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Monday, February 28

I think it's fair to say that this Monday started ridiculously early. I had to drop my companion off at the airport at very early o'clock and despite drinking plenty of coffee I was very tired. It had been a flying visit, and I mean that in the sense of its brevity, rather than the fact that it was made possible via the gift of Easyjet.

I don't really know exactly what happened during the rest of the day. I suppose I must have gone to work. In fact, I know I did. I sat at my desk and did the whole work thing. I was, finally, free of musicals. This was a blessing. I had really had enough of them... well, of course I haven't. I'm musical-obsessed Ashley. I can't get enough of them. However, my voice was still a little rough and I was quite physically tired and I had also reached the end of my interest in the particular productions I'd been working on since September.

So, a bit of work and then a bit of going home. That was the Monday which was the end of mad-musicals month. Surely I wasn't going to get myself all wound up about musicals again in a hurry? Well... actually... yes. There was a lot of preparation to get into for The Musical!. I'd sold a respectable number of tickets for the show already, but I needed to sell more and I needed to get some publicity done... probably. This week could have been spent doing all of that. It wasn't. On this particular Monday, I went home and relaxed after work.

Sunday, February 27

After much rest and relaxation, we took a trip to the Angel View Inn which is situated opposite the Angel of the North. The plan was to satusfy our luncheon requirements and then brave the harsh Gateshead February air while viewing the aforementioned sculpture at close quarters. Lunch was very pleasant; I have no idea exactly what we ate, except that it was Sunday lunch and included a kidney dish of seasonal vegetables. To be perfectly honest it is not always of vital importance to the storytelling to include exact restaurant order details.

I can confirm that the wintery air was indeed very wintery, causing us to spend no longer than necessary in the company of Antony Gormley's effigy to himself which stands boldly embracing the A1. If the winter air hadn't been a deterant then some of the filthy looks I was getting from other visitors to this site would have been enough to keep it a short visit. My companion was blessed with a youthful appearance, which made me seem like I, with my less than youthful appearance, had taken to borrowing school children. Untrue, perhaps, but no one likes to be scorned.

The rest of the day is a haze of relaxation but I believe the late night viewing of the DVD of Little Shop of Horrors was one mentionable highlight. There was also ice-cream.

Saturday, February 26

Whoopsie. I accidently forgot to blog for over six weeks. This is awfully naughty of me and I have received complaints. Given that this is a free service provided by me for me (well, maybe I know people read it and write it as though there's an audience, though I still maintain that it's written for my own purposes, rather than to satisfy the masses), I feel under no obligation to satisfy any complainants. However I would like to record some of the more interesting events of the last few weeks and will now do so retrospectively. In usual style the most interesting events may well be replaced with the most trivial.

The 26th was the last day of South Pacific. By this stage, my throat was failing to work and I was expecting to have two miserable failures at my prized solo line in Nothing Like A Dame. In an attempt to rectify matters I bought some hot honey and lemon stuff. I was also provided with some Sanderson's throat specific - This is a highly nasty chemical remedy/concotion which smells like old chemistry labs from school. Apparently you gargle with it and it makes you better. I wasn't sure whether you were meant to swallow it. I swallowed it the first time and found that it really doesn't sit well in the stomach. Between the matinee and the evening performance I used it again and found spitting to be a preferable option, but it will never be a taste sensation.

Drugged and chemicalled up I croaked my way through the matinee. Between shows I sat in the bar eating a hearty quantity of shop-bought sandwiches and reading The Goal, which is sort of a novel but is actually a business textbook. Surely my life couldn't have looked more pathetic; overeating nasty Morrison's sandwiches, doing some work reading and feeling slight excited that I'd bought my first packet of nappy wipes, those delightfully moistened cleansing friends that are ideal for removing stage make up. I had, up until this point, been borrowing similar wipes from other cast members and delighting in their effectiveness.

As it happens, my spirits were on the up as life really wasn't as pitiful as it looked. Though frustrated by my voice's failings, I was feeling otherwise okay. In addition I was in eager anticipation of a visit from a special person, who was due to arrive in the bar of the theatre, having travelled extensively to be there, at around the time the evening show finished. In addition to this addition, the show had gone well and a number of the cast seemed keen to come along and see the Newcastle show of The Musical!. All I needed to do was squeeze some sound out of my voice in the evening show and I would soon be in the post show glow.

As I remember it, the shows went very well that day and time did pass quickly. Almost before I knew it I had a black bag full of my random bits and bobs, and I was in the bar with my visitor. There had been some minor drama during the evening show, as texts I received just as it started suggested that the visitor may have missed vital connections, but the 'radio silence' that I fretted over as the evening show ran its course proved to be a sign that everything was going to plan.

We hung around in the bar until I had sold as many tickets as I was going to, done the appropriate quantity of backslapping, and the time seemed right for an exit.

An ex musical director of the society had commented thatit was a good rendition of South Pacific, but I was in no way sorry to see the show finish. It will never be one of my favourite shows. I think we did it justice. Anyway, I had a weekend of joy to enjoy with my recently arrived visitor; step one was to recuperate after the exertions of the previous week.

Friday, February 25

I'm a wreck
With my plans for January, February and March, my health was always going to be a risk factor. If I cannot maintain myself in tip-top condition, there's a possibility that I might get incredibly exhausted and totally unable to catch up... until April!

Sadly, as I sit here in the office at 8am on the first full day of my 32nd year, I feel like a total wreck. I'm in relatively good spirits, for some reason, but I'm physically washed up. I'm floppier than a floppy disk from planet flopsy. I'm hot, tired and my chest and throat are sore. I have a few muscular aches and I really want to curl up in a warm bed and hide, possibly with a hot woman or a hot water bottle.

Curling up and hiding is not an option. There are three more shows of South Pacific and the show must go on. Hopefully, I can find a clever method of getting my voice to work for my few lines here and there. If I had a solo that was higher up in my singing range, it would be a problem. The fact that it's a bass solo means that I should be able to rasp out something vaguely appropriate.

When I did Guys and Dolls I was quite calm in terms of stage nerves and getting to the cues on time, but I was also quite enthused about the show. I felt energetic and surrounded by an energetic cast, doing a show with real zing. South Pacific has a totally different vibe. It can be summed up by looking at the curtain call. We trundle on, singing a lack-lustre song (possibly the worst song of the show - "Honey Bun") and lean forward a few times. Last night the audience seemed to cheer us on for an extra bow or so, but I would hope that their cheers were reserved for the excellent lead cast members, rather than the supporting cast. The supporting cast (of which I am a member) is really quite laid back. There are some notable "numbers" which require some energy from the cast - "Nothing like a dame" and "Wash that man right outta my hair", but overall, it's a sauntering around the theatre sort of a show. It's very easy to feel the soporific effects of the pace of what's happening to us. Fair enough, it's a show of a milder time, but perhaps I prefer the high-energy high-pace shows.

Since I appear to have contracted (that's become infected by, rather than signing up) a mild case of flu, or a strong case of cold (whatever), my energy levels are basically shot. I'm almost relieved that we saunter around, I haven't got too much strength for anything else. I knew that doing a second show in February would be hard, so I can't complain. I suppose it's lucky that this isn't a running around show... though perhaps the running around might help me sweat this lurghi off.

Happy Birthday to me
I'm historically quite bad with birthdays. There are many reasons for this, and I think I made a good move by reclaiming my birthday last year to perform a gig on it - indeed, it was one of the highlights of my performing life. This year, I also stood on stage on my birthday (last night) and I had let slip to some of the cast that they would be seeing me turn 31 in front of their very eyes. Well, the ladies of the chorus decided to make a fuss of me and brought me a card and a wee chocolate muffin with a candle in it. They managed to time this for the moment of my lowest energy of the night, while I was sitting in a chair in the dressing room during the interval feeling like I could do with an early night. It's fair to say that I was perked up by their generosity. I may hint that the society I'm currently performing with are in some ways less impressive than the other society I work with. Maybe it's not fair to compare them. However, they are, for the most part, lovely people for whom I have a lot of time. Their "work ethic" is different, but we are performing a show together that audiences are enjoying. Overall, we look like a reasonable amateur society. I can think of worse societies and worse productions to be in, and perhaps I should be thankful. I will probably look back on this time fondly.

