Sunday, 29 June 2014

Huff Blog 8 - AGYG

The New Theatre in Oxford has been home to our Annie Get Your Gun family this past week. A very hot and tiring week, smitten by some illness and injury that left everyone working harder than ever. However on Wednesday we were expecting some very special guests and the adrenalin of that knowledge alone was enough to keep us going. Now, there are few things I will ever become tongue-tied over. Let's face it, I can talk. I like to talk, heck I LOVE to talk! But once in a while a moment will happen in my life that leaves me utterly lost for words. Unable to speak. Geeking out, if you will.

Generally these moments happen for me when I meet not actors, as one might expect, but writers. Persons whose novels, films, plays have shaped me, formed me, challenged and inspired me. They are the celebrities of my daily life. For me, meeting an actor, even a very famous one, is more like meeting a colleague I simply haven't had the chance to work with yet. We're in the same field and whilst I admire and respect them, I also have an automatic connection and understanding. Writers, and by extension composers, are a whole other ball game, and it appears to extend to their immediate family as well!

The Wednesday began with a few excitable press interviews before the matinee, causing me to forego my usual ritualistic matinee bacon sandwich. Not necessarily a bad thing as I've been overindulging somewhat recently, though it probably would have helped calm my fluttering butterflies for our expected visitors. Bert Fink and Andy Chan from the  London office of R&H Theatricals Europe were revisiting the production (R&H – aka, Rodgers & Hammerstein - looks after the Irving Berlin musicals as licensing agents) and bringing with them Ted Chapin and Bruce Pomahac, the President and Director of Music respectively of Rodgers and Hammerstein (New York)! If this itself weren't enough to set my nerd alert to high beam, they were also bringing two extra-special guests with them - Linda Emmet and Emily Fletcher, a daughter and a grand-daughter of Irving Berlin,  songwriter extraordinaire.

Now on paper this sounds like a lovely treat of a visit, but in reality it was a delicious mixture of heady excitement and nerve-shattering fear! Irving Berlin was an astonishing  songwriter, and singing his songs every night is an utter privilege. From the elegance of his lyrics, the soaring sweep of his melodies, the overwhelming beauty of his orchestral score - each moment is joyous. When Berlin passed away in 1989 he left behind him a legacy that helped to shape musical history. I grew up watching the movies that he scored - the films that proved instrumental in my wanting to become an actress one day if possible and the songs that gave me the fundamental need to sing. To finally be singing as Annie Oakley in his show is a dream come true, and whilst I have always known I would never meet the man himself, meeting his family hit me more powerfully than I thought possible. 

After the show, Linda and Emily joined the company and team from R&H onstage to say a few words. There was a hushed silence as we listened to the kind words of congratulation and approval from the unassuming, sprightly and witty Linda. Shaking her hand with my own trembling one, I felt completely humbled and utterly unable to form even the most basic of sentences. To be trusted with this role in general is pretty incredible, to perform it in front of the family to whom Annie effectively belongs, and to meet with their approval is somewhat overwhelming. As I returned to my dressing room afterwards, shaking my head in happy disbelief, I greeted my wiggy and dresser with the immortal words 'I just met Irving Berlin's family', before promptly bursting into tears! This is as near as I could ever possibly come to getting the nod from Berlin himself, and when I look back on this moment in years to come, my smile in our group photograph will speak volumes. Like so many others, I thank you for the music Irving Berlin, you helped to make me who I am and for that I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Frocking Up!

One of the great pleasures about being an actor is that, essentially, you get to dress up for a living. Or dress down. Or, sometimes even undress! But fundamentally the fact is that we play a childhood game of pretend and, when fortunate and with the wind behind us, we can even be paid to do so.

Paul Farnsworth's designs for Annie Get Your Gun are not necessarily the typical buckskin and fringing that you might expect for this classic Wild West musical. On the very first day of rehearsals, he laid out his costume designs on the table and explained that his vision had something of a

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Huff Blog 7 - AGYG

Edinburgh - city of tremendous culture, stunning architecture, amazing views and incredible whiskies. Also home to one of the largest, and most unusual, theatres I've had the pleasure of playing - the Edinburgh Playhouse. Standing at the top of the hill down into Leith, it's an epic 3000-seater on three tiers - astonishing considering it was originally a cinema! There's the added oddity that the sound desk is operated from the dress circle, rather than the more commonplace back of stalls position, and then the additional hill which makes the theatre seem as if it was literally hewn from the hillside. The steep walk down to stage door from the front of the theatre would be treacherous in bad weather, and I'm grateful for this week's beautiful sunshine which meant that wasn't going to be an issue.

