Sunday, 27 July 2014

Huff Blog 12 - AGYG

This is the week that the Annie Get Your Gun girls have been anticipating/dreading for the past couple of months. Ever since the delightful Lorna Want asked during rehearsals if anyone would join her for the Race For Life, we've been sweating our backsides off in training during our spare time in preparation for today's 10k race around Hyde Park for Cancer Research UK.

Now whilst we're all fairly fit due to the physical nature of our jobs, we're not all natural runners. Some of us run regularly, some took up running purely for this event. One or two have hobbled their way around a long-distance race and a few would only run if there was a price-crash sale on Jimmy Choos! However, one thing was clear from the start, this was our challenge and we were doing it all together or not at all.

Once Lorna had got us all organised as the spearhead for the campaign, I took charge of the group fundraising page and did a tiny bit of coaching along the way. This basically consisted yabbering annoyingly motivational phrases during a training run or two and today's race. Oh, and being a little bit of a drill sergeant for Kara Lane when she was unwillingly facing a massive hill to run up in Stoke! Note to self: check the route first, as Kara has no idea how much that hill also hurt me!

What is so wonderful about the Cancer Research UK Race for Life is that it's now a massive event up and down the country, with races of various styles and lengths yet each and every participant is gathered with the common purpose of beating cancer. Writing the cards for the back of our t-shirts was an emotional event in itself. Filling that space with the names of lost loved ones, and those currently fighting, helps you focus on exactly why you've chosen to yomp a 10k at 9am in baking heat after only a few hours' sleep! Reading everyone else's reasons is also just the spur you need when you're halfway round and want to collapse in a sobbing heap!

Natalie Day's message in particular drew many an approving comment from strangers as we ran. Simply put, it said 'Hating running, but hating cancer more', which says it all. This was a small sacrifice to make, for what will surely be a big difference. We've been really lucky in terms of our online support via JustGiving, smashing our team target of £1000 a few days before the race. Our fabulous producers also allowed us to do a collection on the Saturday shows this week and the Aylesbury audiences proved just as generous as they were responsive! The bucket collections from the first show alone raised over £500, which just proves the universal regard for Cancer Research UK and the work they do.

We're also fortunate that it's been a beautiful week. The sunny weather has made for some very sweaty shows which was good training for a hot run, and also kept the spirits high of cast and audience alike. We've had wonderful audiences at the stunning Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury, but press night was hands down the most fantastic we've had so far. It's always thrilling when responses to a show improve as it settles in and we carried that adrenalin buzz with us today.

Assembled this morning (super early) in Hyde Park, despite Flo Fields getting a touch lost en route, we donned our blue 'One Show' team t-shirts (as we affectionately call them) and pinned on our various numbers and messages. Added to this were some signs coined by the lovely Katie Marie-Carter.... 'Annie Get Your Run' and the finishing touch.... cowboy hats! Perfect for a yeehah or two as we raced! We crossed the start line holding hands in solidarity, and spotted our support team along the way for some action photos. This consisted of Katie and Kara's boyfriends, Tom and Jim, and Lorna's fiancé James. Or Jonathan, as Natalie decided to call him! We'll blame it on the heat Nat, though video evidence may say otherwise!

A midway point 'selfie' was a must, it being something of a joke pastime amongst our company,  and as we began the second lap, we were tired but proud that we'd made the 5k marker in only 34 minutes. No small feat given the heat and our determination to run everything together, adjusting our pace depending on who was struggling at what point. At 7k the tiredness began to set in. We adjusted the pace, regrouped our thoughts and took it in turns to provide motivation. Suddenly 8k was upon us and the hills disappeared for the downhill homeward straight. 9k passed in a blur as we rounded the corner to the Royal Albert Hall and finally we were counting down the metres. Hand in hand, the six of us sprinted the final length across the line completing the 10k in 1 hour 10 minutes, before collapsing onto the grass in sweaty, heaving heaps of tearful joy.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of each and everyone of those girls. Today was a massive achievement for everyone and so incredibly emotional too, matched by some fantastic fundraising. We promised we'd race as a team and did precisely that, running the entire course, never once stopping to jog or walk despite feeling sometimes like we might have to. Together we were stronger, together we know we can make a difference and together we have already raised over £2000 with more to come! Together we can beat cancer. Let's start today.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Huff Blog 11 - AGYG

After nine glorious days of (mostly) rest and relaxation, returning to the show is something of a shock to the system. Regrouping with the company, it feels like we've been apart an age and yet, conversely, barely any time at all. There are stories to tell, news to catch up on and tans to admire but once we're all gathered in the subterranean rehearsal space at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, it's back to the grindstone once more.

