Friday, 5 July 2013

Meet and Greet

I’m starting rehearsals for my new play and I am actually pretty excited about it. Even though it means that I will have to get up at the ungodly hour of 7am again, it does mean that for four weeks I can reclaim some kind of social life, meet some fresh people, work Normal Hours and pretend I have a Normal Job.
Like a Normal Person.
This play is mostly about sex so for the first time in a while, I can work on a play which has a subject matter I genuinely know something about. This is a very rare occurrence for me as usually I work on high brow pieces which tackle topics I have very little interest in; politics, the environment, religion, golf.
But this is what’s so great about this industry. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the amazing thing about theatre is that I just never stop learning. For example, I did a complex production about Afghanistan a couple of years ago and until the first day of rehearsals I thought that Kabul was an energy drink.
So my new play. It’s about sex and it has a fairly small cast of just six, with a Director I have never worked with before. But I am familiar with the venue having just done a show there and I am also lucky enough to still have my fantastic DSM Leah by my side, providing me with Diet Coke at stressful moments and always loyally listening to my moans, bad jokes and salacious (mostly totally untrue) gossip.
So, as is customary, on Monday we had what is commonly known as the Meet and Greet. This is when the full company, plus people from The Office, are all in the same room for the first time. A lovely, bright and airy room in Jerwood Space which is definitely my pick of  places in the world to rehearse. Starting the day by hearing Patrick Stewart’s voice in the lift is just one of life’s little pleasures.
And then once we are all gathered in this room, we do just what it says on the tin; we all Meet and Greet each other. It is my favourite bit of rehearsals as it is the one point when we all pretend to be relatively sane and emotionally stable human beings.
It never lasts. Ever. But it’s always good for that one brief day.
But for some reason, I get intensely nervous about Meet and Greets. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I have it in my head that if the Meet and Greet goes smoothly, then the rest of the rehearsal process will also go without a hitch. I have no idea why I believe this as previous experiences have told me otherwise, but I still put a lot of effort into my Meet and Greet preparation and this one was no different.
As stage manager, it is my responsibility to arrange refreshments for the Meet and Greet which is occurring at 10am. So on my way to the Rehearsal Space, I stop off at Tescos and pick up plenty of croissants, juice, tea (of various kinds), filter coffee and milk (also of various kinds).
In 2003, it became apparent that a rumour seemed to be spreading throughout the thespian world that drinking normal semi-skimmed milk was very bad for you. I don’t really know who started this rumour although I have a sneaky suspicion it was some Marketing wanker from Alpro. So from that time onwards, I noticed that if you offered a cast member a cup of tea made with normal milk, they would recoil from you in horror as if you had just personally lactated into the mug.
‘Oh noooooo’, they would cry, ‘Is that milk? I can’t drink milk! Not dairy!’
I have established very quickly that providing your cast with Soya Milk goes down very well. Then the actor/actress will gladly take their dairy free cup of tea outside and drink it, proud in the knowledge that they are keeping their body free of poisonous, evil semi-skimmed milk. 
And they will revel in this wisdom whilst skilfully inhaling two entire Marlboro Reds during a fifteen minute tea break.
So for the Meet and Greet, Leah and I arrive super early to lay out my breakfast goods and other supplies. By half nine everything is done and we hang out nervously by the brioche like hosts at a party. Our ‘guests’ are expected to arrive at 10am.
Leah and I have been very conscientious in our preparation. A few days ago, we used The Office’s Spotlight code and downloaded the casts Spotlight photos and printed them off in one sheet with their names below. On the Tube on my way into the Meet and Greet I have been studying this sheet and memorising the pictures alongside their names.
Why do I do this? Well, on my very first day of primary school I remember standing in the doorway of my classroom and nervously viewing the other children within the playdo-scented room. I can easily recall feeling terribly scared about entering the room and so unsure of what I would do once I was in there. Who would I talk to? Would people talk to me? Was I even in the right place?
And then somebody, a teacher, appeared from nowhere. They held out their hand and they said my name in a firm yet caring way.
And then I took that hand, stepped into the room with confidence, and felt that things were really going to be okay. So that’s why now, if I see a cast member loitering in the doorway of a rehearsal space looking confused, I always go straight over to them, say their name and hold out my hand. I then shake their hand. I don’t take their hand and lead them into the room.
That would be weird.
But to say their name confidently, you need to have studied their professional Spotlight photo so that you can recognise them. I love Spotlight photos and have spent so long studying them that I can’t help but notice the trends and the different styles that actors prefer. Considering that the photos are only ever of the face, you can choose from a whole range of expressions and poses. But there’s definitely a couple which you see on a regular basis.
For instance, with women, the most popular seems to be the flirty ‘Haven’t-We-Met-Before?’ expression. This consists of tilting your chin down or ever so slightly to the side and having a half smile play across your mouth, although the lips themselves stay together. The eyes are dancing (well, photo-shopped) and slightly creased at the sides.
In at a close second for the girls is the hugely successful ‘Slightly-Startled-Sex-Doll’. This is when the face is straight on to the camera with the eyebrows slightly raised and the lips gently parted. As if someone has suddenly and without warning placed the pointy bit of a Cornetto up their arse but they are tentatively quite enjoying it.
For the boys, a common choice is ‘Ooh-I’m-A-Right-Lovable-Rogue’. It’s pretty similar to the ladies’ ‘Haven’t-We-Met-Before’ and has the same head tilt but the smile isn’t as subtle. Although it’s not a full on grin. More of a smirk, accompanied by cheeky, suggestive eyes.
But generally for the blokes, you can’t beat a good old-fashioned ‘Moody Bastard’; looking straight into the camera, dead eyes, no smile. But you have to be careful when doing the ‘Moody Bastard’. If you aren't dashing enough or don't have a strong enough jaw-line, you can end up paying a photographer £350 to look like a ‘Bit-Of-A-Knob’.
In this particular company the most popular choice with the men is the ‘Moody Bastard’ whereas the women have all opted for ‘Slightly-Startled-Sex-Doll’. Although one guy has gone for a pretty rare’ I'm-Leaning-Against-A-Brick-Wall-And-I'm-Really-Very-Happy-About-That’.
