Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - That Was The Week That Was!

It's the end of our stint in Manchester and my sincere apologies to you all for not writing during that time, but it's been more than a little hectic. I think we always anticipate that tech weeks on any production will be busy but that is nothing compared to getting a show off the ground and into the air in such a short space of time.

Manchester has been an incredible experience. We teched the show in only two days thanks to the incredible calmness of our creative team and backstage company. During technical days we usually work three session days and for Annie Get Your Gun we also had

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Huff Blog 3 - AGYG

The first complete week of the Annie Get Your Gun tour is now under our belts and we're all off home for the well deserved, if somewhat surprising, holiday week that our schedule now provides. I'm particularly grateful as it feels like I've practically lived at the Opera House recently and as there's been no time to do laundry, I'm almost out of clean pants! Normally the week after tech is a little calmer, but we've still been busily beavering away. There have been further note and tech sessions to tighten the show up and finalise the trapeze routine, eight shows (including four for the press), our gala night party, the filming of our EPK, numerous interviews and even a birthday for little ole me! Cue much cake and an enormous slab of chocolate bearing an edible photo of me as Annie! (I promise I shared it). In fact I'm blaming all the opening and birthday gifts for the reason that it took five large bags to pack up my dressing room last night - after only two weeks of being in it!

Filming the EPK, or Electronic Press Kit, was particularly exciting for all the company, despite it coming at the end of another long and tiring week. We filmed several sections of the show with a camera on a crane sweeping about in front of us, and then with a steady camera roaming amongst us. It's quite an odd feeling when you're used to playing out front to your audience. We performed one of the dance routines seven times for the various camera angles. It's an exhausting routine during the show but doing it so many times in a row was particularly tiring. Fortunately our wonderful company manager Kristi was on hand with water and tissues to mop up our sweaty brows after each take!

Added into this mix was filming not only with our gorgeous leading man, Jason Donovan, but with his alternate - the equally gorgeous Jonathan Wilkes, who will be performing at various points on the tour when Jason is unavailable due to prior commitments. As such, this week Jonathan joined us to begin rehearsing as Frank Butler. It's a mammoth task as he has limited time with the company, especially as our performing schedule is pretty intense. We play eight shows in five days, plus technical and dress rehearsals with the two young local actors playing Little Jake at each venue. Jonathan is more than up to the challenge though and is already shaping up to be a thoroughly wonderful Frank. Jason and Jonathan have very different takes on Frank which I find particularly thrilling. It's a privilege to have two such wonderful leading men to play opposite.

For now though, it's a week of relaxation and recuperation... and booking more digs and travel. I feel like I've almost ignored the fact that we're visiting another seventeen venues! Cue frantic furkling through the various mammoth digs lists in the hope of finding somewhere still available to book that is relatively close to the theatre and doesn't cost more than the weekly touring allowance. Once that's completed (or I've done the next few weeks at least!) it's time to look at travel. Travel allowance is paid two weeks in advance and works on train fares but we get to make our own decisions as to how we actually travel. Some of the company are driving so that they can get home between venues, albeit it briefly, and I've already been organised enough to book some flights whilst they're cheaper in order to minimise the time of the epic journeys between London and Scotland. 

Adding everything into my Tour Spreadsheet, in a vague attempt to feel more organised, the next five months seem overwhelming, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. There are many blanks still to fill in, yet it seems incredible we've already crossed off the first venue. At 5:40am on Sunday morning the Stage Management team and crew of the Manchester Opera House finished packing the final truck, sending our set, props, costumes and other paraphernalia on their merry way. In just over a week we'll be reuniting at the Sunderland Empire for the next leg of this incredible journey... which should give me just enough time to do my washing! 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Huff Blog 2 - AGYG

It's the end of a very long week in Manchester and I'm soaking in a very hot bath at 6pm because, well frankly because I can! This week the Annie Get Your Gun team hit the road and moved the production from our rehearsal rooms in North London to Manchester's Opera House Theatre. In the space of only four short days the theatre was transformed into our theatrical big top, resplendent with corsets, cowboys and coiffures galore, and we have now played our first three performances in front of an audience.