The peculiarities continue backstage where the space is divided predominantly into two towers that run up the sides of the building, rather than lying across the full width of the space. It's a pretty good workout if you wanted to do the full run around, as the towers span ten floors! Stage Door is on ground level, the front of the theatre sits around level 6 and the stage is on level 3. However most of the dressing rooms are to be found on levels 7 and above. Given the nature of Annie Get Your Gun for quick changes, being in these dressing rooms wasn't really an option for most of us, so we were relegated to sub-stage rooms, with very little in the way of natural light or that aforementioned beautiful sunshine. It was worth it though to not have to climb numerous flights of stairs at the interval. This show is exhausting enough as it is!

Many of us did make the trip up the stairs at least once this week though, in order to pay a visit to the haunted corridor of level 9, which runs between the north and south tower dressing rooms, directly above the stage. This corridor is said to be haunted by Albert, the theatre ghost, who was apparently a stage door keeper at the Playhouse. It's a relatively dark and spooky place with lots of creaks and bangs, yet a cold an eerie silence for such a lively building. However it seemed only fitting to go and say hello and thank him for letting us spend the week in his home. I'll admit, on the Friday show when the lights started acting a little strange, my immediate thoughts did turn to Albert. 

Not content with spooking ourselves out in the Playhouse, many of the company headed out on a midnight ghost walk around the city for some additional socialising post-show. We visited the historic vaults of the city, hearing tales of torture and treachery, as well as Greyfriars Kirkyard en route, taking many a photo in the hope of capturing something unexplained. There were certainly an odd couple of things that showed up on my camera but what they truly are, who knows. I'm certainly not going to dismiss them just in case!

There's so much to do in Edinburgh that having only one afternoon off (and none if you're an understudy) was simply not enough, but we've all tried to make the most of it in our own personal ways. There have been trips up Arthur's Seat (kudos to those who used it for running training), the penguin parade at the zoo, the disappointing football (ho hum) and then the glorious post-show jaunt tasting various Scottish whiskies! But, sure as the sunrise, no sooner have we begun to settle in than it's time to pack up and travel on again. Our next stop is Oxford, another beautiful city and one that several of the team will be able to commute to. It will be the first time that our company will be broken up into those who are fully on the road, and those who are trying to spend time at home wherever vaguely possible. We also have the added excitement next week that Irving Berlin's family will be paying us a visit! I'll admit, I'm a little nervous. It's a privilege to be playing this role and singing Berlin's beautiful score, so I'm sincerely hoping they'll be happy with my interpretation of Annie, and the production in general. Watch this space!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Huff Blog 6 - AGYG

This week has been brought to you by coffee. Also the occasional Berocca and multiple bacon sandwiches from Stoke's Zest Cafe, but mainly coffee.

As a long term insomniac, coffee has been something of a go-to in my daily life. I general survive on about 3-4 hours of sleep a night, so I'm practically sponsored by the stuff. It's my wake-up call, my afternoon relaxer and my book-reading beverage of choice. Even now I'm sitting here in a lovely coffee shop, writing away on my iPad with a steaming mug of (decaf) Americano. A mild roast, with a dash of skimmed milk, sort of biscuit-coloured and utterly delicious. On a busy job like Annie Get Your Gun however, coffee has become something of a ritual. That first sip of morning coffee from my 'Geeky Cat' mug, as my hair is pinned and wrapped into submission, is truly joyous. It's also utterly necessary, as this week we've been working longer hours again, as we prepared Jonathan Wilkes, our Alternate Frank Butler, for his first shows on the Saturday of Stoke.

Whilst the show has settled into something of a routine now (although the fit-up and tech days are still pretty full-on), finding the time for rehearsals has been tough. The team have tried to make sure that we don't work too hard, staggering the calls and bearing the brunt of them themselves, in order to prevent unwanted injury or illness. Watching Dance Captain Jonny Godbold give not only his rendition of Little Jake, Buffalo Bill and Foster Wilson, but also Dolly Tate and Annie Oakley was, well, mesmeric. And hilarious. He and Jonathan make a lovely couple that's for sure! But seriously, it's truly a credit to Jonathan that after so little actual time with the company, he managed to give two outstanding first performances. 