At twenty five to ten, people from The Office are the first to arrive, closely followed by the creative team, including the Director. At about quarter to ten my cast start to arrive and Leah and I take it in turns to greet them at the doorway and then guide them into the room. We are the perfect hosts and offer juice, dairy free tea, croissants, fresh scripts and contact sheets.
As a rule I never eat at Meet and Greets. I learnt my lesson at the tender age of 22 when, during a Meet and Greet, I got introduced to Sir Derek Jacobi with a mouth full of pain au chocolat. And also eating involves using your hands and in my hands I am already carrying a Diary and a pen. This is because once actors have clocked I’m the CSM, they immediately get out their Diary and start telling me ‘Oh I have an audition on Thursday afternoon. So I won’t be around from three onwards. Did my agent not tell you?’ or ‘I’m doing a night shoot for ‘Spooks’ next Monday so I’ll need Tuesday morning off. Did my agent not tell you?’
Actors go on a lot about how much they want a job. So you give them one and then they spend the first five minutes telling you when they can’t be there. I dutifully write all this down in my diary whilst keeping an eye on the time. Director is also clock watching and glancing over at me. This is because of a previous conversation Director and I had, during which she told me that she didn’t tolerate lateness and that I had to be strict with any actors who demonstrated a lack of punctuality. At 10am on a Monday morning I don’t have the energy to do the ‘I’m Hitler with a stopwatch’ routine so I’m praying for everybody’s sake that they are all on time.
10.02 and I’m an actor down.
Fuck’s sake.
We have put out a circle of chairs and Leah is now getting everybody to sit like guests getting ready for a Parlour game whilst I go and hover in the corridor outside the room.
10.04. Where the hell is he?
At 10.11, my last actor arrives. I don’t recognise him from his photo but it doesn’t take me long to work out that’s because the style he has adopted is the, ‘Don’t-Tell-Anyone-But-I-Haven’t-Actually-Had-New-Headshots-Taken-For-Fifteen-Years’.
Late Actor saunters casually down the corridor.
‘Am I in the right place?’
‘Yes you are. I’m Jess the CSM’ (pause for handshake) ‘Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee? A watch?’ I laugh lightly to show I’m joking. He smiles tightly because he knows I’m not really.
‘Won’t happen again.’
I usher him in to the now rather quiet Rehearsal Room and he sits obediently in one of the empty plastic chairs. Director raises eyebrows at me and I nod confidently in a way I believe conveys ‘Don’t worry I gave him a real bollocking. Cos I’m dead tough’.
An expectant hush falls around the room as Director stands up and addresses the circle.
‘Hi everybody and welcome to Day One of insert play name here rehearsals. Can I just start by saying how excited I am to be doing this project.’
She then continues her speech about the play and then Producer also stands up and does a little speech. She too is ‘very excited’ about the piece and has been looking forward to this day for a long time etc etc. At the end of her speech, Producer comes up with an ingenious suggestion. Why don’t we go round in a circle and say our names and what we do?
It’s a crazy idea but what the hell.
So then we commence the next ritual and I actually try and listen to people from The Office when they say their roles. Although I have already done one show here I am still a little shaky on what it is everybody does and until two weeks ago had been treating the Head of Marketing as if they were Work Experience. But he does dress like a French exchange student so I don’t think I’m entirely to blame.
Then the Read Through commences and Leah and I share a sigh of relief when Director says that she will read the stage directions. I hate being asked to read stage directions. As much as I try I always just seem to end up sounding like a newscaster on her first day; a bit shaky and with a very dull and monotonous voice. And do you read out everything in italics? It’s pretty hard to judge.
Once the read through has finished, Designer rocks up and I assist him in setting up his model box. This is usually my favourite bit of Meet and Greet days.
I mean, how bloody cool are model boxes?
Tiny little doll houses of sets with teeny weeny bits of unfeasibly small furniture and dinky little Borrower people. They are so ace. Sometimes when I am in a rehearsal room after everyone else has left, I make them all move about and talk to each other.
I spend long period times of trying to work out why I’m single. Then I write this blog and realise its just staring me in the face.
Anyway, I eye up this model box a little warily and glare at the back of Designer as he carefully and lovingly takes diminutive tables and chairs out of a shoe box. The set is admittedly not hugely complicated, (the space we are doing it in is very small) but Designer has put in the one thing which is certain to cause me angst and strife for several weeks. The one object which is sure to make Production Manager and I weep and wail and drink a lot of Merlot purely out of frustration.
A sodding door.
In Real Life, doors are very normal and boring objects which rarely cause much strife or upset. However, whack a door on a stage and you are setting yourself up for several weeks of pain and misery. They open when they should be shut, stay shut when they should open, warp in hot weather and then need rehanging.
And don’t even get me started on knobs.
But there is at least just the one door. The rest of the set looks fairly simple. But very, very beautiful.
Designer does his chat to the cast about the set and emphasises that he is also, ‘dead excited’. So now that is Producer, Director and Designer all keen to express their excitement at this piece. I mentally fast forward to Day Two of the tech when we are all sleep deprived, tetchy and the door is swinging wide open with gay abandon. Will they all be as excited then?
Probably not.
Then it is my turn to talk and I do my best to match up to the enthusiasm of the very excited Director, Producer and Designer but they are pretty tough acts to follow. Plus it is hard to muster up much ‘excitement’ when you’re just the bird in the corner with a diary and a biro who is reeling off details about preview tickets, schedules and who to call if you are going to be late. Although I do try to get quite animated when I mention the 15% discount in the pub next door.
At the end of the day, I stop to consider the Meet and Greet and how it has gone. Pretty well actually. Everyone had croissants and juice and fresh scripts and behaved accordingly. Now all that stands between me and Press Night is four weeks of rehearsals, one week of tech, a massive props list, A Dreaded Door and a bunch of actors I have never worked with before and am yet to get to know.
And you know what?
I’m quite excited.
As ever, thank you for reading this waffle. If you enjoyed it you can click on ‘Share’ at the top of the page and put it on your Facebook and Twitter page. You can ‘Like’ my Page on Facebook (Girl In The Dark) or follow me on Twitter (@agirlinthedark).  Also the tinyurl for it is

