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
instead you'll have to put up with my meandering ramblings!

The past few days have been intense and long but really rather incredible. In only two days we have managed to tech in the entire show. This is where we work slowly through the production from start to finish making sure that each scene is correct in terms of lighting states, staging, sound effects etc. The company (cast, wardrobe, wig, sound, crew...) also have to practice their quick changes and run arounds. As Manchester Opera House doesn't allow us to change sides of stage around the back of the set, we have to use the sub-stage cross. This means heading down into the rabbit warren below the stage, running underneath and back up the other side. At this theatre it takes about 40 seconds if you go carefully but some theatres can take several minutes! I'm fortunate that my track generally allows me to exit the same side that I'm re-entering, and I've adjusted it accordingly to make it easier!

From this....

The onstage tech days have been long - very long. The company been getting ready at about 9am and finishing around 10pm, with other departments working longer than that. Each tech session itself lasts three hours and there are fifteen minutes either side to get in and out of costume and wig before the hour long lunch and dinner breaks. The extra time at the beginning of the day is because the girls need to pin curl their hair and do make-up. On a production with a longer tech (for example we teched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for nearly a month!) we might not always be in full make-up and wig. Once the team have seen the finished looks and signed off on them, it's not always vital - however there's limited time on Annie Get Your Gun so it's essential that we test everything fully. this! Act 1 Annie (pre-mud)!

Heading down to the stage for tech is always thrilling because it's the first time any of us will have seen our characters properly. Although we've been having costume fittings for the past few weeks, they tend to be done in private and you never get a full idea of how the show will look until this moment. The effect is astonishing. The cast are barely recognisable now that they're decked out in beautiful wigs, decorative corsets, leather and lace and suede fringing galore. Seeing Paul Farnsworth's designs coming to life is utterly enthralling and he, Karen Large (Wardrobe Supervisor) and Sally Tynan (Wig Supervisor) have created something truly spectacular.

Sally's make-up design for Kara Lane (Dolly Tate)

During the first technical session I don't actually make it onto the stage. The opening of the show, which I'm not in, is pretty big with much lighting, sound, staging and fly work (gauzes and curtains flying in and out) so it takes an entire session to perfect it. Lizzi runs around making tweaks to the blocking and choreography as only once a production is in the theatre is it feasible to objectively see how everything works. There can often be a lot of hanging around so it's paramount that we use those moments of downtime fully for cleaning and polishing routines or running lines. By the time we get to the dress rehearsal it will be nearly a week since we ran the show through fully - you simply have to stay on top of your game.

The tech progresses relatively smoothly. We've had a few delays with items of set and props but we work around them where necessary, safe in the knowledge they'll be here for the dress rehearsal. My 'Betsy' rifle has finally arrived and swinging her around in 'Can't Get A Man With A Gun' feels remarkably easy compared to the heavier rehearsal Winchester rifle. She does have a different reload mechanism though, so Ian and I make some adjustments to my shooting match blocking to allow for this.

Although tech is often the most stressful time on a production, given the looming deadlines and unforeseen circumstances that often create delays, we move on at breakneck pace with relative calm. This is predominantly down to our incredible creative and stage management teams who seem to always be one step ahead and project an aura of blissful ease wherever you turn. It's particularly helpful when it comes to teching my trapeze routine. A good one hour session has been scheduled in so that we can work onstage with the Flying by Foy team, who are responsible for my safety harness, and I can experience the height of the trapeze without the rest of the company having to hang around for ages.

I won't lie, being raised up on the trapeze far higher than before is a little scary, even with a harness on. The bar seems narrow and thin, and bites into my backside like no-one's business. The ropes are new and hemp-based, meaning they're not quite grippy enough yet and the vast expanse of the auditorium in front of me feels overwhelmingly cavernous. Fortunately everyone around me is thoroughly patient and as we work our way through the various routine options my heart rate begins to slow, almost in direct correlation to the progressive aching of my arms. It's the longest I've ever spent on the trapeze and I clearly need to do more strength work if I'm to avoid injury.

After a night of absolutely no sleep whatsoever, I blearily return to the trapeze bar on the Thursday morning. My head and vision are clouded and my body is still crying out from the previous day. After a bit of teching time, Lizzi steps in and demands that I mark the aerial work for the rest of the day to give my body time to recover. The last thing we need right now is me getting sick and, frustrated with myself as I am, I know that she's right. The bruising on my legs is vivid purple and only tattoo cover up is hiding it right now. We continue teching the show from after that point and a quick lunchtime nap sets me right again.

Sarah and Hannah take a well-deserved rest on their 
boob-pillows! (Huzzah for corsets)

The next hardest part of tech for me comes with the interval change. The interval in the show is 20 minutes long and it's a very good job as my change of costume/wig/microphone from Act 1 Annie to Act 2 Annie takes 19 and a half minutes from start to finish! With time it will hopefully get swifter and I'm thoroughly grateful for Katy and Anna, the heads of wardrobe and wigs, who look after me during the show, as without their help it would be an impossible change to do. Thankfully the discovery of the air con remote control behind the fridge makes it easier - trying to get into a corset when you're still sweating from the Act 1 finale is pretty grim!

With the show fully teched, all of a sudden it seems our first preview is upon us. We are ready for an audience, in fact we are crying out for an audience. Thankfully we've had the luxury of dress rehearsing the entire show (and Act 1 a second time so that each young actor playing Little Jake has had a chance to do it). All too often productions end up doing their first preview as their dress rehearsal, and sometimes they haven't even completed the tech at that point! Standing in the wings as the final strains of the Overture die away, the audience burst into applause for the first time and the opening notes to 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' begin, I grin wildly. They're absolutely right.

Not at all excited by the fact I'm on a banner!

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