

·         when trying to get a water cooler to do something a water cooler is not meant to do, it is very easy to blow up the water cooler, make water gush everywhere (including into a plug socket) and therefore completely plunge an entire theatre into darkness.

·         my lighting designer is very good natured.

·         apparently ‘basic physics’ caused my water cooler to blow up. Interesting.

·         Troilus is the name of a character from Greek tragedy. It does not mean Without Troy.

·         when an actress needs to do full-on Boobs and Pubes nudity onstage, make sure that you do everything in your power to make sure she feels confident and comfortable.

·         making the aforementioned actress completely confident and comfortable may require rubbing body oil over the actress when she is completely naked.

·         it is okay to draw your own boundaries when rubbing body oil over aforementioned completely naked actress. If this includes saying the words ‘Okay, I will rub body oil into your bum but I am not going anywhere near your pubes’ then so be it.

·         Body Shop does very good body oil. Not too greasy and smells like rain.

·         stage blood washes out of everything easily except for my hair. Then it just congeals and takes a bucket of Herbal Essences conditioner to get it out.

·         having a reliable and supportive DSM is completely invaluable. Especially when it’s a two show day and you are dealing with heartache, a headache and the grim realisation that your black trousers are still not dry.

·         aforementioned actress doesn’t mind when I shyly but excitedly ask ‘what is Benedict Cumberbatch really like?’

·         Benedict Cumberbatch is apparently really lovely. I am so glad.

·         when an actress dislocates her jaw during a performance just stay calm, offer to stop the show and then watch in stunned disbelief while she relocates it before your eyes.

·         when a jaw is relocated it sounds like someone cracking their knuckles in jam.

·         the NHS is worryingly generous when lending out hospital beds.

·         trying to get five television screens under budget is incredibly difficult.

·         my flatmate and I don’t really miss watching television.

·         there are some things that I just can’t do. I cannot stop grapes falling off their stalk. This does not make me a bad person, a bad stage manager or a failure.

·         Marks and Spencers grapes usually stay on the stalk for quite a while. Tesco grapes do not.

·         one of my new favourite things is when aforementioned actress and I are the only two people backstage during the show and she puts ‘Dancing In The Dark’ on her iPhone so we can dance about. Sometimes she’s clothed. Sometimes she isn’t.

·         my job may be mental, demanding and exhausting but I never get bored.

·         I love my job.

But I learnt the last one ages ago.
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Saturday, 1 September 2012


Sometimes, being a Stage Manager is pretty shit.

There. I said it.

It seems to me that admitting this fact or saying it out loud is slightly frowned upon. It’s one of those thoughts which I have on a regular basis, but feel that vocalising it will cause those around me to look slightly awkward or instantly demand to know why I would say such a thing. Or just roll their eyes and mutter ‘Oh Jess.’ I have lots of these thoughts about all kinds of stuff, all the time, but experience and gut instinct tells me to keep quiet. Mostly.

Here are some examples.

·         I quite like One Direction

·         I don’t think I did enjoy your play.

·         I think your baby is ugly

These are things I keep to myself. But recently I have decided that, us stage managers, instead of sitting round in pubs and sharing our hilarious anecdotes and trying to outdo each other with stories of the best prop or the most complex scene change, we should talk about, how sometimes, our industry is actually sometimes tough and stage managers get a raw deal.

It’s the truth. A terrible and painful truth.

If I ever become a stage management tutor (which is unlikely), I think that would be the very first lecture that I would give, just so that all my students knew what they were getting themselves into.  Within the thick walls of whichever drama school had employed me (most likely one which was lenient on the old CRB checks), all the different departments would be working away; the lighting guys would be fiddling with gobo frames, the production management course would be perfecting the art of looking busy but not actually doing anything, the sound technicians would be learning how to be an expert on everybody else’s departments except their own and the actors would be learning how to lie with feeling.

But in my class, the SM students would be sat, staring morosely at a blackboard where I had, somewhat manically, scrawled the words

‘Sometimes, being a stage manager is pretty shit’.

Thirty grand well spent.

