Friday, 25 July 2014

88 Miles Per Hour

I love ‘Back To The Future.’
I do.

We had it recorded off the telly onto a VHS (complete with 80’s adverts) and I just watched it all the time. 
All the time.

I don’t think I was really even that clear on the storyline (I certainly didn’t fully comprehend what happened in the second one till I was at least fifteen) and the whole dodgy incest bit went way over my head, but I loved it.

I was madly besotted with Michael J. Fox and proved my adoration by joining his fanclub via an advert in my ‘Judy’ magazine. The final prom scene was wound and rewound whilst I hurled myself around the living room to ‘Jonny B Good’, longing for the day I could eventually wear a prom dress.
A day which never came.

Because I left my British school in the nineties and we had a ‘Leaver’s Disco’ which was a rather solemn event where you wore ripped jeans and a cropped top and defaced each other’s school shirts with a glittery marker whilst furtively sipping out of spiked bottles of Panda Cola.
So when I saw that Secret Cinema were putting on a ‘Back To The Future’ event, I squealed with excitement and immediately alerted a friend. On the day the tickets were released I had to work on a matinee so he was instructed to sit online with his credit card and refresh the site until he obtained tickets for one of our desired dates.

And he did.
‘I GOT TICKETS! I GOT TICKETS!’ I screeched at everyone onstage after the performance, and immediately went to trawl the net for possible outfits. As luck would have it I was working on a 1950’s play and instantly questioned if I could keep the vintage red leather handbag which was used by the female lead. This request was granted to me and then more shopping ensued until I found a blue and white flowered  fifties dress with swirly, waist-accentuating petticoats and dainty little pointed prom shoes to match. I had a large orchid accessory for my hair and thick, stage quality eye lashes. I put the whole outfit together one night and hurled myself around my bedroom like the nine year old bespectacled version of myself.

I couldn’t bloody wait.
We had tickets booked for a Friday night, the second night of the whole (extended run), and had followed the website instructions. I had my stopwatch and my family photograph ready and had registered to discover my new identity. The many e mails told me that I was to find an accessory or prop which represented my imaginary line of work and bring it with me along with a cushion. The job I was given was ‘estate agent’ and after scouting round the shops I couldn’t find anything estate agent appropriate, so decided I would just turn up with a Shitty Attitude and General Demeanour of Dubious Intent.

That’ll do.
The day before our allocated date, at around 3.30pm, I saw the tweet which stated that the evening’s performance was cancelled. Gosh, I thought. That’s a bit shit. I am pretty lucky as I live about twenty minutes from the site and am currently between jobs so had not needed to take time off work. But it did cross my mind that other people would need to travel a fair distance and a lot of expensive arrangements would need to be made.

A look on the Facebook page and twitter comments showed that, indeed, there was a large amount of angry and upset people who had come a long way for the event. Some people had, as instructed, left mobile phones at home so had actually turned up to the site, only to be told that the event was not happening and that they had to go home.
People were so angry. Very angry. And I could totally understand why. However, I was pretty surprised at the sheer level of venom which was occurring online and couldn’t help but question the height of people’s fury. My love for that film and my excitement for the event in question is as pure and fierce as the next superfan, but why such outrage? What had whipped everyone up so much?

Well, the answer is pretty obvious.
Secret Cinema, of course.

The constant emails from them have contained many hints and instructions which built up an overwhelming level of anticipation and intrigue. So, as adults, we all got very swept up in the magic and the undiluted joy of the event. It was starting to feel a bit like a childhood December in the run up to the 25th.
Except screw Santa Claus, we were going backwards in fucking time.

For those first night ticketholders I can only compare receiving that sad little tweet to having several hours of toe clenching, bum-grabbing, uninhibited foreplay, before the object of your affection rolls onto his side and mumbles something about ‘work in the morning’. Secret Cinema teased and tantalised and got everyone to a point of screw-eyed orgasm before, quite literally, pulling out.
So naturally, emotions were running high.

As I work in the entertainments industry I tried to work out what would cause a company to cancel an event of that magnitude so last minute.  I have cancelled several shows and the reason is usually illness, technical difficulty or a health and safety issue.
Illness seemed unlikely as, from the casting websites, they appear to have a little army of Marty McFly’s and a school of Doc Brown’s. I thought that a tech issue was also doubtful  for that late in the day and could only conclude that it was health and safety.

I contacted various sources who worked on-set and , very loyally, nobody wanted to volunteer info on the exact details of why it wasn’t happening. So I shrugged it off and assumed that the issues would be resolved and eagerly awaited the 11am announcement the next day.
Which never came.

At about 11.24 we got told that they were working to resolve the issues onsite and that they would soon send a statement.
I took that as a positive note. They weren’t cancelling so the organisers must feel that there is an issue they can resolve. I pulled my dress from the wardrobe and ignored the naysayers, of which there were many. The Facebook and Twitter comments were getting more and more vitriolic and the bad feeling which had built up in homes around the country was crashing onto the internet like a vintage tsunami teaming with prom dresses, red lips and home made hover boards.

