Personal Stories

Limelight 4

So there I was a pining mess, yearning and longing for my Canadian lovely, but then it happened. My whole childhood was about to be turned upside down and ripped asunder.

For the final week of my work experience it was half term. For those of you outside the UK, half term is a week off for the schools. I guess you get them too but call them something totally different. But anywho, during half term theatres across the country usually will put in some kind of kids entertainment. For the big theatres they will get a national touring show like the one we had, smaller more local theatres will have fun days and maybe a small theatre club where kids can devise their own plays and perform them for each other and mums and dads.

In our theatre we have a staged version of a kids TV show called Rainbow. Now in my house Rainbow was must see TV right up till I finished my work experience. After the fact it could never be the same again. The illusion had been shot to shit for me. I’d seen the puppet master weave his magic.

Rainbow was a puppet show, the main characters were Zippy and George – Hand puppets George was a hippo, sod knows what Zippy was but his mouth was a hole in his head held there with a BIG zipper. When Zippy made too much noise (at least once an episode.. someone would Zip the annoying little sod’s gob shut).

Zippy and George

Along with Zippy and George there was Bungle. Bungle was a six foot tall brown bear… and no I don’t mean a tall black hairy gay man.. I mean a furry six foot tall bear who happened to be brown… sheesh you guys have some depraved minds)

 

 Bungle

Leading this band of miscreant puppets and stuffed socks is Geoffrey. Geoffrey is the sexually ambivalent head of the house who never had a date in all the years of the show and must have been a pent up ball of sexual frustration.. due to the fact that he slept in the same bed as Bungle ( I am rethinking the big brown bear thing all the time!!).

Geoffrey

These four were the main trouble causers but every episode you could bet your ass that the three roving minstrels Rod Jane and Freddy would show up. Now Rod Jane and Freddy looked like ex porn stars from the 70’s dressed in baggy clown clothes. They would turn up unexpectedly sing a song and then bugger off again. Once in a while they would be the main focal point of the episode (usually Jane had lost something… I kept waiting for the episode where she lost her dignity by having to go back to porn to pay Rod and Freddy’s crack habits, but the show was cancelled before that episode aired)

Rod, Jane & Freddy

Anyway back to the live show. This was a big kids show.. lots of colourful scenery lots of music and laughter. I got to meet the guy who did Zippy and Georges voices and I met Geoffrey (a really nice down to earth guy really.. liked a beer in his dressing room after the show.. couldn’t go to the bar because of the kids). Everything was happy happy. On the Monday after the get in, I was pulled to one side by the theatre stage manager and asked if I would like to take part in the set changes and actually find out what it was like to work under the real pressure of a big theatre. I of course jumped at the chance.I was paired up with an experienced crew member and was told what to do and how to do it safely. I was run through the cues and what scenery went where and when. I had this down to a tee with my trusty new mate…. only my trusty new mate didn’t hang around to long.. he was caught smoking something other than a cigarette about thirty minutes before the opening afternoon show. No one thought to tell me who I was going to work with now they just let the show start and took me along for the ride.Now… please remember.. this was my first time actually changing scenery on a professional stage.. I was REALLY nervous and to top it off my new mate was stoned and probably sitting in a park somewhere feeling no damn pain.2 minutes to the 1st scene change and the stage manager comes to me and checks to see if i am OK with what to do.. I casually answer ” NO.. I have no one to do the change with how am i supposed to move this on my own.. blah blah blah”. I did the one thing any theatre tech shouldn’t do.. I freaked out on-stage during a show. I was told to calm down and I would be alright and Muppet number 3 would help.Muppet number 3 was a casual crew member that is drafted in to help out at short notice.

It showed.

During the first scene change Muppet number 3 and I took our first piece of scenery on to the stage and all composure was lost. The scenery got out of control at his end and began rolling VERY slowly toward the Gauze backdrop we were working behind. If it hadn’t been for the stage manager running in front of the scenery and stopping it.. it would have been in the front row of the audience quicker than it takes a lamb to shit when thinking of mint sauce.

