Sunday, 18 September 2011

'And we'll strive to please you everyday' - Week 8

copyright. Sheila Burnett

             Sunday was a glorious blur. I woke at a perfectly respectable and greatly enjoyed 11:00am, walked out of my room and was accosted at the top of the stairs:
            "Rhys," Joanne said, "would you and Rachel like a fry-up?"
            I could have kissed her.
            I knocked on Ducky's door, opened it a jar and she quacked at me as we tend to do. "Guess what?' I said.
            "Has Christmas come?" She asked and squealed when she smelt the intoxicating waff of butter braised sausages and grilled-top tomatoes.
            We were a happy pair.

            We went from Breakfast to Lunch almost immediately. Arthur, Cuckoo, Garreth and the two of us had made plans to go for a meal in a nearby - Michelin  recommended - pub, for lunch. It didn't disappoint.
            Not a lot else happened in the evening. I made a 'master plan' list for the show of entrances/exits/prop moves/scene changes that will hopefully help me come show time.
            It only dawned on me, typing the last sentence, that the show would be up and running in the space of a day.
            Take a breath, King.
            Monday came, the day of the first show.
            We met early in the green room for notes of the first half of the show from the Saturday's dress rehearsal.
            One of my particular favourites was discussing the logistics of placing my (Sir Andrew's) hand on Lucy (Maria's...) boob. This comes in the first Andrew, Toby and Maria scene where she demonstrates her complete intellectual superiority by taking Andrew's hand to the 'buttery bar'. I think that I now conclusively know how to grope Lucy's tit.
            After notes we revisited the first half of the play, completing the same cue to cue exercise that we did with the second half at the end of Saturday's rehearsal.

The stage in waiting
            Following that, we did a speed run of Act V - as it is probably the least worked scene of the play.
            Interesting fact; is there a missing act? Fifth acts would always have more than one scene or not exist at all; the fact that Twelfth Night has a fifth act consisting of only one scene has plagued analysts and critics for years.
            I'd love to offer a theory or answer, but...
            In the afternoon, we did our second and final dress rehearsal.
            It wasn't the smoothest that I've ever had, but we did get through it and re-salvaged the new pieces of blocking etc that we've begun to find of late.
            Afterward, we all went our separate ways to prepare for the evening show.
            I turned to a passage that I've often found comfort in:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

An 'Actor's eye-view' of the Wilde Theatre

            No prizes for guessing the play.
            The audience entered, we gulped, gasped and gawked at the eventuality that we would actually have to perform the show.
            The adrenalin started pumping, the nerves shivered and shook and, looking back, a bit like a starched shirt, I think that it was the only thing that kept me stiff and standing. I was ready and we were ready.
            We weren't ready, but we were ready.
            Or were we...?

copyright. Sheila Burnett

            I could talk about that first show infinitely, but when all's done, all that needs to be said is that we put on a fucking good show. We managed it by the skin of our teeth, but by God we did it. I still can't believe it.
            They loved it too. We had two schools in who were remarkably responsive. The laughs came, as did the cries.
            The first half came and went in a sweaty blur.
            As did the second.            

copyright. Sheila Burnett
            When we got to the final scene and entered for the last montage while Leo, as Feste sang, I must admit to shedding a little tear. We've been on one hell of a roller coaster for Twelfth Night and have experienced real highs and lows as a cast and company. We've been under tremendous stress, time restraints and tribulations, but, together, we have made it through. We can now look to the near future and the enjoyment that we are going to have in touring the country with two terrific productions.
            I reflected, as I heard the lines, on the aptness of the song, both to us, in the context of the play and the trials that actors put themselves through for the enjoyment and scrutiny of others. Deep down, I suppose, (and I'm generalising here) we're all just looking for acceptance; the stage or screen, maybe being the most economical way of doing it?
            Feste puts it best:

            When that I was and a little tiny boy,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
    For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut the gate,
    For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
    For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
    For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
    And we’ll strive to please you every day.

copyright. Sheila Burnett
            I slept in until midday on Tuesday. I suppose that my body needed the time to recuperate from the previous day and judging by the way that I felt, it had done the job.
            I casually made my way in to the theatre before we were scheduled to meet and read to pass the time.
            Later on, everyone arrived for the work of the day. We began with notes that lasted about an hour. What was so lovely to see was how relaxed we all were. It was as if an enormous weight had been instantaneously lifted from our should           My interesting note of the session was to take out all of the asides/motions to the audience, that Sir Andrew has. 
copyright. Sheila Burnett