It was a mess.
Many years ago I worked on ‘We Will Rock You’ as an usher when it very first opened. The first couple of previews were cancelled and a lot of people were disappointed. Myself and the other ushers dished out the news to disappointed punters whilst the box office staff worked tirelessly to contact ticket holders. People were sad and a bit angry but generally quite understanding as me and my colleagues went on the front line and protected Brian May and Ben Elton as they worked tirelessly to get the show to the best it could be. We were a face for people to talk to and get immediate answers about re booking and refunds and as a result, people left with their shoulders lightly lower but with their heads comforted with knowledge of some sort.

And again, this is the issue with Secret Cinema.
It’s too bloody secret.

Nobody is having human contact with anyone as they don’t have a box office or a ticket base. From the photos I saw the people who greeted ticket holders in Hackney were folk in high-vis who did not have the means to do instant refunds or ticket transfers, so everyone has to gather themselves into a ramshackle online queue and await to be dealt with by, what I am guessing, is a fairly small staff.
Without that human face of sympathy, people are allowed to just get worked up into a heightened state of frustration which can never be appeased if no one from the company can say ‘There, there. We will make it better.’

By the time it got to about 2pm and the time I should have been getting ready, I started to feel less confident about the event. Again, I am pretty lucky as I could leave quite late and still arrive for the event, but there were a lot of people who had left their homes in the North, and still unsure if the event would be happening. Before I started to curl my hair I tried to imagine what possible conversations would be happening to allow the decision to still not have been made at this stage.
And here is where I get a tiny bit defensive of Secret Cinema.

In my experience, the director or producer of a show is never the person responsible for a cancellation and always the person who will argue for it to continue. I have no doubt whatsoever that the big wigs of Secret Cinema will have not been taking these decisions lightly and insisting that events proceed.
I am also guessing that they have no frame of reference for putting on such a huge show. Nobody is in a positon to say ‘Yeah but remember the last time we recreated an entirely immersive, 1950’s village in the middle of Stratford? Remember what we did then?’

Eventually I got bored of sitting in my dressing gown feeling like a wallflower whose prom date had cancelled, and started to badger my sources more urgently and they told me what we now know.  That the council had simply said no and that it did not meet technical requirements.  As someone who has battled local authorities in order to have an actor smoke a fag in a room of eighty people I’m really not surprised.
And actually I felt a tad relieved as I had started to question if I really wanted to go. I had begun the day looking forward to a rather wonderful festival for people who shared a love for a film but now it felt slightly tainted. I was concerned that I would be a wary pleasure seeker boarding a fairground ride the day after it derailed.

Fabian has issued a statement saying how sorry he was and I believe him. Someone does not work that hard and put on productions so ambitious without caring. Finance aside, Secret Cinema will have taken a massive hit as far as reputation goes and, should they stage an event again, I will not be booking for tickets early in the run. Some people are unlikely to ever book with them again. I can only imagine that if the council are putting a halt to it they are doing it for good reason. I would rather claim a refund or get a ticket for another night rather than go up in flames or something. And let’s face it, with that amount of hairspray and nylon we would all go up before you could say ‘Great Scot.’
Fabian has also stated that he hopes to learn from this and that’s fair enough. Secret Cinema has great ideas but is obviously just not ready to execute them quite yet. I am genuinely sympathetic with the cancellation issue as shit just happens which is beyond your control and no elements of expertise or planning can resolve it. I just think that decisions needed to be made earlier and people contacted quicker. We now have Facebook and Twitter to send out instant messages so maybe utilise that more to your advantage if you don’t have a bank of manned phones.

Also, the fancy website with its ‘voice messages’ and other bells and whistles is all very well and good but personally, I don’t need it. For an event like that I would prefer it if people put their energies into the event itself, like a cinema screen or something, not just the build up.
I have already bought the ticket so you can stop marketing it to me now.

My pal and I will go the pub and discuss our plans. Maybe we reschedule or maybe not. Either way my family haven’t just been shot out of the sky by a missile and I am not the victim of FGM.

So you know, life ain’t all bad.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it you can click on the link at the top left hand of the page. You can also follow me on Twitter on @agirlinthedark or 'Like' my Facebook page 'Girl In The Dark'.



  1. They did this last year, don't forget. Fabien isn't learning from his mistakes.

  2. That's really interesting to hear that it is the council who have said no, for whatever technical reasons there are. However I think this raises another issue, as a general observation do council representatives actually do their site/show visit too late?? I've done shows where it's been the 2nd dress and that's when they have rocked up and it's quite late in the day to change things as normally you're straight into opening night/previews the following day.
    Does this mean that clearer lines of communication are required? Should productions have a better schedule where the council rep is invited to the final run through so they can voice any concerns, then back to see a dress to a) check their concerns have been met b) ensure there are no more issues.
    Or is it simply a case of better communication from all involved?!
    Thanks for the blog post