Thursday 21st October
Why does it always seem to be raining in Manchester? One of my favourite cities in the country, with several world-class theatres but its always raining! Not that it matter what the weather is doing outside – we are stuck in the huge 1900 seat auditorium “teching” the show.
The rehearsals are all finished in London now, and the whole company have moved up to the Opera House in Manchester to join the production staff who have been here a week already building the set, erecting the lighting and installing a huge sound rig.
There doesn’t seem to be a spare inch of seating in the stalls not covered with production desks, one for each technical department.
Sitting quietly in the corner, seemingly on his mobile phone constantly, is Matt Towell, the Production Manager for the show. He is responsible for the entire technical aspect of the show from employing technical staff to making sure the wardrobe department washing machines are working correctly. An unenviable task even when things are going smoothly, but it can be horrific when things start to go wrong.
This is the first time the cast have seen the set and they spend the whole of the first day skating. Looking very nervous at lunchtime, they quickly find their feet (or should that be wheels!) and look comfortable and proficient by the time the call ends at 10pm.
Arlene Phillips, the Director and Choreographer, is with us full time now and directs proceedings from the production desk on her “directors mic” in the stalls. This process can be very slow and tiring for all concerned as there is an awful lot of sitting around waiting for a department to light a scene, or the Stage Management to re-set the stage or any number of departments fighting for time to tweak and finely tune.
Monday, 20th September – Only two weeks to the first preview!
I sometimes find it hard to imagine that after all these years working in theatre, I can still get a very odd feeling in the pit of my stomach on the first day of rehearsals. It is a mixture of excitement, anticipation and sheer terror. Have we forgotten anything, do the cast all know their first call and where the rehearsal rooms are, will the scripts arrive in time (just) and, most importantly, is there enough tea and coffee for the army of cast, technicians, creatives, producers and assorted PA’s and assistants who are about to descend on us?
The first day of rehearsal usually starts with a “meet and greet” which is exactly as it sounds. Everyone involved with the show gets together for the first time, and possibly the last time, until opening night.
David Ian, the Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel, introduces everyone in the room to each other including the Producers and General Managers of the production. An amazing feat to remember everyone’s name and job title.
Arlene Phillips, the Director and Choreographer, then addresses the cast. She explains the story of Starlight, the run up to the production and how we all come to be standing in a draughty film studio on a cold September morning.
Some of the cast are well used to this building; they have been attending skate school for the last four weeks to simply learn how to skate. It surprised me when I watched auditions, that none of the dancers attending were asked if they can skate. “If they can sing and dance well enough for the show”, and the cast we have assembled seem to be able to do both exceptionally well, “then we can teach them to skate” I’m told.
Michael Fraley is our skate coach; he has now taught over 600 actors to skate and worked on eight productions from Broadway, London, Japan and Australia to two tours of the USA and Las Vegas. He works the dancers hard, but knows, instinctively, how hard he can push them. There are 20 of the cast attending skate school; these are the new cast who have never done the show before.
With only four weeks before we move up to Manchester, the opening venue, there is an awful lot to do while in the rehearsal room, I hope we can get it all done in time. I know we will, as the show must go on.
Ben Jefferson, Company Manager
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