Technical weeks are among the most exhausting of any rehearsal process. The days are very long and often stressful with each and every member of the team working flat out to ready the production for previews. On Monday our incredible band were rehearsing in the foyer bar whilst onstage the various crew were busily putting together the set. In the auditorium Sound and Lighting were implementing their designs for the show and backstage Wardrobe and Wigs were hard at work readying the fruits of their own labours. In fact the only ones not there were the actors!

That all changed on Tuesday when we joined the band for the Sitzprobe, singing through the show for the first time together. Sitzprobe is one of my favourite experiences as you finally get an idea of how the musical numbers are going to sound. The lush orchestrations rang out around the theatre as we worked our way through Berlin's beautiful score and several passers-by were seen pressing their noses up against the foyer windows, hoping for a cheeky glimpse inside.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent teching through the show in terms of staging, lighting, sound, wigs, costumes and so forth. Despite a few inevitable hitches, such as the necessary perfecting of quick changes and a delayed prop or two, the tech for Annie Get Your Gun has passed remarkably smoothly. I think a vast amount of the credit must go to our creative team: director Ian Talbot, choreographer Lizzi Gee and musical director Steve Ridley. All three have exuded a calmness throughout which has made the atmosphere probably the most relaxed of any technical process I've ever experienced. 

My personal tech has been hectic but wonderful. There have been many final costume tweaks, several interviews and quick changes aplenty. My Act 1 to Act 2 change is particularly epic requiring a full make-up, wig, microphone and costume change - right down to the underwear! After a few practice sessions we've managed to get it down to 19 and a half minutes... which is helpful as the interval is only 20 minutes long!

Then suddenly, almost without warning it seems, Friday's first preview is upon us. As the audience hubbub in their seats, you stand backstage in the hazy dark, listening to the nervous beating of your own heart. The band bursts into life, the lights burn brightly, the music swells and reality drops away, thrusting you into the world of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. The show runs fairly smoothly, yet at a seemingly dizzying pace, until that final company bow and as you run into the wings, grinning insanely from ear to ear, the realisation of what we've created in under five short weeks hits you full in the face. 

But there isn't time to rest on our laurels. Only once the show is seen by the public can we figure out what is working and what isn't. Saturday morning the entire team assemble for notes and then we tech in the changes that we have time to make before two more shows. There are spacing adjustments made to the bows, the top of Act 2 is restaged and the trapeze routine is adjusted temporarily until more dramatic changes (which will require more time) can be made in the coming weeks. For the minute at least I'm grateful - several hours of teching a trapeze routine has left me with some pretty impressive bruising.

Finally Sunday comes and we can rest. It says so much about this company that many of us meet up on the day off for a 'family' roast dinner and a bit of gala night dress shopping. We are collectively shattered yet exhilarated. Our first eight-show week looms, complete with gala and press nights, EPK filming and more rehearsals and whilst I couldn't be more excited about getting back up onstage tomorrow, I think for now I'll just lie here and soak a little longer. After all, Mum always said Sunday was bath night.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - The First Preview!!!

I am beyond bleary. After several long days of teching, we finally opened the show tonight to a thunderous crowd and some wonderful responses. It's about 3am now and the adrenalin surge hasn't quite worn off, so I'm lying in bed in my digs, wide awake and writing in the hope that getting out some of the excitement on paper (iPad screen) will mean that I can sleep.

I must confess that I am a long-term insomniac. Over fifteen years in fact. I've tried various things to combat it but the best option for me has always been writing and running. Running around Manchester City centre at silly o'clock on a Friday night/Saturday morning isn't really feasible so

Friday, 16 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Tour Schedule

Where will you see Annie get her gun?