Anyway, following the show, I hit the bar where some of my pals from the Guys and Dolls cast were waiting to wish me a happy birthday and do the appropriate back-slapping. They seemed to have enjoyed the show, which is good. Perhaps I'm just the cynical critic. I was given a birthday card with my name spelt on the envelope as "Ashleigh", rather than my male-spelling of "Ashley" (I just realised that it's possible that some readers have no idea who I am). They'd initially spelled it correctly but had crossed it out and put the alternative as a joke after finding my name spelt the incorrect way in the program. It was very perceptive of them to make that joke, since they know I'm a pedant and that I will have noticed the inaccuracy and been somewhat peeved by it. I was pleased that they understood enough to make the joke. I am slightly niggled by the whole misspelling thing. The reason I'm not too bothered is that I'm too tired to really care and I have no illusions of my significance in this particular show. I'm there to help fill the stage, nothing more. Sadly, this misspelling seems to have been adopted by the more fastidious members of the society, who have checked the spelling of my name in the programme (to be sure to spell it right) and have then put this misspelling on various forms, papers etc, including the card I was given last night. I'm quick to notice these things (I am, after all, obsessed with text) but I'm not so ungracious as to point them out and offend people. I suppose it takes the shine off things a bit, but it's not the first time. I remember once being given a Christmas card by a young lady I felt something of a sparkle of attraction towards. At the time, I thought - "Hey, perhaps she might have a sparkle about me" - until I saw she'd misspelt my name. At that point, I came to the conclusion that if she cared about me in a way that I'd want her to, she'd have found out the correct spelling.

Yes. I am a dick. A 31 year old dick.

Hanging around the theatre didn't seem like an option, given that I was tired and in need of my bed. I was also due to host a fellow comedian, who had asked me for a bed for the night. Given that he'd actually bothered to ask, rather than take my offer of last time he was up as some sort of half-hearted "Oh you must stay (but don't)", I was keen to ensure that I kept my word. My spare bed is always available to comedians I have respect for (i.e. the ones that I get on with, rather than the ones that waste their time calling me a dick - that's my job). So I drove into Newcastle to wait for him to emerge from his gig. He had a night's accommodation and then he sheepishly woke me up at 7:20 this morning. Despite the fact that I'd told him that I sleep like the dead and that he'd have to work to wake me, he seemed rather reticent to make me get up. He had a train at 7:45 and the only way to get him to it was by car. I drove him into town, dropped him at the station and then came into the office early, giving me a chance to sit at my desk for a half hour or so feeling sorry for myself and mewling a bit (while writing this blog, which may be the text-equalivant of a mewling).

The weekend
There are three more shows of South Pacific. As soon as the last of these shows is over, I am going to do a bit of back slapping and then there's an appointment which involves my bed and a lot of warmth. I want a relaxing and lovely weekend in which to recharge. While this weekend will comprise nothing more than Sunday, I hope to make the most of that day and emerge, at the start of next week, in a cheery and energetic mood.

Despite all my moaning about energy and health, I am actually in a very contented mood. I have started my 32nd year with a great deal of optimism and I'm looking forward to making it a very happy year. I owe this in no small way to the people to whom I am close. If you are surrounded by people you adore, then you can't help but feel good.

Tuesday, February 22

Action packed weekend
The weekend was so action packed, I can only do justice to writing about some of its highlights. As usual, the order of the day involved meeting up with people and seeing or being involved with examples of the performing arts. The weekend was in two parts, the London part and the rest. While the tail end of the weekend was the definite low point, I would have to say that my experience in London was life affirming and joyous. It was hard to fit in a trip to London in between two rehearsals for South Pacific, but I did it and life wouldn't have been as rich if I hadn't.

I set off for the big smoke in plenty of time. I had a leisurely cruise down the A1 and M1, stopping the car at the location where I spent this Christmas. I even had time for tea and chat with the person whose bed I stole for Christmas (he was not around at that time, but was using his bed this weekend). Luckily, my accommodations were sorted out elsewhere; I'd intended to find time to relax in style during the hectic weekend. Well, if you can't enjoy a bit of self-indulgence, what can you enjoy?

Having finished the tea and the chatting, I headed off to my lodgings and sorted myself out. I returned to the streets of London in time to visit a shop that should be my spiritual home - Dress Circle on Monmouth Street. I'm pleased to report that I had already bought something from this shop in the past - online. Visiting this emporium of all things musicals related was quite an eye opener. I was pleased to see that some of their obscurer musicals were in my collection (everyone likes to feel that they're in on some sort of secret) but I was absolutely amazed by the sheer breadth of stuff they had. I chatted to the guy who ran the place about the final night of Jerry Springer The Opera the anticipation of which had me pacing the streets of London looking to fill in time before I could meet my companion for the evening and get into the theatre. It's the little details like the fact that one of the singers (who plays the pole dancer) is pregnant and also due to be the forthcoming On The Town (which I knew was forthcoming... because I'm a sad-act musicals anorak!) which made me feel even more like I was in on the unimportant minutiae of the world of musicals - a world I find fascinating.

Looking for more opportunities to kill some time, I went to chat to the chap holding the "Comedy Night" sign in Leicester Square. It turns out that he'd heard of me. We played a small game of Comedians Geography - "Ooh, have you seen so and so?", "This gig is a good gig.", "Did you hear about such and such a show..." and so on. This comedian was then replaced by a comedian whom I'd met and knew a bit about. If you remember me banging on about Blaized Carmey in November 2004, then you might care that this guy was in the rather surreal show I went to see on November 22nd. Anyway, we had a different game of Comedians Geography and talked about the writing and performing of comedy. I have to say that, though it was cold and I was excited about the evening to come (it was a once in a lifetime evening), chat with this affable chaps in Leicester Sq kept me in good spirits and warm.

Ultimately, it was time to go to the theatre and see the stunning tour de force that was Jerry Springer The Opera. I have to admit that this show is 50 times better than I gave it credit for when I saw it in its previews at that very same theatre. There are two reasons why this is the case. Firstly, the show I first saw was just finding its feet. The cast and technical staff hadn't found how to crank up the power of the show to make it fill the room. This was solved by the time the TV version was made and was never likely to be a problem on the night of the show's grand West-End finale. This was a cast bound to give its all... and they did. The second reason I think I underestimated the show was due to the clever way in which it was written. It's only apparent to someone familiar with the show exactly how many recurrent themes are used and how many little throw-away gems are in there for good measure. Perhaps it's a failing in the writing that it doesn't quite show up until 4th or 5th hearing. Perhaps it's an indication of the level of detail and ingenuity in the writing that one can still find undiscovered treasures when you know the show well. Either way, it didn't fail to impress. There are a few minor problems with the libretto, which seemed bigger when I first heard them. The cast knows how to make sense of every word, which minimised the impact of these glitches, and there are only about 4 of them anyway. Basically, I would be proud to have written something a 10th as good as the show we saw on Saturday.

The pole dancer (she of earlier discussion) nearly stole the show. She certainly stopped the show getting a round of applause DURING her big song while she was singing - the audience couldn't contain themselves. At the end of the show we watched as she was physically knocked back a step by the intensity of the reaction she provoked in the crowd. It was an amazing moment. The show had to wait for the audience. They would have been happy if the song had been repeated, but the cast, professional through and through and probably under orders to keep the show moving as per any performance, took the show onwards. I was so impressed by what I'd witnessed, that I turned to the person to my left and remarked - "she just stopped the show". I think that summed it up.

I've seen three different people playing the lead role in this show. While I think Michael Brandon came across as the reincarnation of Jerry Springer, David Soul gave a witty and charismatic performance which made him the deserving front man of the cast which closed the show this Saturday. There was one amusing moment (for me at least) as Mr Soul officiated at the backslapping ceremony. They'd already dragged writer Richard Thomas from the auditorium onto the stage to take a well-deserved call. David Soul said something like "Well, of course this show is all about people and so it's the people who put it on that we'd like to thank". It was something simplistic like that. I watched the reaction of the writer as he saw his work summed up hastily and inaccurately. It was quite a picture. I'm sure David Soul understands what the show is really about, the trivialisation of feelings that at the heart of these american TV shows, but he was under pressure to close the closing show.

Overall, I was left in awe of the cast and writing team of this show. I was entertained by the big hitters and also by some of the subtleties of the show. In fairness, I was giddy with delight anyway, but I laughed heartily at one bit simply because I thought it was musically quite well-thought out. A very talented cast filled the room with chords of the utmost clarity and beauty. The whole experience was like a surreal dream. I'll never forget it.

Saturday night was, indeed, a night well spent.

Talented cast?
Despite not wanting to leave the haven that was London, I tore myself away and faced the long drive back up North. I was due at the technical rehearsal of South Pacific. It's a tribute to the laws of time, space and the group I was working with that I managed to turn up an hour late and still be early for the rehearsal. While I'd come from a world of excitement, joy and a great company making beautiful music, I was back to the world of the amateur dramatics and stop-start (mainly the former) of a technical run-through. The long drive was stressful, the drudgery of the rehearsal was more so.

There's a happy ending, the dress rehearsal tonight went very well indeed.

