Learning Lines Like A Boss

I’m learning lines again.
Autumn season is upon us and that means another splendid production by The Canterbury Players is around the corner. Which means I get to force people to pay money to pay attention to me. Yay! Having appeared in a smasher of a show at The Marlowe Studio in the summer, I was offered the role off Hannah in Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece, Arcadia, which will play at The Gulbenkian from 4th to 7thNovember and is directed by lovely Becky aka Miscriant.
Ahhhh Stoppard. Stoppard.
Oh Christ, I’ve just realised something…….he’s good, isn’t he?

I mean, like, really good. Like, Shakespeare good. Like all his words actually mean something. The kind of words that help the people in the audience on tenuous dates to have sex with each other because the script composition is so witty and so brilliant that you feel like nothing in your life that will ever be as beautiful or as beguiling so you may as well just have sex because you sort of know you’re good at that and why not just attempt to be okay at something for 15mins?

Yes, that level of good.
This is Ben’s script because I left mine in a car.
And I wrote a phone number on it when I couldn’t find a pad.
I think it’s the number for Port Lympne Reserve. Visit it, it’s nice

Arcadia is indeed a masterpiece, intertwining literature, sex, thermo-dynamics, gardening, academia with his usual biting humour and yes, blah blah blah the words the words are wonderful, well I HAVE TO LEARN THEM OKAY?!

But it’s okay, I’ve developed a fool proof system of notes. Some of you dear readers may be amateur thesps yourselves, or perhaps you harbour a secret desire to tread the boards.
Well to help you on your way, I’ve decided to share some of my private script notes – my method, if you will – so you might learn from my experience.

 

 Acting is about knowing when to act. It’s important to remind yourself of this.

You will need to be on stage almost every time that your character is on stage. It’s best to hover by the wings, making sure that you don’t go on without you.

 Physical acting can be challenging and confusing.

I should have learned the dates earlier because I sure as hell haven’t been saying these ones. I swear, I think at some point I said ‘1732 to 1485’ in rehearsal. 


 Yep, lots more of that.

Oh Jesus, that’s a lot of words. Ohhhhhhh I should really look these people up.

And also look inquisitive. Look and speak inquisitively when asking questions. And yell. Always yell questions. 

In all seriousness, here are some actual am dram tips. (If you’re a pro, go way you’re getting paid get back to your script and your roasted swan)
TAKE AWAY THE SAFETY NET
Try putting your script down sooner than you’d like, and lose the prompt (if you have one) for a couple of rehearsals close to curtain up. It feels uncomfortable, but it’s supposed to. If your lines are not in your head and others are waiting for their cues, it’s painful. But one thing that’s sure to make me learn my lines is the fear of looking unprofessional in front of others

TAKE STOCK
Reread everything YES THAT INCLUDES THE BITS YOU AREN’T IN. All too often we focus solely on our own roles. You can’t let that shit fly. Every character, every scene, informs on the next, and you better know it inside out. That’s why it’s a play.

TAKE A LESSON FROM HOPKINS
You can never know your lines enough. It’s an old acting cliche that you have to know who your character is, inside and out, but the reason it’s hammered home so often if that it’s not an easy job.
Anthony Hopkins reportedly examined his lines up to 200 times until he didn’t even have to think about ‘saying a line’ any more. He just knew his character completely.
Are you better than Anthony Hopkins? ARE YOU?
AND FINALLY…
NEVER, EVER FORGET YOUR LINES. Not for one second. Every horrifying feeling you have about the world collapsing if you forget a line is true: if you drop a line you’re AWFUL and the world will burn and people will laugh at you. What kind of person can’t even learn a words without having to hold an itty bitty piece of paper to help them?!! LEARN YOUR DAMN LINES.
…….Oh I kid, I kid! You’ll be fine, tiny darlings. Acting is not that scary really.

Want to SEE me act? Come and see Arcadia in Canterbury this November – we promise it will have all the acting you could imagine. 
Book here please

What happens when you direct a play (for the first time)

This post was written on the opening night of my directorial debut with The Canterbury Players in June 2014.