Manchester, Opera House
Friday May 16th - Saturday May 24th

Sunderland, Empire Theatre
Tuesday June 3rd - Saturday June 7th

Stoke, Regent Theatre
Tuesday June 10th - Saturday June 14th

Edinburgh, Playhouse Theatre
Tuesday June 17th - Saturday June 21st

Oxford, New Theatre
Tuesday June 24th - Saturday June 28th

Birmingham, Alexandra Theatre
Tuesday July 1st - Saturday July 5th

Bromley, Churchill Theatre
Tuesday July 15th - Saturday July 19th

Aylesbury, Waterside Theatre
Tuesday July 22nd - Saturday July 26th

Malvern, Festival Theatre
Tuesday July 29th - Saturday August 2nd

Liverpool, Empire Theatre
Tuesday August 5th - Saturday August 9th

Woking, New Victoria Theatre
Tuesday 12th - Saturday August 16th

Bournemouth, Pavilion Theatre
Tuesday August 19th - Saturday August 23rd

Brighton, Theatre Royal
Tuesday August 26th - Saturday August 30th

Glasgow, Theatre Royal
Tuesday September 2nd - Saturday September 6th

Wimbledon, New Wimbledon Theatre
Tuesday September 9th - Saturday September 13th

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Tech Day 2 - Wigs and Wardrobe and Westerns, Oh My!

It's Tech Day 2. Time for the actors to get themselves in the way again and for us to partake in my favourite part of any rehearsal process - the Sitzprobe! The Sitzprobe is basically where the cast and band get to perform together for the first time. It''s very informal, generally held somewhere front of house as the stage area is busy being worked on. We're in the bar/foyer area in the main front of house area and Greg, our lovely sound designer, has been very busy setting up all his equipment so that we're all nicely miked up.

The company take their places around the six microphones and I happily settle in to

Annie Get Your Gun - Tech Day 1 - Thank You For The Music!

We have arrived in Manchester! After a little train ride over from Yorkshire this morning, my new suitcases (aka The Pinks) and I are sitting in the front of house bar of the gorgeous Manchester Opera House. Or rather I'm sitting on the front of house bar, as the space around me is packed with cables, music stands and our fabulous Cowboy Band!

It is the first day of tech and the actors are not actually called today, as there's so much to be done before we can start working onstage. It's the side of production that we turns often don't get to see, but being the curious cat that I am, I thought

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Excess Baggage!

It's official. I am utterly useless at packing. Don't mistake me, I am excellent at jigsaws. Thoroughly talented when it comes to fitting, as my dad would say, a quart into a pint pot, but when you're heading off on tour for five months, I'm not certain this is a particularly helpful skill.

This is my very first tour and the prospect of packing, unpacking and repacking every week is pretty daunting. Add to that mixture some lengthy train journeys with multiple changes, throw in a soup├žon of flying and a healthy dash of

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Huff Blog 1 - AGYG

Huffington Post Blog 1 - AGYG

At my feet sits an empty suitcase. The yawning, zippered mouth seems cavernous right now but judging by the chaotic jumble of clothes around me, I have no doubt I'm about to put its capacity to the test as I attempt to cram my life inside it for the next five months. Ladies and gentleman I, Emma Williams, am a Tour Virgin.

I don't quite know how I made it this far into my career without getting to do a tour. I've played various phenomenal regional producing houses but I've never had the pleasure of visiting so many wonderful cities with one particular job and it is going to be fun. A lot of hard work, a LOT of travelling but an awful lot of fun... if only I could narrow down the 42 pairs of shoes that I own!

The Annie Get Your Gun company have spent the past four weeks holed up in North London, rehearsing what is certain to be an epic production, under the guiding hands of Ian Talbot (director), Lizzi Gee (choreographer) and Steve Ridley (musical director). We block the scenes through roughly, play around with characterisation and then begin adding in the detailing, the icing on the theatrical cake if you will. We have drawled our way around Southern accents, spent copious hours perfecting gun handling and drilling, belted and trilled and skipped and swaggered, and now suddenly, all too soon, it's time to head out onto the road.