            "Let's make him internal to the play," Al said, "let's make his world the play and there be nothing else for him." What this will do for me is make him totally dependant on the characters around him. It will take away the comfort that he finds in taking solace with the crowd before him. He is isolated and, yet again, even more alone.
            Following notes, we worked on a few scenes that Al wanted to look at and hone.
            Everyone was upbeat. We glided through the work, pleased with the progress that we were making in finding more and more layers to the scenes. The characters are becoming fuller, more rounded and complete by the day. It's a joy to watch and be a part of. The scenes are enhancing and going from good, to very good.
            "At the moment" Shiv said, "I feel like flour and water. I'm only now becoming the cake."
            I don't think that I can summarize how I also feel better than that.

copyright. Sheila Burnett
             Our performance in the evening was a typical second nighter. In the theatrical world there are certain religiously observed myths; one is that a bad dress makes for a good first night - in our case, true - the other, that the second night of a performance will always be shit - again, in our part...
            That's probably unfair to the show, though. It could have certainly been better, but we had tightened it in many ways from the previous night. It was also a good test of our resolve. The audience was slim on the ground and - especially doing the comic moments - was tough when expecting and hoping for a reaction that didn't come.
            But, it must be said, the audience that where there, got the same show that a packed house would have got. One always has to remember, that no matter how many are in, those that are in, have paid to be there, and therefore deserve the best performance that we have to give.
            I hope they felt that we appreciated their attendance, because we really did.
            I took refuge in the green room on the Wednesday before we began work. I did a little admin (sigh) and some writing. One thing that I've learnt from my previous tours is that it's so important to keep active during the days before the evening performances. It's so easy to slip into a pattern of waking up late and relying on digs and TV to pass the time, but the mind has to be kept active and, if you are so inclined; creative.
copyright. Sheila Burnett

            My creativity was however shortened by the need to find some digs for Mansfield and Chipping Norton. Now, I am a self-confessed USELESS digs-hunter, but I am proud to say that I have broken the habit of a lifetime and found two sets of digs. Ducky couldn't believe it and Alastair simply denies it.
            Understandable given my track record.
            I must say, that having called through the lists, I think that I have deprived myself years of quality entertainment. It must take a particularly warm, liberal and arty type to welcome complete strangers into their own homes; case and point, the lovely lady that we'll be staying with in Mansfield, made a point of saying to me, "Now if either of you smoke, I would ask you not to do so in the house," understandable, "and also if the bathroom door bursts open, it's not my husband or I coming to molest you," - hang about - "it's just our little dog who likes to go in there..."
            Digs hunting, done, we started the afternoon's work. Sir Topaz was the first port of call and Lucy, Seb, Leo and Arthur worked long and hard in making the scene even better than it already is. Accompanied by Alan's superb lighting and Dom's terrifying sound design, the scene is now, probably my favourite.
copyright. Sheila Burnett
            We then ran and rehearsed the final act and tweaked a few parts that were still proving problematic. 
            I must now nod to a friend of mine, who has recently moved with his beautiful family, to Canada, who played Sir Andrew at Regent's Park a few years ago. He gave me the idea to offer Olivia a flower on Sir Andrew's final exit and I am proud to say that we have included it in our show. The audience in the evening loved it too. They began laughing and ended, sympathetically.
            James, your departure from the Acting profession is a crime and I credit your brilliance totally with my final Aguecheek moments.

copyright. Sheila Burnett
            Mid-way through the show - which was, like the night before, very quiet - I caught a glimpse into the mindset of a stand-up comic. Actors and comedians aren't all that dissimilar to begin with. Both are more comfortable in front of a crowd of people and both are looking for some kind of confirmation of their talents in applause.
            I could use the term, 'acceptance' again.
            One major difference though, is the laughter scale. If you're a comedian, getting a laugh is pretty much a must. If it were not, I'd think of a change of profession... For an actor, however, unless performing a comedy piece, the lack of laughs is all but unnoticed. There may be the odd line here and there that prompts and expects a chuckle, but by and large, the focus is on the drama of the piece; telling a story. What I have noticed, in playing Sir Andrew, is the overwhelming sense of anxiety that I hold throughout the play. So many of his lines are funny (unwittingly) that if a laugh doesn't come (regardless of our small audiences) I find myself retreating to the wings as a failure. I'm steadily morphing into a laughter-whore and if I don't get my fix...
            I exaggerate, but I really do have a newfound respect for those who seek peels of praise from others in order to make a living.
            Respect and incredulity!
            We had a matinee on Thursday afternoon. Not only a matinee, but a 1:30pm matinee. Not only a 1:30pm matinee, but a 1:30pm matinee to an audience of school children.
            Now, my previous experiences of performing to School audiences have not been good; I remember, on one such occasion, performing Journey's End in Reading; I had just finished Hibbert's big emotional breakdown and began to walk offstage when a slow murmur of laughs started to ripple, with one delightful chap calling out, "Poof."
            His friends laughed.
            The smart-arsed little shit.