I was taken off active duty and told to go sit in the crew green room. Muppet three was not.. he was allowed to keep working.

After about ten minutes the stage manager came to the green room and chewed me a new asshole. I wouldn’t have minded taking the rap but it really wasn’t my fault. I was told that I was no longer going to be an active member of crew and that when I was on stage I was to steer well clear at all times.

I did as I was told… I spent most of the week sitting at the stage door signing autographs for Zippy and George in readiness for the crowds at the stage door at the end of the show.

On the Friday I had an assessment with the heads of technical theatre.. Stage Manager Head of electrics. I wanted to know how I had done and boy were they honest.

I was told they thought I wasn’t suited for the work and even though I had been great at certain aspects of the job like the get in and get outs and working with the incoming companies. I really didn’t suit working at a theatre in residence. I should be a touring techie and make the most of what I could when I could. I was gutted. They had ripped out my little heart and stomped all over my dreams. It wouldn’t be the last time someone who thought they were better than me did that. I am still here and I although I am no longer involved in the theatre.. I still haven’t listened to them and still aim for something better.

Limelight 3

There are times in every young mans life when he falls head over arse for a woman so out of his league it hurts. Usually it’s for a pop star or a movie star… (I saved those for much later in life).

On week two of my work experience, the Stage Manager realized that there was very little for me to do with the crew of the theatre for the following week and he wondered if i would like to see what it was like to work with a touring company for a week. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant properly…Ithought he was going to farm me out as a slave to Opera North.

What he was actually proposing (and had arranged and was only asking me out of courtesy) was for me to align myself with the company coming in for the next week. I would work with the head of costume and wife of the director. (I am ashamed to say that I don’t remember the names of the lovely people with the exception of the woman involved in the main part of this story) I will call her Pat, because it has a friendly ring to it.

This what could have been called a b-list headline show. It was a comedic murder mystery. I actually really liked watching the show most nights from the wings, but the local critics weren’t to hot on it.. I blame the “star” of the show… a used-to-be funny man from TV. He wasn’t that funny and to be honest he wasn’t that great an actor either. The other name in the show was a young lady from an Australian soap opera who was so bashful she insisted on having a dressing room built on stage so she could change during a scene in the wings. And before anyone thinks that she was right to do so.. she was wearing a long slip to her knees and all she was changing was a shirt. Now still you could be right in thinking that this was still OK.. BUT she was an actress from NEIGHBOURS and she was almost always in a Bikini or a low cut top with tight shorts on. Looking back on the situation now, I find it hard to understand (maybe it’s the man in me) why she had to have her own dressing room.

Anyway I digress from my real tale. My whole job description was to do what ever was needed for the cast and crew during the week. If they needed something picking up from the costume dept I would be asked to get it. If it was lunch time and they felt like a burger or a pizza.. I would go get it. During Get In for the play I met a short haired woman who looked like she had just been on the worlds worst train journey, was wrestling with a coffee machine. It had eaten her money and she had no more change. So being the little gentleman that I was I bought her a cup of coffee. It was no big deal too me.. 20p for a cup of grotty coffee was nothing, but I was repaid many times over during the next week.

Her name was Bryan, she was a supporting actress in the play and she was only on stage for a maximum of 20 minutes in the two hours the play ran. During the run of the tour she had spent the extra time just chilling out and trying to find more work for after this show had come to it’s conclusion. But this week she would stop her job hunt and take me under her wing.

There was nothing to do during the show so I was invited up to her shared dressing room to chat (Get your minds out of the gutter you perverts). We spent each night talking about different things.. what I wanted to do after school, did I like the theatre, what other shows had she done (she did the Rocky Horror Show.. I was even more in love with her after I found that out). There was a new topic every night and in the days when she needed a guide around Nottingham I was the first to be asked.

I was smitten… no I was in love. Bryan was my first real big crush on someone out of my league. I should probably mention… Bryan was well over 30 but well under 40 at the time and I was just barely 16.. there was never the remotest possibility of anything happening… I knew that, but my mind had it’s own mind and it wanted to spend the rest of it’s life with her.

