Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Buxton: August 16-18, a long weekend finale

Ooh? Ooh! Eureka! The story so far. We like to keep on doing what we're doing right now. It takes energy to make us do new things, or stop doing things.

Paying GBP7.50 to hear people singing hardcore opera in a language we don't understand is one of those new things. But when our lovely Kate invites us using the words "I'd love to see some friendly faces in the crowd" and our lovely Phoebe mentions that she's in it too, that's enough to overcome our inertia.

Eureka describes inertia as a kind of laziness, and I have to say, I could have done with a lazy morning after all the gunzelling I've done. If you think travelling by train means sitting down and watching the scenery go by, you haven't been out with me. Stephen knows all about this from when we used to do surveys on Sunday afternoons instead of rehearsals. David, Tim and Thea might remember it too, though years have rolled over their heads. Suffice it to say that 20km of walking with a 15kg backpack completely offsets the fact that I eat at the station cafe.

Anyway, so I dragged my weary eyelids open, hit my knees with a rubber mallet until they could bend again, gave my shoulder blades an instant massage (find the spot where it's stiff and pinch it til the pinch hurts more than the stiffness) and to my amazement found myself able to maintain an upright position. We had arranged to help the pros move Princess Ida costumes into the Opera House - earlier than usual this time, as they had a matinee to do so the dress rehearsal had been moved forward to 10am.

We got to the Octagon (where costumes are stored) at about 8:45, thinking to get the move done quickly before the Master Class started at 9:30. Nobody was there so it was a case of hanging around until the place opened. At about nine we got in, and the festival volunteers were unhurriedly starting to set up tables to sell tickets to the Master Class - which actually started at 10:30, thank goodness.

So with time up our sleeves we did the job of moving costumes without any pressure, and then went home for breakfast and a shave (two breakfasts and one shave).

The format of the Master Class was that each contestant (who had to be in the middle of a singing-related uni course) came prepared to sing a song, and was announced just like it was a concert. Then they'd go on and start singing to an ex-D'Oyly Carte professional, who would stop them at any time and comment on their performance (not just the singing, the first one was given tips about how to walk up the steps to the "stage" in high heels). We in the audience got to vote on who gave the best performance, and the top two went into the finals.

The finals included songs from G&S, other musical theatre pieces and opera, which made it hard to pick who was best. But that didn't matter, we were there to skew the vote in favour of our own people so we did. We could each only vote for one person, so we sneakily looked at each other's ballots and made sure we did one for each.

As it turned out first prize was tied between Caroline (our Kate) and one other person, and Rachel (our Phoebe) came next! We were thrilled, as were several other Savoynetters in the audience.

We didn't have tickets to the afternoon or evening shows so it was a case of going home, pottering around for a bit, catching up on things that needed to be done etc. One of those things was taking photos of Alice.

The sun was out so we decided to go for a walk. First stop, the office of the halls of residence. "Hi, we're just taking photos around town with our little Alice in Wonderland here, do you mind if we get one here?" So Alice checked in to the halls, standing on the bench.

Then the Railway Hotel next door. To get some perspective I had to practically lie down on the ground and take the photo from an angle of 45 degrees, which drew a look from an innocent bystander. "This is Alice, she's going round Buxton town and we're taking photos of her." "Oh, sure."

Next stop, Spring Gardens - some fairly ordinary shots of her sitting on the decorative rocks, and then a perspective shot of her walking into some of the shops we like best. More looks from passers by. Most of them were incredibly polite, they stopped to let us take the shot before walking in front of the camera. Very kind.

Then to the famous Buxton fountain, that deserved quite a few. So did the Opera House and surrounds. The light wasn't perfect at that time of the afternoon but we got some more that evening on our way in to the festival club. As we were doing so a Savoynetter came past and said "Now if I had to look over the membership list of Savoynet and pick two members who I could imagine would lie down on the footpath in front of the opera house taking trick photos, which two would be the top of my list?" This, folks, is a person we had only met once, and briefly because we were carrying costumes at the time. Everything he knows about us is from our posts on Savoynet. Obviously they're a fairly accurate indicator of our personalities.

