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Tour Memories - Finishing Off

So there's no show tonight, which means no venue to attribute memories to. What there would have been is one almighty party last night, followed by some very sore heads this morning, all faced with the prospect of a long journey home. At this point in tour, once everything is finished and you're on your way back, you find yourself really trying to savour every moment, but already acutely aware that it's too late for all of that, because really, all of the magic is over for another year. It's a little bit addictive, this touring lark, as any actor that's had a pleasant experience of it will testify to.

All that said, our tours can't happen without the hard work of the people behind them. The actors are always the ones that take the credit. They literally get to bow and thank an audience who cheer them on, but behind the scenes there's a whole host of people who not only never get their moment in the sun to celebrate their success, but who also very seldom seek for it. Tonight's blog, rounding off the end of what would have been our touring calendar, as we make our way home, is dedicated to, and focused on, those people that help us keep doing what we love doing year on year:

Colm M

"It's been quite the ride all those tour posts!

I would like to highlight Stew's role in OTG for the last 20 years. Everyone else gets the applause and glory on stage while Stew does all the jobs that no one else would want: collecting the money at the door, sorting out the money after the shows, minding the finances, shopping, cooking, driving, generally marshalling everyone to make sure they're where they're supposed to be. All the small things that add up to making sure the tours run smoothly. He really is worth his weight in gold and BBQ charcoal. And that's in addition to his poster and programme designs.

There must also be times when he feels completely overshadowed and taken for granted during the tours.

I also remember, in the early days of touring, he'd be doing all the above and continuing to work while on tour, every spare moment on his computer while everyone else was goofing off."

Andy B

"It has been amazing to read through all the stories people have shared in these past blogs. I’ve loved reliving so many memories, being reminded of things that had completely slipped my mind (performing in the library in Lisnavagh and Joey getting her basket stuck in the door, for one!) as well as hearing how more recent casts have enjoyed their experience. I’m very proud and protective of something that has been such a huge part of my life, so it’s amazing to see others sharing in the collective warmth of Off the Ground’s cuddly embrace. While audiences get to enjoy the hard work of the cast each evening, the tour itself would not be possible without those working behind the scenes. As one tour would end, thoughts would immediately turn to the next summer, planning would begin and it is so important to remember how many people are involved in getting a show up on its feet, from conception to performance. From Dan’s direction, Si’s incredible tech/van/physio skills, Iona’s production and Sue’s work booking venues and sorting so much from West Kirby, the cast had arguably the easiest task of just turning up and performing, not knowing any trials and tribulations that may have come their way and that had been quietly overcome. As so often is the case, when something runs smoothly, you don’t often realise that it’s because of the hard work of a production team who have thought ahead and made sure that everything is taken care of. Naturally, a special mention goes to Stew, who will always be such an integral part of tour. While there is genuinely no place for Stew on stage, it is literally his fault that I got embroiled in a decade of touring. After I finished my degree in 2002 I went away on a jolly to Prague and, while up to my eyeballs in absinth, I received an answer phone message from Stew asking me to call him back regarding a work matter. I’m so glad I did, as he asked if I was interested in joining what might have been the last hurrah for Off the Ground’s touring company. A year or so earlier, foot and mouth disease had put a stop to the tour and they wanted to collect a group of rag tag misfits who could to bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream to life. That year was such a special group that many people from that cast returned for many years to come, and Stew’s presence there made each tour all the better for everyone and Stew became a friend for life. From slowly sinking into the mud while sat on his camp stool to amazing everyone by his inability to whistle and clap at the same time, Stew’s contribution to my fond memories of a decade of summers are immeasurable. The fact that Stew and several tourers will make up my groomsmen at my wedding next year (should Covid-19 not postpone all things love based forever) shows the strength of friendship forged in a damp field while being eaten alive by mozzies. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

and finally, from Dan and Connor, on behalf of all of OTG:

Connor W

"I was pretty naive about what touring with OTG was when I first got involved. I certainly didn't think I'd still be doing it ten years later. But that's part of the charm of it - whether you tour once and only once, or whether you're like us weirdos that do it for 10 years in a row (20 years in some people's cases!) you still feel the same connection. It's part of a bigger legacy, and yet for the summer you're away it is just yourself and the cast and crew around you. Once it's all over, and it always ends too soon, I think most people know they've made friends they could count for life, and many feel like they've been welcomed into a very weird family.

OTG have already started undergoing some massive changes, and there's plenty more to come, but the summer tour will always be a place to keep that weirdness and bit of magic alive.

Personally, I'd like to thank everyone who has ever been a part of it, but most of all our audiences. Without them, there is no show, and we couldn't continue to do what we do. It's as simple as that."