The week flew by, I was in 7th heaven but all good things must come to an end. I had to find a way to make her remember me… so I bought her a BAD Bob Dylan tape. LOL How young I was. Bryan, of course, showed no offense at being bought the BAD BADDDD tape. She was thrilled… she claimed she didn’t have it. I am sure it was relegated to the glove compartment of her car where Terry Pratchett once said “… all tapes left in the glove box for more than 14 days will invariably turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits”

Hope she enjoyed Fat Bottomed Girls at some point.

On the Saturday I was called to a large dressing room where the whole cast and crew were, and presented with a card of thanks and an envelope full of money. They had had a collection for me after finding out that I was not being paid for my work experience. If I remember rightly there was around about £50 in that envelope and that was the biggest surprise of the whole three weeks, that these people actually appreciated what little I had done enough to take time out of their day to come and see me and spend some time. The money was nice too..lol.

After the show that night we pulled the set down and then I went to the bar to say goodbye to Bryan and the rest of the cast. Bryan looked tired and ready to leave for the last train back to London that night, but she hung around and waited to say goodbye to me. She gave me her phone number and a kiss on the cheek… I nearly missed my bus that night, I don’t float as well as I walk.

I only used the phone number once… but she had moved (or given me a duff number). I have never forgotten my first crush on some out of my league and probably never will.

Until Next Time…

Limelight 2

During my sixth form at school we had to undertake 3 weeks of work experience each year. Normally you would go to a factory and be a slave or you could go to an office and make coffee and be the butt of the water cooler jokes for three weeks. If you were interested in theatre there was only one place you could really go in our small dinky town and that was The Palace Theatre. Going there as a work experience person was a curse. You got sat in the box office and told to stuff envelopes for hours on end and the closest you got to doing anything theatrical was watching the old ladies who came into the theatre coffee shop at lunch time regaling us of their past stage stories.

I was not willing to do that and waste the time, I would rather have stayed in school and studied privately (also known as signing out of school and going over to the park and getting drunk on cheap beer and smoking menthol cigarettes…ahh the life).

I had made my feelings known to my home tutor and to my head of year and to the teacher who had been organizing the work experience and they were most annoyed at my refusal to play the game, but they had an idea. We got in touch with the Nottingham Theatre Royal about the possibility of me spending at least 1 week there to get me out of their hair… (they loved me really). The theatre agreed and not only agreed but took me for the full three weeks. Was I excited… Not really.. it meant I had to get up at 6 am every day for three weeks including Saturdays too make sure I could get my paper round done and get to Nottingham before 9am. It was an hour bus ride to Nottingham each day and I would be at the theatre during regular theatre hours which were (looking back) crazy stupid hours. My day would start at between 9-10 am for the tech notes for either the weeks show or the notes from the night before and then we would have to act on the info given.

If it was a Monday we would have to Get In the show that was running for the week. I was lucky in the three weeks there we only had three shows. If I had been a month later in doing my work experience I would have been there during Opera North Month.

ONM is where a BIG ASS opera company come to a theatre and wreck the lives all involved. The show Three full operas in rotation… no show the same two nights running. Which means EVERYTHING has to be changed EVERY night. Sets had to be taken down and put up every day and night. It was by all accounts a marriage breaking experience. They had three shifts of techies working 24/7. I loved the theatre butI hated and still hate opera. I find it a really bad awful way to waste an evening. Anyone who claims to enjoy and love opera also enjoys having their private parts tied to an electric fence and then having cold water thrown over them. It’s the artistic equivalent of being tied to a dead cow and being forced to eat a McDonald’s Happy Meal. I guess you could say that I ain’t too big on opera.

