Show Week #1 - Monkey!
Updated: Mar 12
We all got into theatre because we love performing. Being a part of productions and showing off what we've been working on to an audience for that first time is our drug, it's what has us all hooked and why many of us still, late into adulthood, refuse to face up to the 'real world', whatever that is.
This week's blog post is an unusual one of sorts. It's unusual in that, at the time of publication - Sunday evening, but of course you knew that by now (this is how conditioning works), it won't be finished. In fact, it won't really have started...
This week, in the spirit of keeping these updates interesting to read (and finding new ways to disguise shameless self-promotion), we'll be updating the page daily with our progress as we work towards our opening night of our youth theatre's production of Monkey! and beyond, to the close of the show on Friday.
'When is opening night?' I hear you ask. 'I hope it's not too late to get a ticket!' You cry in despair. It's a great question, and please don't be upset. Opening night is Wednesday 11th March, and we run until Friday 13th. Tickets are still very much available from another page on our website. If you can't bring yourself to lift the cursor to the menu bar to click 'Book tickets', you can just click here instead.
If you are unfamiliar with what goes into a show week, then this is the blog for you. Perhaps you think it's a wonderfully glamorous process. If that's the case, I strongly advise you to stop reading now. Preserve your illusion that showbiz is all glitter and smiles, go back to 'SailCat' on Youtube.
Show weeks tend to be painfully unglamorous. What begins on Sunday night as butterflies and a head full of deadlines, ideas and things to collect, quickly descends into a desperate attempt to figure out how many hours until 7:30pm on Wednesday, what can feasibly be achieved in that time, and a 'to-do list' that looks something like this...
Okay, so we may be being a tad dramatic so far. Things aren't all bad and we like to think we've done more than enough prep to ensure the show will be absolutely fine.
Still, keep checking back here through the week to find out if that's true or not!
Monday, the calm before the storm in many ways and so probably not the biggest update of the week. Mondays of show week, knowing that we won't see the cast today, means one thing - last minute prop shopping! Most props arrive at various points throughout the rehearsal process - and then there are all of the bits we've said 'just mime for now' consistently and, as of Saturday's rehearsal, realised we still don't have.
Snakes, mini trees and giant rakes are the order of the day, and fortunately B&Q have it all. In case you have ever wondered, the 'B' in B&Q stands for 'Best friends of last-minute theatremakers'. The 'Q' stands for 'Quayle'.
On the way to prop paradise a quick phone call to the venue to let them know when we plan to arrive later in the week. No issues there, and they remembered we are coming, which is always a relief.
An ever so slightly overzealous fight rehearsal on Saturday left one of our custom-made weapons a little worse for wear, and so top of the list of priorities before our dress rehearsal was to see that returned to a fit state of repair once again.
Most of the tools you can see are there for effect. Honest.
Fortunately, the excellent work done initially by our weapons handyman meant repairs weren't too stressful, and Pigsy has his giant rake again, much to the relief of Buddha and the horror of colourful demons everywhere. If that makes no sense to you, why not come see the show and understand it better? (You'd almost forgotten why we were writing this, hadn't you?)
It may look like I've taped it back together. I can assure you that is only partially true.
Some finessing of sound cues and some more social media promo in the form of this great fight teaser was the order of the afternoon.
Into the evening it was time for rehearsal, but not for Monkey at all! Tonight's session took place with our youngest youth theatre group as they work toward their production of 'Wind in the Willows' next week. If you'd like to double up on your theatre doses over the next fortnight, you can get tickets for both shows by clicking here!
Check back tomorrow to hear how the last day before show day, including our dress rehearsal, goes down!
Well, if it didn't happen today then it is unlikely to happen at all. That's at least how it feels when you get out of bed and neglect to realise that there's also most of Wednesday to sort stuff out. Usually that realisation comes just after breakfast and the initial panic slips back toward excitement. Tuesday meant that the countdown was on from minute one to 6pm, when we would reconvene with our group for as close as we could get to a dress run ahead of tomorrow's opening night.
If you've read this far and still haven't bought tickets, by the way, what are you playing at?
First stop, mum's house. I defy anyone who has produced a show at any level to say, hand-on-heart, that they haven't, at some point, borrowed props or costume from a family member. Sometimes, when you need a grandfather clock and don't have a few grand to buy one or a few years to master the art of building one, your only option is to get round your nan's house, put the kettle on, and sweet talk her into lending you her mum's mum's uncle's brother's priceless family heirloom grandfather clock in the hallway. The one that hasn't chimed since you were born and likely never could again, but it looks great in a Chekhov.
My mum doesn't own a grandfather clock, but she does, for some inexplicable reason, currently own quite an array of wigs and hippy costume accessories. While these are fairly easy to come by, I knew that she already had the exact wig I was after, and it's unlikely she will need it before Friday night.
Pros of going to mum's to borrow a wig: decent cup of tea, catch up with mum, cost-effective.
Cons of going to mum's to borrow a wig: accidentally spend too long at mum's, panic for rest of day.
Wig acquired, it was off to the fabled OTG lockup for some extra materials (you can never have enough material) for set dressing, and a pair of shoes I think I left in there over the summer (two birds, one stone).