Although, to be honest, I doubt I am the first to uncover this revelation.

Over the past few years I have regularly heard friends say, ‘I am giving up stage management to have children’. But more and more recently I am hearing other statements such as;

‘I am giving up stage management to become a massage therapist.’ Or ‘I am giving up stage management to become a teacher.’ And even once,

‘I am giving up stage management as I have discovered that I have a rare gift which enables me to establish a telepathic communication with animals.’

I shit you not.

You may mock but out of all my friends who have left the profession of show, she is by far the most successful. Probably a lot more successful than my friends who have uttered the fateful words,

‘I am giving up stage management to become a photographer.’


The photography industry has been flooded by embittered stage managers and struggling actors alike. It appears that if you have a Crumpler bag, a camera with a neck strap and an unhealthy habit of taking black and white snaps of graffiti in Hackney, you can become a freelance photographer.

Although I also blame Instagram for this phenomenon.

Fucking Instagram.

Can I just take this moment to say that for many years I was perfectly happy not knowing what my friends consumed for every single meal? If I wanted to know what they had indulged in during mealtimes, I would politely enquire. I do not need to constantly see dingy, scratched up, ‘ironic’, faux-seventies photos of fry-ups, fajitas, roast dinners or picnics on tartan rugs. With a smug little caption of how this is ‘Bliss.’

And please, please, stop referring to food as ‘nom-nom’s’. Unless you are of an age where you are being spoon-fed by an adult using the much-loved ‘aeroplane’ technique, using baby talk on social media is just not acceptable.

Is that another one of those thoughts I shouldn’t actually vocalise?


Well anyway, I digress. I often press these ex-stage managers on their reasons for leaving the industry and get the usual answers; they want to settle, they don’t want to tour anymore, the hours don’t fit with having children, they’ve slept with so many actors that they are no longer able to enter a rehearsal room without a member of the company blushing a deep shade of ‘oh-god-we’ve-fucked’.  
But I know the real reason. I KNOW!
They are leaving because sometimes, being a Stage Manager, is a bit shit. They know this, I know this, but NOBODY IS SAYING IT!

I haven’t written this blog for a really long time because, a few months ago, I ended up doing one of those jobs which every stage manager has done at one point in their lives. One of those stage management jobs which just seems to drain you of all your personal resources until there really is nothing left. One of those jobs that, even when you are not in the theatre, you are still in the theatre. My head was constantly trying to deal with the issues and the frustrations and every time my Blackberry vibrated with an e mail, a text or a phone call, it took all my effort not to fling open the window of my boat and chuck my phone into the murky Thames water.

There was one morning when I was lying in bed, trying to muster up the energy to get myself up and showered and on the tube to go and deal with whatever tiresome rubbish was waiting for me at the venue, and I suddenly realised that this sensation was unsettlingly familiar. There had been a previous point in my life when I had felt that everything was futile, when I had felt this despondent, frustrated, exhausted and…. well…. crap.

And suddenly it struck me what this emotion was and why I had felt it before.

It was heartache.

Genuine, throbbing heartache. But my cracked core was not stinging because of a failed relationship. And I wasn’t grieving because it was no longer possible for me to wake up and bury my nose and cheek between the shoulder blades of the object of my misplaced affection. This breathtaking melancholy was being provoked by a play. Just a play. That was all.

In the interview I was told that I was basically a stage management team of one. But that was okay as the play was so ‘simple’ and ‘straightforward’. But it soon became apparent that this play was anything but. There were fights, blood, flying pieces, a finale scene which involved a meal set for six, a stage which got covered in filth and scuff marks yet had to be spotless and gleaming each night.

Each afternoon I would get to the theatre about three and hear the words ‘You’re in early!’ as I passed people from the office. It took all my energy not to stop, whirl on my heel and fiercely explain that to have the show up and running by seven thirty I HAD to be in at this time.

The props were extensive and fiddly with a lot of running stuff and food which constantly had to be bought and prepared. The stage needed to be swept and mopped but then to get rid of the scuff marks, I had to liberally throw Cif everywhere before getting on my hands and knees to perform a vigorous and repetitive move which is only really seen in hardcore pornographic films.

