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
6 days into rehearsal so our costumes and wigs are understandably not ready yet. Fortunately there's a wealth of theatrical costumiers out there for Paul, Karen and Wig Supervisor Sally Tynan to go a-ferkling through and earlier in the day we've each had a brief fitting with the goodies that they've unearthed.

At the studio we meet a multitude of people - there are photographers, designers, assistants, assistants to the assistants, producers, press and PR people. It's a veritable hive of activity. Quick as a flash I am whisked away to the make up and costume room so that Sally can begin working her magic on me. With long hair to wig and full make up to do I will clearly take the longest to get ready. The boys begin changing into costume, chatting like old friends, as I am primped and preened into character. Sally begins by pinning all my hair into little curls to give the wig something to anchor onto. Next comes the stocking cap, sort of like the top of a pair of tights, which holds everything down and the little wispy bits of hair away from the front of the wig. It's imperative we get a nice clean hairline as these photos will be seen up close.

Next up is getting my skin sorted. Given how active rehearsals are I've recently ditched my heels, dresses and make up for a more pared down, relaxed look which is also helping me to get more into the character of Annie, who is a real tomboy at heart. Sally begins by lightly moisturising my skin and then gets out the most bizarre contraption I think I've ever seen. I eye her warily and ask, quite seriously, whether it's some kind of pipe. That's what it looks like. A miniature pipe with a long hose attached to a pink plastic apple. It's odd. Quick as a flash Sally replies, deadpan, "It's a bong." The look of horror on my face must've been ridiculous as she bursts into fits of giggles and hugs me tightly assuring me that it's no such thing - it's for airbrushing make up!

Relieved, I sit back in the chair and allow Sally to match my skin tone to a foundation and then, all pieces plugged in and raring to go, she lightly sprays foundation onto my skin using the whirring contraption. It's an odd feeling, like having faeries blowing on you. It tickles unbearably and I have to force myself not to laugh as otherwise the make up will crease. Once finished, Sally allows it to settle, adds a few touch ups and then continues with the rest of my make up before Karen and Rosie help me dress. Finally the wig is secured into place and Annie Oakley now looks back at me from the mirror for the first time.

Emma Williams as Annie Oakley 
Photo by Paul Rider

In the studio room the atmosphere is electric. Photographer Paul Rider is playing around with ideas in front of the blue cloth we're using for a background. There are guns a-plenty, lassos, whips (!), even a hay bale. The boys are standing in so that the lighting can be perfected but before too long all four of us are assembled, resplendent in costumes and, for Norman and myself, luxurious wigs. It's the first time we've been seen together in anything close to costume and the effect is wonderful.

Taking it in turns we have shots taken in a variety of positions, some together, some solo, some as a trio. All the shots that Jason and I have taken together also have to be recreated with Jonathan as he will be playing Frank for the entirety of the runs in Bournemouth and Bromley, as well as numerous other dates here and there. Ian directs us through each shot, getting us to play bits of script, sing numbers from the show or even think about certain scenes. The emotions we feel help to set up our characters so that the photos are not simply of us dressed as characters but actually OF Annie, Frank and Bill. It's a small detail but an absolutely vital one.

Jonathan Wilkes as Frank Butler and Emma Williams as Annie Oakley
Photo by Paul Rider

At about 7:30pm food arrives in the shape of pizzas, salads and Thai. We step out briefly and hurriedly throw food down our necks between shots, although the time constraints are such that we can't all break completely. It's been a long and intense day so far and it's nowhere near over yet. Newly reinvigorated we take to the floor again and carry on the shoot, hoping that the tiredness isn't showing in our faces yet.

By about 9pm the madness has firmly set in. We're trying to create some rather more informal shots, similar to one taken onset of Betty Hutton, Howard Keel and Louis Calhern during the filming of the 1950 movie version of Annie Get Your Gun. Delirious with tiredness, Ian resorts to shouting instructions at us to make us laugh just as the camera is about to start taking photos. Attempting to sing the lyrics of 'No Business Like Showbusiness' in a variety of languages that none of us speak seems to do the trick and soon Paul has what he needs and the boys are released.

Norman Pace as Buffalo Bill, Emma Williams as Annie Oakley 
and Jason Donovan as Frank Butler
Photo by  Paul Rider

I'm not quite done yet it seems though. Despite the word gun being in the title of the show, and Annie being the most notable female sharpshooter in history, it's imperative that we take a selection of shots with me not holding the guns just in case for any reason we can't use a photograph with a weapon in it. It's an insurance rather than a requirement but we get the shots completed and finally I can be unlaced from my corset. Clutching the remainder of my tea in a little box I climb into a waiting car and trundle home to my bed. The next morning I wake to find a hastily scribbled note on the bedside table. It reads 'Learn lyrics in Japanese - just in case'!

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