copyright. Sheila Burnett
            This audience however went a long way in restoring my faith in the UK's teenagers.  They were attentive, generous in their responses and emotionally engaged right through to the end. If any of you that attended on that matinee get a chance to read this, please know and tell your mates that you made our afternoon.
            In between shows (and with no sea to swim in...) the 'Matinee Swim Club' became the Matinee 'Sleep' Club. It was as if the entire green room had been pumped full of anaesthetic. At one point I was in a fit of giggles, when Seb sat down beside me, still in the full gusto of conversation, stopped speaking and within 20 seconds, was purring like a cat.

            The evening show was VIP night and we enjoyed performing the show to a packed house. It's amazing how much colour, light and shade has been added to the show since we opened at the beginning of the week. New moments are constantly being found and added upon with every performance and the audience experienced the benefit of a week of trials and errors.
            In the theatre bar afterwards, I saw Gill (Alastair's lovely Mum), Rat (his brother) and Maddy (Rat's girlfriend). I haven't seen them for almost a year, when I stayed at the Whatley household during a week of Madness of George III. It was so good to catch up with them and I look for ward to seeing Gill and Mole (Alastair's Dad) when we venture to Bury St Edmunds later in the tour (I promise to excel at 'log duty'!) . Till then, I hope that you continue to enjoy the blog and follow our progress along the way.
            On Friday, I went to the theatre early to do some washing and met with Guy and Alastair as they discussed the plan of action for the first night in Windsor. Guy has been working flat-out, trying to recruit the first 'Original Theatre Friends’, which will be coming to see the show on that first night.            
            We left Guy, to join Chris and the team for a line run of See How They Run, in preparation of Saturday's performances.
            We sat in the grounds of South Hill Park, on the very spot that the Original Theatre Company's first production of Twelfth Night took place...

            We, quite remarkably, remembered everything, with only occasional prodding towards the correct line.

            That evening, we performed our final Twelfth Night show of our time in Bracknell. It was probably the best that we've done so far and we ended the show all saying the same thing, "I'm not ready to leave it yet."

copyright. Sheila Burnett
            I'm so proud of our shows.
            I'm proud that (in my humble opinion) we've achieved something very unique and special. We have two incredibly different shows, both wonderful in their own rights being performed by a frankly brilliant cast who have achieved a minor miracle in creating such detailed and well-studied work.
            I doth my cap to you all.
            And, with that, we leave Shakespeare until we arrive in Chipping Norton in a couple of weeks.
            So, anyone fancy a little but of farce?
            When I arrived at the theatre on Saturday, the tech team had done a stellar job in erecting the SHTR set in place of TN. They had worked into the wee small hours of the morning, fitting the show and focussing the lights in preparation for the switch over.
            It's such a treat as an actor to tour with two shows.

copyright. Sheila Burnett

copyright. Sheila Burnett
            Having had my fair share of touring experience, I wouldn't be out of order to point out that doing the same show for 4 months can become rather tedious... At least this way, both shows are kept as fresh as possible.

            What I did not anticipate was just how strange it would feel. It's been 2 weeks since we last performed SHTR and a lot has happened since then - we've opened a whole other show for one thing; a different show that we've been performing for the entire week!
            Before the show, we rehearsed a few predictable problem moments and checked out our new dog, Buster's credentials. Verdict; the dog is better than us.
            We had a fight call and prepared for the show.            
            God, it was bizarre. Like the previous day, we remembered 99.9% of it, but what was so peculiar was how dreamlike it felt. It was like one had been roughly awoken from a deep sleep, dragged out of bed and asked to do some advanced trigonometry whilst juggling a cat, a dog and a potato.

            Al said, and I concur, "My body seems to know what to do more than my brain does." Deeply disconcerting...
            In between shows Chris gave us notes, which he kindly moderated in relation to our 2 week SHTR absence.

            Later on, I read.
            I'm still devouring 'Love in the time of Cholera'. A magical, painful tale of a man who never gives up his pursuit of the one he covets.
            "The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love."
            Beautiful. Perfect. Inspired.
            Norwich won their first Premier league game of the season. 2-1 against Bolton. Sublime.
            The evening show reverted back to the comfortableness that we knew at Eastbourne. The audience were hanging on every word and we enjoyed a fabulous last performance at South Hill.
            Being back in Bracknell has been every bit the adventure that I thought it would. It's been tough at times and exhilarating at others. One thing that I certainly don't doubt is that it's all been worth it. Both shows are now up and running and spirits are higher than ever.
            Windsor, we're ready for you and we're taking no prisoners.


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