There's a sad middle, though. Despite not being prone to performance anxiety, I woke up this morning after a performance-anxiety dream. Transparent symbols - being late for a cue, not having learned the script... Weirdly, this dream was set in the world of the last show I did, rather than this one. However, it's fair to say that it wasn't so much an exaggeration of the show as an example of how things have been looking. The whole thing came together tonight. I missed a cue, but I think I got away with it. We did one scene that we'd been given the lines for yesterday (only one each for three of us) and which we'd never done before... we made the show work. It's a more unnerving experience than other things I've done, because I've become accustomed to the way of working that is common to the other society and my own production ethic - namely detail in abundance up front. However, the show will work and it will be good. I just had to wait until the dress rehearsal to see it. I have no great love for this show, but I will give my all while on stage and try to make it entertaining.

Friday, February 18

A good week
As is usual for this blog, I have a fascinating and fabulous week and I'm too busy to write about it in any detail.

Let me see if I can offer the edited highlights. On Monday after work I had a rehearsal for South Pacific. I accidentally attended it late but nobody seemed to mind or care. As a rehearsal it went ok. I was then given a lift back into town (I'd cycled to work, realised I couldn't cycle home in time to pick up the car, so I'd taken the Metro to the rehearsal). My driver was most concerned about the onset of snow and rain and started mothering me, offering me umbrellas and a drop-off point that was increasingly closer to where I wanted to be, despite the fact that we'd agreed a drop-off at the place where she would normally turn away from my direction and head in hers. We compromised and I was given a 7 minute walk to my bike. The moment I was out of the car, sauntering along the streets in my usual way, the bad weather had a break and I was able to cycle home, albeit in a more laid back manner too (it was late, I was tired), unimpeded.

I went to bed at a reasonable hour on Monday night having spent a while willing the phone to ring for me or present me with a text message...

Waking up on Tuesday, there had been some text messages (and they say the art of conversation is dead) and I cheerfully drove to work with my guitar in the back seat and my contact with the outside world in a better state. I had planned to get the bus to work on Tuesday, but I was running late. It was simpler to drive in, leave the car overnight and bus in on Wednesday. I had the guitar with me, and I had the intention of not using the car because I was due to perform a gig that night and had a couple of friends coming to watch. It seemed to make sense to let my hair down in the fullest of senses (at least metaphorically, since the actual follicles aren't giving me much in the way of a Rapunzel-stylee these days). So, a few drinkies were partaken. I performed a gig under the influence of Australian beer (brewed in the UK) and had fun up there. one or two sparkling mineral waters (plus alcohol) later and I was hooting with laughter. All in all, it was a great relief from the stresses and pressures of the surrounding week or two. It was quite restorative and I'm glad I did it. I'm also pleased to have more comedy gigs lined up in the coming months. I miss the laughter of an audience.

I was also awaiting the outcome of an important decision at this stage in the week. I have to say that it was quite stressful and I needed a good laugh to get rid of some of the stress and to prepare myself for the outcome. I arrived home with plenty of beans and was suitably prepared. Laughter is good for the soul. If I lose the ability to laugh or make others laugh then I'll have had all my allotted time.

Wednesday morning, I was exhausted (such is the result of burning the candle at both ends and then throwing it in the furnace for good measure) but in a cheery mood. I went to work, did what I needed to and then went to my rehearsal. I picked up the costumes, which seemed to fit admirably (it IS a good idea to be measured just before losing a bunch of weight), and then ran through act 1. It's looking good. We're getting there. At home I went online for a bit, indulged in some late-night chat and then took myself to bed.

Sadly I overslept. I decided not to let it get me down and I rang in, explaining that I'd been delayed. With that sorted, I then cycled into work and had a reasonably productive day. After work, I took the Metro to Sunderland where I watched Miss Saigon with a friend. Despite the ludicrous behaviour of the fee-paying theatre-goers (how anyone can pay good money [£25+] for a ticket and then munch sweet through the show and spoil it, or talk over it, or grunt through it or whatever these bizarre animals do in that place, I've no idea), the show was really good. Some scenes were spectacular. One or two of the principals were slightly off and some of the chorus scenes felt wooden, like they were going through the motions, but as the atmosphere developed and the show won the audience, it proved to be a very good version of this musical. Better than when I saw it last. In particular, the Engineer, Kim and Ellen were outstanding.

Metro from Sunderland to Newcastle. A cycle ride back home (up the big hill, in 4th gear and above). Back into the sanctity of my computer room. All good stuff.

Mood
My mood has been up and down over the last couple of months. I've harped on about my own feelings of inadequacy and I've harped on about my excitement for the things I love to do. I started writing a long essay on Valentine's day on the subject of love and gave up - it looked too depressing. The truth is that I am a person who loves. I love my audience when I'm performing (in general). I love the various activities that I throw myself into. I love the friends that I have (in varying degrees and irrespective of gender - it's not that sort of love). I was designed for enthusiasm for other people and for what can be shared with them. I am also built to respond well to positive attention. This can make me an irritating puppy at times, but I'm genuine enough. There's a lovely lyric in the song "Nature Boy", as sung by Nat Cole (among others). "The greatest thing you will ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." I think I believe that above all else.

So, I'm feeling a lot more positive. I'm doing the things I love and I'm more successful in choosing company that complements me. I had a great time during last week's run of Guys and Dolls and this week of rehearsals and other distractions (including my forthcoming jaunt to London to see the last night of Jerry Springer The Opera) is proving to be most entertaining. Next week should be even better. All in all, I'm thriving at the minute.

I may be strolling around town, or panting when I cycle around it, but I'm doing it with my head held high and with a spring in my step (or pedal). February has often been a magical month for me and I think it's going pretty well so far.

Monday, February 14

This latest 405 scam letter is quite interesting.


Hello Dear,

I know that this proposal might be a surprise to you but do consider it as an emergency. In a nut shell, My name is Aida Kiran 20 years old from the republic of Ivory coast in west Africa, now seeking for refugee in Dakar -Senegal under the(UNHCR).

The only child of late Dr.Solomon Kiran. I am looking for someone who can take me as child I promise to be obidient to you and I will bring happiness to your life. I got your contact from the Internet Search.I want you to assist me in this transaction. My late father was the managing director of Solin Gold and Diamond Mine company in Ivory coast .But he was killed along side with my mother during the longing civil war and all his properties were totally destroyed. However, after their death I managed to escape with very important files of my father.He has the sum of (US$5.2M)Five million two hundred thousand U.S Dollars only. This amount was deposited by my late father in one of the leading Banks. The deposit documents indicate me as the next of kin. Presently, I am saddled with the problem of securing a trust worthy foriegn personality to help me. I will map out 10% for you.

(1)Stand on my behalf in Senegal as the beneficiary for the claim of the inheritance from the bank since the management of the bank adviced that I should solicit for an individual or corporate organization to claim the deposit for me as they cannot release it directly to me due to my refugee status in Senegal.

(2)Transfer the money over to your own country and into
your possession pending my arrival to meet with you.

(3)Invest and manage the money for me in a good business pending my maturity.

(4) Help me secure my travelling documents to meet you as
soon as my money is released to you.

Furthermore,you can contact the Bank for confirmation and I will issue a letter of authorisation on your name,that will enable the bank correspond with you on my behalf.I am giving you this offers as mentioned with every confidence on your acceptance to assist me or adopt me as your Child if possible and manage the money for me.
Conclusively,I wish you send me a reply immediately you
recieve this proposal.
Until then,I remain with the best

Stay Blessed.
Aida kiran

Email. .. ... kiranaida@voila.fr

I want you to reply me through my private mail box so that
I can send you my picture


Apart from the fact that they use a French email address for their incoming mail... there's a seedy side to this. The idea of a 20 year old asking to be adopted and then offering you the chance to see their photo... I can't help but wonder whether they're trying to appeal to both financial and lustful greed on the part of the recipient.

I won't be taking up this offer. I'm too busy spending my money on having my herbal viagra pills enlarged.

Sunday, February 13

First day of the rest of my life
Life after Guys and Dolls begins here. I am not certain at the moment whether that last show was my most favourite experience as a performer, but it was certainly time well spent in a very good theatre with a production that I could see few flaws in. However, life goes on and today was my first day working on South Pacific in earnest. I've held back to some extent in previous rehearsals, not wanting to do any memorising lest I corrupt my knowledge of Guys and Dolls.

