Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In one brief week

OK, this post is over a week late. That's not what the title is referring to though.
...and now it's closer to two weeks late so that doesn't even work any more. Oh, woe is me, why am I so bad at writing blog posts at a fitting time?

As you may know, if you assiduously keep track of my life, last wednesday I was in a show. If you didn't know that, you do now. But this show was special. I mean they're all kind of special, but this one more so. Reason being, this wasn't just one of the local G&S societies, this was the Buxton International G&S Festival.
Well, I guess Dauntless Theatre do kind of count as a local G&S society. But still! Buxton!

I mean, we weren't performing in the Opera House which you see in the background there, but we were part of the festival.

I like Buxton. It seemed a nice town. I think I wouldn't mind living there, if I had to move. Not totally small town far away from everything useful, but not big city either. Generally seems nice. Hosts the International G&S Festival. Has a serious aversion to Tesco for some reason - almost every shop we passed had a little "No to Tesco!" flag above it, no idea why. But I'm not really bothered about Tesco either way.

Anyway, onto the production. HMS Pinafore, updated to the 1940s. Similar to what we did in May, but proper reduced company this time, some different casting, some things changed. And the reason for the title is that we put together the production in the space of one week (Also adapting a line: "Josephine, in one brief breath I will concentrate the hopes, the doubts, the anxious fears of six weary months!")
It was a pretty intensive rehearsal schedule. Personally, I didn't mind that much - I think in some ways I prefer having it compressed like that rather than it all being dragged outover months. Of course, one of the big issues was simply that of learning everything within a week. Personally, I was fine - but I learn things quickly and in anycase I knew most of it already. Pinafore being my favourite show and this being the third time I've performed it, only a few months after the last time, I pretty much know the script backwards. I just had to remember which of my lines had been taken away and given to the Cook, and there were a few slightly different movements. To be honest, I probably could have skipped several rehearsals and still been fine on those grounds (I didn't though, because my absence would have made things more difficult for the people who were supposed to be interacting with me either by singing, dancing or speaking, also I love the show and enjoy doing it, and I don't really have anything else to be doing).

It was rather impressive. I think I've commented before on how a show can go from shambolic to good very rapidly in terms of rehearsal time - in this instance it was pretty fast in real time as well. The first few rehearsals seemed a bit of a struggle, and one might have been concerned that it wouldn't work out, but after a few days we reached the point of a generally very good show, with just a few moments which needed to be polished a bit.

And so, to the show experience itself, which is all I have photos of (Several times during the week of rehearsals in Sunderland I was thinking "Why didn't I bring my camera?")
After a ridiculously early start on Tuesday morning and a fairly knackered rehearsal (Once we actually got into the church - there was a worrying period of time in which we were stuck outside, the vicar not being there with the key, considering whether it would be better to try and break in or just rehearse the show in the street), we set off on the journey south.

In very relaxed fashion.
Well, I say relaxed. We were kind of trying to race and see who got there first. Unfortunately my chances of being in the victorious party were dashed by conversation distracting our driver from the satnav, leading to an impromptu detour through the Devil's Arse.
Not even kidding. Peak Cavern is also known as the Devil's Arse. Google it if you don't believe me. (In the interest of full honesty, I should mention that I think we didn't actually go through it so much as past it, but still. It was an interesting experience). We also passed through Dove Holes and Hope (Must be neat for the residents to be able to say "I live in Hope." At least for the first few times before the novelty wears off and people keep making tiresome jokes about it for the rest of your life, or until you move to somewhere else). I love some British place names. Apparently the orchestra drove past somewhere called Wigtwizzle. And I have on many occasions in the past been driven past Wombleton.

Anyway, so we arrived, went to the theatre and set up. Some things we were expecting from the set weren't there, but there was enough to make do, obviously, and we covered everything with Union Jacks.