All in all it's been a wonderfully exhausting few weeks. We began with a meet and greet - fuelled by adrenalin, caffeine and a not too shabby pastry, moved through to glorious vocal harmonisation, briefly dipped into appearances on BBC's The One Show and company nights out (for bonding purposes you understand!) and even made a pretty little stop off at circus training!

This is not your every day production of a classic Irving Berlin show. This is more than all-singing and all-dancing. It says an awful lot about how truly wonderful this company is that on a tea break, rather than head for refreshments and a biscuit or two, they are more likely to be found juggling and stilt-walking, practicing acrobatic balances, or perfecting dance combinations. They are an utter joy to be around and I'm so proud to be a part of this team.

As such I've been trying my darnedest at my own circus skill for the show - the trapeze. Lunch breaks have been spent, where possible, at the National Centre for Circus Arts learning the beautiful, yet surprisingly difficult, art of aerial work. I bear my aerialist bruises now with pride (and a healthy smothering of arnica cream), and I am simply itching to finally get my hands on my own personal trapeze once we move into the Manchester Opera House. As a lifelong acrophobic I never thought I'd say this but I'm actually looking forward to making that trapeze my own, though I must admit I do now understand why aerialists often don't wear a great deal. If you think trapeze is hard, try it in a corset, holster and gun!

Whilst we've buffed and polished our routines, shined up our solos and broken in our dance shoes, everything only begins to fall properly into place as we run the show through from start to finish. Notes are given, tweaks are made and the process repeated. My glorious leading man, Jason Donovan, and I have clearly found a natural ease with one another as Frank and Annie, and our offstage banter is almost as fiery as the onstage. With the magnificent Norman Pace presiding paternally over the company as Buffalo Bill, there's a real sense of camaraderie and the air is buzzing with excitement. 

The next week will bring joy and tensions aplenty. The wonder of a sitzprobe where we finally hear the score with full orchestra, the inevitable agony of perfecting a technical quick change, my desperate prayers to not fall off the trapeze as it swings through the air and then the exhilaration of finally showing the audiences the fruits of our hard-earned labour. But for now we have one more final run-through rehearsal of the show to do before we must head station-wards for the Manchester Express, lugging our be-suitcased lives. Now if only I could get mine to close...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Picture This!

There are frequent times in my life when I pinch myself at how fortunate I am to be doing what I'm doing for a living. I'm tremendously lucky to spend my working hours playing other people, singing songs, acting scenes and generally just providing entertainment. Of course I've held my fair share of 'regular' jobs like any jobbing actor, but to be a performer is a privilege and a blooming marvellous one at that. There are hundreds of delicious extras that come with this but the first one in most acting jobs has just raised itself to the foreground - it's time for The Photoshoot!

Following a day of rehearsals Jason, Norman and myself are put into a cab to Shoreditch where, along with the lovely Jonathan Wilkes, our Alternate Frank Butler, we are to spend several hours parading as our characters for the cameras. We need to create publicity shots for general press, posters, leaflets... everything you can think of. At this point we are only

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Let's Get Physical!

This week has broken me. Emotionally, physically and literally!

Any show is going to provide some kind of a workout. You're basically on your feet for 2 and half hours, running around backstage, dancing about onstage and completing record-breaking quick changes with the adrenalin fuelled speed of a cheetah on heat. It's full on. That's the only phrase for it. Full on.

Annie Oakley is possibly the most physical role I've played. Not only is she a constant hive of energy and excitement but she also lugs around a gun of some kind for

Friday, 2 May 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Our First TV Appearance!

After a 3/4 day of rehearsals (as we're still at the 'putting it together' stage) we bundled ourselves into a coach and headed off to the BBC for our first company road trip. The coach was kind of a necessity given the tube strike, but subsequently hindered by the additional traffic on the roads and we trundled our way steadily but slo-o-owly towards the studios at Portland Place, almost grateful that we weren't trying to get all the way over to the former studios at White City.

Filing out upon arrival, we were registered with the BBC staffers who gave us each a red wristbands for access, and then herded into the square to do a camera rehearsal. The square had been decked out with Wild West themed paraphernalia