We begin the week with a speed-run of the lines. This is where we sit in a large circle and run all the dialogue from the show at slightly above show pace (given that we only have an hour to do it in!) as a way of refreshing our memories. It's quite a strange exercise as you really have to concentrate and yet it can be incredibly funny as the pace breeds mild hysteria. It's a fun way to break the ice and get the brain working, as it's evident from any seated speed-run how much you rely on the staging to remember your lines - movement and dialogue prove excellent bedfellows for memorisation

Lines run, we head into rehearsals and tech, with a few press photos and interviews on the way. This is Jonathan Wilkes' first full week on the show and as such it's the first time he's done a tech session with us. I think he's suddenly very grateful to not have to do these normally as they're pretty long and intense. There is much to soundcheck plus two new Little Jakes to rehearse in and the Churchill Theatre proves a slightly odd space sound-wise. This is partly because it's smaller venue than some we've played, seating 785 in comparison to the 3000 seats of Edinburgh Playhouse! Fortunately Alex, our intrepid Sound No. 1, is pretty blooming wonderful at making it all balance out - no easy feat when you're working with vastly differing spaces each week. 

Tech done, we begin getting ready to kick off the week in style with our press night show. It's our first venue that's really close to London and as such this week will bring many of our family and friends to the audience. Many of the cast are even managing to commute, which is particularly nice after a holiday week. My first port of call however, before the make-up and pin curls, before the warm-up and corset, is to set up my dressing room. 

This is a process of several stages. First off, I recover my 'personals box' and Mr Pink (my large suitcase) from where they've been placed after removal from the touring trucks. Depending on the size of my dressing room for the week, they'll either be given a spot or unpacked and tucked away to save room. Once into the room, I decide where my make-up station will be and get the iPad set up. To the strains of whatever is this week's music of choice (for Bromley it's a mixture of Mina Tindle, McFly, Pink and Eels - I'm nothing if not eclectic), I'll lay out my various kits (make-up, toiletries, medicines, side of stage necessities), light my candle for some Zen time, open a window (if there is one) and set the fan and humidifier going. Finally I'll stick up all my cards and letters, with pride of place going to a photo of my beautiful 2 year old niece Faye and the hand-painted cards my godmother Margaret sends me for the first night at every venue.

Given that four short days later I'll be taking it all down again, many people would consider this something of a Sisyphean task. Jonathan even timed my de-rig this week! Maybe it's because it's my first tour or maybe it's just that I like to feel at home, but spending the extra time and effort to properly settle in brings this nomadic actress an astonishing amount of joy. Sure it takes me longer to get unpacked and repacked, and sure I'm carrying around way more stuff than I actually need, but for a little piece of home wherever I go? That's priceless.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Huff Blog 10 - AGYG

This week's blog comes from the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Well not the very top, not the stone itself, but one of the little rocky groups literally six feet away from it. The actual top is pretty dinky and currently awash with a group of Spanish tourists - it seemed rude to hog it for long enough to write a blog! We've been enjoying our second holiday week from Annie Get Your Gun and after doing all the necessary catchy-up type stuff - routine visits to the doctor, fun with the family, the unbearable agony of continuing dentistry - I've taken myself off to Edinburgh for a mini-city break on my own.

Edinburgh is essentially one of my favourite cities, I've played and visited the Fringe Festival a dozen or so times and I even chose here for university (before I deferred for a year and ended up becoming an actress). But whilst I know the city well in a general way, this holiday has been my first opportunity to explore it a little deeper, without the intense fear of a first-time traveller to somewhere unknown. And believe me I've had that fear a few times in the past! Over the last few days I have been the ultimate tourist. I've walked the city, toured the castle, visited the museums and watched the penguin parade at Edinburgh Zoo open-mouthed with glee. I saw one of my favourite bands, The National, play a gig at Usher Hall and on a whim went to the Festival Theatre to see whatever was on.

What was on, turned out to be Caitlin Moran. Caitlin Moran, voice of the modern feminist and journalist/writer extraordinaire. Standing on my seat in the auditorium, along with 1650 other woman and 39 men I hasten to add, shouting 'I AM A FEMINIST' at her behest, I was suddenly struck with how relevant this current plight for an equality revolution is to playing Annie Oakley. Annie Oakley, truly a woman living it up in a man's world, really is with me wherever I go. Buffalo Bill Cody was a staunch supporter of women's rights, and equality in general, and it struck me how sad it is that this was a relevant issue not only at the time they lived, nor also at the time the show was written 70 years ago, but also now. Today. In 2014. 

Politics aside, this wasn't the only moment Annie infiltrated my holiday. In a more planned experience, I took myself off to Hopetoun House estate near Edinburgh for a clay pigeon shooting lesson with top clay shooter Stewart Cumming. Well, ordinarily the lesson would have been taken by Stewart, but he's off in Portugal at the moment at the World FITASC Sporting Clay Shooting Championships! (My timing is impeccable it seems.) Thankfully his father, Tom, stepped amiably into the breach and took me under his wing.

Whilst we had gun practice during rehearsals, one of the things I really wanted to do was go for some shooting lessons. However, time constraints being what they are there simply wasn't the opportunity to fit it in and, as we don't use live ammunition or even blanks in the show, an actual firearms lesson was one of the less vital luxuries of research that had to fall by the wayside. It seemed only natural then that, being nearby, I should try and fit in a lesson now so that I could honestly answer the question 'so how good a shot are you?' that many journalists frequently ask me at the moment.

