Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Sweets, Starbucks and Superstitions...

... are things you’ll need in your survival kit if you’re thinking of becoming part of a stage crew. Also lots of shouting, swearing, sexual innuendo and most importantly, a sense of humour (Is it weird that all these things begin with S?)

The notes today come from backstage, rather than the auditorium. There is one company I always work with and has become a staple of my year. This backstage foray is with a local amateur dramatic group, whose show takes place during November. I am part of the props team and was quite surprised this year to be given a dressing room; Quite a novelty  - and with the Director and Musical Director, no less.

Obviously, full advantage was taken - we had a fridge for goodness sake! So we sat in there with our Starbucks coffee and bags of sweets and had show related discussions (mostly). Our comfort was short lived, however. We had already been thrown off the main stage for being too loud with our discussions during the rigging session and it didn’t take long for us to be thrown out of the dressing room, too. Left to wander the corridors, wondering what shall become of us? Why was this? The MD needed his pre-show meditation time.

We were told then to put our stuff in the committee room (the committee room? The committee have a dressing room and yet the props team have to roam around the stage/corridors pre- show?) So, the following night I went to drop my stuff off in the ‘committee room’ and was met with a horrified expression from the company secretary “you can’t put it in here.... this is the committee room!” She then poked her head into the corridor and said “you can put it here”.... in the corridor! It was all sorted out, of course, but it did provide us with a laugh for the run of the show. 

The point is there are a lot of interesting temperaments backstage. Everyone will either be stressed out or coping with pre-show nerves. Everyone will have their own routines. Theatre is one superstitious place and if you ruin someone’s preparation routine, you may be ruining the whole show! (one must make dramatic claims, darling) – Whether that is pacing the stage, meditating or making sure everything is in its place. I suppose you could say my superstition is the need to have sweets side-stage. In everyday life, I don’t ever go out of my way to buy sweets, but during the run I feel almost panicked if they are not there. It’s probably somewhat for the sugar rush and keeping energy levels up, especially having come from a full time day job,  more likely it’s some theatrical routine I’ve adopted.

The thing I love about theatre is you can absolutely get away with these things – silly superstitious beliefs and diva attitudes. In any other profession, you will be told not to be so ridiculous and to get over yourself. In theatre, you are more likely to be reprimanded for being pragmatic.

As a final thought - another thing that might be an idea to put in that survival kit is a high threshold for pain and lack of vanity. Moving set quickly, in the dark can result in some bruising (more so if you’re short like me). See below for a picture of my leg after show week:-

(.... Why, yes, those are my incredibly cool slipper boots)

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Consolation Prize?

‘Maybe you could go into Musical Theatre’ is a phrase uttered by many an xfactor judge to the brave rejected singer, stoically standing there, trying to take their ‘booting off’ gracefully whilst tears threaten at the corners of their eyes.

This is an issue which had Musical Theatre fans and performers alike in uproar earlier this week.

I haven’t actually heard/seen any comments that were made to/about Johnny Robinson after his exit from xfactor, most of what I know was gleaned from the twitter backlash. From what I can gather, Amanda Holden posted a comment which said something about Chicago considering him for a role (I wouldn’t know exactly, not being an follower of Amanda Holden – I feel the same way about stunt casting, generally, as I do about xfactor rejects taking musical roles) and Olly Murs also made a comment along the lines of ‘maybe Johnny could go into musicals’.

Subsequent research has thrown up an article where it seems that Johnny himself has expressed an interest in ‘blagging himself’ a role in Kylie Minogue’s Musical  (and while we’re on this... Kylie Minogue Musical?!? Oh ... dear ... god. If it’s as awful as the very idea of it sounds, I have no problem with Johnny being in it.)

I feel xfactor has always sneered at Musical Theatre. A regular ‘snipe’ at Joe McElderry, during the contest in 2009, was to say he was more musical theatre than pop; a line delivered by Simon Cowell with a look of abject distaste plastered all over his face. To my mind, however, that is a massive compliment. Musical Theatre singers, generally, have much stronger voices which are well developed technically, with enough stamina to sing for a few hours, 8 times a week.