Then of course there was the rig check and the speaker check. And the costumes.

This venue was what they call ‘green’ and so did not believe in having a tumble dryer.

How nice for them.

I am all for saving the environment but question how I am meant to dry the costumes for a cast of eight without the practical means. Well, the answer is Mother Nature. But when you are in a damp, basement level venue, even Mother Nature is going to shrug her shoulders at you and look slightly perplexed. The only way I could really do it was to get them washed the night before and hang them around the venue. The washing machine would churn away while I boiled a kettle in order to do the large amount of washing up. Oh, did I mention the venue had no hot running water either?

And if the following day was a matinee there was no guarantee that the clothes would be dry in time for the show having received no air throughout the night. So I would power up the several gas fires and hang the garments in front of them, using god knows how much energy and occasionally scorching them in the process.

It must be said that the cast and director were unbelievably understanding and supportive. They were very aware of the problems within the venue and helped in any way they could. Although of course, they were dealing with their own problems; the dressing room conditions and the low audience figures. Both of which are understandably frustrating for people who have worked hard and trained for their craft.

Now, don’t read this and think that I am moaning because I have only ever worked in large, well-funded venues. If you look back at my past blog posts, you can see that I have worked in similar venues and been perfectly happy. The venue above the pub for instance. Yes it was not ideal and yes it could be a lot of work. But there is a huge difference between ‘a lot of work’ and ‘too much work.’ Especially considering the meagre wage I was receiving.

My attempts to communicate with the-powers-that-be that coming in at three and leaving at midnight was not right were ignored. But like all bad jobs, I knew the contract was one day going to end and so thought that I could just get my head down and get on with it. Which was an okay coping strategy but I think it was the night of Literary Death Match when I lost all patience and positive thought.

Literary Death Match had booked in to perform on my stage after our performance had finished one Friday night. It was an event which was part of a larger festival taking place in the area. As soon as my show came down at about nine, I had to quickly sweep and mop the stage before the Literary Death Match people descended and took over the space for a couple of hours. As the washing machine was right next to the space, I would not be able to get it running straight after the show as it would 'disturb the literature'. I would have to wait until they had finished before starting the machine and then I would have to wait for the machine to complete two cycles so I could attempt to get the costumes and white linen tablecloth dry before the matinee the following day.

In order to be set-up and scuff-mark-free for the matinee I would need to be in at ten am. But with the Literary Death Match going on till half eleven and the washing machine cycles taking 45 minutes each, I would not be leaving the venue till one am.

And the icing on the cake?

It was my thirtieth birthday.

A bespectacled young man sporting red skinny jeans and a knitted jumper with two pugs on the front approached me, his lovely big brown eyes blinking at me through thick rimmed glasses. He sweetly asked me if I would like to come inside and watch Literary Death Match but I politely declined even though I was slightly intrigued. To this day I’m not really sure what happens during Literary Death Match but I like to think that all those East London types bludgeon each other around the head with hardback copies of Austen and Coelho until one of them finally falls to their knees with a caved in skull.

So I just sat outside with my bottle of red wine. I had heard whisperings from the company that they were planning to get me a cake, but fortunately they weren’t offended when I suggested I either took the cash or they got me booze.

Obviously I had planned birthday festivities on other nights but this night was my actual birthday. My actual thirtieth birthday. And I couldn’t help but question whether I even wanted to be in this industry anymore. The reason why I was feeling a dull heartache is because this job, this industry, was actually breaking my heart.

However, my thirtieth was back in May and we are now in September. My birthday celebrations were glorious and I managed to surround myself with wonderful people and perfect friends. Plus a lot has happened since then. I took a show to a theatre which was flooded with staff and whenever I went to touch something or re-set something, a staff member would come forward and tell me ‘that’s my job!’

