Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Little Blue Dot

I have arrived in my first digs. Me, my suitcase and my Lego shaped luggage tag (sock present) boarded the first train of many and I am now tapping this out from a lovely double bed in a large detached house in Cambridge. As I have resolved to save some cash on this job, I shunned the taxi rank when I stepped off the train and decided to use Google Maps and the inbuilt compass in my iPhone to get the bus to my digs.

I am a firm believer in using a compass and it always amazes me that more people don’t. I have often been stood in the middle of an alien town centre mumbling ‘so which way is north?’ before waving my phone in a figure of eight in order to re-calibrate the compass. (Only other iphone compass users will understand this.) I can’t deny that I also use the Maps app and have solemnly followed that little blue dot around the British Isles with the same faith and determination as a wise man following the North Star. But sadly, sometimes that little throbbing Dot of Deceit has let me down and led me to venues which were NOT my destination. The compass, however, always shows me north and has just assisted me in my journey to this week’s abode.

Despite the digs being slightly further out, I am incredibly pleased with them. The house is spacious yet cosy and Landlady is smiley and helpful without being annoying or cloying. This is a huge relief as my last digs when I visited Cambridge were massively disappointing. Not only was the bedroom chilly and claustrophobic but everything seemed to be covered in a gritty web of dust and fluff. The hall had piles of Good Housekeeping magazines which were coated in grimy lint and I wondered if the irony of this was lost on Landlady. During my brief ‘tour’ around her home, she used one phrase on several occasions whilst referring to various facilities.

‘This door/shower/TV/tap has a bit of a knack to it.’

For crying out loud.

I don’t want stuff which has a ‘bit of a knack to it’. I just want it to work. If you are charging people to stay in your house, just make things work. I don’t want to have to shoulder a door like a riot cop simply to leave the house. And I don’t want to turn a shower dial as tentatively as a safecracker to ensure I reach a comfortable water temperature which will neither scald nor freeze me. I just want to pay you money to stay in your house for seven sodding days and in return I expect you to provide me with basic facilities which function the way they are meant to.

However, this house is fresh and modern and I have my own bathroom . Landlady knows the drill and within seconds of stepping through the door she has shown me to my room and given me a key. She also saves me from having to negotiate that age-old digs predicament, that eternal etiquette quandary which has perplexed me for several years.

What is the polite length of time to wait before asking for the Wi-Fi code?

Some people say that, at minimum, you should have a cup of tea or make at least ten minutes of polite conversation. Some people think that, in order to let everyone know where you stand, you should make the request the minute you are through the door. However, no sooner are we in the room but she is pointing out a scrappy piece of paper on the dresser with numbers and letters on it. This ripped corner of an envelope may look like nothing but those innocuous numerals and characters contain the key to my touring happiness. They are my salvation, my liberation and my connection to friends, family and back-to-back episodes of mind-numbing television.

The much sought after Wi-Fi code.

‘I’ll leave you to it.’

I do an inner whoop of delight and settle in. As I unpack (pull random things out of my suitcase and throw them on the floor) I notice a little pile of posh hotel slippers next to the bed.


It’s a nice touch. Of course if I was staying in a fancy hotel those slippers would be nestling in amongst my suitcase within seconds. Usually taking those kind of luxury items from a place you are staying in is considered normal and acceptable. But taking these items from this kind of residence would not be okay. It would make me a shifty digs tenant with dubious morals. I won’t be taking these slippers but I do take a moment to admire them.

I am slightly further out of town and as it is pretty late, my options for food and beverages are limited. Landlady says that most things are shut but she points me in the direction of a Co-Op which is open till eleven. The cuisine offered there has very little nutritional value and, as I have just pre-booked a load of train tickets my funds until the next pay-day are pretty low.

These two contributing factors result in a dinner of an Admiral’s fish pie followed by a dessert of jelly beans.

When I return to the kitchen, Landlady is nowhere to be seen so I pop my dinner into the expensive microwave and observe my surroundings (ie, have a poke about). It is a delightfully charming home with style and elegance alongside character and warmth. The farmhouse style kitchen is so spacious that I could lie on the floor like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man and still not touch the counters. (I don’t). And on the kitchen counter is a luxury-sized tin of Quality Streets just brimming with foil wrapped chocolates. It’s so full that I doubt it would be noticed if I took a couple. (I do.)