I have two ways of learning something. It's either active or passive. In active learning, I force myself to pick up the words parrot fashion and repeat them until they stick in my head. In passive mode, I just know. When on stage, it's better to just know something than to have to use one's powers of recall. Learning a musical can be great since one can use lots of things to help with the memory. Just being in a particular part of the stage with a particular bit of the song playing and the sound of the last line can be enough to prompt you to move to another bit of the stage and sing the appropriate rhyme. If it's instinctive, then it makes for a better performance. If the lyric is written well enough, you may only need to hear it a couple of times to pick it up. As a regular debunker of Oscar Hammerstein, I would have to say that this is not always possible with his work, but I went to today's rehearsal knowing over 80% of what I'll be singing on stage next Tuesday, so it wasn't that bad. I have a few lines of script to blast out, so I did some active learning during the walkthrough rehearsal at the theatre. For me, this was just writing out my lines and looking at why I couldn't remember them. It's just a matter of finding the bits I'll forget and recognising how they fit into the bits I remember. By the time I'd analysed the 100 or so words I hadn't memorised, I'd memorised them. It's just the way my brain works. I'll not get too many chances to say them before there's a paying audience, but it should be fine.

The day started rather badly. I woke up at silly times of the morning, having been unable to get to sleep until about 3. I think I probably woke up worrying that I'd missed a cue, or perhaps dreaming about directors being disappointed in me. This must be some sort of reverse performance anxiety. I don't get that nervous about going on stage and my rare cases of performance anxiety dreaming tend to resolve themselves during the dream - i.e. I win the audience over. The only big performance anxiety dream I recall was when I was backstage in a production of Carousel which looked fairly shambolic to me. I had a dream in which I was trying, naked on a stage in front of the audience, to strike the props, as the whole show fell around my ears... that was not a fear of my inadequacy, though - it was a fear of theirs! Anyway. I woke up a few times over the morning, including a stint at around 9am. My leg was hurting and I couldn't get comfortable in the bed. Eventually, I forced myself to sleep some more. This was a good idea, though it meant that I somewhat squandered the opportunity of having a morning, emerging from the bed at around 12. However, I needed the sleep. The preceeding week had been very very draining.

Once out of bed, I showered for as long as I could possibly manage. I think I sang in the shower and I must compliment the bathroom for its acoustics. I frequently sing like an angel when next to tiles. Stick me on a stage and it's somewhat less impressive. A quick trip to the local shop for supplies - I felt like I hadn't eaten in weeks - and I had a full enough belly to fuel my trip to Whitley Bay for the walk-through of the show we're opening on the 22nd. It's the 13th today. The 13th of February - supposedly quite unlucky. The atmosphere in the theatre was not particularly uplifting. Somehow things felt very low.

Of course, I came to this group as something of an outsider, since I've not been part of the team all the way along. They've seen me maybe 3 or 4 times this year. I've chanced upon being there at all the critical moments and I'm quite good at being in approximately the right place on the stage and improvising what stage direction I need to take in order not to look out of place in the scenes that unfold. I had feared that I would be totally mystified by the requirements placed on me at this stage. I foresaw the possibility that I'd have to sit with the director for a couple of hours and take notes and then go away and learn them. Today, I felt a bit like I was only a couple of days behind other members of the cast. This was a bit of a surprise.

However, the reason it felt odd is quite similar to why it felt odd that day I arrived in time for my scene during Guys and Dolls to find a panic on the stage as a scene was not working. I had been in the relaxed mood of a dressing room and my expectations were to go along and do a certain scene at a certain moment. The drama unfolding outside of the dressing room was perfectly understandable to those involved, but I came to it as an outsider. So, as someone coming down from a show week, and having rehearsed the run up to that show in a particular way with a particularly precise director, it was a suprise to find the disinterested mob that I joined in with today. I'm pleased that I didn't need to take my script on the stage for any of the scenes. Only just... my cramming within the auditorium saved me from that. Some scripts were used by people who had had plenty of time available for them to learn not to need them.

Will the show be crap?

No. It will be a good show. People will enjoy it. I'm just going to have to get into the same gear as this different group with whom I haven't worked closely since March 2003. My last show with them put me back stage in June 2003 in Sweet Charity, a show due to re-open on Broadway later this year (I looked at the website for it; it stars Christina Applegate, whom I used to find attractive - she is no longer attractive and her performance looks terrible).

Stop! Hammerstein
I am frequently catty about Oscar Hammerstein. I've no problems with Richard Rodgers, but for some reason, I frequently find fault in the way that his lyricist and playwright collaborator assembled dialogue and lyrics. I have to admit that I'm being a cheeky young upstart when I do this. I must acknowledge that Mr Hammerstein was the centre of a revolution in musical theatre. He and Jerome Kern transformed the musical when they wrote Show Boat. The idea of a play with musical number in it which genuinely fit the show, was innovating. In-character lyrics were created to reflect the voices of the characters, rather than provide a launchpad for the performers playing them. Oscar Hammerstein created a number of shows which reflected their era while also innovating.

Yet, I can't help but be unimpressed with the degree of skill with which some of our well-known song lyrics were concocted. The standards were possibly lower in those days. Perhaps the pioneering work of Mr Hammerstein made it more important for people to find those magical lines. There are, though, so many annoying examples of lyrics which just need fixing. They need fixing because they're a bugger to sing, a bugger to remember, or quite simply because they look like placeholders - something stuck in the line for the time being until something better comes along... but then never did.

Alan J Lerner had a placeholder lyric in the song "I could have danced all night" - it was "I'll never know what made it so exciting, why all at once my heart took flight.". As a placeholder lyric, that ain't bad. The internal rhyme of "never know" and "made it so" is nice and the only bit Mr Lerner didn't like was the metaphor about a heart taking flight. It sounds like a serious medical problem. Sure, we anthropomorphasise the heart in songs, but Alan Lerner though it sounded naff. A heart doesn't really do that. He left the lyric in to his chagrin and yet it's one of the most well-known and well loved songs in musical theatre.

Conversely, there are lines in South Pacific which just should not have been put there. My current mental block is the line "It's a waste of time to worry over things that they have not" which is a bugger of a contrived phrase, hence the difficulty in remembering it. Lyrics should require very little effort of memory. I have heard people singing my own songs back at me and they've never sat down and learned the lyrics. In fairness, they only get the words about 80% right, often substituting something of their own, which is in keeping with the intent. As a pedant, that can irritate me, but as a writer, I have to accept that I only managed to make my lyric 80% memorable. Fair do's I suppose. It's not just about memory, though. A good tip from lyricist Don Black is that the words should hug the tune. Like Alan Lerner did with Frederick Loewe, Don Black would give something like a title or single line to the composer and then write the lyrics to fit the tune. I believe that Oscar Hammerstein worked the opposite way with Richard Rodgers. He gave a sheet of lyrics and Rodgers would set them to music. There is one line in the song "Bloody Mary" where this just failed. The first verse is fine:

Bloody Mary is the girl I love
Bloody Mary is the girl I love
Bloody Mary is the girl I love, now ain't that too damn bad


A bit repetitive, perhaps. Too damn bad that he couldn't think of much to say, perhaps. But it scans and it sings well enough. A recent programme I saw suggested that repetition in lyrics is a good idea as people seldom listen too intently to them. This is probably why you have to go and see some modern musicals several times AND listen to the cast album in order to get the subtle nuances. Anyway, it's verse two which goes wrong. I'll not write it out in full, since the repetition is probably not necessary on screen.

Her skin is tender as Di Maggio's glove

This line is sometimes replaced with the less anachronistic

Her skin is tender as a baseball glove

Now. Here is the problem. This doesn't phrase even remotely like the first verse. The "her" comes before the beat where we sing the "bloo" of "bloody mary" and the "as" needs to be split across two notes in the tune. It doesn't sing right at all. It could be fixed:

Her skin's tender as a baseball glove

But no. It ain't fixed. It's left as a bastard to sing. What do I know. I'm just a young presumptuous upstart. Actually, I'm not all that young. By my age, some of the great musicians were already dead, but let's not dwell on that. I will not let some notion of my age cloud my total ambivalence towards my 31st birthday which I shall celebrate by singing, not "Happy Birthday to me", but "Her skin is tender as a baseball glove". Such is the pleasure of performing in a musical on one's birthday.

In other news
Not much else to report. I bought a microwaveable curry meal for tonight. It was a main course, rice, starter and naan bread. It was billed as a curry meal for one, or as I like to call them - "A loneliness meal". I didn't feel particularly like I was eating a scaled down meal for a lonely wee guy until I saw the naan bread, which was smaller than a CD. Aaah bless. The lone eater doesn't need so much dough, apparently. It was, however, a nice curry and I think the under abundance of naan left me enough room to eat it all... and a low-fat chocolate trifle for afterwards. Gerrin!

If I can do any ironing before my exhaustion catches me up. I'll be happier. Otherwise, I may spend the week creased and not caring. Though I slept long, I'm still fairly tired, so I'd better get some rest and get ready for an action packed 7 days to come. I'm excited.