What else has changed since I last posted? I don’t live on my boat anymore and have moved in to a little flat with a sky-blue door in Leytonstone. I’m sprawled out on the couch right now, finishing this blog. And once I am done I am going to finish packing my suitcase with my black stage management clothes and my favourite dresses and make sure that my passport is in my rucksack. Along with a bit of paper which says I am allowed to enter Australia on a work visa. And that I can go and stage manage a play at the Sydney Theatre.

Sometimes being a Stage Manager really is a bit shit.

Sometimes, it’s pretty fucking awesome too.

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Broken Compass


I am currently unemployed.

Bad news for my bank balance, my mental health and my general demeanour. 

Good news for next year’s tax bill and my local off license.

It also seems to be a good thing for my diet. Last night, for the first time in several months I actually took the time to cook myself a proper, nutritional meal. I used my knives for something other than chipping ice cubes out of a tray and I used the oven for something other than an extra shoe cupboard.

Listen, I live on a boat. Storage is at a premium.

So, once I had cooked this flavoursome meal and used all my kitchen utensils (except that one from Joseph Joseph, I’m still not really sure what that one does), I sat down in front of a DVD to try and enjoy a night in. A rare, relaxed, solo Night In.

I poured wine, I munched on my homecooked food and I watched a scintillating DVD. But my mind kept wandering and I felt uneasy. Even Ryan Gosling in a crisp white shirt saying words from a well-written screenplay could not hold my attention. Although maybe that’s because the movie he was in had a slightly complex plot which required concentration and focus. I much preferred it when he was in ‘Drive’ and just murmured mono-syllabically whilst looking brooding and thoughtful and drove super fast, sexy cars with Christina Hendricks shrieking in the back. I found that film much easier to follow. Admittedly the ending was lost on me (is he dead? I don’t get it) but I still left the cinema feeling fulfilled and enlightened by Gosling and his washboard abs.

Anyway, I tried to just relax and enjoy the evening but I found it impossible. My mind and thoughts were racing with questions.  I mean, what would I do tomorrow? And the day after tomorrow? And the day after that? And why do I describe Ryan Gosling as having ‘washboard abs’? Should I ever actually have the opportunity to get up close and personal with Gosling and his belly-button, the last thing I would want to do is get out my hand-wash only delicates and scrub them up and down on his lovely tanned tummy whilst he clutched the Daz.

Anyway, let’s leave that mental image and get back to me. Sat on the sofa, no make-up, hair scraped back into a ponytail and experiencing an overwhelming  sensation of uncertainty.

What I was certain of, is that I was not enjoying unemployment.

I did the last show on Saturday and by Tuesday I knew that I was not handling the situation brilliantly. Instead of feeling gleeful about the fact I was free of my cast and company, I ended up feeling slightly sentimental and mourning the daily contact with these wonderful people.  Although this may also be due to something else.

I know that this is a theatrical blog but I am still a woman and other womanly things can sometimes effect me and how I deal with my work (or lack of work). The miracle of modern science means that I can prevent myself from getting pregnant, but they are yet to invent a pill which prevents me from becoming a slightly irrational, moody, oversensitive pain in the backside.

I know when my period is coming and obviously I know when it has come. Yet, each month my sudden mood swings take me completely by surprise.

This may be why at about five o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon I found myself in a subterranean wine bar drinking Beaujolais from a carafe.

With one of my cast. From the show which had ended on Saturday.

He had called me in the morning with a simple question and instead of just answering it I had yelped ‘Shall we meet for lunch?’ in a slightly desperate fashion.

Lunch had been a cheap two-course lunchtime deal in the ‘West End Kitchen’ (don’t have the mackerel) and had turned into booze at the Cork and Bottle wine bar (have absolutely anything) in town. Actor Friend, the lovely Mr B, commented on my short temper and negative, slightly malicious attitude. I nodded and admitted he was right but that there was good reason for it.

‘It’s just my time... it’s a woman thing.’

Mr B rolled his eyes before taking a sip of something crisp,white and fruity. ‘You bloody women. It happens at the same time every month yet you don’t ever actually think to yourself ‘Oh, it’s that time of the month. I’m feeling weird because it’s that time of the month. Maybe there is something I can do to prevent this odd, slightly psychotic behaviour.’’

