Monday, June 15, 2009

Theatre, Dahling... Part One

I've always wanted to write a theatrical memoir. Something spicy and profound, full of reflections on The Seagull yet enlivened by gossip, rumour and the more genitally-focused exploits of the celebrity set.

("Richard? Are you there?" I called out. I only half-expected an answer even if he was in residence. The sun, after all, was well over the yard-arm, and I knew for a fact that several dusty bottles of Merlot had been delivered to him with his morning paper. Following a perfunctory knock, I opened the door to his dressing room and peered inside. There he was, oblivious to my arrival, feverishly buggering a stuffed elephant which had been left for him by an admirer.)

You know the sort of thing.

The closest I'd come to treading the boards before this week had been a rather disastrous audition when I was 18. My agent at the time - an entirely mad woman who had survived cancer and discovered Jesus - was fairly good at procuring extra work and small speaking roles for her coterie, but often we were sent out for things for which we were entirely unsuitable, and - in my case - wholly unprepared.

She sent me - at 18 - to read for the part of Felix Unger in a stage production of "The Odd Couple". Now, I adore Neil Simon (apart from his traditional greeting, whereby he grabs you by the testicles and refuses to let go until you recite the entire opening scene from Lost in Yonkers - See! I'd be brilliant at this) but even I know that an 18-year-old Canadian with appalling taste in sweaters was unlikely to be the director's first choice for the role.

Eventually, however, songwriting began to edge out everything else and between that and my move to England, the dream of an acting career slowly fizzled.

Also, I think - especially when trying to establish oneself - you can only really concentrate on one career at a time. I don't think I could have handled rejection from both the acting and musical communities. This is also why I could never be a full-time bisexual.

However, it always lingered in the back of my mind. I wanted to prove that I could still act, if given the opportunity.

About four or five months ago, feeling a little spent (in every possible way) by the making of Toothpick Bridge I received an email from Mr. Garland at our old label, Pink Box Records saying that a theatre company were casting for The Full Monty and wouldn't it be funny if I went along...

At the time, I was concentrating on putting deals in place to get the album out properly, which primarily consisted of endless emails and phone calls - hardly the most creative aspect of my job. I was restless, and felt I needed to spread my wings a little.

So I went, I auditioned (badly, frankly) and, much to my surprise, was cast in one of the smaller roles of Teddy Slaughter, obnoxious new boyfriend of the lead's ex-wife. This soon blossomed into several other small roles throughout the show.

Of course, whenever you think you have time on your hands, life conspires to disabuse you of the notion and, within a few weeks of starting rehearsals, I found myself with an album and single coming out in August, a week-long run of a musical at Curve, five charity concerts in which I would sing and dance, a six-part radio series for the Internet to write and act in and a job writing lyrics for one of my teenage heroes. Amongst other projects and co-writes which required, if not my attention, at least for me to glance in the right direction from time to time. Sleep was no longer an option.

I learned a lot from doing Monty. Not least of which was my seeming inability to say the words "show" or "block" in an American accent (this being the Broadway version of the story, relocated to Buffalo, NY). As I was the only North American in the cast, this was, of course, a matter of some amusement (and undoubtedly frustration) to our brilliant directory, Greg Pichery.

I enjoyed being directed. I kind of enjoyed being shouted at when I screwed up as well. Mr. Pichery has a way of castigating you that leaves you with the definite impression that he doesn't want you to show yourself up. Unlike another person I've worked with recently who clearly only cares that you don't make them look bad. But that's a story for Part Two.

It has been an absolute blast, however. I'm sure I'll expand on this soon enough, but off the top of my head, some highlights.

We even met the Mayor, which makes two Mayors I've been presented to now, one Italian and one English. (Although on the Italian occasion I was much more impressed to have performed for Angus Deayton.)

I ad-libbed on one line in the first show - which was basically a dress rehearsal to 800 people, considering we only had a day and a half to stage the bloody thing - and deserved a slap from the lead actor that he was too kind to deliver.

I studied the script intently until I and my on-stage girlfriend had worked out exactly when we could disappear from stage for a smoke without being missed.

I discovered orange boiler suits are possibly the least sexy costume of all time. Unless you are George Clooney in Out of Sight, which of course I am not.

And I danced. Oh, how I danced. I danced like I've done before. In time, and without falling over. And I invented a cha-cha-cha head flick that will live in the memories of all who were unfortunate to witness it.

I've got nothing but good to say about the entire company. By closing night, we were really putting on a SHOW. (I typed that in an American accent, Greg, just so you know.)

I shall check back in later with more reflections on my sojourn in Theatreland, but I've just had an email requesting back-story on The Adult Tree EP's cover and, frankly, I really need to sling a guitar back around my neck and return to my real job.

Oh, but then there was the charity concert... Oh dearie me. No, no. Still a story for another time.


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