I am slowly becoming an internet millionaire
If the sales on my internet auction are anything to go by, I should be a millionaire from it by the year 7499. I didn't mention, when I wrote about my ill-fated attempt to buy a CD from a particular ebayer that he held me in possibly less contempt than I hold the buyers of my ebay-sale of choice - Starlight Express on CD. Whenever I get notification that someone has bought this, I shout "Sucker!" very loudly at the screen. Admittedly, I then ship them a mint-condition CD and they come back and are very happy about it. My advice, don't buy it from me. I wouldn't be able to afford to sell it at a profit on ebay if it were not very easy to buy at a much cheaper price than the one I'm selling at.

Anyway, one of the comments on my feedback from the ebay auctions resonated with me. One of the buyers of Starlight Express expressed his gratitude that he'd been able to get the disc. Apparently he saw the show a few years ago and had been hankering after the CD since. Clearly he's never heard of the world's most well-known internet brand (named after a river); the CD is hardly a scarce commodity. However, the point is that people are willing to pay money to relive, or reenjoy something of a good night's entertainment they once had. I have my own copy of this CD and, though it's listenable, it hardly stands up very well on its own. I enjoyed the show when I was there to see it in all its glory and I am glad I listened to the CD afterwards. We like to be reminded of things we enjoyed experiencing. It's part of the human condition.

In some ways, I'm humbled every time someone mentions the CD of The Musical! of which numerous copies were sold or given to well-wishers. When someone, who expects to come to the show next month, asks if it's okay to sing along... well, that is an incredible compliment and words cannot express how that feels. Don't get me wrong. I'm not getting all mock-choked-up about this. I'm touched to feel that there's a possibility that I have (co)created entertainment that lingers beyond the moment it happened, but I'm also mystified by it. I can't quite believe that anyone would care that much about the bizarre things that spill out of my fevered imagination. Best, I think, to continue doing what I'm excited about and hope I can have a stab at bringing some other people along for the ride in the future.

I've written before about the responsibility involved when you write music, I'll not repeat myself. I only hope that I have the good sense not to inflict too much of my lesser ideas on an unsuspecting public. I have a horrible sinking feeling about my hugely over-prepared James Bond theme... it may never be any good. I shall have to decide quickly whether to cut my losses on that one and burn it. Or maybe I'll sell it on ebay to some mug!

Show week
I like seeing a show open (I did that with The Producers and Jerry Springer - or at least, I was there in previews for them). I'm excited about next week's trip to see a show close (Jerry again... though admittedly, there's a bit more to it than just watching a show close). When it's a show you're involved in... well, that's a whole different kettle of fish to jump into (I know that kettle stuff makes no sense, but it's a quote, so worry not).

We started preparing for Guys and Dolls back in September. I was freshly back from the Fringe and I drove to Durham to see a talk on the show. I think I was freshly enough back that I still had some hired equipment for Edinburgh in my car. Soon after the talk (within a week) I went to the first singing rehearsals. In September and October, the songs were learned. In November, we started on the floor. By a rehearsal in late December I knew enough of the show that I could have attended a full run through and played my part without needing a script in my hand. In January I rehearsed something like 16 times. Since the start of this month, I have had one day without the show.

We opened on Tuesday (having run through pretty well on Monday) and played to packed houses throughout the week. Tickets were at the late 90's in terms of their percentage sales. We did two shows today and the show is done. All that preparation for a mere week with the show. It's almost heartbreaking.

In some respects it's good to do it for only a week. You get into your stride, but you don't get to the point of grudgingly saying "Oh... here we go again". In other respects, it's a real shame to see all that work become irrelevant. Sure there are people who have had a great night. In fact, I was stopped at the petrol station this morning by a couple of people who saw the show on Thursday (and who are known to me, so they weren't quite random strangers) and who really enjoyed it. However, the disappointing thing is that all the knowledge is now of no use. I hope to do Guys and Dolls again, hopefully in a different role, but what I know of this production won't help me a great deal. Productions like ours are unique entities born out of the particular combination of director and cast. I hope that ours was a damned good version of the show (indeed, I shall be comparing it to the West End version due out a bit later this year, I hope).

The down side is the post-production withdrawal symptoms. After a week of listening for cues, you start to hear them in random things in every day life. You leave the theatre at the end of show week with the songs running round your head and having formed a routine for getting around the make-believe world via the back-stage area. My special system for pocketing dice and money so I can quickly use them will be of no use to me anymore. My silly facial expressions and accent will be of limited use in the future. My suit, which looked very fetching, has gone back to the costume makers. All in all, the party's over.

Living through a show week
It's been said that a show can be a half a stone in weight lost. Given that I have a lot of weight that I want to lose, this is no bad thing. I feel that the costumes left me a lot looser than when I got them. This may be because they stretched as I used and abused them (I wore a white shirt, waistcoat and trousers underneath my suit, shirt and tie for the whole show, bar the end when the outer layer came off and I was quickly able to pull on a white tailcoat and tap-shoes). I think I must have lost weight this week, and perhaps I'll do the same on the week of the 22nd. It's not before time.

Today I wore a shirt which I bought from Asda in December. I tried it on when I got home and it wouldn't fit. After Christmas's cycling, it fit comfortably and there was definitely a bunch of room in it today. So, I've recently been bigger and I'm currently not as big as that particular bigger. I also ain't twiggy!

Why do you lose weight in show week? Well, there's a bunch of running up and down stairs to the dressing room. There's a lot of sweating on the stage and perhaps there's nervous energy making your metabolism run faster. First and foremost, I don't really find the time to eat and my appetite has wavered. Today, for instance, I ate a couple of sandwiches at lunch-time (in the car on the way to the theatre, along with a couple of chocolate chip cookies - I reckoned it couldn't do no harm) and then had nothing other than diet coke or coffee until I returned tonight where I managed a couple of bananas and some soup. The fact that there are no late night shops open and that I have no supplies in the house contributed to this abstention from a massive calorific intake. Last night I took a late night trip to Asda for something to settle my rumbling stomach. As a rule, though, in a show week, I've found it hard to take in as many calories as go out. At the moment, I'm pretty tired and dehydrated. It's a good way to pull those reserve calories out of the flab and into use. Probably.

The energy levels this week have also been compromised by my total addiction to late night conversation or internet-use. I have been going to bed far too late and even managed to sleep for virtually no time one night. This is not incredibly wise for a show week, but I survived it unscathed. In fact, my life would probably be less enjoyable if I didn't follow my instincts and push my energy levels to their limits if I need to. I have had a really really enjoyable week. I only hope that this coming week doesn't come with the post-show blues I've experienced before. I should imagine that the rigours of the week, culminating in a busy but undoubtedly joyous weekend, will keep me in good spirits.

Show stories?
Stuff goes wrong in shows - that's part of the fun of live theatre. Usually it's little things, like when I forgot my hat about 90 seconds before my scene was about to start and had to run up to the dressing room to get it and then run back and then catch my breath (today's matinee). There was also the time that I accidentally dropped my dice into the middle of the floor at an inappropriate moment. I casually picked them up when I had a chance. I even nearly juggled with the dice on one occasion. These moment may or may not compromise the audience's reaction to the scene, but they're nothing spectacular.

At the matinee today, I rolled some proper dice twice and they were scripted to come up as "Snake Eyes" and they did, both times. Weird. I heard giggles from the male chorus and had to struggle to keep from laughing as I went downstage for my line. Previously in that same matinee, I nearly laughed during a line and nearly set off one of the other cast members. Nobody saw and nobody knew what I found so funny. All we had to do was run across the stage, with me at the tail end shouting "Wait a minute, I'm losing 10 g's". What was funny? Well, I'd developed a silly run. It made me laugh because I could see how ludicrous it might look and I also knew that I'd done it instinctively, rather than created it. In other words, this was Big Jule (my character) telling my body what to do... perhaps my comedic instinct was partly in there, since I discovered this movement while in front of an audience. I can't describe how my run looked except that it looked a bit like someone running energetically almost on the spot - knees pumping high - while waving their hat and moving relatively slowly across the stage. In the suit and with my huge frame, this will undoubtedly have been comical, if not actually funny to anyone but me. I enjoyed myself, that's the main thing!

we lost the leading lady in one scene, earlier in the week. She'd missed her call and was still in the dressing room. This led to the mission band having to do an unscripted run through of their song until she was found and brought in. Given that the show is usually unstressful as far as I am concerned, it was one of the few moments of stress that I encountered. I am in the dressing room for the first hour of the show, in no rush to get dressed, since I'd only my solitude and a few games of scrabble to look forward to. By the time I got to the stage, the show would be in full swing and people would not be in a mood of anticipation. My performing nerves are minimal usually, so nothing would get to me at all. Arriving in time for one's scene to see the previous scene in limbo and everyone looking worried is quite an experience. It sorted itself out and the audience enjoyed the show. No worries.

