Wednesday, 14 May 2014

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
I'd spend a bit of time here today. It also lets me give you an insight into another side of the production!

Right now musical director Steve Ridley is starting to put the band through their paces. It's the first time the entire band have been together and the other eight members are arranged around him, working their way through the show, number by number, getting a feel for each piece. There are dynamics to be detailed, small changes to be thrown in, tempi to be adjusted according to the various things we've done in the rehearsal room and much more before the cast join them tomorrow for the Sitzprobe (Where the company and band play through the whole show together for the first time).

To one side sits James, the copyist, beavering away on his computer arranging the various parts of the score for each member according to our wonderful orchestrations. Beside him is the fixer, Andy Barnwell, who has put together this glorious band - consisting of.... James on percussion, Steve (aka Coops) on double bass, Juliette on violin, Graham on trumpet, Laura and Sean on woodwind and Liam on trombone. They're rounded off by musical director Steve Ridley on keys and Bob on keys 2. Keys 2 is responsible for many of the other 'sounds' within the show; penny whistles, banjo trills... which is why next to Bob there is also Fidge who programmes the various keyboard sounds. This means that throughout the show Bob constantly switches between sounds to fill in the various speciality orchestrations that are vital but don't require a full band member. There are over 300 switches of sound in Act 1 alone. Can you imagine the size of the orchestra if we didn't have keyboard programming?!

Our 'Fabulous Cowboy Band'!

Walking into the auditorium for the first time I'm struck by the beauty of the Opera House. It's plush with blue velvet, bright with gold detailing around the architraves and sinking into a seat in the circle to take in the onstage progress, I feel immediately at home. Beneath the Art Deco prosarch the stage is a hive of activity. Our intrepid team are busily putting together the world of Annie Get Your Gun for the very first time. This is a process that will be repeated numerous times on the tour as we will be shifting venues pretty much weekly, but for now it's all rather new and wonderful. Designer Paul is wandering around the stage overseeing work with his trademark ease and calm, around him a multitude of people are building set, hanging cloths, checking lights. It's a slow but steady process yet already the stage looks incredible. The floor cloth and band platforms alone have created a sense of the world we are to inhibit and the excitement within me is building almost unbearably. Suddenly this is all feeling VERY real.

I return to the front of house to hear the band play through the massive opening number of 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness'. It sounds incredible, but before I can take it all in we have moved swiftly on and I find myself quietly singing along to 'Doin' What Comes Nat'rally'. I've heard each of these numbers numerous times over the past few weeks, initially with piano, then with added keys and finally drum kit in the last few days, but it's only when you put together the full band that they truly spring to life. The sweeping beauty of Irving Berlin's score is almost overwhelming, and it seems rather fitting that yesterday would have been his 126th birthday. I take myself off for another coffee, before I can blub all over the band.

Outside the theatre, two of the general posters have been replaced with ones bearing the character photograph of myself and Jason. It's the first time I've seen this photo and I must've audibly squealed as several passers by are suddenly staring at me like I'm insane. I hurriedly snap a picture and send it giddily to my parents. The sneaky pass door to front of house has been locked so I walk around to the Stage Door for the first time and introduce myself to Graham and James, who are two of the keepers there. Immediately after signing in I apologise to them. I ordered a few things for touring, such as a new vocal steamer, that weren't going to arrive in time for packing so I had them posted to the Opera House. As such there may be several items of post coming through his hands, and Stage Door is busy enough at the best of times. Generously Graham says it's fine, he only charges one pound per item. Thankfully he's joking, I hope!

Back in the bar the band are ploughing on nicely. I settle myself in to listen and write as they play. Although I'm not really needed to be here, it's useful for me to get a sense of each number before the Sitzprobe tomorrow as I'm in rather a lot of them. This way I'll have a rough idea of which instruments to listen to for cue feeds, tuning etc and where my vocal will sit within them. In many respects we are an extension of the orchestra and only by working together can we create the most appropriate sound for the show. Tomorrow the cast will take to the microphones and after we've sung through the show, we'll be onstage to soundcheck. I'm terrified, exhilarated and more excitable than a puppy with a new toy. Only four sleeps 'til our first show!

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