Jonathan's Frank is a completely different, but equally wonderful, interpretation to Jason's, which certainly keeps the rest of us on our toes and it's fantastic for me to get to play opposite both versions, especially in the same week! It was particularly nice for Jonathan, being a Stokie, to play his first shows in his home town whilst Jason fulfilled commitments to a prior engagement elsewhere in the country. They truly are two of the hardest working men in showbiz!

Everyone else is also working ultra hard though as the audition season for productions this autumn/winter has kicked off with a vengeance. The tour currently finishes in October and it's vital that we keep ourselves in the loop of London whilst we tour the UK, which means quick trips to London or self-taped auditions. It seems so strange to be prepping material for other jobs when we've barely settled into this one yet, but it is the nature of the beast.

Given the extra rehearsals there was also no day off for the company this week, nor understudy rehearsals either, although there was at least a football match or two to watch apparently. I jest. I was one of the hardcore group of footy fans who zoomed off post-show on Saturday to do some cheering/shouting/swearing at the telly for England's first World Cup match. (I didn't really swear, Mum, promise!)

Hopefully we can reward ourselves for last week's hard work with some extra treats in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities in the world. Although the schedule is as busy as usual - local boys to rehearse, tech sessions, (hopefully) some extra time on the trapeze in a bid to avoid RSI from the routine, which is completely centred on my right hand side - we're trying to fit a lot of other stuff in too. There will certainly be some morning training for the girls' 10k charity run and I'm hoping to take a yomp up Arthur's Seat and around the castle too. Kara, who plays Dolly, is even arranging a midnight ghost walk for us! Despite being a regular visitor to both Edinburgh and the Festival, it's something I've never actually done and as this tour already seems to be flying by, I think I need to begin planning out my tourist ventures if I'm to make the most of it. Well if you can't sleep anyway, why not scare yourself silly with a ghost walk around a beautiful city? 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Can You Dig It?

There are Daleks in the bathroom. I kid you not. I'm placing my toothbrush into the holder and from the corner of my eye I can see three brightly coloured Daleks staring back at me. I'm perturbed. Heading through into the lounge and dining room, six more of increasing sizes loom over me. I run to the hallway where, next to the Tardis door sits K-9. No, I'm not having a Who-vian nightmare, ladies and gentleman, this is the wonderful world of theatrical digs.

I arrived in Sunderland about an hour ago and after taking the short walk to my digs, via the theatre so that I could get my bearings, I am hunkering down into my room for the week. My digs landlord this week is, you might have guessed, a Doctor Who fan. I think I'm

Huff Blog 5 - AGYG

Well, after our week long break, the audiences of Sunderland were an absolute delight! Despite the town seeming incredibly quiet, in fact almost deserted on the rare occasions I made it out and about, the responses in the theatre were rowdy, raucous and utterly roof-raising! 

We began the week with a mind-refreshing run of the lines, given that we'd had several days away from the show following an exhausting tech and first venue run in Manchester. Giving everyone a chance to go back over their roles from the comfort of the Sunderland Empire bar made for a rather speedy, and often unintentionally hilarious, version of Annie Get Your Gun which, whilst very funny to us, will hopefully never be seen by an audience!

This is the first venue that we've 'moved' the show to so the Tuesday was somewhat fraught. With two young local actors to rehearse in as Little Jake, a sound check, band call and technical session to complete all in one afternoon, we were a little pushed for time but good humour and lots of coffee saw us through it in a timely fashion. The Stage Management and Crew teams had worked tremendously hard to get the show fitted up in time for our rehearsals too, so Company Manager Extraordinaire, Kristi, topped the afternoon off perfectly by ordering every pizza in Sunderland for us all to tuck into pre and post show. It's certainly the best way to keep this group of reprobates happy!

The week in Sunderland has been slightly less busy overall than our weeks in Manchester thankfully, which has allowed the girls of the company to get some training in, as we're running the 10K Race For Life together in July for Cancer Research UK. Although the show is very physical and a great workout, getting some decent mileage under our belts before the race is pretty vital. If you fancy sponsoring us to make it even more worthwhile you can do so at This is a cause close to many of our hearts, so anything you can spare would be greatly appreciated.

This has also been a week for some fun though. On Friday we had the afternoon off for the first time so a bunch of the company headed up to Roker Beach to paddle in the surprisingly chilly sea and build sandcastles, as well as spend some time reflecting on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the glorious sea air. The sun shone brightly for the day and after performing the 'Showbusiness' kick-line in the sea (as you do), eating fish and chips and enjoying an ice cream or two, we returned to the theatre suitably exhilarated and refreshed from the day, if also a touch sunburnt! Thank the heavens that stage make-up is quite thick and covers up the extra pink bits nicely!

