Friday, August 9, 2013

In Buxton: August 6, oh day of terror

I woke up and that ominous tickle in the throat was getting worse. Chris had taken pity on my lonely state and promised to do all the necessary work on props, so I was free to drug myself up with whatever it took to keep me in a fit state to work for the next 48 hours. First stop, the super discount shop. I saw garlic there earlier. Next stop, the Buxton fountain. Fill bottle. Drink it all and fill it again. Take a dozen deep breaths. Tell oneself off for procrastinating. Break one clove out of the head and peel off the husk. Bottle at the ready? Eat garlic.

Now there's a scene in one of the Asterix books where they discover a violent cure for being over .05 - which involves the face turning white, red, green and blue. There's a plot point in Jeeves and Wooster where Jeeves mixes up a special cocktail which causes the eyeballs to spring from their sockets, bounce off the far wall like racquet balls and then return. For those of you who haven't tried Michael's Patent Cure For Colds And Runny Noses Of All Sorts, it's a little bit like that. My stomach started to turn and I staggered to the nearby park bench, and drained my water bottle in about zero seconds. (It's a 750mL bottle, I'll leave you to calculate the flow rate if you feel so inclined.) After a few minutes I filled it again and drained it. The water consumption is part of the cure, you see.

Five minutes later the tickle had gone completely. The burning sensation (which I knew to be caused by the sulfurous fumes of the garlic rising out of the violent chemical soup in my stomach) was less annoying than the tickle, and could be quashed with a drink of water any time. I think we have a chance at this, folks!

So to rehearsal. A full run, in costume. Just like at home, this is where the cameras come out and the photos explode over Facebook. The difference is, at home we have a long, long season before us, whereas here we know that in less than 48 hours it'll all be over.

Now I mentioned up there that Chris had to go shopping for a few props. I'd like to insert a parenthesis here and talk about the whole experience of being responsible for props in Buxton.

Last time we were here we got to the dress rehearsal and suddenly realised we had no spinning wheel. So I sent Chris round the corner to borrow one from the pro company (who owed us a favour) during the overture.

This time it wasn't so easy. One had been arranged, but it was a ricketty old thing (probably older than me, I was told) and on the first rehearsal it jammed solid. I left my desk and took a look at it, diagnosed a loose nut behind the wheel, tightened it (at the expense of a square half-millimeter of skin on my thumb, which cost me the last band-aid in my wallet - must remember to get more) and rehearsal went on.

But guess what. Every rehearsal was the same. Eventually Chris and I spent our entire lunch break examining its workings and thought we had found its secrets. A few quick ground rules and it was all working - for a couple of rehearsals. Then a bushing broke. Who makes a bushing out of timber??? Funny thing is, it seemed to work better that way... way too much play in the motion gear of course, but we're not at that advanced level of engineering here.

So, another half a lunch break later we had some new ground rules and everything was going to go fine. Then Diana said the chip in the flywheel looked terrible. OK that's fine, I can repair a chip with masking tape and paint, I've done it heaps of times. No wait, we don't have any paint. How about a couple of flipchart markers? There's one black and one green. Plus we have a Papermate Profile 1.0RT in black, and as we know, pens have more intense ink than markers. We have to recreate a darkish black-brown with a black stripe through it. Well Dave G and Trevor D, stand up and take a bow because you taught me well. Once repaired I had to specifically point it out before it was noticed - not only by Diana by also by Paul who owned the thing.

To put masking tape on the rim of the wheel we had to move the wool aside. That apparently stretched it which interfered with the motion again. Why? Because it was one strand of wool wrapped around several times, and had been broken for ages and nobody had noticed. Stretching it was the straw that broke the camel's back, if I'm not mixing my metaphors. Luckily, even though we didn't have a prop-and-set workshop on hand (I can't tell you how much I've come to rely on a steady supply of pencils, access to tools, random bits of timber, scenery from old shows and all the rubbish that clutters up the Scenery Store) we did have costume people on hand. A short piece of wool to tie the two ends together? Certainly, here's a whole bag of offcuts, what colour would you like? Two knots later, and Chris's leatherman to snip off the excess, and we were in business. A few revolutions to even out the tension and the mechanism was doing what it always should.

