It is the first day of school, or rather the first day of rehearsals, for Annie Get Your Gun. Frankly it could be the first day of school all over again. I laid out my outfit the night before then changed my mind three times before reverting to my original choice. My bag has been ready by the front door for several days, although I'm still having a last minute panic as to whether I've actually packed my pencil case, and the nerves have kicked in before the kettle has even boiled for the coffee that is necessary to make me feel vaguely human before 10am. I'm a heady bundle of excitement, fear and joy - and no matter how long you've been in this industry, the first day of any new production is always, and I mean ALWAYS like this!
The tubes are fortunately on my side and I arrive at our rehearsal venue about 20 minutes early. It's already buzzing and about 15 people are gathered around the trestle table that bears
the rehearsal room essentials - coffee, tea, pastries, cake and fruit (a sort of token healthy nod seeing as we've all diving immediately for the coconut and chocolate delights baked by the fair hands of one of the stage management team!) Coffee in hand, I begin introducing myself to various members of cast and company with the overly enthusiastic air of an excitable spaniel. The nerves have clearly kicked in! Fortunately everyone is utterly lovely and by the time we're called to order I'm feeling relatively relaxed.
First things first - sitting in a circle, the entire company (cast, creatives, production team...) introduce themselves and their role within the production one by one. There's always that slight feeling that you might forget your name or your role, and then the awkward worry that there might be a pop quiz at the end! It's a speedy exercise, as we're quite a dinky little company, but it's obvious everyone is trying to make a mental note as to each other's names. The faster you can learn them the better as it's really awkward to reach week three and still be unsure as to who's who - at a certain point there's just no way you can ask again. Seeing as this is a six-month tour I'm determined that I won't be the one still calling everyone 'hun' by the time we reach Torquay!
Introductions out of the way, we settle down to do an initial read-through of the script. Ian Talbot, our fantastic director, asks if we will read the lyrics as well as the text. Although this feels slightly silly as you have to fight the urge to speak the lyrics in rhythm, it's a very useful exercise. Irving Berlin's score is an astonishing piece of musical theatre and most of the songs in the show are so well known that it's easy to get carried away with their gloriousness, and forget that they're actually an integral part of the narrative. Reading the lyrics within the context of the script allows us to focus purely on their lyrical meaning and is surprisingly eye-opening, no matter how well you think you know a song.
At the end of the read-through it's clear that whilst we have a lot of work ahead of us, this musical is an absolute joy and we're privileged to be working with the material. It's also evident that Ian and ATG have assembled a pretty blooming wonderful group of creatives and performers to bring Annie Get Your Gun to the theatres of the UK. I'm feeling throughly humbled and deeply aware of quite how much work I personally have ahead for our four week rehearsal period. I mean, it took me two highlighters just to get through the script!
Following the read-through it's time for my favourite part of the first day proceedings.... the model box, which we gather around like eager children The model box is like a miniature doll's house version of the set complete with teeny tiny props, minuscule actors and replica scale (and often fully working) parts of the set and scenery. It's our first opportunity to see what the production will look like. This physical manifestation by Paul Farnsworth, our incredible designer, does not disappointed. The set is beautiful. Astonishingly simple in many respects, yet incredibly evocative and effective. Add to that the beautiful costume designs, which have now been laid out on a table for us to peruse, and the excitement is palpable. We head into the lunch break with the chaotic energy of a hive of bees in spring time.
After the lunch break we begin splitting up into different calls and tackling the music and movement. Steve Ridley, our intrepid musical director, is at the keys and begins taking the company through the classic 'There's No Business Like Show Business' which opens the show. There are tricky harmonies to be mastered and before we can begin blocking the number it's vital that everyone has at least a working knowledge of the song. Dictaphones and iPhone apps are prevalent and many a tube train this evening will be populated by an actor humming to themselves whilst poring over their score.
In the upstairs rehearsal room Lizzi Gee, our choreographer extraordinaire, is simultaneously putting me through my paces for 'Your Can't Get a Man With a Gun'. We don't have a prop gun yet so Lizzi commandeers one of the long handles used for opening the high rehearsal room windows, and soon I'm parading my way around the room belting for all I'm worth. Generally I'm singing completely the wrong lyrics but, with rehearsal pianist Bob Broad shouting out hints, we manage to slowly sketch out a rough version of the number for me to go home and work on.
After tea break (quite possible the most important part of anyone's day surely?) it's all change and Lizzi begins choreographing the opening with the company, whilst Steve and I sing our way through the (many) Annie numbers within the score. This production is the Broadway revival version and so there are a few more songs than the original and film versions. It's an absolute joy to sing the score through and although I have a pretty good idea of most of them, there are some awkward corners that need correcting before they get too far into my head. My score is slowly filled with pencil scribblings as I flag up the areas I need to pay specific attention to.
Six pm comes and we collectively call it a day and, thoroughly exhilarated, I head home to study up on the material for the next day's rehearsal call. My head is fuzzy, as if I've been hit by a musical theatre train, but I'm grinning like a Cheshire Cat, safe in the knowledge that playing this role with this team of people is going to be an awful lot of fun!