Yet as soon as the words ‘Musical Theatre’  slip from a judge’s lips, the little lamb standing on stage looks crestfallen, their lip starts to quiver whilst they fervently deny it.

The outrage felt from all this is twofold:-
  1. That people think they can just casually start performing 8 shows a week, having been plucked from obscurity with little-to-no training
  2. That musical theatre is a second choice; a consolation prize for not having ‘made it’ as a pop star.

 I have an ex-boyfriend who believed absolutely in the second one. He couldn’t understand that people would train for and aspire to work in theatre. Believers of number 2, cannot comprehend that there are people who work for love of their craft and theatre, rather than with the goal of being famous in mind.

All this being said, we have to remember that not all Xfactor contestants are Frankie Cocozza’s – that is to say, they’re not all fame hungry  no hopers with more hair than talent; only a few months back I saw Niki Evans performing on the Blood Brothers tour and she was outstanding – not just her vocals, but her acting too. I was completely drawn in; she convincingly portrayed a wide range of emotions and was perfectly cast as Mrs Johnstone. A bit of research into her background shows she has been singing since she was 13, and she clearly has worked hard to deliver a well honed theatrical performance. I must admit, though, seeing xfactor associated with her name in the programme made me a little nervous pre-curtain. I wonder how many people may have been put off by this and decided not to buy a ticket?

If performers are really struggling to make it in theatre and genuinely want to use xfactor as a mere platform for getting noticed, it occasionally pays off (see also Cassie Compton, who has had quite a lot of work in theatre since) but should come with a forewarning – it’s going to take just as much effort trying to get yourself respected and taken seriously once you’ve got that theatre role – you better have a thick skin and the stamina for it.

If so many contestants are claiming they are using it as a platform, then, perhaps, the prize xfactor offer is, in fact, the consolation prize. Let’s face it, how many xfactor winners can you remember?

I’d just like to take a moment to direct you to one of the best theatre blogs around
She’s done an article on the same subject with screen shots of the relevant tweets, which helped me clear up how this all kicked off and also has screen shots of performers reactions. 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Music of Scott Alan

Who? I hear you ask; which is exactly why I chose to blog about him today. Far too few people know about Scott Alan, given his song writing talent and what he could bring to musical theatre.

I came across the music of Scott Alan quite by accident. It was the beginning of last month, just after I’d returned home from London to see the Phantom 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall. Having been impressed with Hadley Fraser, but not having heard much of him before this (except for in clips of him singing with Ramin Karimloo in their bluegrass/rock inspired band Sheytoons) I was looking for videos on youtube, when I came across the following:-

The music and lyrics are both perfectly matched in heart wrenching melancholy. Rarely am I moved to tears simply by hearing an out-of-context song, but this managed to really tug at the heart strings.

Intrigued, I clicked on some more of the recommended videos that had been posted by Scott Alan’s youtube channel. It seems lots of well known musical theatre stars are supporting him by singing at his showcases.

Another of my favourites is a song called ‘Always’. Below is a clip of Sierra Boggess singing this song (again get the tissues ready – Scott Alan is a master of emotional ballads).

It was on the strength of the songs I’ve featured here that I bought the album Keys: the Music of Scott Alan (though ‘Always’ is sung by Sutton Foster on the album – still beautifully) and have listened to it almost every night since. It is such soothing music to put on when winding down from the day. Here is the link to the mp3 download on amazon

I hope this has sparked your interest in someone who I think will be important to Musical Theatre in the years to come and deserves to be. He currently has a show in production called ‘Home’  and will be coming to London later this month (Sunday 13th November) for ‘Diva’s Sing Scott Alan’ at the Arts Theatre starting at 4pm, featuring some of the West End’s leading ladies including Caissie Levy, currently starring in Ghost the Musical and Alexia Khadime (current Eponine and former Elphaba). Lending his support to these leading ladies is, the recently confirmed, Daniel Boys.

I would certainly be attending this if I lived closer to London, so instead I am going to support by encouraging anyone reading this that can make it to go along.

I predict in a few years time people will no longer be asking ‘who?’ upon hearing Scott Alan’s name, but rather ‘who wants tickets to his new hit show?’