Site visits

Yesterday Sarah-Jane and I combined the delivery of the last bits of print with a couple of site visits to venues. First up as we traveled through torrential rain Eastbound on the M25 was Harpenden Public Halls. This is one of the bigger sized venues we are taking the show to. They were setting up for an antiques auction when we arrived but we got to have a good look around on stage and back stage. Opened in the 1938 there are some nice echoes and a warm feeling of history to the Eric Morecambe Hall. (This feeling of history was maybe perhaps accentuated by the various antiques being laid out in the auditorium). We’ve never had a stage curtain situation before and I’m not quite sure yet how we will technically do the bits of projection for the show so I will need to have a little think about that over the next weeks.

Harpenden Public Halls (Never before have we had so much wing space)

We then went on to the Riverhouse Arts Centre in Walton-on-Thames. It’s a really lovely place with a great programme of events and activities.

Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre (Audience + Paper Tom goes in here)

It was lovely to get out to have a look around these venues prior to our performances and lovely to meet the people behind the scenes and the emails. Hopefully we can visit some more over the next few weeks before rehearsals start.

Squinting towards the future

Time for me to make a contribution to the blog. I’ve decided to come out to the National Theatre café to write this entry and I shall explain why…

As I mentioned before, I’m not a natural writer – so I’ve decided to put myself ‘in role’ to try and get this bad boy written. I’ve come to the National Theatre café with the idea of assuming the identity of one of those arty/theatre-ry people that can often be seen here who, without hesitation/procrastination, sit tip-tapping away on their MacBooks with only a latte for company looking all intellectual, creative, and cool. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not really carrying it off not least because… 1) I don’t have a Mac (don’t like them and can’t use them) 2) I’m all squinty as my glasses broke the other day and I don’t have the money and/or time to get new ones sorted out just yet – so It’s squint or wear my prescription sunglasses inside the NT café… BUT… I’m about 180 words further along in writing this blog entry than I have been for the last eight weeks so I think it’s had the desired effect – although the fear of coming out with the one remaining working computer is also a driving factor of coming home with this blog ready to upload.

We’ve suffered a few challenges over at Handheld Arts recently – technical and otherwise. Alex managed to bring this netbook back from the dead after it threw a wobbler but the other 3 laptops and one PC that we have in the house are all in various states of decay which is not ideal when we are swamped by lots of admin based tasks at present and will shortly need to update the visual media for the show.

We also had the news that Ilana has decided not to join us for the Autumn tour, which comes as part of her wider decision to give up the whole theatre thing as, with turning 30, her imminent nuptials and the mooring to be paid on the boat that she owns – theatre just hasn’t provided her with the right ratio of effort to financial reward. Maybe in another company this declaration would have caused what I think is called a ‘shit-storm’, but the fact is I think we completely understood where she was coming from. I often used to think about how great it would be to finally be at the stage as a company/theatre maker where I would be off rehearsing and then touring our work – and part of those thoughts about touring included the idea that if I was touring our work then it would mean I was making my living out of doing Handheld Arts – ‘living the dream’ – if you like. Well, touring the show and receiving funding from the Arts Council England to do the show this year is a dream come true – the reality is that the wages I receive from this tour won’t reflect the hours and money that have gone into getting Paper Tom to this point. Sometimes, having to choose between having the central heating fixed and sorting out the plumbing for the sink so that I’m no longer in a position where I’m cleaning my teeth via the bath tap this December whilst wearing a minimum of three layers, and paying for your accommodation in Edinburgh (and needing to choose the later because you’ve already paid the venue and the fringe registration fee) takes it’s psychological toll on you and how you feel about wanting to make theatre as a career.

I was originally going to do a blog about the five and a half hour long chat Alex and I had with Ilana after hearing about her decision to not do the show. I’d thoughts of calling it “Breaking up is hard to do” and talk about the totally clichéd break-up moment that came at the end of that long chat where we all laughed together, got frustrated about the challenge of it all together, got depressed together and then just generally felt a little bit lost about all this theatre/life lark before we concluded with Ilana giving Alex and I an invitation to her wedding and me a box of chocolates (for my birthday) before I handed over a bag of her things that I had found at my house. It contained items from various visits and shows that she’d come over to make – a tupperware box, a tea cup and saucer, a pair of jeans, a top, some tracksuit bottoms, a pair of pyjamas – a toothbrush and some CDs and the cliché would have been complete. Having had a bit more time to think about it all though (and procrastinate – it is writing after all!), it seems that whilst breaking up is hard to do, it can prove even harder to stay together and keep going.

With this in mind I’m wondering how Alex and I will be feeling at the end of this process. We’re already beginning to feel quite overwhelmed at the moment and often find ourselves wondering whether Handheld Arts are at the beginning of something great or the end of it – I imagine only time and tour will tell us that. I think I’m managing to stay positive about it all though (it might not look that way from the face I’m pulling at the moment – it’s getting dark outside now which has intensified my squinting and left no room for the sunglasses option to see to get this finished) as I know what an achievement it is and how pleased we are to have made it this far with the labour of love show that is Paper Tom. To be taking it to the venues that we are, is something I was only able to imagine a year ago.

There is certainly an opportunity to feel positive about the challenge of taking on a bigger role in the performance by doubling up my part of Lucy with the character of Rachel (formerly played by Ilana). I’m usually very much an ‘ensemble’ style performer within shows – and I’m really happy with that. I l like to be a part of shows in performance but for me the real challenge, thrill and joy of performance is in its creation. I’ve always felt fortunate to be involved as a performer (and often musician) in shows that I was in – but not so in it that I wasn’t able sample a little of what the audience were getting from watching it (or maybe I’m just greedy and want to have my cake and eat it).

We met with our actors the other day to measure for costumes and to have a read through of the script to see how it worked with me playing both female characters, and it was fine. I didn’t really feel too weird if I’m honest – but I think that’s because it hasn’t really sunk in that I’ll be doing all female ‘acting’ bits now. It just felt like I was reading in, keeping Ilana’s seat warm. I imagine at the moment that it will only sink in at the start of the first show when I turn to do the special warm up ritual that Ilana and I had developed between ourselves for just us girls (it consisted of a rhythmic slapping/clapping rhyme, a chest bump and then a quick sniff of a vicks inhaler) and she won’t be there.

Pre Production Work

Part of this blog is to show that making a show is not just rehearsals & performances – there’s loads of different tasks that need doing to support the production. Boxing up publicity to send to venues is one of those things.

There’s an art to packing up all the different quantities of print. I think we might be closest to Mondrian in our approach.

Boxed up & ready to go!

It’s also time to start sourcing, collecting and replenishing props for the upcoming performances. Anyone who knows the show will understand why the offer below caught my eye. (If you happen to be reading this and haven’t seen the show it’s still a Eccellente deal you might want to take advantage of…)

Ambassador, with these half price Rocher, you’re really spoiling us