A while ago, I wrote about hay fever. But now I am going to write about Hay Fever. No, not the ailment that’s killing me slowly via the nose. I mean the thing that’s probably going to kill me by way of a bunch of people kicking me to death while shouting “is it stage left or right, you silly bint?!!”

Yes, tiny darlings. I am directing a play. Namely, Hay Fever by the one and only Noel Coward, and it starts tonight (Thurs 26th June) at The Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury.

Excuse me a moment while I vomit profusely from gut wrenching nerves.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman

First, some background. As you may know, I am an amateur thesp. Yes. Oh yes I am. I’ve been a member of a few am dram groups for the past few years, but The Canterbury Players takes up most of my acting time as they are both prolific in their productions and a jolly nice bunch of people. I’m pleased to call many of them good friends*

This is, however, the first time I’ve been asked to actually run a show. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity, and a great play to boot. Plus it’s being staged in the theatre of my former university.

Excuse me again………………….Okay…okay, I think that’s the last of it.

I first saw Hay Fever performed in London in the early 1990s, and loved it from start to finish. The production was outlandish, camp and slick, and it stayed with me for years afterwards. No new version that I have seen since has ever lived up to that initial, side-splitting production. True, the play itself does not really have much of a plot – a family of dramatic bohemians invite some guests to their country home, and hilarious social awkwardness ensures. But it revolves around rich, strong comic characters, who need to be larger than life without descending into hammy farce. Done right, it’s a masterpiece of wit, whimsy and comic timing.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman

One night, at a committee meeting for the Players, we thesps were trying to decided on a suitable summer show for the group. I piped up that Hay Fever would be perfect and then, for some unknown reason, found myself saying: “I’m happy to help direct it!”

Oh God, hang on, there’s more….I better eat some bread or something, I’m think I just threw up  a lung…

So it came to pass that I took on the job of directing the show, assisted by my good friend Kasia as assistant director (AD) and Nick G as stage manager. 

Three mad months later, and we finally have a show. I write this an hour before curtain goes up for the first time, but I dare not spoil the fun for you and use this post to talk about the show.

But what I can do, in the meantime and to distract me from vomiting, is share what I have learned during my first stint as an amdram director.

Well….well obviously this isn’t proper directors’ advice, as I am not experienced enough to tell anyone what to do. But I can give you The Demon Gin take on what expect…

You will lose 10 weeks of your life
Once rehearsals start, that’s it. You now live and breathe the play, and no amount of gin will block it out. If you think you can fit it around all your other hobbies and be totally laid back and casual, you are WRONG. It will consume you. You can’t move for the amount of directing and planning you have to do, and you have to be awake for almost all of it.

You won’t have thought of half the things you were supposed to
Midway through rehearsals, when the cast seem happy and comfortable, the horror questions come. “Aren’t I suppose to be using a soda siphon here?” “How are we actually going to smoke on stage?” “Do we actually have a grand piano for this scene, as it is referenced several times?”

I was asked every one of these questions. My general response was to smile, nod, and say “don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s all taken care of.”

Ten minutes later, I was on the phone to my AD while simultaneously trying to make a soda siphon out of shoe and a hose, screaming: “How do we get a fucking PIANO on the stage?! And can any of us even play one? Oh God and we’ve got to have fags too – can we smoke on stage now, is that allowed? I don’t care, fire proof EVERYTHING!”

This is why you need a good stage manager and assistant director. They will help you to remember things you haven’t thought of, and will talk you down from the chandelier.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, gulbenkian
Nick and Kasia, playing with the set. For God’s sake, hammer something!!!
The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman
The finished set
The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman
Obligatory set beer


You’ll forget the things you did think of
Me on phone: “Hello? You know those costumes we hired from your lovely shop?…..was I supposed to collect those?….I was. Good. Good……uh…..can I get them now? Yes I know it’s 6am and I’ve been ringing your doorbell for an hour, but I just thought I’d double check.”

You start to suspect you have an ulcer
Even on calm, peaceful, problem-free shows, you are still working around the clock (if you have a day job too) and juggling many tasks. Then, one day, you wake up and your stomach is doing acidic somersaults. You spend your days chucking Rennie into your mouth like peanuts, muttering “it’s an ulcer, it’s got to be an ulcer, this show is eating me from the inside.”