Sudden thought - that offcut from the offcut, could we use it as a spring washer? Go ahead and laugh, but if we wrap it round the bolt and screw the nut on tight it should increase the friction, maybe just enough to stop it from working loose! It seemed to work, for a good while. Let's leave it there for a few rehearsals and see. Ground rules? What ground rules? They just keep changing.

The rest of the Saga of the Spinning Wheel is really an anti-climax - except that poor Phoebe was nervous about it jamming at the crucial moment so she relied heavily on Chris to make sure it was in good working order. This, folks, is how you make a name for yourself while working backstage.

Well, after that gripping tale of woe how can we go on to the sagas of the other props? Put a seal on the dispatch, says Diana. Where to get a seal from? I think I've told this one before, about there being no Officeworks in this underprivileged continent. Chris managed to get some thick oil paint, which was recommended for its ability to stand up off the paper like wax. Unlike Alice I've never learned anything about fainting in coils, so I put out an SOS on Facebook. I would have thought at least one person would be able to help... oh well.

I took a different colour and made a round blob on a piece of scrap paper. As I finish this post on Friday it still isn't dry... I'm used to paint which dries in 20 minutes (with adequate temperature and ventilation). What shall we do?

Chris thought of glad wrap over the top of it, but I could go one better - invisible tape, squashed down hard to eliminate the whiteness. Much easier to apply. As a bonus it wouldn't reflect light.

Just one more prop to look after. Kate's tablet (an iPad 0, not a medicinal one) was covered in mathematical formulas, and Diana wanted it to be writing instead. Having black paint in the set of oils Chris painted it - but as we have already found out it didn't dry in time. So he had to go find a mini blackboard instead. White out was cheaper than chalk and safer (chalk would rub off, all over delicate costumes most likely) so all that remained was to somehow include the Savoynet @ symbol in the text. Watch the DVD and see if you can spot it. ;)

Props - sorted. And not a moment too soon. My stage management list - items being ticked off faster than new items being added. Which is good, kinda.

So, for the benefit of the OCD "sufferers" among us, this is the close of the parenthesis. I now return you to the chronological story of the rehearsals held on the 68th anniversary of the attack on Hiroshima.

The lighting designer was in attendance, so we spent every possible break writing cues into my score. How many cues, you ask? A thundering lot! The last one was LX96, but there were at least two "point five" cues when a number was accidentally allocated twice, and the opening of each act had quite a few decimals too. I can't remember much about Orpheus (except that 26, 26.1, 26.2 and 27 were the thunder and lightning for Pluto's transformation) but I'm fairly sure this is the first time I've been in a show that has broken the ton. This is going to be amazing.

Quite a few of the cues and stand-bys are inside a repeat bar, which makes things a bit complicated, because I have to write all of "Stand by LX56 (2nd time only)" in my score, AND read and parse all that in the middle of the show. Luckily my score is a new layout, very clearly printed and with enough space between musical systems for all the notes I need. Normally I try to avoid putting cues inside repeat bars (which meant a few of the stand-bys in Ruddigore were a smidge short) but this time it was unavoidable.

Lunch. Video chat with my favourite Geisha. That's always good for calming the nerves - not that my nerves need calming, no of course not! Still it's nice to have them calmed.

Incidentally, video chat was over 3G - my phone's portable hotspot. I'm on a plan which has a month's unlimited usage! And since the wifi at the rehearsal place (part of Derby University's facilities) is a bit of a pain to use, lots of people are asking me if they can connect too. What's the password? Thanks. Why did you pick that? Because on my last laptop that key was dodgy so I changed the password to avoid using it. Makes sense!

Afternoon rehearsal, calling the lighting cues to the lighting designer. The cast are obviously saving their voices, which is good, but that coupled with the fact that we've already done the show once today makes it feel like a Saturday evening show after a big dinner and a few glasses - the crew are allowed to fall asleep between cues. Not literally of course (too many cues for that) but that was how it felt.

At the end of rehearsal we had to get all our stuff out of the place - props and costume stacked in one room ready for tomorrow's bump-in, masking tape off the floor, chairs and tables packed away, personal belongings back to their owners... it all takes time.

After all that I didn't feel up to going to the show. An early night and staying warm couldn't do my nose any harm, and I needed it to be on top form for tomorrow.

And this is where we leave our hero, bravely hiding in his bed. Don't forget to tune in for the next exciting episode, which will start with a bump on the head.

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