Incidentally, if anyone's feeling pedantic, yes I know it's only the Union Jack when flown at sea and otherwise it's the Union Flag (The things you can learn from Doctor Who...), but since this is supposed to be the HMS Pinafore, a ship of the Royal Navy, it counts as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, also, the heater makes your hair float:
Photo taken by Buttercupliffy.

And then, on to the pub!

Following day, I may have somehow mentally shifted the time we had to be at the theatre backwards an hour without realising (Really don't know how I managed that), so I was ready to go before breakfast. On the plus side, not having to rush is good.

So we muddled through the dress rehearsal, pulled at the curtains to make more entrances and exits, moved everything further forwards on the stage, and took a bunch of photographs.

To the left you see the start of a little during-overture scene of everyone panicking about how soon the show started.
To the right, Boatswain and Cook telling Dick Deadeye it's unreasonable for him to expect people to like him. Liffy says I seem to have practiced my smug face for this show, but I swear that's just how I look in real life.

To the left again, Dick Deadeye hitting Ralph Rackstraw and knocking him over.
Sir Joseph's female relatives arrive, followed by the Monarch of the Sea himself. Just been for a swim, don'tcher know. Lovely, lovely.

etc, etc.
Act 1 finale.
And Sir Joseph drops Captain Corcoran.
 Most of these photos, with the exception of the two either side of these words, were also taken by the wonderful Buttercupliffy, from the orchestra pit, as she was playing the flute for us.

These two photos are mine, taken from some seats up on the right hand side of the stage. I am ashamed to admit I almost forgot I had to be onstage because I was waiting for another photo I wanted, of Dick Deadeye and the Captain in the orchestra pit - so:

Sadly, I don't think anyone actually laughed at "Is there a boat cloak in the house?" during the actual performance. Philistines.

And the Englishman song. My big moment! This time round, shared between me and the Cook (As some of my spoken lines were). But I don't really mind, because it does seem reasonable to make the Cook more of a character, and that allows more interaction between him and the Boatswain, so it's all good really.
And thus we move into the somewhat nerve-wracking wait before the show.

I'll be honest - I wasn't that nervous. But then, I was playing a fairly minor part, in a show I pretty much know backwards, so I didn't have that much to be worried about. And, well, yes, we were at the International G&S Festival, where it is known for audiences to take their vocal scores into performances to follow along with the music (They must get a bit confused when things have been cut) - but really, it's still just a stage, and a show. You do the same things in the Pavilion Arts Centre in Buxton as you would in the RGS Performing Arts Centre in Jesmond.
That said, if I'd been playing a bigger part I might have been more worried. Or if it had been a different show, one that I didn't know so well (Note: So you know, I only figuratively know Pinafore backwards. I'm pretty sure if you asked me to recite the script backwards I'd get rather confused).

Oops. We may have killed the director.
Of the actual performance, I have little to say. It was very good, there were a few mistakes, which I will not mention in this public venue out of respect for my fellow performers. Suffice to say they were all covered up just fine, even one potentially catastrophic omission. If you really want to know, you can ask me nicely and I'll show you the DVD.
One point is that really, they were classic first night slip ups. But we only had the one performance, so they couldn't be corrected subsequently. That was weird, just doing it the once and then leaving. And the people using the theatre the day afterwards coming in pretty much as soon as we'd gotten the set down to prepare for their show, that was strange.
And a shot of the full cast, taken during the interval.
Thanks again to Buttercupliffy for the use of her photos.