No you big big freak, it’s not an ulcer. It’s because you’ve been existing on a diet of biscuits, chocolate, caffine and red wine due to you having no time to cook any more. Your gut is crying out for spinach.

You have a lot of big ideas that never come to fruition

In those heady, early days when people are merrily reading and blocking scenes, and there’s a full eight weeks to go, you have some pretty outlandish ideas of how to make the show pop and boost ticket sales. “I think we should do an entire dinner event in the cafe before each show,” you cry, Malbec flying from your glass as you gesticulate. “We’ll all dress up, and we’ll serve themed food, and there’ll be a band! And dancers! And a quiz!”

Three weeks before show, one of your crew asks about the pre-show event plans and you throw a cat in their face while chewing on a cigarette. “Screw that, no time, do I look like I have the time? There’s no fucking time for anything!”

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury
Backstage, pondering
The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, gulbenkian
Trying to make a garden makes Kasia coy. And blurry

You volunteer to make things when you really shouldn’t

“Now,” you reassure the cast. “Get what accessories you can, and I am going to make some extras at home.” You have visions of creating gorgeous flapper head bands and head scarves dazzled with plumes and jewels.

Your efforts will ultimately end up looking like an ostrich died on a bit of dressing gown chord from being pelted with sequins.

You WILL go to the shops and buy replacements, and speak no more about what came before.

You will flip out

At some point, something small will go wrong and it will set you off completely. Your stage manager calls to tell you that you might not have enough matching cups and saucers, and he later finds you in a canoe, paddling yourself across a small lake near Chilham and muttering “I’m sailing to France, I’m sailing to France”

Just try to keep it together in rehearsals.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, gulbenkian
Director enjoying a smoothie. I’ve clearly lost my mind

You get vicious about ticket sales

When you are on stage, it’s nice to know lots of people are in the audience looking at you being brilliant, but it isn’t the end of the world if it’s a quiet night. You’re there to have fun and to enjoy your art.

As a director, every empty seat looms over you in your dreams. Our group is popular, but it’s rare that we ever sell out (especially in the summer). Yet it’s your show, and every unsold seat begins to represent a colossal failure by you to present an appealing night out.

Soon, all ticket sales become personal. You call up people you haven’t seen for years, you message people for a chat and a hard sell, you grab strangers in the street and shout “go and see my show”. Anyone who doesn’t attend you assume hates you, and has always hated you, and is just jealous of your success.

Remember that sometimes, a smaller audience is better than a big one. Not in terms of money, or credibility….but intimate crowds often laugh the loudest at comedies, and it gives the cast a reall boost.

And for the love of GOD, make sure everyone off staff has at least eight wines in the interval.

You swear this will be your last show for several months

It never is.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman

******

A few serious words about the show, before lights go up and you all get to bask in the glory of my directorial debut.

The cast features people I’ve worked with before and newcomers, including the beau that I oft mention in this here blog. Honestly, I could not have asked for more better actors – there is not a weak link amongst them**, and that is a rare thing in am dram. Everyone has mucked in, brought props and costume ideas, worked late and remained sane while I snapped about lines. They have made their characters their own, and are an utter joy to watch. Such talent deserves your praise.

Thank you Caron, Matt, Sally, Mike, Ben***, Tim, Ellie, Nathalie, and Tessa  from the bottom of my heart and the middle of my kidneys.

Secondly, the show’s backstage crew have been outstanding. My incredible stage manager Nick and my amazing assistant director Kasia are both highly talented, innovative and considerate professionals, and without them I would not have had nearly as much fun. Thanks must also go to the ever resourceful set designers and builders Derek and Stephen, who saved us from a near disaster when our original set plans fell through and have created a truly stunning home for the actors.

Final thanks to all the people who have helped out so willingly – prop wrangler Sally P, costumer Alanna, lovely LX designer Emma and operator Jack, the tireless backstage crew Beth and Jasmine, and fearless front of house Sarah, Sally E, Kat Jim, Jill and Tony.

My unlimited love to y’all.