As it turns out, I'm actually not that bad! In fact for a beginner, I'm bloody good. It's the first time I've ever fired a weapon of any kind and I think by the end of the class the clays were pretty scared of me and the over-and-under shotgun I was wielding. I think the production has at least given me a level of comfort in the handling of a weapon, although I use a long-nosed flintlock and a Winchester during the show. Feeling at one with the instrument seems pretty vital, but I think even Tom was impressed when my final shot struck home with a vengeance, despite my having lost the rhythm several shots before.

Now as I sit here on my final evening of holiday, taking in the beautiful surrounding vista, I contemplate the return to England and Annie Get Your Gun, with my gun recoil bruises and freshly freckled face. Bromley is our next venue, with Jonathan Wilkes taking the helm for his first full week as Frank Butler. I've missed everyone on the show to quite a surprising degree on this week away, but most of all, I've missed Annie. She's as much a part of me now, as I am.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Illness, Injury and the Unavoidable!

I've mentioned before about the need for any person working on a show to remain healthy. This goes for not only the actors onstage but also everyone behind the prosarch too. Whilst health is something we often take for granted in our daily lives, if for some reason you aren't well enough to do your job on a theatrical production there simply has to be someone to step in and fill your shoes.

This is where swings and understudies come in, both on the stage and behind the scenes. Hannah and Ste are our onstage performing Swings, running both their own tracks and covering numerous other tracks of the cast. In the wings though we have Jordan, our Swing Technician. Jordan covers the stage management roles behind the scenes as

Huff Blog 9 - AGYG

The first 'leg' of our UK Tour of Annie Get Your Gun has drawn to a close at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. 6 cities, 51 shows, 255 knife throws, 459 stage kisses, 561 balloons popped and a remarkable 2703 shots later, it's no wonder that the whole company are relishing a week away with friends and family for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

Birmingham has been a pretty incredible week. The audiences have been really responsive and the fact that the house is close, meaning the audience are very near to the stage, certainly helps. With our band being onstage the unused pit in front of the stage at some venues can create a void of empty space that you have to work extra hard to get over in order to reach the audience. Not so at the New Alexandra. Even the circle is relatively near to the stage and this helps the entire production feel much more intimate.

Travelling around on the show has so far proved quite eye-opening for me, not only because I'm getting to play so many different theatres of dramatically different sizes and styles, but also because you truly get a sense of how different each city is in terms of their response to theatre in general. Every city has been wonderful but the reaction of each is almost like a fingerprint. It's unique to that particular place. Birmingham has been a city of loud response, Oxford loves puns (of which this show has many), Edinburgh likes to laugh, Sunderland save it for the applause, Stoke enjoys a big showstopper and Manchester is generally more excitable - especially as the 'Manchester Gets It First' initiative means they're seeing the show in the early stages, before it has a chance to completely settle in.

The theatres have been remarkably different too, both onstage and off. This week, the New Alexandra's smaller stage and wing space meant that there was only a foot at the back of the set and so the backcloths (apart from the final sunset) couldn't be used. Entrances and exits had to be adjusted slightly, care taken to not run into the still very effective black brick wall at the back and tweaks made to the backstage plots. It keeps you on your toes and if you have the capability to adapt, as we do, then the show is still as great as ever.

Birmingham has also proved a generous city. Throughout the week cast members have been in the audience at the end of the show collecting spare change for a local charity, the Acorns Children's Hospice Trust. Acorns provides care to children and young people with life limiting and life-threatening illnesses, as well as support for their families especially in bereavement. Like so many charities they are in desperate need of funds and it was so nice to be able to help them in their local theatre. I honestly believe that having the company shake the buckets helped us to raise more than if we'd just let the ushers do it. There's something quite powerful about being able to break the fourth wall temporarily and get amongst the audience. It's not something actors often get a chance to do, and there's a great sense of gratitude. We're grateful for having been made so welcome and the audience in response to that gives generously, so everybody wins. Whilst I don't yet have a final total, I believe it's a few thousand! That's pretty bloomin' special and we know it will be a much needed help to everyone at Acorns.

Our charity endeavours don't end there though. In three short weeks the Annie Get Your Gun girls will be racing around Hyde Park on our day off for the 10K Race for Life, raising money for Cancer Research UK. It's a cause dear to all of our hearts and as a bonus to hopefully making a nice little donation to a great charity, we're also getting super-fit and sightseeing whilst we train around the country! So whilst we may be on holiday for the next week, whilst we may be spread all over the world as we do so, each and every one of us will be strapping on her trainers at some point and clocking a few miles. Think of us and our sweaty summer slogging as you read this, and if you can please spare even a few pennies for either of these great charities, then click on the links below. Thank you. 

Acorns Children's Hospice Trust in Birmingham https//