It's great when that happens - you meet someone in real life and they are exactly how you expected them to be from their emails. We had a situation like that in Grand Duke four years back. I used to have them on Railpage all the time, but that was in a bad way because people who are annoying online are also annoying IRL.

At the festival club that night we scoped out our plan of a tack for the awards ceremony - we knew the day would be busy with two shows to watch and two sets of costumes to carry. On the expectation that we wouldn't be finished with that by the time the ceremony started, we decided to split up - Chris after all had solemnly promised to transmit the results live over Multi-Player Notepad. The original plan had been for me to man the programme, looking up spellings of names so he could broadcast them without embarrassment. But the dbadmin's creed is "Always have backups" so he roped Chris Hall into the scheme to be ready in case I couldn't make it. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory.

Except perhaps a pot-luck, because pot-lucks are amazing. The nice thing about Gondoliers is that it has a lot of minor roles, which means I get to share a stage with some amazing people. Videos are on Facebook, check them out. I just wish I had Someone Special with me to play Vittoria... Still, a very good time was had by all, especially Luiz and Casilda.

Saturday dawned cool and cloudy. In case you think I'm about to recycle that Ballagundi joke again, be it known that finding a rhyme for "cloudy" is just not worth it. Twice was enough, and only the first time was clever enough to be funny.

Anyway, so Saturday dawned and Chris took Alice and the camera to the opera house to try for a shot in morning light. (It faces east so afternoon photos don't work all that well - hence the night shots.) When he got back in we realised there was still some time before we were needed for our big day of costume carrying. Higher Buxton, here we come!

First stop was the fish and chippery that had put a very British sign up "congratulating" Harrogate for "winning" the festival, and "thanking" the local council and the opera house management for their assistance. When we got there the sign was gone - apparently someone had come in and complained and they'd taken it down as a gesture of goodwill. They still had it though, so they reinstalled it long enough for us to take photos of Alice reading it.

After that, Scriveners. Being a gunzel with a BritRailPass every time I've been in Buxton I'd never actually been - although I'd been told by many people that it's a bookworm's paradise. And it was! A tiny place but crammed to the gills with old books. All neatly categorised to make things easy to find. PLUS there was a book binding museum - and they run classes in the ancient art, with a view to helping people learn the best way to take care of, and repair, classic books.

Alice found the Lewis Carroll section and asked us to take her photo there. I found the transport section and mentioned that "If I find a curves and grades book for the Buxton line I'm going to wet myself". Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't - although there were a number of really interesting looking books that I'd love to have borrowed if they were in the Monash library. They just weren't worth spending money on and carrying home at $80/kg excess baggage fee to join our already overcrowded shelves.

There was a music section too, and Alice got photographed xxxxxxx xxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxx xx Xxxxxxx xx x xxxx xx xxx xxx xx XxxxxXxx [censored so we can all enjoy the joke together when we get home].

Eventually we gathered our purchases and wandered to the front desk. Near the front desk was a collection of Xxxxxxx books [censored as they may end up being birthday gifts] which reminded me to go looking for any we don't already have. Now there's a big gap in their shelves, which I'm sure they'll fill pretty soon. Right, are we really ready to pay now? Oh hi Amy, what are you doing here? Just looking at the place, I've heard it's amazing! Yes it is, well we'll let you look because you're on stage in about an hour and a half aren't you? So she looked at books and we donated 45 quiddages to the cause and left with some treasures.

Chris mentioned that he hadn't factored in the possibility of me having never been to Scriveners before when he planned the timetable for the day. It was now high time to head for the Octagon and carry some costumes.

It was going to be a logistical nightmare - one show out and one show in, and all in the time between a matinee Princess Ida (longish running show) and an evening Merry Widow (multiple costumes per person). Luckily we ran into the experts and planned the operation in complete detail. By the time we had finished it was time to get to the Opera House to see the show!

