Day One turned out to be the best of days and the worst of days. Fortunately the good completely outweighed the bad. In fact the worst bit of the day was realising – remembering – what an awful drag the commuting to rehearsals is going to be. Expensive, cramped, unreliable, miserable and very smelly! Nearly £80 per week for a service unfit for animals…RANT OVER…for now!
However, a bright and beautiful sun shone at the ‘meet and greet’ in the rehearsal rooms. The ‘meet and greet’ is what happens on the very first day of rehearsals. The whole team gets together, has a coffee, perhaps a nibble or two and basically sits round in a circle of chairs and, one by one, introduces themselves and says what they are here to do. Normally all departments are present but in this case there is such a huge amount of work to be done elsewhere in such a short space of time, including, apparently, some sort of TV show going on, not everyone was able to attend. All the Stage Management were there, the musical team, some of the management and the cast – with just one notable exception! Everyone was looking fantastic – first impressions count and all that. I am sure that as the weeks progress we’ll all get used to each other in our normal ‘work’ clothes…sweat an’ all.
It was a relief to see a couple of familiar faces in the cast, Russell and Paul. I always find the first day a really nervewracking time and although I have not actually worked with these two on a show, I have met them through friends and so I didn’t feel too alone on this the first day. I guess you just feel under the spotlight from everyone, which I suppose you are, but everyone is in exactly the same position so it shouldn’t feel as bad as it does. It was great to hear that quite a few people have come from Evita, which closed on Saturday night, straight into this show. After we had all said hello, it was time to get down to work. Dan Bowling, our Musical Director (MD), got us all up on our feet, stretching out, lots of breathing exercises and a 20-minute vocal warm up. This is where the magic began to reveal itself, and so soon! The quality of the voices and the sound they made as we sang through “Ave Maria” brought goose bumps up all over me. As you would expect these are seriously talented people. I had not even heard any individuals singing yet but knew it was going to be a treat.
So, what of my worries about the 29 colours of Joseph’s coat? Laugh!!! I laughed with worry as, amusingly, there are 32 cast members, 37 listed members of the creative team plus many more I would imagine, so that silly little list of colours that I have been working on pales into insignificance when compared to the names of all these Company members! Well I say insignificance, but when you throw in the harmonies and the choreography dear John-boy here will soon start to struggle – you’ll see.
Dan has a couple of rehearsal pianists, Louise and Laura, so he can concentrate on directing us. They are terrific and can nearly always predict when Dan is going stop or start and what part of the music he will want to work through. It seems to help the rehearsals flow really smoothly. We are initially split into harmony groups. Neil will hopefully be my rock as he is singing Tenor 2 with me…don’t let me down, Neil. As we work through each song, Dan has a brilliant, kind of poetic way of describing how we should be sounding. At one point he stopped and asked us to “…think of dark billowing storm clouds forming over the Arizona desert and then make your ahhhhhhs sound like rays of sunlight piercing through one by one before being smothered by yet more clouds.” Another great one was “…make those la la la’s sound like a rum punch cocktail!” – luv it! A bit confusing for a lackey like me though as after a rum punch cocktail or two I can’t even make a la sound. Having initially been split up from the girls, we got back together just before lunch to have a good sing through the final number of the show and, yes, there were a few bum notes, and, yes, the odd hesitation here and there but blimey, overall it was sounding pretty good and just a couple of hours into it! Simon Lee, the Musical Supervisor, popped in to have a listen too which was nice. He picked up on some missed detail and the odd flat note but seemed fairly happy overall.
A break for lunch and time to meet the P.L.B! The Packed Lunch Brigade…Go! Go! Go! PLB! You Rock! For those of us that are vehemently against the ludicrous London prices of sandwiches and wraps, fruit and yogurt, juices and shakes, we obviously bring in our own food. Unfortunately in the past I have been the only saddo lunch-boxed up to the eyebrows, but in this company there are loads of us!! Salad City, Pasta Plaza and probably plenty of other alliterations besides, but not only are we now saving money and eating healthily, we are being fashionably environmental too as far as recycling goes. Keep it up chaps!
More music in the afternoon and a beard fitting! Throughout each rehearsal the Stage Management team, headed by Natalie, are on hand keeping an eye on things, ticking us in in the morning, ensuring everything is running smoothly and unobtrusively pulling people out of the rehearsal to have costume fittings and the like – basically making sure we actors remember our fittings and are on time for them! As well as playing Reuben, Joseph’s elder brother, yes that is ELDER Brother, I am a Cover for Jacob, Joseph’s dad. A Cover is what is commonly called an understudy. Most parts in the show will have two or maybe even three Covers. This of course means that if someone is ill, has holiday or pulls a muscle or something, then there is always some other body to fill in the gap. As a performer this is a way of making up a little bit of extra money as Covers receive a weekly ‘cover fee’ and a fee for each time they actually go on in that Cover role, but in addition to the financial rewards, it is also a great way of adding variety and freshness to your work over the 12 month contract term. Marching way, way out in front of the Infantry that are the Covers, are the Special Forces! And I mean Special Forces! Imagine having to learn every single harmony in the show, every single dance step and every single entrance, exit and costume change in the show – impossible? Not for the Swings. These amazing performers sit at the front of the rehearsal room day after day watching and listening to each and every person on the stage and writing detailed notes and diagrams describing what they do and when they do it. When someone is off for a show they will fill in the appropriate gap with an ease that betrays the effort and skill that is required.
So Beverley, an Assistant Stage Manager, quietly pulls me out of rehearsal to have my beard fitting. This was a very similar process to the wig fitting I had a week or so ago using cling film, sticky tape and a chinagraph pencil. Something I never knew was that once the mould has been taken, the gauze is shaped to fit it exactly. Then the hairs are individually sown on onto the gauze, which are then cut and styled. Can you believe that? I thought I had the patience of a saint but that would kill me! In my book they deserve medals for what they do or at the very least a really nice silver-plated thimble each!
What about the dancing? COME ON !!!!!! I have been building up for it and I am R for READY! Well, it seems that no one will witness my slick pick-ups, shimmies and loose hips for another couple of days and it’s driving me mad. I just need to get out there in my matching dance jock, leg warmers and sweatbands and be seen for what I am!
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