Performing nerves
I spend a lot of money on my performing moments. Rehearsing a show costs a great deal of petrol and travelling, along with having to buy things to use or wear on stage (not the costumes, necessarily, but accessories like braces or shoes or whatever). Guys and Dolls will have personally set me back a few hundred all in. Since June, my stand-up has not quite paid for itself, losing only tens of pounds on petrol vs fees, though I still have to pay for the car to be serviced (I'm not factoring it into my accounts) and the cost of being away from home at meal times. My last gig cost me 5 pence more in petrol than my fee. To reiterate, I pay to perform. So if I'm doing it as a hobby almost, why should I fear it? I'm choosing to be up there doing my thing. There's no need to be nervous.

Not everyone feels this way. Sometimes, the pressure of a particular performance will get to me, though that hasn't happened for quite a while now. I remember one exchange between myself and my co-performer in Edinburgh:

Me: You look worried. What's up?
Him: The show.
Me: What about it? The ticket sales? The audience?
Him: We're going to go out there and perform it.
Me: I know. We've done it 10 times already. What's wrong with today's.
Him: We're going to perform a show.

Some say that if you don't get nervous then you shouldn't be doing it. I hope that's not true. My only real nerves this week have been about getting the fast change done in time. I go for heightened senses without the pit-of-stomach sense of foreboding. I'll save the pit of my stomach feelings for more positive moments, like the thrill of a kiss or the moments of optimism when something seems to click into place in one's head.

Onwards and upwards
It's time to go to bed. Then I have to be in the theatre in Whitley Bay tomorrow to start work on the next show. A week of rehearsals, interspersed with a gig, and watching two other shows should make for a great combination of new challenges and excellent company.

I feel good.

Wednesday, February 9

Opening night
We opened the show tonight. For months and months of rehearsal, the date February the 8th has been some mystical future that we couldn't necessarily envisage. It has now been and gone. It's worth pointing out that tonight was the third time performing the show on the set with the costumes, so we should have felt quite at home. In fairness, though I think the show was very well received, in some places above our expectations, it felt very much like an opening night.

For my own part, I was mindful of how having an audience chances one's perception of how to deliver the lines and I was also a bit distracted by some of the practicalities of costumes and props. However, the show ran through without me making enough mistakes for anyone except myself and possibly the director to notice. People have been very nice about my part, and I will miss putting on the voice I use for "Big Jule". It is a very silly sounding tone and I take great pleasure concocting phrases to say in it. I started off with "Kinky John" - a Vic Reeves character and then made him bigger, gruffer and, well, my own. I can see how writing character parts could be fun. In some characters, some phrases are just funny.

However, I've not been drafted to write a show here, I've been drafted to be in a big broadway-style musical. As musicals go, I think this one is the most lavish I've been involved in. It's got everything. Love stories, big production numbers, dance routines, comic characters, and even the obligatory religious folks. It's looking to be a corker of a show and I hope I manage to come away with a few photos that I can have to rememner it by. Everything looks stunning.

It takes a lot to admit a certain degree of envy on one's own part. I think I honestly purged my soul in the last post when I admitted that I'd secretly hankered after a role other than that which I'm supposed to be playing in the show. Given that I've prepared for the role I'm now in and I'm enjoying making it my own, it's not right to have greedy eyes looking for alternatives. However, the issue of taking over a song came up and I had to face the possibility of being the substitute.

As a penalty for my cockiness, my own throat and voice are now acting a little tight and suspicious. As it happened, this had no effect on my own performance today. I got a small cramp in my side for some reason. I've had this before when doing silly voices on stage (I used to get it when doing Zippy). I'm not sure what causes it. However, I didn't let it get to me too much. I was, however, worried about the strain on my own voice and my ability to be any better than the guy I might be asked to substitute.

Tonight, the actor with the larynx problems played his own role as written. We left it until the interval to decide whether or not I'd be stepping into the breach. I didn't. However, I recognise the discomfort the guy is feeling. He's lost his top register, which is a nuisance, since the song in question is almost all at the top of the range for a baritone, which is what we both are. I reckon my voice is up to the job, but I'm not hankering after it. It's a pretty tough job to be given: here - go and do a big production number unrehearsed in the role you're doing. People have assumed that I'd be feeling under pressure for this even to be mentioned. I'm not. If the moment arrives, then I'll do the song. I know it well enough to make it make enough sense. The cast know what to do and would part like the red sea for Moses to show me the gap I'd need to fill.

I suspect that it will either happen tomorrow or not at all. I also suspect that some sort of cosmic karma will mean that I lose my own voice at a rate proportional to how much of someone else's part I look on with envious eyes.

4th Birthday
It's the 4th birthday of this website. Well, to be more specific, I've just re-registered the Incredible.org.uk domain for another two years, so it's the fourth anniversary of the site. It originally started as a sub-site of www.malross.co.uk, so I'm a trend follower, not setter, and the site has really changed in purpose over the years. I think it has always been about giving me a place to vent my thoughts. Initially, I focussed on the backlash and apostrophell sections. The "blog" (this bit on the front page) was initially just a way of announcing new articles in the sections, or flagging up things I'd seen on other sites. As time has gone on, I've turned the blog into a regularly updated diary. It isn't quite daily, but it's certainly several times a week.

Certain big events get their own dairies in the incredible section. I have, so far, totally failed to write any sort of detailed account of my entire August spent in Edinburgh, which is a real shame, since it was probably one of the most remarkable months in my entire life. Having said that, the last 4 years have been pretty remarkable all round.

When I started this site, I was an engaged 26 year old wearing 50 inch trousers, working long hours in the office and spending my weekends trying to avoid any form of strenuous exercise. Over the course of the site's history, I've returned to living alone (temporarily having a housemate last year), lost a good deal of weight (some of which returned), written two musicals and done work on a further three, and actually produced one of these pieces in 4 cities. I've performed in other companies' productions Chess, My Fair Lady, Camelot and now Guys and Dolls. I've worked backstage in two further productions and will be appearing in another one shortly. I've become a stand-up comedian and performed over 210 gigs in the last 2 years, covering probably about 30,000 miles to achieve it. As well as attending venues to perform, I've also watched a staggering number of shows, I'd say that I've seen at least 150 things at the Edinburgh Festival and then maybe around 50 full scale theatre productions. I've not stopped for more than a couple of days at a time.

I've a lot to say about it all - hence this site.

I plan to do a lot more in the next four years and I hope this site will continue and that anyone who reads it will continue to do so. I've no master plan at the moment. I don't know what I'm aiming at or why I am doing what I'm doing. From time to time I think I long to settle down into a one-to-one relationship with someone (rather than the relationship of a performer to his audience) and devote some time to not running around. However, I think I thrive when I am running around like this. This means that a relationship would have to be with someone who is uniquely understanding. I have a sort of Groucho Marx mentality that suggests that I wouldn't want to date the sort of person who would put up with dating me. Which means I'll probably be running round without ties for just a bit longer.

The Musical!
Oh god. Not this bloody musical again. I think I've reached the stage where I'm glad to be retiring the show. I'm also glad to be retiring it in a blaze of glory... or at least, I'm glad to be intending to retire it in a blaze of glory. I will have forked out more than £11,000 in total to put the show on. This includes the nearly break-even run of the show in Edinburgh, and I've put the "investment" in equipment down as something I didn't expect Edinburgh to pay for. We will have done the show 31 times by the time it closes and will have played to around 1500 people. That's not bad for something which was just a crazy scheme all along.

I've told so many people about the show that I'm starting to bore myself. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled by its very existence. It makes people laugh. It can still make me laugh. There are some songs which I am really proud of and a few jokes which I'm still pleased with. I think the problem is that a single one-hour show does not make a career. Therefore, it's time to move on. I want to write a sequel. I'm writing a sequel. There are details in the follow-up show which are really pleasing to me at the moment. But follow-ups are always a risk. We may have a few "fans" from the previous show, but you can't dine out on previous success, which is a good reason for me to put the show to rest come the end of March 20th, and move on to something new.

However, for those people who haven't seen the show, it's a definite must. 17th-20th March 2005 are the last four dates. Newcastle, Glasgow, Glasgow, Manchester. Details on www.the-musical.co.uk. Don't make me have to call you!

I had confirmation of the Manchester date today, which, as well as trying to flog tickets to the other members of the Guys and Dolls cast, is why the show is presently at the front of my mind.

The front of my mind is a busy place
With performances to give or enjoy this month and with communication with friends, old and new, being quite lively, I am still amazed that I am still standing on this early day of February. I've enjoyed one too many late night telephone conversations for my body-clock to understand and I've sent one too many text messages, but I'm still feeling reasonably conscious and coherent. Perhaps reading this later I will realise that I'm wrong.