It was a very good Princess Ida, as a pro show should be. When Hildebrand and Ida faced off in Act 2 we could see them looking daggers at each other all the way from the gallery. I haven't seen a face-off like that since Rachel Sztanski did Ida with Savoy many years ago. Unfortunately the chorus seemed a bit badly directed - what they did was mainly choreography rather than direction, and in quite a few places it didn't fit with the plot of the show. I'm sure Ron will do a much better job.

From there, straight down the fire escape to the stage door. Bunch of costumes, meet my left arm. Unlike Ko-Ko I have a strong left arm (good for hugging people with - and since today's the last day of my week of safety under xkcd 684 I may as well say something soppy) which makes it possible to carry lots of costumes at once.

Chris did the same thing on a slightly different angle, because he wears gloves so he prefers the weight to go on his hands rather than his arms.

We had Princess Ida out in fairly good time, and started carrying Merry Widow stuff in. Only trouble was, it was raining hard enough to do a lot of damage to the delicate costumes, so instead of wheeling a whole rack in one hit we had to carry them a few at a time with a plastic bag over the top to protect them.

As we were going back and forth I remarked "This is good, the rain's coming from the west so I'm protecting the costumes with my body!" Just call me Pollyanna because that's taking positive attitude a bit too far.

At several points there were kids in highly colourful costumes darting in and out of the Octagon. I asked one of them who they were and it turned out they were the cast of the Mikado we were seeing that evening. This promises to be a good show!

Eventually we were done. Princess Ida had to be loaded into a truck (along with set and props) to be taken direct to Harrogate to take part in the ClassicFEST which is coming up some time very soon. Harriet (the head costume volunteer) went with them so this was goodbye for another year. I can't believe this festival is breaking up already! Haven't we only just started?

Chris had long since headed off to the awards ceremony, with Traal and Alice of course. I was just thinking of following him when on the last trip I passed a random carrying a whole stack of photo frames. Then I ran into one of the many festival club acquaintances who told me "Hey, congratulations!"

Ah, so Savoynet won something. That would be Best Female Voice for Anne (our lovely Elsie). Two Elsies in a row getting Best Female Voice, nice work. Didn't I tell her to hang around for the end of the festival to save on postage? These were my thoughts; at the time I kept them to myself and only spake thus: "Oh, thanks, what did we win?"

"Haven't you heard? You walked away with the lot! Won the festival and half a dozen other prizes too!"

That sounded good. I continued carrying my load but when I got in to the Octagon the assembled Savoynetters were all there, desperately trying to fit all the trophies and certificates onto a table for a group photo. It wasn't easy.

They greeted me with all good will, and once I'd put my load down I joined them. Shame I wasn't in uniform, because everyone else was - so I went to the back of the crowd so they couldn't tell.

Now this is overwhelming on several levels. We were in a show that won - that's amazing. We cleaned up a fair percentage of the other awards - that's astounding. But the funny thing is, Savoynet have done amazingly top quality shows before, and never won. The international championship has been since 1994 the one thing that's always just beyond reach. So let the joy bells ring!

Our amazing lighting designer pulled my leg and that of Savoynet's regular SM (who had been unavailable for this year's show due to a paid gig elsewhere) by telling him to ask me for some tips about how to SM a show that wins. ;) I love the English sense of humour.

So we were on cloud nine when went to see Mikado by an Irish group with an average age of 17. It was unlike any show we've seen before - lots of modernisations in acting and choreography, and yet the dialogue was Gilbert's own (with a very few changes for comic effect eg "I have an email from his majesty the Mikado" and "This is all very interesting, and I'll look it up on Youtube later, but we came about a different matter") and the characterisation was respectful. Finally, a show which has "My object all sublime" recast into 2/4 time but which isn't calculated to bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty.

It finished just on 10pm so we went straight from there to the Opera House to help bump out Merry Widow. It was still raining but luckily the truck was right outside. After several attempts we managed to get everything into one costume rack and one "skip", aka a wheeled aluminium container about the size of the six wheel trolleys we used at work. After that we just hung around until the whole place was bumped out completely - after all, this is the last bump-out of the G&S Festival from the Buxton Opera House for the foreseeable future. It's not like we can come back and grab anything we missed.