Dan M

"There are so many people who make tour happen every year and who never get the proper thanks they deserve. They never get a bow at the end of the evening so this is their very own curtain call. Over the last 25 years we have had some amazing producers; Iona Farley (also the most fabulous costume designer, director and actor) Sue Weldon, Sian Lewin and Sophie Devonshire who produced the first ever tour, Helen O’Brien who came up with the idea of touring Ireland and first organised our Irish venues, John Lofthouse, Martin Scorer, Matthew Bartlett and, of course, Si Large who has done every single job on tour from bull wrangler to personal trainer, and also managed to fit in performing and technical work along the way. A huge thank you to all of the people who have designed and found props and costumes over the years and to Mary Glaze at Elizabeth Stagewear, to our writers, directors, choreographers and composers, to the Thomas, Meigh and Darwent families for use of garden rehearsal space and, of course, to our venues. One person has done more tours than any other, in fact he hasn’t missed a single one, and so the last bow of all goes to our tour producer/print designer/company stage manager/barbecue king of 25 years, the one and only, Mr Stewart Jones. Thank you and see you next year."

Colm has put together this lovely video, very much in the style of Stew's 'real life work', commemorating 20+ years of OTG tours. Enjoy!

And finally, from Dan, a bit of history as to how it all got started over on the Emerald Isle:

"Our touring in Ireland started inauspiciously. We got the night ferry and arrived in the rain. There was a man watering the plants in Grafton Street.

We had found a campsite North of Dublin and arrived at about 6.30 in the morning at the holiday village of the damned. We were so tired we tried to put up our massive square tent in a space that was too small and spent about 20 minutes turning it round and round before realising that a square tent is the same dimensions whichever side is facing the sea, We walked it to a bigger space.

At 7 o’clock on the dot the first set of residents emerged. I have never seen a more hirsute group of people. Looking like a cross between a team of East German field athletes and a Village People tribute group, they colonised the bathroom without any of the normal North European reticence for nakedness. About half an hour later the children of the corn were released into the campsite and started chasing anyone who wasn’t proudly parading their nether regions or hidden behind a thin sheet of canvas. One of our cast had a brick thrown at him by a feral 4 year old. We dedicated the rest of the day to drinking, which is particularly exciting when you haven’t slept.

The next day Stew, Helen (who had found the venues for the first tour) and I thought we should go and visit some of the venues around Dublin. Our first stop should have been a warning. It was an old house which didn’t look like anyone had visited in several centuries, owned by a long-retired officer and his wife. They had obviously ended up in this pile in Ireland but you could equally imagine them in a hill town in India regretting the passing of the raj. When Helen had first met them she had introduced herself to the lady of the house who ushered her in declaiming, “Hello Helen. You're very welcome, Patricia. Major, this is Katherine.”

When we arrived the Major was out. We asked if there was a bank nearby and were told that there was no swimming pool (we’d mistakenly said we might need some change and that had got lost somewhere in translation). We then asked if there was a three pin socket we could use. “There’s bound to be one somewhere,” was the reply as memsahib went off to look for one. We helped in the search and found at least three different types of plug in the house. As we opened the car door to leave (we were quite keen to leave by this point) a small, yappy dog ran into the back and did loops round the seats and the ceiling, remaining upside down for what seemed like an impossible amount of time. The road to the house was very narrow, lined with trees and impossible to pull off. As we finally extricated the dog and started to drive off, Mrs H yelled after us, “Do watch out. The Major is due back any minute now and he doesn’t stop for anything.”

The night of the show was only slightly less bemusing. As we turned up a storm was brewing. A small audience arrived including one couple who had seen a poster at one of our Welsh venues. The poster was three cartoon witches around a cauldron but this couple, not daunted by any sense of logic, asked at the door, “Is this about the Wyrd Sisters of Llangollen?” Firstly, the ladies of Llangollen weren’t sisters or 'wyrd', and they were known for their literary visitors, not their incantations and charms. Rather brilliantly, the cast member who was on the door, who was in the play, so presumably knew what it was about, just answered, “Probably.” They bought a ticket. They left at the interval utterly bemused.

The Major and his wife watched the whole show from inside, through a window that was right in the middle of our stage. It added a certain ghoulishness to some of the scenes.

As the show progressed the wind got stronger and stronger and we ended shouting most of the plot at the audience. After a very quick pack down we were summoned into the stables where the local church had provided interval refreshments. It seems the the local church had been expecting several hundred more people than had turned up, and they had prepared sandwiches for each and every one of them. They didn’t seem too disappointed though and presented us with several boxes of them as if they were bestowing some sort of award on us. We thanked them and everyone involved in the making of the sandwiches - turns out none of them actually saw the show. When we opened the boxes they seemed to have forgotten any fillings and we had a hundred butter sandwiches with which to treat the cast.

We got back to the campsite to find that all of our tents had blown down. Turns out square tents don’t deflect the wind very well. The rest, as they say, is history."

Massive thanks to everyone who helped to pull this blog series together, we hope you've enjoyed it as much as we have. Keep coming back for further updates soon!


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