If I keep moving, everything should be fine. Problems only need solving in time, they don't need worrying about. Life is like a quick-change between scenes. So long as you keep calm and end up looking about right and smiling, it doesn't matter if there's a bit of frantic effort now and then.

Tuesday, February 8

What a glamorous life I lead
One of the more surreal aspects of being a stand-up comedian/performer-of-stuff is that I get to know little parts of the world that are a long distance from my home. The fact that small parts of Glenrothes seem as familiar to me as some neighbourhoods of my home city Newcastle, some 180 miles away, always strikes me as odd. Equally, as a comedian, one of things you need to put a lot of trust in is the plumbing. There is no benefit going on a stand-up stage with a full bowel or a full bladder. Having said that, I did do a gig a few weeks ago while needing a poo and I think I mentioned that I had to get off the stage for the poo to the audience - it got the biggest laugh of my set, which is a little disturbing.

Anyway, the venue's plumbing is very important to the performer and I have some favourites and some not-so-favourites. The loo in Peebles Arts Centre, for instance, is very well maintained, though a little cramped. The toilets in Glenrothes are smashing - the venue is also a sports hall, so there are lots of anonymous cubicles ideal for that pre-match evacuation. The loo in Bar XS in fallowfield is something I wouldn't like to sit on and, on the occasions when I've gone in there to change, has a floor I didn't want my clothes to come into contact with. The toilet at Nicol Edward's tavern in Edinburgh (which along with Bar XS has been a favourite venue of mine) had a metal pan and a weird fixed pair of wooden pieces as a makeshift seat.

By far the most unpleasant toilet experience I've had so far was the other night. I'll exclude toilets which were so squallid that I didn't even think of using them. I don't recall specific examples, but they must have existed. This toilet was reasonably clean and usable, which made it all the more unpleasant as it, quite simply, didn't have a sit. I just sat on the porcelain and hoped nothing dangled in the water. Luckily, nature didn't give me a great deal to worry about in that regard. In terms of getting into a cheerful and funny mood, the Saturday night's expedition to the porcelain was kept fairly cursory in order to avoid fouling any part of me - be it mood or otherwise. It's all glamour in my life, that's for sure.

Sunday, wrote Mr Kipling
Having slept for a lot of Sunday, thus putting a bit of distance between myself and the exhaustion of the gig, I woke up in time for lunch and for a friend of mine to come round and start tackling the garden. I left him to this Herculean task and rushed off to the first dress rehearsal of Guys and Dolls. As I hit the traffic on the A1, I realised how optimistic my set-off time had been. It wasn't impossible, but I was clearly aiming to cut it fine. This I felt I could afford to do, given that I have a full hour of the normally-running show in which to prepare. However, with a dress, you never know what sort of preparation is additionally required. I wanted to be there on time.

As it happens, I made it on time. The magic of the traffic making it possible for me to be stressed at the delay but not actually delayed enough to be properly put out.

The first dress rehearsal is more of a technical run through and is performed without the orchestra. We got through the show and got used to the set. The stage crew have a massive task on their hands. Realising that I wasn't likely to miss my cues if I watched from the circle, I spent a fair amount of time watching the scenes I wasn't in. The show looked amazing even with no lighting and sets moving all over the place.

I managed to make my quick change and I also did the tap routine through for the first time with the tap shoes on. It was really good. While the choreographer and director had implored us to remember to smile while doing the routine, my smile wasn't painted on at all - I really enjoyed it. It felt very very good.

Late night cond-versation
Getting home late I grabbed something to eat and then went onto the computer. I discovered a friend of mine online and so ended up giving them a call, rather than just use the online communication. I have been using computers to talk to people since I was very young. I believe I've been "online" in some sense of the word for about 18 years now. Zoiks. Online communication brings one close, but actually talking on the telephone conveys a lot more and is a more friendly experience. Meeting face to face is a whole different ball game. Anyway, the good news is that, during this conversation, we managed to organise a trip to see a musical. You see. All good conversations should end in a trip to a musical. This show is Jerry Springer - The Opera, which should be at the tail end of its run. By the looks of things there are dates after the "Must close 19th Feb" suggested closing night. However, the opportunity to see the show at its West End home before it tours, is of more importance than whether it happens to be the last possible chance.

The bad news is that the telephone conversation stretched into the wee small hours. That's only bad from the point of view of going to work the following morning. The fact that I can spend upwards of 4 hours on the phone to a friend is something I'm actually quite pleased about. The fact that I had to be at work in the morning was less pleasing. As it was, I delayed my trip to the bed by taking a precautionary trip to the bathroom, so I wouldn't need to waste time in the morning in showering. This proved useful.

Monday action
I woke up at various points, one of which was 10 minutes after when I wanted to be in the office. D'oh!

Luckily, I had nothing to organise but my rush to the car and I got into the office in enough time to feel like I could keep my job. The day was about to take a surprising turn.

Understudy
In amateur productions, there are no understudies. I think I mentioned that, at some point in a rehearsal, I was asked to understudy one of the characters for a big production number. The song I was asked to sing the melody in for was "Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat" which is sung by Nicely Nicely - the part I had originally auditioned for and rather hankered after. In that classic hollywood movie cliche, I was pushed into the limelight to sing the piece with everything except the chorus girl crying "Ashley Frieze can sing it sir".

I wanted to be in that number.

I probably entertained the fantastic notion that, at some point during rehearsals, the actor playing that part might need replacing and that I would be drafted in. Being second choice isn't great, but it's still being a choice. In some ways, I allowed myself to wish to steal the part I wanted. Conversely, I recognised in the guy playing the part that he's a much more seasoned performer, better able to carry off the role. I have a role that I fill, I shouldn't be jealously wanting someone else's.

The guy has got a throat infection. It's quite possible that he won't be able to sing that number. It's also possible that he'll struggle by. We don't know. I got a call from him today. He and the director both thought of me as a potential stand-in. Not to stand-in his part, just to take the song on as a part of my role. I don't know if I'll be doing it over the next 7 performances. I've not actually done any of the movements in the scene that the character does. What happens if you wish for something and then it threatens to come true? How do you react?

I'm not scared. I can make something work. I have enough improvisation skills to do this song unrehearsed. I am a bit apprehensive. I also feel a bit guilty. In some ways I'm having to plot, from a technical point of view, how to steal a guy's part. He is quite pragmatic about it, but equally it's been in all of his preparation and expectations to do the full range of things his character does in the show. It's not fair to have to hold back from a big number.

I have run through the song as Big Jule - it can work. It won't sound as sweet as a Nicely Nicely rendition, but it should hold together. I learned the lib for the audition, hoping to give a great performance (I think my performance at audition for my actual part was, in some ways, better than any rehearsed performance I've given so far), so I should know what I'm doing. Now it's just a matter of time. I'll know when I get to the theatre if I have to take over some extra singing.

The show must go on.

The show
This production is going to be superb. A slightly husky actor will not detract from the scale and class of this piece. It has been orchestrated to the nth degree by a director with a lot of attention to detail, which is exactly what a musical requires. The costumes, routines, performances, sets, lighting and sound will all be top class. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 6

Back from Sconnie Botland
I made it back from Scotland. It was a pleasant gig. I don't feel in the least bit tired, which is handy. My set went ok, considering that I'd not done a gig in a couple of weeks and haven't really gotten back into gigging since December. In fact, if I look back over my gig history, I think I haven't really been at "fighting weight" since mid November. This is due for a big change shortly.

I tried a bit of new stuff tonight (or newer stuff) and it felt good, so I should have something to work towards when I hit the gigging again properly in a few weeks. I should also spend more time with my Leeds house-renovating chums as they're good comic inspiration.

Gigging is about coming home at 2.30 in the morning and finding that there's only stale cornflakes to eat. At least I had some milk to go with them!

Saturday, February 5

I managed to wake up
That's one hell of a surprise. I actually was able to get out of bed and do something of use before 12pm. That's amazing. Not only that, but I managed to get myself some sort of wholesome breakfast, play around on the piano for a while and then go for a bike ride. I was cycling without rest for just under an hour, with an average speed of 12.8mph. I also managed to hit 32mph, which was nice.

It's quite amazing how much impetus there is to keep going and go fast when the cars around you are doing 50mph+. It's also amazing how much you want to be aware of your surroundings when cars are coming within 6 inches of you.

My midday bike ride was accompanied by the cast of the musical Chicago. That's right, they were surrounding me on bikes of their own. Ok, so I was listening to that particular musical on my MP3 player, but it felt like they were right there in the road with me. Chicago is where the song "Mr Cellophane" comes from. That's certainly the song which has been ringing in my ears over the last couple of weeks, and so it was nice to hear it coming out of Nigel Planer's lungs on a recording, rather than from my inner monologue. Perhaps it was my absolute transparency which made the cars around me take no action to avoid coming very close.

