Sunday, 15 December 2013

Tech Day- The Impossible Dream?

So we are hurtling towards the Opening Night of Dick Whittington in Fleet with one day to go.  Things have been, to put it politely, hectic.  Having worked for many years in corporate entertainment- in the main, shows, conferences, exhibitions and entertainment – I was very used to burning the midnight oil towards the beginning of a function, and it appears that the same applies to the theatre.  This is the part when all those months of rehearsing and training comes to fruition.  It is also the time when little things like the costumes, lighting, sound and stage set become a reality – and oh boy, does that make an enormous impact…

First time show, first time venue – dear reader, how many times have I said this?  But all because it also has a real bearing on the general approach to, and reaction to, the show.  The venue has very little in the way of stuff or staff needed for a professional show (bear in mind it was rescued from closure by the council only three years ago) and so everything has had to be brought in – from the crew to the lighting, to the sound, even to the tiered seating that the audience is sitting on. This is literally a leap into the unknown, a labour of love from all the cast and crew, and all of whom are hoping fervently that they will have an audience to play to.  In this respect, there are a number of shows that are sold out, and indeed (thank God) there are no days in which the venue are struggling – such is the leap of faith of all the local people (and the generous exposure in the papers).

One of the attractions about this show from the very start was the passion and conviction of the producer/scriptwriter/star Amanda Goldthorpe-Hall, who allowed the children from the local areas a break – despite their relative inexperience in pantomime, she saw a spark in each individual she picked, and the rest is history.  The kids have worked tirelessly, without complaint, and lapping up praise.  When their attention wanders, she has a Stare, focusing in on the offending children and lowers her voice so that the kids crane to hear what she is saying (Note to Self: must try this at home as shrieking at Teenager is giving me a sore throat and not working).  She also seems to be an adept Jack of all Trades -she’s been in the business so long that she instinctively knows how to do the Marketing, Directing and when a production note is off.  More importantly, she is adaptable – if something doesn’t work, she doesn’t make it work, she tries an alternative.  But she’s not infallible.  And she needs the back up of a good team.  She has recruited well – we have Sergeant Major Caz, the Head Chaperone, and her Deputy Rachel, we have  a professional cast who are a delight to work with and are very kid friendly, and she has appointed a technical team who are single minded in their dedication to the job in hand.  On the exterior, The Harlington staff are doing their best to maintain ticket sales and accommodate the demands of a show of which they have never seen the likes of before.

And then you have us, the Mummies who have got chaperone licences and are not sure what this means… Until this weekend, and the Tech Days… 

Anyone who has been in the theatre will know what the Tech Days entail – hours of setting lights, sound, and sorting out the realities of the scenes, i.e. has Jimmy really got time to run under the stage and appear as a Ferocious Beast in two minutes?  Caz was ill and Rachel stepped up admirably to the plate on Day 1 in charge of three of us (plus some shadowers).  We had a crib sheet, we could see the costumes of all 12 kids (interchangeable between each team), and all their accessories were laid out in clearly labelled areas of the tables in a very small dressing room.  The character Fred (the only juvenile boy) had a small screened off area in which to change, which also contained the dressing room fridge.  All seemed to be very straightforward… until the tech rehearsal started…  Half way through the day, as Fred (not mine) was struggling to get out of his fully buttoned waistcoat and two of us were ripping it off before he raced under the stage to appear as a sea monster, only to miss his cue because the sea monster kit was missing, I turned to my fellow chaperone and said ‘This really isn’t working’.  Amanda took one look at the situation and solved it in one fell swoop. Up in the dressing room we had a faulty sound system and thus could not hear the cues from off stage, and so a mum sat out in the auditorium with a full script and ran in to tell us when to go.  There were two quick change scenes when we had two panicking girls with knotted ballet pumps ribbons, and we had one child with a panic attack and one who needed an asthma inhaler.  Because we were trying it out team by team, we had props in the wrong place, kids in the wrong place, and for someone who is hard pushed to tell Left from Right, introducing Stage Left and Stage Right into the equation was tantamount to disaster. This was not the Herding Sheep vision that I had had of Chaperoning, this was full on show responsibility.  But we got through it, with a lot of stopping and starting, and I was delighted to hear at the end of the day (only because it stopped me feeling inept), that it had been simplified a bit.

One of the mums who had been watching, ready to step in as chaperone on Tech Day 2, came in to the rather sweaty dressing room at the end of the day, her eyes shining.  ‘That was absolutely BRILLIANT!’ she exclaimed.  I was ecstatic.  I’ve not really been a part of this process, only by virtue of being Little Man’s mum have I got involved – but once you are, you really are, and it was like someone had said that my baby was beautiful… and I beamed.

I looked round for Little Man. He was nowhere to be seen.  I found him at the entrance to his dressing room.  He was allowing the giggling girls in, three at a time, on an inspection tour of the room and the fridge. 

He’s got ShowBiz sussed that boy…