On a kitchen wall is a wipe clean board with a shopping list. Amongst the reminders for washing up liquid and bird feed are the words ‘RED WINE’. They have been underlined several times and are followed by multiple exclamation marks. This tiny insight into her lifestyle makes me feel at ease, as does her framed print of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss.’ My mum has that picture in her hall at home and I draw a lot of comfort from seeing something so familiar yet personal within these new surroundings.

The microwave dings and I take the plate up to my room and get my laptop connected to the high speed Wi-Fi, ready to relax and enjoy my first night away. It is unlikely that I will continue with this luck for the whole seven months so I am just going to enjoy this comfort while it lasts. Sometimes the theatrical community can get a little stuck on discussing the weird, awful and genuinely terrifying digs. But just as it is fun to share anecdotes of the disasters, it is just as important to make sure we tell the tales of the good and of the commendable.

At this time of year a lot of productions are hitting the roads and a huge amount of performers, crew and stage management will be checking into stranger’s houses all over the country. A vast community of theatricals following maps, compasses and Tom-Tom’s in order to locate their resting place for that week. Sometimes these gadgets and gizmos can admittedly lead you in to unwelcoming surroundings and can remind you just how far you are from home. But there are also places with warm welcomes, hotel slippers, super speedy internet and an impressive range of cereals and teas.

Just follow the little blue dot.





 Thanks for reading this guys. If you are touring at the moment or have toured recently I would love you to tell me about your GOOD digs experiences. No doubt the bad tales will come later. As always any shares are VERY much appreciated. Just click on ‘Share’ at the top of the page. You can ‘Like’ my Page on Facebook (Girl In The Dark) or you can follow me on Twitter (@agirlinthedark) Feedback and comments are always fun to read.

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J x





Monday, 7 January 2013

Tears, Tensions and Illicit Indiscretions

Touring can be hard. You are away from your friends, your family and you end up spending pretty much all of your time with your colleagues. I live in London and when I do a show here I do socialise with my companies but I don’t spend nearly as much time with them as I do with a company who I am out on the road with. When touring, your colleagues can become the first people you see in the morning and the last people you see at night. They are the people you drink with, eat with, laugh with and fight with.

Your touring colleagues can become just like your family. (Except you would never go on a night out in Sunderland with your family, chuck back too many tequila shots and end up in bed with your brother.)

I am about to embark on a tour and this one is a long one. Seven months going around the country with a group of people who were total strangers to me a matter of weeks ago but who will soon be the people who I turn to if I am homesick and who I arrange to see during the day when I am bored. My usual broad network of friends which feels large and varied will shrink quickly to the very limited social circle of my touring workmates. People Who Work In Theatre often describe being within a touring company as being ‘in a bubble’ which is definitely true.

A big, boozy bubble just floating around the country; drifting in and out of theatres, pubs and a variety of National Trust parks. (I’m not really a fan of the gardens but you can’t beat a stately home. Plus the cafes in them usually do a decent slice of Battenberg.)

As much as this beer-filled bubble can be pretty claustrophobic, the friendships which blossom within it can often end up a lot stronger than the connections which are made when doing a show in the city where you permanently reside. You get to know each other on a deeper level when you are out on the road. At a theatre in London I see my cast and stage management team for just a few hours each night. And after the show, people are eager to go home to see their partners, kiss their kids or take in three more back-to-back episodes of whichever DVD boxset they are charging their way through. However, on the road it is likely that during the day you have met with someone from your company for a coffee, a swimming session or an Orange Wednesday pizza/film.  And then once the show is done, people are always up for trying out a decent boozer or all trundling back to your shared house/flat for wine, pizza and an iPlayer catch up.

It is an element of the touring life which I really relish and I have formed very important and solid friendships from being out on the road. But just as this lovely little bubble can waft around the UK, buoyed by a gentle breeze, the isolation which comes from being held within the confines of this capsule lifestyle can be quite intense. Just as you may develop a sturdy alliance to someone because you are seeing them a lot, you may also find that peoples habits or personality traits can grate on you a lot more when you are in each other’s faces, pockets and pokey little dressing rooms.