So what I do want to talk about, rather than the performance, is the manner of putting the show together - doing it all in one week. Now, had it not been for numerous people already knowing the show, a week might have been too short. Two weeks might be better to really cement things - but we might well want to just have the first week of rehearsals at someone's house, before moving into a proper rehearsal space for the second, thus saving money.
Anyway, one week or two, the principle is still the same. Brief period of focused rehearsals leading up to the show. In some ways it's definitely better. For one thing, it's likely to be more efficient - with rehearsals spread over several months, it's all too easy to learn something, think "Yeah, we've got that sorted, we don't need to go over it again," and then forget it after about a month of not doing it. That problem is not completely eliminated with a short focused burst of rehearsing, it is entirely possible to learn something, get it down and then forget what it was overnight - especially if you're learning a lot of things that quickly - but it is much reduced.
Downside - people with jobs will obviously have to take time off work for full day rehearsals, not to mention travelling down, doing the show and travelling back. On the other hand, you have to take holidays some time, and if G&S is something you love doing, like I do, why not?

Upside - the social aspect. Typically I find that you don't really conect with other cast members who you didn't already know until late on in the rehearsal process. It's easy enough to come to weekly evening rehearsals, maybe chat to your friends a little, learn the music and the moves and leave and not get to know anyone. You don't start to connect so much until you have long rehearsals and the show itself, when you're all stuck in one place together for hours on end, a significant amount of which time will be taken up with rehearsing bits you're not actually involved in. Also, nothing brings people together like shared emotion, right? In this case, the emotion is probably panic. But it helps you to bond! In this case, that's compressed. Rather than having a few months of vaguely knowing people and then making friends with them in the last few weeks or days, you go straight to the shared panic and being stuck together for hours at a time. Of course, then afterwards you've done the show and are no longer seeing these wonderful new friends you've made on a regular basis, but that happens with long rehearsal periods as well, unless you go straight into doing another show with the same people.
Downside - getting put through the emotional wringer. Kayleigh has compared the end of a show to a messy breakup, and Bette on Toast has extended this to comparing the whole experience to a whirlwind love affair. In which case, this is rather more whirlwind than most. Starts and ends in only a week! I personally found the post-show bereavement wasn't as bad for this, probably because it happened so fast, I didn't have so much time to get invested in it. I imagine it'd be similar with an actual love affair that only lasted a week from meeting the person to them vanishing off the face of the planet. It's less "Oh, this was a huge part of my life and now it's gone what do I do sob sob sob," and more "Oh. That was fun." But other people may well respond differently to me. As I said, I didn't worry that much about this show, I'm generally pretty laid back about these things, and it may have helped that I was quite tired through a decent amount of the week. People with more to be concerned over, and with different attitudes to these things will be, like poor Ralph Rackstraw, driven hither by objective influences, thither by subjective emotions, wafted one moment into blazing day by mocking hope - plunged the next into the Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair. And at some point, or even several points before the show is over, they may well be but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms. When Ralph says he will concentrate into one brief breath the hopes, the doubts and the anxious fears of six weary months, he means it has all led to this, and been about this, whereas for putting together a show like this one, granted a week is longer than a breath, but in this instance all the hopes, doubts and anxious fears are actually being experienced within that period of time. There are times I am glad to be an unaffectinator.
The issue with the emotions of it for me was not that I had my nerves shredded or anything, but that as I said, I didn't get so invested in it. This meant I didn't have such a massive come-down afterwards, but that's because I didn't go to quite the same heights. It went by a bit too fast for me to savour the experience. I would've liked a little more time in the theatre, to that end, and in some ways the very business-like course of getting in, getting it done and having to get out to allow the next people to get sorted subtracts a little bit from the magic for me. That, combined with the speed of everything, reaplced the post-show bereavement feelings of grief with something more like shock. I had a difficult time when we were all signing a card for our wonderful director, thinking of something to say. I mean, I have difficulty with that sort of thing anyway, but in this case it was because I really didn't know what to feel about the show, it feeling like it had just breezed by and not really sunk in.

Overall? I like doing shows, however they're rehearsed. I would definitely do a show like this again, but I don't think I'd want to make a frequent habit of it - I'd just wear myself out. And, as I've said, maybe an extra week rehearsing to cement things a bit more, and more performance time. I suppose in that regard the ideal for me would be if we could put the show together and then put it on locally immediately before taking it down to Buxton, because I did greatly enjoy going to Buxton, but obviously they won't give us multiple performances at the festival.
Whatever. I don't have control over this sort of thing, much as I might like to at some point. I'm just musing.