Not everyone managed to escape the surreal darkness of the theatre for the day though. Now that we're open it's time to rehearse the understudies into their cover roles. With a fairly small company, most people do actually cover a role or two, but the focus this week was primarily on the Frank and Annie covers. Natalie, Sarah, Ed and Jonny worked incredibly hard and made it through the blocking for 3/4 of the show, which is wonderful as next week the understudy calls will be put on hold again whilst we finish rehearsing our Alternate Frank, Jonathan Wilkes, into the production. Jonathan is covering the dates that Jason, our usual leading man, had prior engagements on, and his first shows will be on the Saturday of Stoke. This means we're back to a very busy schedule of long days again, especially as we'll still have to tech and sound check on the first day. Fortunately there's only one Little Jake to rehearse in as George, one of the Jake's from Manchester, rejoins us for the work. 

It's going to feel quite strange playing opposite a new Frank suddenly on Saturday, but it's also exciting, particularly as Jonathan will be on his home turf. Jonathan's interpretation of the role will no doubt be different to Jason's, which will certainly keep me on my toes, particularly when I'll get my Jason back the following Tuesday. Fortunately both Jason and Jonathan are equally lovely to work with which, quite 'Frank-ly', makes me the luckiest girl in showbusiness. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Huff Blog 4 - AGYG

The clickety-clack of my fingers on my iPad keyboard seems obscenely loud from my seat on this my second of three trains for the day. I'm making my way from Halifax (my home town, in Yorkshire) to Sunderland to restart the tour at the Empire Theatre and I've somehow ended up in the quiet coach. I'm totally allowed to be typing away like a tap dancing centipede but I'm feeling acutely awkward and aware all the same. Mind you it's better than the 2 hour journey in the luggage rack I took a few weeks ago.... 

The Annie Get Your Gun company have had a week long break from the show due to the scheduling of the various venues and I'm absolutely itching to get back on the stage and back with the team. Whilst it's wonderful (and essential) to have some quality time at home with friends and family, the company have been working in such close proximity that suddenly being without everyone feels plain wrong. In fact on Thursday when I made a brief jaunt to London for all of 28 hours to see some friends and clear out of my rehearsal digs properly, it seemed only sensible to meet up with some of the Annie Get Your Gun girls and catch a bit of theatre from the auditorium together!

This next leg of the tour is 5 weeks long. My incredibly supportive parents are making the trip to various venues over the tour, including Sunderland, so I know I'll be seeing them again soon but there was something truly heartbreaking about waving goodbye to my beautiful 2 year old niece last night, knowing how much she'll have changed when I next see her. Touring is hard work on families. Hard on those travelling around but probably harder for those left behind, where life continues apace but with a definite void. It's understandable, therefore, that so many of our cast will be trying to get home between venues to see their families whenever possible.

Although this is a holiday week, we haven't really stopped as promoting a production is a constant business and, with so many venues to cover, there are a lot of radio stations and newspapers that want to have a quick chat. Interviews can be great fun - time consuming, but fun. They're an essential part of this industry and it's particularly wonderful when you're as enthusiastic about a project as I am about Annie Get Your Gun. I love this show. LOVE it. Talking passionately about it brings out the most effusive, Tigger-ish side of my personality and that, dear Reader, makes me probably quite annoying,... and loud! Whilst I try my best to do phone interviews in private, sometimes matching up schedules doesn't allow for that and on Thursday the passengers on the 11:45 Leeds-London express had to endure my yabbering away to Katherine from the Oxford Mail for half an hour, albeit in whispered tones!

Friday's interviews brought a whole other set of awkwardness. I was busily flitting around London from meetings to coffee catch-ups and mistakenly thought I was chatting to a couple of newspapers, so was happily mooching my way around Islington waiting for the call. Fortunately Matthew, our PR extraordinaire, reminded me in the nick of time that it was actually for Chris and Emma of Gaydio Breakfast. Cue me running around like a headless chicken in a desperate attempt to find somewhere quiet enough to be suitable (thank you Travel section at Waterstones) for a radio pre-record, followed by a somewhat husky (and out-of-breath) chat with two of the bubbliest presenters going!

Thankfully, once we're back in the theatre I'll be able to hole up in my dressing room or the company office for interviews. I've already got three lined up for Tuesday before we begin rehearsals and as long as people are prepared to keep talking to me, I'll keep talking to them. And believe me, I can talk!