It is an intense experience and having gone around the UK a few times now, I have worked out some coping strategies which can help me to keep the bubble floating as opposed to just having it burst due to stress, frustration and my loss of patience with someone who insists on repeatedly helping themselves to whatever (clearly labelled) Show Food they find in the green room fridge. (This incident mixed with cold, wretched digs, a stubbed toe and a lost phone charger led to the now infamous Colchester Tantrum  of 2007.)

Just as I can guarantee that you will find a Sports Direct mug in every Green Room round the country, I can also confidently state that It is unlikely that you will get through a long tour without some tears, tensions and illicit indiscretions. But I now do the following things to try and prevent them.

Firstly, during rehearsals it can be tempting to rashly suggest ‘Let’s ALL get digs together for the WHOLE tour.’ I usually book my own digs for the first few weeks until I have a grasp on who exactly I get on with. This generally means other people from the SM/backstage team. In the past I have stayed with cast members and found that even when drinking a bottle of wine in front of the box, I inevitably hear the words ‘I know you’re not at work now but…’ or ‘I do hate to talk shop…’

Tell you what, if you hate talking shop so much then don’t talk shop. In fact, don’t fucking talk. Night Cops is on.

I could probably write several thousand words on digs and no doubt soon will but sadly, digs are unpredictable and unless they are being recommended to you it is impossible to guarantee the quality. Even the decent ones can cause you issues. I once stayed in a very fancy house in Leicester;  stunningly beautiful bedroom with all mod-cons and a luxury bathroom. Sadly the clearly expensive shower not only had a large square shower head but also several jets which were built into the shower walls and gushed water out horizontally. The landlord of my digs was a strapping six foot seven bloke and these additional shower heads obviously washed his torso. But when I stepped my five foot three bod inside and hit the taps, I experienced what can only be described as waterboarding as the jets hit my eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears. Gasping and spluttering I spun around only to discover that the water sources went around me a full 360 degrees. In a blind panic I flailed about for the taps but only succeeded in making the water icy cold. The only thing I could do was duck down to a crouching position and finally get the water to stop. I mentioned this to my landlord who apologetically explained to me that he would have to pay for the engineer who installed it to come out and change the settings. Obviously I didn’t want to cause him trouble so resigned myself to crouching, Gollum-like, in the bottom of the cubicle for the entire week.

In a future post I will expand on the Do’s and Don’t’s of Digs but for now, all I will say is go with your gut instinct. If your phone call to book them is uncomfortable then don’t stay there. It’s really not worth it. Any places with lots of rules or regulations will also cause you bother and unease. Bad digs can be a huge contributing factor to how much you enjoy a tour and appropriate time and effort should be put into finding where you will reside. Booking last minute or in a rush can uncover real gems but it can also land you on a lumpy futon with a right wing housewife and several moulting cats.

But enough about digs. I have a feeling that you will be hearing more about my extensive opinions, advice and anecdotes so let’s get back to the touring thing.

I find that it is possible to get some kind of routine when touring and any kind of familiarity can really assist with dealing with the chaotic and unsettled lifestyle. Even if it is just having a weekly ritual. For me, once a week I like a Nando’s and a movie. The only good thing about globalisation in our country is that, when you are on the road, every single town is guaranteed to offer you a Nando’s and an Odeon. So even though you are in a different place every seven days you can still hold on to some kind of familiarity. Even if that familiarity is a lemon and herb chicken pitta with a side of fries and some Wild Herb sauce, followed by a darkened cinema auditorium and a small packet of sweet popcorn.

I asked on Twitter what advice people had and some people suggested ear plugs and eye-masks for when you are staying in those places with transparent curtains and paper-thin walls. I also got suggestions for apps which I have downloaded.

Yes I was downloading apps at quarter at four in the morning. What of it?

But mostly people said that they tried to make the time precious and just enjoyed it. Touring admittedly is not for everyone and I had the unfortunate experience a few years ago when I discovered that I was not built for tour bus touring, (sleeping in a carpeted coffin each night was not for me) but I really am going to do everything I can to savour this escapade.

So is the old saying true? What goes on tour, stays on tour?

Personally, I hope I manage to bring something home with me.
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