From there it was to the office to put together a nifty looking programme - being extra careful as always to ensure no student's names are spelled wrong or missed off entirely. These things can make or break a student's experience of YT, trust me, I've been there.
Cut up hundreds of snakes to fill a basket? Check. Smash a couple of plates and tape them inside a box? Check. Make sure there's plenty of gaffer tape? Check. (Lies, there's never enough gaffer tape).
All these last little bits finished it was up to the studio for the rehearsal itself. Many of our students have come straight off the back of Calday Grange Grammar School's fantastic production of Our House last week, and were in danger of being a little worn out. As ever, though, they continued to impress with their energy levels, commitment and focus throughout the rehearsal. Any minor mistakes they corrected swiftly and efficiently enough that an audience would never have noticed anyway - which is all you can train them to do, but the best part of the whole evening was still the sense of joy that both the cast and the crew get from the production. It's so reassuring that, right up to the night before the opening night, everybody still finds the jokes funny, and that the cast are still finding new ways to eke more and more out of their moments on stage.
You'll notice from the picture it doesn't look quite like a 'dress' rehearsal. This is entirely my fault for forgetting to pick up the t shirts on the way to rehearsals. We all do our best to lead by example, but then that happens and it's all anybody wants to talk about all evening. Life.
The rehearsal went wonderfully. The costumes looked ace - big shout out to the student who actively wanted to source his own drag outfit, and did so with stunning results! I know we are biased, and we have to be particularly biased here because this is all about getting you to click here and buy tickets, remember? But these are some genuinely impressive young people. They commit everything to these productions and make them a true joy to work on time and time again, reminding us all why we get involved in the first place.
Anyway, tiredness is making me gush now, so check back tomorrow for an update on the most exciting part of the week - opening night!
Wednesday - Opening Night:
Wednesday begins with an unusual quiet as, over breakfast, I realise that most things that needed doing have been done already or are currently being done by someone else. This is an odd feeling, and not one that I enjoy, so the morning is spent starting to get ahead of next week's work instead. If you're curious as to what next week's work is, why not click here and find out?
With as much gear packed into a car as was possible, we arrived at the venue early afternoon to be met with a couple of unforeseen problems. I'd love to say they were small issues and easily dealt with, but there were no lights or sound system available. These, in case you've never been to the theatre, are quite important if you plan on being seen and/or heard. We usually aim for both.
Fortunately, we are always prepared for such scenarios. We had put the lights and sound on standby already, as a symptom of not being able to access the venue for our dress rehearsal - unusual in itself! The remainder of the afternoon up to call time was spent collecting the relevant speakers and cables and all the magic boxes that make it all work, and then rigging it all up before the students arrived.
I should have known at breakfast that it wouldn't have all been plain sailing.
All the driving around collecting various tech items gave me ample opportunity to collect the bits of costume that I'd forgotten on Tuesday evening. By the time we were all set up and ready to go we were bang on call time, almost as if we'd planned the whole thing.
The students were exceptionally well behaved in their preparation, as they always seem to be on show days. It's always easy to forget that for some, this may be their very first experience of being in a stage environment or a production run-in. It is important to have this knowledge at the forefront of your mind when the 12th person asks where their shoes are. 'They are probably wherever you took them off.' In all seriousness though, things that often go without saying to people who have been onstage or around productions for years are exactly the things that need saying to younger groups, and that's no bad thing. We were all there once and it can be a hugely intimidating environment. It's so easy to forget lines or cues, props or bits of costume when you're in a new environment and, quite simply, when after all the rehearsing in a studio to your peers, there's a sea of strange faces once the audience are in. We've seen far more experienced actors crumble at far less, and so reminders of things like 'be louder', 'face the audience when you speak' and 'use all of the space', so often repeated in youth theatre environments, are there to remind students of the basics of their training. It's always the basics that disappear first under pressure!
Then it was 7:30pm, and with faces painted, costumes on, props set and an eager audience waiting for a bit of Monkey magic, off we went. At the moment the show begins and you take your seat, or ready up for whatever technical job you're in charge of, you realise that there is, at this moment, nothing more you can do for them, and the feeling of the first times you were nervous on stage come flooding back. But as you watch young people strutting their stuff about the stage, seeing them realise the reaction that their actions and words have on a live audience, and watching their confidence grow as a result, those nerves and memories disappear.
No two show weeks are ever the same. The rest of this one won't go exactly as we have planned it, that much is a given! So much is dependent on venues, suppliers, tech teams, illness (we've had to contend with a bit of concern around that one, particularly!) and so on. The one constant is that, with a good team of people all working toward the same goal, any problem can be overcome. I'm sure some show weeks are incredibly straight forward, though I'm yet to meet any director, actor, or otherwise, who can name one they've been involved in! In spite of that, and as we started this rambling blog out by saying, this is the reason we all got started in the first place. The rush of being on stage, and the joy we get from seeing our students experience that for themselves after all their hard work, all the hours of rehearsals and time spent at home learning lines, particularly in the current school system where so much pressure is put on them at such a young age to perform academically, that reminds us why we got into youth theatre in the first place, and why we'll be keeping the Monkey magic alive for many years to come!