Returning to my Buxton experience (Oh yes, there's more... though not that much more), we went to the pub, signed and presented the aforementioned director's card, went out for dinner, and then went to the festival club, where the cast of that night's Opera House production (Iolanthe) sang cabaret!
The cabaret wasn't very good. I was disappointed in that regard. I was also disappointed in that I was told they would end up singing G&S choruses, everyone joining in. This did not happen. I was a sad obsessive.
On the other hand, though, what really mattered at that point was that the show was over, everyone was able to relax, and we were out eating, drinking, and being merry for tomorrow we die together as a group of friends. And while the show may to a certain extent have blown past me too fast for me to properly appreciate it, nights out are simple and easy to get into.

Everyone is relaxed and being silly!
Also tired.

Oddly, in some ways that's more what I've taken away from this - not so much the show as the experience surrounding it.
We had some strange  and interesting conversations. Like who, from all of history, would you have a conversation with, if you could. And why, obviously. And then that got adapted to who from history would you have sex with. And then this kind of led onto a general sex/sexuality discussion.

Oh, and the question of why G&S isn't more popular, and whether it's really opera or musical theatre. Now, I don't really know precisely what distinguishes opera from musical theatre, but I suspect one of the problems G&S has is that it is described as opera, so a lot of people will think it won't interest them (Of course this is also part of a general issue where things like opera are viewed as being only for the intellectual elite), when in fact it is much more like musical theatre in many ways, and certainly I would think should still have appeal for a lot of people. The other related problem is that it's Victorian, so people assume it'll be stuffy and boring, when in fact it makes fun of how stuffy and boring the Victorians supposesedly were and is therefore in perfect accordance with the views of these potential audience members.
Our Ralph made the point that he  really liked what Kayleigh did with our Pinafore, making it more accessible to people now, potentially helping to move G&S out of being just an activity for old people. Personally I disagree - I think G&S is accessible for all people without having to be updated or messed about with, so long as it's done right. Not to say new, weird and interesting takes on the old shows can't be interesting, but they're certainly not required.
As to why G&S is done almost exclusively by amateur societies primarily made up of old people, I really don't know. For one thing, G&S societies seem to be a reasonably common feature of english universities - do all these people just stop when they graduate? And if so, why? I don't understand it at all.

I'm not sure if this line of thought is really going anywhere...

Finally. The day after. There is one crucially important thing in Buxton I have yet to mention, which we went to see and experience:

Tiny train!
And, being a group of people who have never grown up, there was only one way this could go.
We were even more enthusiastic the second time around (You got two trips round the park for the one ticket), but I stopped filming after the first.
The train driver was cool as well. He high fived our Stage Manager on the way past after we'd got off (Despite the fact there's a rule about keeping your limbs inside the train while it's moving).

Just a couple more photos borrowed from the Pinafore's Cook to round this post off:
This nefarious villain has captured our female stars!
We considered performing the show again on this little plinth, but decided to just pose for a photo instead.

Good times. I want to go again.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

On the ultimate retention of indentity in severe circumstances... and stuff.

Warning: Serious thoughts lie herein.

The subject of this post requires a bit of introduction for those who aren't regular watchers of Vlogbrothers videos:

I Love Hank: Esther Day 2010

Rest In Awesome, Esther

I Love My Brother

Having watched those, we can now move onto me:

Yesterday was EstherDay

I think that adequately covers what I wanted to say about the whole family and love thing. The other thoughts provoked by the Esther related videos were ones about death and how we respond to it. Because as John says in that second video, Esther wasn't some model of perfection, she was a girl. A person. And it's something which has come up at least a couple of times in Vlogbrothers videos, that people are always people. It's easy to slip into an 'Us and Them' mentality, when really They are just more of Us, who happen to have been placed in different circumstances.
For example, people living in abject poverty around the world, they lack many things we have, like say good sanitation and healthcare. They're worse off than us, but that doesn't mean they're different to us in spirit. The men are still men, the women are still women, and the children are still children. They form the same sortds of friendships, enjoy the same sorts of entertainment, they live as we live, except where way of life is influenced by circumstances.

