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.
If you enjoyed this post then please do click 'Share' at the top of the page. You can also 'like' my Page on Facebook ('Girl in the Dark') or follow me on Twitter (@agirlinthedark). All shares, comments, likes and follows are very much appreciated.