Anyway back to a normal week of work experience. My first week there the musical Grease was making it’s Nottingham stop. I was excited as hell to be able to work on this show. When the trucks arrived at the theatre it was all hands to the loading bays and unpack the three trucks with everything Grease. Up to this point the biggest thing I had unloaded was a little three tonne van with some stage decking in it. This was insane. What surprised me was, the sets didn’t look all that great when they were this close up. It looked beaten up and tacky. They looked like the original sets from the 70’s. But hey I was a school kid what did I know.

Surprisingly the Three trucks were unloaded in about an hour. And then things started happening so fast I couldn’t keep up. Things flew from the ceiling, giant hair driers appeared from out of nowhere and then the cast started arriving and MY GOD, I had never seen so many agile dancers in my life and they were all great looking too. I guess that is what is called getting stars in your eyes. Needless to say the rest of the In House crew had seen it all before and it didn’t phase them as it did me. They took the opportunity to look at pretty women I fell in love with every single one of them. That love affair lasted roughly 35 minutes. Every single dancer was dating another dancer (I was gutted… now I wish I could watch the after show party tapes 🙂 )

Everything kind of went into blur mode after that. I hung curtains, I painted sets, I caught footballs (of the American style) and had a laugh with some very strange people indeed. This was my first real exposure to professional actors and they were all (in hindsight) quite up themselves for no particular reason (the show wasn’t that good.. this was before the revamp).

For the rest of the week I would show up at 9 in the morning and leave at 11pm in time for the night bus home, and then do it all over again the next day. I look back now and realize it was no way to live but I was having fun and I couldn’t let the school down, after all they had gone to all this trouble. During the day I would do various household duties backstage, like making coffee and stuffing the odd envelope and take flack as I was the joke of the techies green room water cooler….

Coming next time.. our hero falls head over heals in love with a Canadian Actress

Until Next Time…

Way back then I was in the Limelight.

I used to be a Theatre Person. I was lured in by the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. I had many mistresses in the spotlights that hit me on stage. I was always truly happy in a theatre or a theatrical space.

I wasn’t just an actor, I was a techie behind the scenes too. In fact most of my theatre life was spent behind the scenes. I would do anything just to get into a theatre and be a part of something organic, something that was live every time and unpredictable. I loved the sound of applause from a grateful audience at an interval or end of the show.

Out of the ten plus years I was in the theatre it was mostly good but as with all good things there has to come some bad and the final bad forced me to stop thinking about the theatre and move on with a real life that had somehow been hidden. After a few weeks of sucking my thumb and hiding away in my bedroom I came out and got on with things. I was 23 years old and I had already had 1 whole career behind me and now I needed to find another… by the way… I am still looking for that second career.

I plan on, from time to time, sharing some of the more fun times with you. It’s a part of my life that I am really proud of and enjoy talking about (read: boring the crap out of…) to friends and family. They have heard the stories before and humour me by listening again and again and they always laugh in just the right places.

To kick things off I want to tell you how I got into the crazy world of theatre.

It all began when I was 12 and I saw a sign on the noticeboard outside my geography classroom.
it went something like this

WAR OF THE WORLDS AUDITIONS
Sign up below to be a part of the new school production.

After that there was a list of the schools rich kids and kids with academic gold in their future.. so me a pig thick short fat hairy oik with the grace of three left footed yak with a bad skin condition (hey I was in puberty) stuck my name down. I didn’t know the procedure of these things I didn’t know that I had to keep watching the board for audition dates.. I missed the audition.

I went to see the teacher that was organizing this whole shebang and thus started a great friendship and gave me a mentor I would treasure even today when my theatre days are well and truly over (for now). I won’t use his full name but I will refer to him as either Dave or DBK.

Seeing as that conversation was doomed from the start to show my ignorance and inability to read a notice board I guess Dave was right not to include me in the show proper and looking back, I really don’t regret not being a piece of red weed which is what all the 3rd years were being cast as.

At the time though I was really put out that I couldn’t be involved in the show…. By the way I should probably mention that I had signed up for this show with no idea of what it was about. I knew the story of War of the Worlds but I didn’t know that it was based on the Musical by Jeff Wayne and it was a DANCE piece.