Tonight, transparency would be a real problem. I have a gig in Airdrie. I have to get myself sorted out now, ready for a couple of long drives and a stint at entertaining the folks at the gig. I'm looking forward to it.

I think that the bike ride will either give me an edge for the day or will have sapped my vital energies. We'll see. I have a feeling that my more energetic burst of activity will pay off some sort of dividend.

I am three people
With four different lives.

I'm not claiming that I suffer multiple-personality disorder... I'm still relatively sane, but tonight was one of those nights where I did a bit of everything and it's really quite confusing to work out how to behave from one hour to the next. Here are all the things I needed to be today:
  • A software engineer (at work)
  • Member of the cast of DMTC's production of Guys and Dolls
  • Member of the cast of TAoS's production of South Pacific
  • A stand-up comedian
  • A computer geek/musician/mixing guy
And somehow I managed them all. There are three versions of "me" in there. The geek, the musicals enthusiast and the stand-up and I managed to cover all bases today. Here's a brief run down of how I spent my day.

08.45 - Get up and go to work
09.30 - Brief meeting with the team
09.45 - Brief meeting with management
10.00 - 12.30 - Project work in the office
12.30 - 13.00 - Lunch
13.00 - 17.30 - More work in the office
17.30 - 18.00 - Travel to Durham
18.00 - 19.30 - Sort out my costumes for the Durham show
19.30 - 19.50 - Travel to North Shields
19.50 - 21.30 - Rehearse for South Pacific
21.30 - 21.40 - Travel to Heaton to a gig
21.40 - 23.50 - Watch the gig and chat to the promoter
23.50 - 00.00 - Travel home
00.00 - 00.30 - Work on a mix of some music and burn it to CD
00.30 - 00.40 - Travel to Tesco via the place where the CD was dropped off
00.40 - 01.20 - Shopping
01.20 - now - home and trying to work out who the hell I am.

In honour of my 3 lives, I had three poos today. Not sure where it's all coming from. Weird. I've also played a fair bit of scrabble on the mobile, which is now resorting to cheating. I put down some tiles and it wipes them off the board before submitting my move of "nothing" and then tells me I had not made a valid move. What a surprise. Annoying thing is that it doesn't need to do this. I'll lose anyway.

Tesco's self-service
They have a self-service thingy at Tesco now. You scan your own items. It's quite clever but it has a flaw. It waits until you've bagged your last item before it moves on. It can tell you've bagged the last item because its scales register a heavier bag. This was fine until I scanned a small packed of elastic... weighing virtually bugger all. It just stared at me. This caused the assistant to go into patronising mode. For some reason I couldn't bring myself to say "Er... it won't let me scan the next item". This was because I could immediately fathom why. This is because I am a computer geek and just know this sort of shit. The woman, though, took my explanation of the cause of the problem as late night ranting and treated me like a fool. Having said that, I don't need to work at a late night Tesco to make a living, so now who looks like a fool!? I only say such a thing because she annoyed me by patronising me after I'd completed the transaction. She said something like "Well done. See, it wasn't that hard after all" as though I was a bit simple.

I'm not entirely certain that I'm a fan of this new machine at Tesco, but it was something to catch my attention between buying socks and leaving the shop. I was going to go into a length debate on how it could be improved, but I can't be bothered. It's late and I've had a very busy and confusing day.

Friday, February 4

I didn't feel so flat at tonight's rehearsal. Correction, by the end of it, I didn't feel so flat. I also felt slightly less transparent too. This was good. Perhaps this is just a case of pre-show-tension. The show will be born just after the weekend. Next rehearsal is the first dress. Tomorrow night I pick up the aformentioned dress.

I've had Mendelssohn's wedding march playing round in my head all day. This is entirely my own fault for writing lyrics to it... and not bad ones at that. It's the middle eight that's going round in my head the most. It's a hell of a melody. Damn me and my musical silliness.

I spent some of today looking for gigs. I got a few and put feelers out for some others. Tonight, from people I hadn't approached, I was offered two gigs within 20 minutes and had to turn them both down. D'oh! If you are a comedy promoter and you are feeling like now is a good time to offer me a gig, then go right ahead. I'm looking to have a full diary from when I return to stand up in March. I'm really missing the stand-up. I think that's why I've been a bit down of late.

Thursday, February 3

I gave an egregious performance in tonight's rehearsal. Totally out of step with the rest of the room. Very frustrating. I perked up for the finale and quite enjoyed the tap-dancing again.

I'm now able to do Westgate Hill on the bike without dropping below 4th gear. Maybe that's why I was so knackered at the rehearsal.

Tuesday, February 1

Two years and one month
It's 25 months since I last posted an article in the backlash section of this site. The Incredible website used to be done very differently. The weblog bit was quite brief and all the meaty stuff was stuck away in the sections. As time went on, the weblog became the focus of the site and the sections just the equivalent of DVD extras. Normally, I blether what I want to on the front page. This is why I've not written any articles about attacking the world or arguing with people (which is what "backlash" is about). It's also fair to say that I've been a lot more in harmony with the world over the last couple of years, so there's been less vitriol to pour out.

Luckily for you (perhaps unluckily for me) I have finally broken my backlash-silence. I had an ebay auction go wrong and here is what happened.

You are what you eat
If that's true then I'm a low-priced low-fat Morrisons ready meal that smells suspiciously of someone's armpit.

Low in other stuff
My mood is swinging down. It must be growing pains, or the constant anticipation of a busy month with nothing frenetic actually happening yet. Tomorrow ought to be a bit busier, but the hustle and bustle hasn't started.

Costumes
I spent the early part of tonight's rehearsal working on a lovely pair of shoes I'll be wearing for the show. I say lovely... they're alright - I wouldn't wear them for my own purposes, but they'll do the show nicely, nicely, thank you. In addition, I was a witness to an all too familiar costume debate. Admittedly, it was slightly shameful, since it related to female costumes, and I shouldn't have such a working knowledge of such things.

I'm not camp.

The Play What I Wrote
The Morecambe and Wise tribute show returns to Newcastle at the end of Feb for a week. I had almost managed to see this last time it came. I say almost... we (well, I certainly did) misjudged the start time of the performance, rather significantly... we were late... then got confused about exactly which seats were ours... in a nutshell, we missed half the show. The second half made very little sense without the first. I think I'd like to see the whole of the show this time.

The title is apt enough. I'm putting a bit of time into writing a new play. The play would form the core of a sequel to The Musical! and I'm really in two minds about the whole things. On the one hand, we had glowing reviews for the original show, which made a fuss of our songwriting. On the other hand, we could quit while we're ahead (assuming that we feel like we're ahead when the March run is over). On one hand, my collaborator may not even be able to do the show, on the other, if he is, it would be a shame not to give Edinburgh another whirl - especially since we got better at making a show work there. In terms of writing a follow-up, it could be a really bad idea to write something that is so explicitly a sequel, though the concept of the original was so strong, that perhaps something too different would like the magic of the first. A sequel can be a boring rehash, but then a sequel can also play the self-deprecating card, acknowledge its possible failings and then surprise the audience by avoiding them.

I don't know.

I do know that I'm trying to write something which I believe has a bit of depth and interest, as well as a bunch of gags. I hope that my collaborator - well, he ain't collaborated on this yet, but there would be no show without him - will see something in the notes I've sent him that he likes. Bizarrely, I sent him two show briefs, he picked the second, but I had, by that stage, decided that I couldn't achieve the brief of the second, but had a clearer picture in my head about the first... and I'd already written a few scenes...

Oh dear. I'm not necessarily a playwright. I'm just a spoilt schoolboy who happens to have aged 14 years without understanding a great deal about the world. I may have learned a lot and I may be able to show understanding of things... heck, I may even be able to hold down a reasonable job and attempt to provide support to my team-mates (whom I think are currently doing a great job)... but I'm exactly the same kid who wanted to stage shows in his school theatre when he was 17. And I did. I wrote a play. It wasn't too bad. It wasn't too good either. It was just a play.

When you're looking at the world, as a man in the tail end of his 31st year on the planet, and you realise that some of your perspective is still that of your 17 year-old self... it can be a good thing, and it can be quite depressing. Surely I'm more sophisticated now? Surely I can get along with people better? Get to know people... be of interest to people?

Or maybe I'm just the geeky enthusiast who can sometimes turn invisible. When I feel like singing "Mr Cellophane" from Chicago every so often... it's definitely the invisibility thing. Being invisible is bad. Being invisible to people that are always in sharp focus to you... well, that calls for a song.

Maybe I'll write one.

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