I was tempted to smash the half full carafe over his head but he has a point. Plus he had taken me to a fabulous drinking spot. I let the subject go and mentioned the other reason I am functioning slightly differently.

‘I hate being unemployed.’ I sighed despondently.

Mr B is in the same situation and we spend the next two hours bemoaning our lack of employment.

Which is why by eight o’clock I am back home on the boat feeling drunk, emotional and hormonal. And why I wake up at eight the following morning feeling hungover, emotional and hormonal.

Without the show or knowing what my next project is, I can’t help but feel slightly lost.

Like my own personal compass is broken.

Believe me, I know that I am not the only theatrical who feels like this and that there are many other people who have to deal with their post-show blues and ‘whats my next job’ anxiety. I am aware that I am not special or unique in feeling this way.

I decided that I should enjoy the free time I have which is what led to the certain domestic, cooking spell. But after the joy of preparing the ingredients and the pleasure of actually eating the meal had worn off, I still felt odd. And knocking back a couple of Feminax was not going to solve it either.

I decided that the way to deal with the situation was to try and think of things that I enjoy doing but never get the chance to do because I have work. I rule out any more daytime drinking as that is neither going to get me a job or improve my state of mind.

The following day, Wednesday, I do productive things like job searching, laundry, sorting out receipts and hand-washing. As I scrubbed at my ‘good’ pants, I remembered a poster I had seen on the tube showing a man doing a headstand in the snow.

I have passed the poster of Scott doing a headstand in the snow a million times on the tube. It is advertising the exhibition at the Natural History Museum about Scott of the Antarctic.  Every time I have seen it I have been slightly harassed and on my way to work at 5.00pm, weaving my way through Evening Standards, Financial Times and Kindles, resenting the suits clutching Waitrose bags of goodies for dinner. Or I have seen the poster on my way home, a couple of glasses of Merlot heavier and slightly dirty from the floury and painty post show clean up, praying that I reached Westminster in time for the last Jubilee line tube home. And each time I saw the poster I thought,

‘I really should go and see that.’

And now I can. Without worrying about what time I have to leave or thinking ‘God, I wish I didn’t have to go to work now.’

So that is what I did today. I headed to the Natural History Museum with my friend Rose. I wanted to go to the exhibition because I wanted to find out what makes a group of men feel the need to travel to a part of the world which at that point nobody else had visited. I was curious to find out why intelligent men would put themselves through such unbelievably tough conditions and test themselves physically and mentally, simply to get to a point on earth that nobody else had ever visited, a point on earth which is described as being ‘a dangerous environment, where misjudgement and inexperience are fatal.’ I was intrigued by why we celebrate these men so much despite the fact they actually failed their mission and lost the race.

Rose wants to go because she has heard there are stuffed penguins.

The exhibition is compelling and thought-provoking. I know that these men failed and died in their mission, but what the artefacts, the diaries and the images show is a group of men who were undeterred by the problems they faced and who kept heading South with determination and tenacity.

These were men whose compasses were not broken.

I don’t think I could ever do something like head to the South Pole. For a start people do it all the time now, just for holidays and stuff. Also I don’t have the right shoes and I think the Wi-Fi signal would be crap. But maybe I should be using my spare time in between jobs actually achieving something or creating something. Just, you know, fix my compass a little.

Even if it is just doing some decent and complicated cooking for once.

Anyone know any recipes which include Feminax?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


