The main bulk of the company have been slogging their hearts out working on the opening number, memorising harmonies and generally getting a feel for the myriad of roles they all have to play. This is the point where I'm exceedingly grateful that I only have the one character, the one track to get under my belt. Our swings, Hannah Grace and Ste Clough, not only have their own tracks but are responsible for covering most of the other roles
should there be any illness. Not only does this mean they have the most work to do but they also have a ridiculous amount of costumes to get fitted and measured for, just to cover all eventualities.
For those who don't know, a Swing is essentially a performer who covers a multitude of roles or 'tracks'. They can be either offstage or, like Hannah and Ste, onstage. This means that if they're not covering someone else an Onstage Swing will be playing a role of their own, rather than watching from the audience or revising in the dressing room. Swings are exceptionally talented, probably the most talented in our industry, and incredibly hard working. They're constantly on their toes awaiting a phone call to tell them whether they'll be covering someone in the next show and they have to keep a multitude of different tracks in their heads so that they don't make mistakes.
This is where the Swing Bible comes into play. During the course of rehearsals, Hannah and Ste can often be found scribbling furiously away creating their personal bibles. The bible is basically a large lever arch file crammed with page after page of detailed notes and drawings, depicting the various movements of each character throughout the course of the show. It is the ultimate reference tool denoting an almost overwhelming level of organisation that commands a great deal of respect, more so than swings are often given. Great swings are worth their weight in gold to any production, and ours are bullion.
A Swing Map and Hannah's work in progress hand-written Swing Bible
My own week has been somewhat chaotic personally. In an industry that is so competitive, we're always grateful to be working, so naturally it's typical that the same week we start rehearsals for AGYG I'm also opening another show! The company have been kind enough to allow me to honour this previous engagement so for several days I'm flitting from rehearsals in North London to performances of A Spoonful of Sherman at the St. James Theatre in Victoria. Both shows are big sings for me, with vastly different ranges and styles, so whilst I'm ridiculously grateful to have the work I'm also very happy once Spoonful is done and I can devote my full attention to playing Annie Oakley.
The chances of working on two productions at once are slim, given that there are so many actors out there, but it does happen. And on Annie Get Your Gun, I'm not the only one moonlighting on another show. One cast member, the lovely Matthew Dale, is also currently in Billy Elliott and as such has a propensity for sudden mid-afternoon disappearances. He's also covering one of the principal roles and playing it for all of week three of rehearsals! Fortunately by the time we head into tech, he'll be finished on Billy Elliott. Which is a good job as we're teching in Manchester!
On Wednesday we had a visit from Charmian Hoare, an incredible accent and dialect coach whom I had the pleasure of working with on Love Story. We gather in a circle whilst Charmian has a quick discussion with director Ian about the accent requirements, given the various places that each character comes from and their personal social status. The linguistic choices need to not only reflect geographical location but also class and I have a strong feeling my accent (heavily influenced by a character from a well-known TV show) may have picked up a few inflections that are a little too well-bred for her! Fortunately Charmian also has several audio clips of more appropriate examples for us to listen to and even some suggestions of films to watch for additional help. Having a point of reference like a stock phrase or character in a film or drama means that you always have something to refer back to when you're doubting what you're doing and there's no-one around to ask. I suppose it's like a safety net.
Charmian also gives us each a handy 'cheat sheet'. This lists out the various different vowel and consonant sounds that make up the accent, with examples of each, and then a series of sentences to practice. Once again we work around the circle, picking sentences to say aloud or lines to read from the script so that Charmian can gently critique our accents and help us identify which particularly sounds are difficult. In a couple of weeks she'll return and note us during a run of the show, so we have lots of time to practice the awkward corners.
By the time 6pm comes on Thursday we're beginning to get a lay of the land. Lizzi is making great inroads into the multitude of musical numbers in Act 1, Steve has gone through all the songs with us on an initial level and Ian has begun roughly shaping the blocking for us to add detail into over the coming weeks. We head into Easter with a heap of homework and some big ole' cowboy dreams.