Now let’s just look at this for just one second. It was a DANCE piece and there was I a front row hooker playing for third year Rugby team offering my short fatness to be in a DANCE piece. I really needed to learn to read the small print.. mind you my not reading the small print got me out of a potentially embarrassing situation… the basic costume was shiny black Lycra leggings and a very tight black t-shirts… I would NOT have looked good and would have probably cried my eyes out just to get out of wearing it. But I digress

After much thought and probably out of sheer desperation, Dave made a decision that would change my life for the next ten years and would leave me a totally different person for the rest of my life. He put me on the technical crew for the show. I was a show techie. I got to be in school at weekends working on set building I got to drink coffee in the staffroom, and I got to finally see inside the girls toilets. (how sad).

I was the youngest of the Get In crew not really a big deal but I was made up at the time that I was being taken seriously enough to help get the show ready. I was starting to feel even back then that I was comfy doing this kind of work. I spent the whole weekend in the school assembly hall creating a whole new world.

We blacked out the hall with thick black bin liners HUNDREDS of them held together with masking tape and a prayer (they fell down one freakishly hot night and it was a MAD manic panic the next day to get them all put back up before a performance for a rival school.. we did it with an hour to spare). We hung lights installed a sound system and I was allowed to play with a smoke machine (something that still fills me with great joy).

There wasn’t actually anything for me to do during the show but stand around waiting to be told to get out of the way. This was my first experience of theatre that wasn’t aimed at kids. I was wide eyed and my family were sick of hearing about Par-Cans and LX Cues that came in one tenth of a second late and ruined the atmos of the crucial red weed take over scene. But they learned with time that nodding and saying “that’s nice dear would you like more peas with your dinner” would usually shut me up enough for them to either start another conversation or run away and hide from me.

After the week long run of the show had finished on Saturday night there was a PARTY. More to the point a PARTY that I was allowed to go to. It was held in a local coffee bar in the town centre and was organized by the sixth formers involved in the show. It was also the first (but not the last) party I went to where Newark’s riot police were in attendance three times (it was a good party).

With all good parties has to come to an end and this one did at around 2am. I staggered home (not very drunk I hasten to add) and got there by about three am (we lived ten minutes away). I fell asleep on the couch and was rudely awoken by the dog at 8am just in time to walk back to school and take everything down and take it back to the rental place. I left the house and there was a THICK fog (no not in my head in real life). The first thing that crossed my mind was… “Did I fuck around with the smoke machine and leave it on????????” I picked up a can of coke from the newsagents and like a slug slithered through the streets to get to school. The Get Out took less that a third of the time it took to Get In and then I took a trip in the back of a three tonne truck and learned how to surf staging whilst bombing down the motorway at 70 miles an hour. It was a great day but by the end of it.. it was all over and I was left without a theatre and the loss hurt like mad. I knew that I would have to find another dealer because I was hooked. I didn’t want the sunlight, I wanted the darkness of a stage punctuated with beams of light and the sounds of a hammer striking a thumb.

I was depressed for a few days and then Dave came to me and started talking about next years concept. A self devised piece called ..for better for worse. It was about The Environment and all that good stuff. Things pretty much went along the same lines for this show as it had for War of the Worlds I did more as I grew in confidence. I actually made a scene change with lights up (My first stage appearance since I was 6 when I played Henry The Eighth is a song play at junior school.. i didn’t have any lines then either)

I was hooked and I had never been backstage at a real theatre.. this was just make believe so far… what happened next would solidify the next decade of my life.

Until Next Time…

Me…. A Trendsetter

Not much has been going on really. I am still fighting with the old depression and I seem to be on to a hiding for nothing at times. One day I can be up the top of the world the next day I can be scratching skin off my arms and ready to take the long walk.. I guess the mood stabilising drugs aren’t working as well as they should be anymore.

As I sit and write this I realise how much I have missed writing and posting for my blog. I am not gonna make empty promises of keeping up with things but you never know I may be around a bit more…lol

Oh Well

Until Next Time…

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