It is with great regret that I have decided to leave my little boat. In the early hours of New Years Day, I stood at a bus stop in Hackney and counted down the minutes until I could remove my heels.  As I peered down the road for the 277, I thought about the year which had just passed and the year ahead. I will turn thirty this year, and like most women about to hit that milestone birthday, I considered the things I wanted to achieve.
Some women who are about to hit this age may decide that they want certain things. A few realise that they want to get serious about their careers or they think that maybe now is the time to have a baby. Some chicks think that maybe it’s time to put an end to casual sex and that really they should be having a more adult approach to relationships instead of just hitting the Phoenix on a Saturday night with nothing but an Oyster card, a toothbrush and a spare pair of pants.  Or if they can afford it, there are ladies who decide that it is now appropriate to stop playing the renting game and get together a deposit and actually buy somewhere.
 I have decided I want a flushing toilet. And to not feel the need to go to bed wearing a life jacket during seventy mile per hour winds.
When I first moved on to the boat, I thought that any Future Gentleman Friends would find my way of life unusual, exotic and bohemian. But the reality is that there is nothing arousing or seductive  about explaining to a man that they need to go outside to the Facilities Block to use the toilet. And before you know it your Future Gentleman Friend is a Past Gentleman Friend who is seeing a six foot Brachiosaurus with tits like Eggs Benedict and an en suite.
Anyway, once I had made the decision to leave, I realised that this meant packing up all of my belongings. Again. So out came the heavy duty bin liners and I decided that I needed to be ruthless when it came to chucking stuff away.  It was time to lose some baggage.
At the bottom of my wardrobe were several storage boxes. One was full of belts and scarves, one was full of other accessories, and two were full of Press Night cards. I sat in the middle of my futon and got on with the task of lightening my load. I filled up the bin liners with polka dot headscarves and studded belts. Along with glow in the dark headbands which no longer glowed, a pair of sequinned gloves and some handcuffs.
After half a bottle of Merlot my two boxes of unnecessary tat eventually became just half a box of things which may come back into fashion one day. And after having second thoughts and a quick rummage in a bin liner I chucked the handcuffs back in there too. 
Benedict Tits might have legs like a gazelles and an en suite wet room but I have handcuffs and an open mind.
So then I started on the two boxes of cards, trinkets and signed programmes. Before I knew it an entire hour had passed and I was sat surrounded by half the stock of Paperchase and more ‘Thank You’s’ than an acceptance speech at the Oscar’s.
At the top of the first box there were cards I had received recently. I sipped my wine and grinned at the messages. There was a tiny miniature grand piano which I had only received last week, and a whole heap of other cards full of the usual ‘Thanks for all your work!!!’, ‘Here’s to a great run!!!’
But there are some other cards which are slightly more unusual. One is simply a photo of a child’s bouncy ball which immediately triggers a strong memory. This ball became the source of great pleasure during one rehearsal process as we, the entire company, started every day with a lengthy group game of Keepy-Uppy .  And to give the director credit, this did admittedly help us all bond and get our energy up at the start of a brand new rehearsal day. The morning games of Keep-Uppy would become slightly competitive and if you dropped the ball then you would be on the receiving end of some chummy abuse. I somehow gained the nickname ‘Tranny Hands’ which is weird as my hands are unusually small and I can only assume that this was part of the joke. But putting this game into our routine did help us all work together as a group and when I look at this photo of a ball with the message on the back (‘Jess, Thanks for all the hard work done with your massive hands’) it really makes me grin.
Sadly, the play only got two star reviews and was described as ‘hollow’, ‘formulaic’ and ‘predictable’.  But who gives a crap when you’re making friends and keeping a ball off the ground for a good twenty minutes?
There were other beautiful cards which made me very happy that I had made the decision to hoard these bits of paper. For instance, I unearthed a Get Well Soon card signed by Sir Derek Jacobi when I caught mumps. He wrote a sweet message about how he hoped I felt better soon and left his sweeping signature. Sadly another actor, who is now Actually Quite Famous, had also signed the card but had written a rather rude message about my swellings and how parts of his anatomy were also swollen. Not only did I find it rather vulgar but also quite surprising. If you have the opportunity to share a card with Sir Derek Jacobi, you would think you'd find something other than your cock to write about. But that’s actors for you.