Unfortunately that meant we got to the Festival Club just as the Mikado cast were finishing their cabaret! They were carrying a drum kit, which indicates that it would have been a lot of fun to be at. Still, duty demands that we look after our friends when they're short-handed and in a panic, and at all costs we do our duty.

In celebration of Savoynet's victory the room was invited to sing the chorus numbers from Yeomen. The assembled cast all did their moves perfectly. We had a volunteer Elsie as ours was already at home, and a volunteer Jack Point who hammed it up completely. I called the curtain but nobody laughed.

Then with a final Hail Poetry the festival was over and the club was transformed back into a genteel tea shop (not quite a tea house). Sound and video equipment was packed up, the stage was dismantled, tables were put back into their normal positions. But the young Mikado cast were still hard at it. Their conductor too - he made sure their rowdy drinking songs were in time and their cut-offs simultaneous. Some were G&S and since Chris and I were hanging around listening we were invited to take part. This is what the festival is all about. Thank you, Buxton.

Of course we stayed until the place closed. Even then the farewell hugs probably took the staff into overtime...

A "last thing before bed" check of Facebook and emails took several hours because of the number of congratulations. It must have been 3am before I went to sleep, and I regret nothing.

In the morning I realised I still had a few days to go on my BritRailPass. That means it's time to visit the sparks in Liverpool again. They have bogies like our Comengs and vaguely similar body proportions.

From Manchester I took the first Liverpool service, which was stopping all stations via Eccles. Ehee! I was fascinated to see electrification works along the line - first staunchions with no overhead, then a catenary wire, then the full finished product. If they're electrifying one of the lines north of Piccadilly they might start running frequent electric services from Hazel Grove, and let the Buxton trains run express. That would be smart. I'll watch progress with interest.

Liverpool's main intercity station is Lime Street, but its suburban services go through Central. Lime Street is only served by one of the three suburban lines, which does a one-way loop calling at both. But Lime Street's suburban section was closed for refurbishment, so I had to walk to Central. Luckily it was well signposted because the streets go on all sorts of odd angles and have weirdly spelled Liverpudlian names.

Liverpool Central was like Inigo Montoya - "You don't look so good." "Pfffffffffffft" "You don't smell so good" "But I feel fine!". The light in the station itself was OK but the tunnels were quite dark, so it made the place look wet and cold. And the smell of the bottom of the river seeping in was fairly strong.

I got on a train and went for a ride, but the expected sound just wasn't there. On top of that, the scenery was nice but in a really boring kind of way - the track was lowered into a cutting and the cutting was lined with trees and shrubbery. That and sky were all I could see.

So I took a train to Chester. Now I'd seen Chester as a destination for interurban services from several different places, so I knew I could get just about anywhere from there. But it was also the terminus of the Liverpool suburban system - sort of like Glen Waverley except with trains instead of buses.

When I got there I was blown away by the size of the place - lots of platforms, trains all over the place. The suburban side of things was just a little dock platform.

Wanting a place to plug in to power I took a Virgin Voyager bound for London Euston, with the idea of finding out how far I could go and still get a train back to Buxton. Unfortunately there was no 3G coverage and Virgin's wifi costs money. So I played it safe and baled out at Crewe.

The first thing I saw as we pulled in was long line of Class 90 electric locos in storage. When the Fat Controller said Crewe was a fine place for sick engines, I assumed he meant it would make them better. Maybe that's changed since the 50s...

By this time the light was fading and it was time to head home. What kind of train runs up the main line to Manchester? The Pendolino. 200km/h on top of howling electric motors. Staunchions looking like a picket fence. Southbound Pendolinos passing us, looking like machine gun fire. When can we have these on the Melbourne-Sydney line?

All too soon we arrived at Manchester. The train to Buxton was fairly crowded so I sat on the floor and worked on my proposals to the GSOV committee based on what I've learned here.

Chris was slightly surprised to see me, expecting that I'd stay out all night. But I wanted some dinner. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we fly.

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