All comments and replies and tweets are always so much appreciated. You are a very lovely bunch of people.


  1. Having only recently been introduced to your blog I can say it is a joy to read. Very very funny

  2. I would never have believed how much I enjoy your blogs. I have no real interest in theatre or drama, border on being a macho moron and have all the social grace of a true engineering geek, yet somehow you capture my interest with humour, personalities and sharp observations. Thank you.

  3. I am a recovering Stage Manager, I briefly worked at the NT. A few things in this come to mind that I'm going to inflict on you now. I studied as a theatre designer, so spent 3 years making tiny dolls houses whist we all collectively denied that's what we were doing, the meet and greets there were called Meat and greets, and there was a spam platter, see what they did there (so witty). One of the worst examples of the 15 year old head shots I encountered was during a panto season, me and my ASM would compare reality to fresh faced hope until the giggles caused an asthma attack in one of us. Finally in the soya drinking macrobiotic world of actors the quickest I have seen a bunch of biscuits destroyed was the time I stocked the tea break table with party rings and Jammie dodgers as I was sick of eating organic bull shit.

  4. Love your posts! As a mostly-actor, it's great to see familiar situations turned on their heads from the SM point of view! After a lifetime of being afraid of Stage Managers, your blogs make me go 'oh, yeah. I get it now'! :)

  5. I was an actor for 18 years -- your blog posts are very amusing - Why aren't there more photos of you? You look great! All the best...

  6. Erm .. Lovin' it, but please just consider that if you get too recent .. or current ... it might get too close to the bone.

    1. This post was first written and published two years ago and I wrote it several months after that Meet and Greet. And even then many details were changed to make any plays or people virtually unrecognisable.