Actually, the more cards I read, the more I noticed how many included innuendo and double meanings. Like one from when I did ‘The 39 Steps’ and cued the show from a box. Throughout the run I endured many salacious comments about my ‘box’ and one card reminded me of this.
‘Thanks Jess! How many steps are there to YOUR box!!! LOL!’
Several other cards also had ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ double entendre type messages inside. But others were less subtle.
‘Dear Jess!! Will miss your big tits!!’
So I continued to rummage through that first box and found many cards and little keepsakes that reminded me of shows and actors from the past year or so. But when I opened the second box and started to rifle through the cards, I began to feel a sense of confusion. My memories felt muddied and I don’t think it was just the half bottle of wine.
Well, a whole bottle of wine.  
And a small Port.
There was one which had a picture of a pot-bellied pig on the front and inside was written the words,
 ‘Jess! Remind you of someone? HA HA HA!!! Love Charlotte x’
I looked at the picture on the front and realised that it didn’t remind me of anything. I couldn’t even remember Charlotte. Who the hell was she? And why would a pot-bellied pig make me laugh? Did we have a private (and probably quite size-ist) joke about another company member?  There was no date or play title written within the card and as I toyed with it in my fingers, my eyes rested on the bin liner.
Unable to shove the pig card in with the other unloved accessories and out of date Durex packs, I decided to just keep it to one side. I was struggling to bring myself to completely discard messages which had, at one point, probably meant something.
There was one card, however, in the depths of the second box, which I did remember. It was from someone called Dave (that’s not his real name). Inside the card was the name of the show, the date of the Press Night and his full name. Along with the message;
‘Jess, Hope you have a wonderful Press Night and looking forward to getting to know you on tour.’
Sadly, myself and Dave did got to know each other on tour. He learnt that I had no time for actors with a poisonous attitude and a punctuality issue. And I learnt that he was a cunt. I considered his card for a while. Despite the fact that I had (and still) despised him and his horrific behaviour, it was still intriguing to get a glimpse of a time when we had obviously made the effort  to purchase a card and write something sweet within it.
Even as I looked at the handwriting of a man I detested, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to throw it away having hung on to it for so long. So I laid it on top of the Mysterious Charlotte’s card and continued digging through the rest of my theatrical artefacts, silently munching on some Love Hearts I had found buried under a party invite.
The Charlotte/Dave pile started to get bigger as I uncovered more and more messages containing references I didn’t remember from names which meant absolutely nothing. Most of them were just standard Press Night messages because, let’s be honest, nobody writes what they really think in Press Night cards. Otherwise mine would say stuff like,
‘Dear Paul.
You are very good in the play but still paraphrasing lots in Scene Two. Have a wonderful Press Night and here’s to the rest of the run.
J x
P.S. You have ‘borrowed’ a million pencils off me and I want them back please. I am a Stage Manager. Not a portable branch of Rymans.’
 As the minutes passed by and my feelings of sentimentality seeped away, I decided that the most obvious thing to do was to pour these scrawling into my bin liner. Keeping this crap was not going to improve my life, help me to remember these people or get me a flushing toilet.
However, right at the bottom, my nails brushed across a glittery card with the standard ‘Thank You’ emblazoned across the front in swirly writing. I pulled it out and saw that it was from somebody called Michael. Again, the card did not contain the name of the play or the date and for the life of me I could not remember a Michael. But I read his words anyway. And for a few moments afterwards I just sat in the gloom. My legs were crossed beneath me and my hands cradled the wine glass. I stayed like that for some time. Just taking in Michael’s words and thinking that it must have been one of the first cards I had ever saved. Over ten years ago I had taken the decision to not recycle it or throw it away and had instead kept it in a box where other cards would eventually pile on top of it. Entombing it and preserving it simultaneously.
I know that we all write Press Night messages that we don’t necessarily mean, but Michael wrote something so genuine and unaffected that, even all this time later, it still made me feel that somebody had really appreciated me. To type out what Michael had written would be slightly self-indulgent and incredibly wanky. So I’ll just keep his words to myself.
I took the decision to place all of my cards back in the boxes, despite the fact they take up space I don’t have. I may not remember the well-wishers but they are all people I have worked with at some point and if they have taken the trouble to think of me, then who am I to instantly disregard them.
So no cards went into my bin liner.
Except for Dave’s.
(He really was a cunt.)

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