And it's the same with people dying of cancer. One may tend to imagine someone with terminal cancer becoming very gloomy and sullen as they waste away; or becoming angry at the world and their own body and biology which have betrayed them, raging against the dying of the light, as the poem goes; or accepting their fate with resigned dignity, setting things in order and facing the inevitable as best they can, perhaps passing on some wisdom to their friends before the end.
These may well all be the case. In fact, they may well all be the case for the same person at different points, but not all the time. Like anything else, cancer will provoke a reaction, many reactions; but we can't be thinking about it all the time. It may be a pressing concern at certain times, certainly it becomes a part of who we are, but that doesn't mean we dwell constantly on it. You have your reaction, and then you put it away in your mind and carry on with your life. And then you may think about it again at some point, and then again you'll put it away and go on with your life. And this is how it goes. Esther must surely have been affected by her cancer, but the fact she had cancer didn't make her a different person, it was just another aspect which was introduced into her identity, and she went on, spending time with her family and friends, making videos on the internet, and so on. It's just how we work. I know this, and yet it was still strange, watching through her videos on her own youtube channel and then coming to the point where they suddenly stopped. I had almost forgotten she was dead and I was just watching through the videos of another interesting and amusing youtuber until suddenly they stopped without warning, and I remembered. Because in all those videos she wasn't a terminal cancer patient, she was just a girl, who happened to have cancer. She was just her, just Esther, and her Esther-ness overcame any preconceptions I still had, in addition to whatever negativity might have been brought to her disposition by the fact of her cancer.
The abruptness of the end was still a little jarring, and it's a general problem we can have that unlike in fiction, in real life people often don't get the chance for some significant last words, and we don't get to see them gracefully depart this life, just one day they're them and the next day they're gone. But in some ways perhaps it's better that way. Once the shock is passed, instead of taking those final few sentences to sum up their existence, we have to judge them on their lives as a whole. It's more difficult, perhaps, but ultimately better to do so rather than taking the simple and easy way out.
(I should note that this was also the case with the one person I've known IRL with cancer - he remained much the same, friendly, genial, joking around a lot. But I have little to say there because sadly I never actually knew him that well, and now I will never have the chance)

And this same principle, of setting things aside and simply continuing, can also be applied to grief. It's problematic - one may feel like it's a betrayal to the dead not to be wallowing in grief and instead going on with the frivolities of normal life, but quite apart from the fact they wouldn't want you to be permanently miserable, there is a limit on how much you can grieve. Certainly you should do so, but you can pick your time to a certain extent. Once the initial shock reaction has passed, put the feelings aside and keep them for when you want to let them out. In the meantime, and afterwards, live and be happy, as your friend would want you to be, and don't forget to be awesome.
(This has reminded me of someone else I knew who dies of cancer. I always forget he's gone, and it slightly saddens my last memory of him)

Some might think that just not thinking about these things is a bit of an immature solution to these strong and intense feelings. But it works. It's the only thing that's likely to work, because these feelings and the bleak reality of our own mortality are not things we can face every second of every day and still function normally. I'm sure there's a quote to that effect somewhere in Angel, season 5, Wesley talking to Illyria. But I can't find it. The point stands anyway. We can't stand up to that much thought about things like death. I certainly prefer to avoid them, so this post is going to end about now.
In the end, we all are who we are, and that is not taken away by any experience, no matter how painful. An experience may alter who we are, but nothing can completely stop us being ourselves, short of actually losing our minds.