The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman
Da cast and da crew

*To their face that is. Behind their backs, I say terrible, godless things.
** I’ve just been told by the cast that I have used the words ‘there isn’t a weak link amongst you!’ about 50 times. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, apart from ‘please don’t screw up’
***I’m thanking him even though he had to shave for the role and I don’t much care for him clean shaven.

Why You Should Never Wear Anything On Stage

I’m one third of the way through the run of The Canterbury Players latest production – Hobson’s Choice, in case I haven’t screamed this enough.

I may have previously mentioned that I was going lose an extra 5lbs before opening night.

This was because my character is required to wear Victorian dress, and because my chest was not pleased about it.
I was all cocky in the costume shop, having tried on several outfits that either swamped me or refused to even think about fastening over my heaving bosom. Finally, I found a pretty lilac number that looked just the ticket. But it was a little…snug. The director expressed concern…
Director: “Are you sure it isn’t too tight? You have to act in it for a long time, you know.”
Me: “Pfft, it’ll be fine! It just about fits me and I can easily shed a few pounds before the show for comfort’s sake. It’s only tight now because I’m massively hung over and bloated from beer.”
Director: “Oooookay. You’re really sure?”
Me: “Come on, I just lost 20lbs! I can lose another 5lb easily.”
Well I DIDN’T, okay?! I didn’t, I spectacularly didn’t and now my costumes are trying to kill me. I didn’t gain any weight and I’m still the thinnest I’ve been in ages, but that is little consolation when you are gasping for breath and listening to buttons and ribs snap with every miniscule movement. We’re talking boned jackets, pinched waists and sleeves so tight that if someone held a gun to my head and said “do the YMCA now”, I would be fated to die.

Just look at what I (and Becky) have to wear! LOOK!

Hobson's Choice, The Canterbury Players, Whitstable Playhouse (The Demon Gin)

Don’t look

Even Hobson himself is horrified.
Hobson's Choice, The Canterbury Players, Whitstable Playhouse (The Demon Gin)
None of you will notice my pain should you see me on stage; I’m a woman, I’ve been acting like clothes are comfortable on me since I was 9. But behind the scenes is a different matter. Dress changes are normally an ordered civilized affair, but everyone else’s calm has been violently disrupted by me hurtling into the (mixed) dressing room muttering “fuck it fuck it fuck it” as I fling corsets and rip skirts from my abused body.

But it’s not all bad on the physical front, costume torture aside; I get to pin my hair into pretty curls like a real live girl. I might keep this look for a night out, and when I am in need of sweets that I don’t wish to pay for.

Hobson's Choice, The Canterbury Players, Whitstable Playhouse (The Demon Gin)
Hobson's Choice, The Canterbury Players, Whitstable Playhouse (The Demon Gin) 

You’ll see from the picture that this is one of the few shows in which I get to act with the beau (can you see how happy he is about it?).

Not only do we share the stage, but we also play a couple. Which means beau will do his scary ‘romantic’ face (smiling with VERY wide eyes), and I will have to fight the urge to be sick on his shoes.

Hobson's Choice, The Canterbury Players, Whitstable Playhouse (The Demon Gin)

Gracious!

In truth this has, as ever, been a very enjoyable production to work on and the weeks of rehearsals, set building, and line-juggling have paid off, thanks to the very talented cast and crew. But let’s not forget the most important person in the show. Me. ME. I may not be (do the finger quotes) ‘the lead’, or ‘the director’ or ‘sober’, but don’t you forget for one minute that it’s ALL about me, up there, having to share the stage with Miscriant AND the beau and other people I just plain don’t like*.

So there’s still time, gentle readers, there is still time to come and see it! There’s still time, big shot movie director with nothing better to do, to come to The Whitstable Playhouse and see Harold Brighouse’s much ad’mired comedy brought to life. There is still time to muse out loud “good GOD that woman’s curls looks amazing. I shall have her for me’ next film, and for me’ wife!”

A night at the theatre will soothe your soul.

Hobson's Choice, The Canterbury Players (The Demon Gin)

By the way, it’s more than likely that a door will open at some point when it isn’t supposed to and the whole audience will see at least one actor scratching themselves. Just go with it, it’s am dram. 

*I do like them really**

**I DON’T