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Day thirty-seven – Filling the Void Part 5

December 10, 2017

Well, how lovely to be able to rest on my laurels, basking in all the praise for Inherit the Wind. Not.

The company was supposed to be moving straight from that performance to auditions and rehearsals for the annual one-act play festival. Problem was, with both due to begin in just over a week, there were still only two confirmed plays and we needed at least three. Oh, dear.

My thoughts immediately went back to that wine and cheese and play reading gathering the previous summer. How wonderful Catherine had been as the retired actress in Theatrical Digs. I rang her and pitched the idea. She had absolutely loved the character, but she was worried about her ability to memorise all the lines. “C’mon,” I said, wheedling, “you love the character. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You might have to call for a couple of lines.” She agreed that was the worst thing and it really wasn’t such a bad thing.

Donna, bless here, agreed to roll straight from Inherit the Wind to play the younger actress.

The play was very English. Catherine is very English. Donna was worried about trying – and failing – to do an English accent. I said not to worry and told her a story about my friend Robert, who, many years earlier, had been preparing to do a one-man show about Charles Darwin.

When Robert had finished the script he told me he needed to find a voice coach to help him master an English accent. I told him not to bother. No matter how good the coach was, no matter how well he thought he’d mastered the accent, if he did the play with a phoney accent at some point he’d get something wrong and that would be the only thing the audience noticed. What he should do, I said, is find a copy of a film called The List of Adrian Messenger. In this very English film George C Scott had starred as a retired intelligence agent. He fit right in, not by attempting an English accent, but by speaking Very Clearly and, so doing, having no accent at all. Robert watched the film and immediately understood what I meant. His Darwin was fantastic.

I offered Donna the same advice. Of course, during the first couple of rehearsals a handful of words-to-watch-out-for became apparent. (“Can’t” springs to mind. I don’t remember what the others were.)

A funny play, working with two of my favourite women on the island. It was like a lovely holiday after the enormity of Inherit the Wind. (And, I realised, a far more sensible way to begin one’s directing career. Well, half measures have never been my forte.)

2014 Theatrical Digs

Turns out there is something worse than having to call for a line, as Catherine did on opening night – calling for a line and having the prompter, who’s never done the job before, whisper so quietly you cannot hear what she’s saying. Catherine, bless her, stayed completely in character when she said, “Speak up, dear. I can’t hear you.” Half the audience thought it was part of the play. After the final performance, Brit Nick, who’d been in the audience, congratulated Donna on her impeccable English accent.

A delightful experience all round.

Now can I have a rest?

Apparently not. I was now artistic director and, with the group’s tenth season approaching, I was tasked with coming up with an extra special season. Okay.

I’d already suggested that all the one-act plays in the anniversary season should be new plays written by island authors. Word went out, plays arrived. I submitted That’s Nice, the play I’d written the previous summer for Donna and myself. Readings were held for the submitted plays. Three were chosen, one of which was mine.

There were five board members at one of the readings. When it was over I suggested we needed to have some sort of discussion about the coming season. A really rather acerbic board member informed me that it was my job to come up with a proposal for the board, not the board’s job to sort the season out for me. Okey dokey.

A couple of days later, I was sitting on the deck of the pub, minding my own business, sipping a glass of wine, when Jean, my companion, said, “You do realise you’re going to have to direct the panto this year, right?” I did a Travis Bickle “you talkin’ to me?” look around the deck. Yes, Jean was talking to me. And no, there really wasn’t anyone else who could direct the panto that year. What the hell. I’d directed twenty actors in Inherit the Wind. How much harder could it be? (Oh, ha bloody ha.)

Well, one thing was certain: If I was directing the panto, it wasn’t going to be Puss In Bloody Boots. I wanted something interesting. I know. It’s a panto, right? They’re meant to be daft. But as I’ve said before, there’s clever daft and stoopid daft.

I came home from the pub and got on the internet. You may or may not be surprised to learn that there are dozens of UK sites offering nothing but panto scripts. I looked at and dismissed scripts on three or four sites before stumbling across the Spotlight site. The scripts were listed alphabetically. I started going down the list. All the old chestnuts were there: Aladdin, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc. But there it was, right at the bottom of the list: Will Shakespeare the Panto! What? A Shakespeare panto? Fantastic! I got a copy of the script and it was hilarious.

Okay, panto sorted. Now what about the rest of the anniversary season?

The very first play the group had performed, back in 2004, was The Vagina Monologues. It seemed entirely appropriate to kick off the tenth anniversary season with a restaging of the same play. We had a panto. I slotted in Norm Foster’s Jenny’s House of Joy as the full production, because I knew of at least three people who were interested in directing it. (Finding directors is always one of the big challenges.) We already had our three one-act plays. And for our season finale? There seemed to be some appetite for an al fresco summer show. What else could it be? A staged reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, right? Had to be. (Never mind the fact that no one in the group had ever performed Shakespeare. It was pre-destined. It would work out somehow.)

We had a season. Hurrah!

Now to write a newsletter announcing the season to distribute at the coming theatre festival. At the festival I spotted Aleksandra and grabbed her. Told her I would be directing the panto that year, that there was a great role in it for her and that I wanted her to be in charge of choreography (something which had been notably absent from previous pantos). At one of the shows I ran into Donna and Garry. When I told them I scheduled a staged reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the season finale. Garry told me I’d stolen his idea. He’d been wanting to do just that for years. I asked him if he’d ever told me that. He admitted he hadn’t. So, I said, more a case of great minds thinking alike.

I recruited a producer and a stage manager for the panto. I started sorting out costumes and sets, making up prop lists, nailing down the music for the songs. (The only song I kept from the suggested list was “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. It was far from the only nod to Monty Python in the script.) So much to do and we hadn’t even got to the auditions.

Meanwhile, Jean, who’d been in the original performance of The Vagina Monologues, had agreed to direct the season opening staged reading. Despite all my panto responsibilities, I agreed to be the producer. I went to the auditions in that capacity with no intention of taking a part. Oh, ha bloody ha. Of course I ended up with a role.

Now, in addition to organising auditions and making rehearsal preparations for the panto, I was in rehearsals for another play. As producer of the latter, one of my roles was promotion. In addition to designing the flyer and making sure there was at least one article in the local paper before the performances, I concocted a bit of a genius promotion with the owner of the best island restaurant. Cocktails! That’s where the owner’s mind immediately went when she discovered we were doing The Vagina Monologues.

It was a fairly safe bet that most of the audience members would be women. Why not make it a bit of an occasion by doing dinner and the theatre? And of course a cocktail or two. The options were fabulous and fabulously named: Ménage A Trois, The Climax, Cheaterita Margarita, Afternoon Delight, Raspberry Rapture and my person favourite, The Silk Panty Martini.

Vagina Monologues

The show was sold out. I performed my workshop orgasm. (“The quaking broke open into an ancient horizon of light and silence, which opened onto a plane of music and colours and innocence and longing, and I felt connection, calling connections as I lay there thrashing about on my little blue mat.”) The woman standing in this photo performed two of the monologues. She is now our MP. (Not sure how much her appearance in the show affected the vote.)

Many of the women in the audience (yes, it was almost all women) had seen the 2004 production and a lot of them said this one was better.

A fine kick off for our tenth anniversary season.

Okay, that’s it for today. I have to get some buns in the oven.

 

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