Directors Blog: A Monstrous Production

Evening all. 

Two more rehearsals… Two!!! Eeeeek! Everyone had a lot of fun today at rehearsals, which is good best let everyone get their giggles out today than on the first night. Also this is meant to be a fun thing to do. It’s an odd thing for a director of an Amdram show. It has to be fun – or else nobody would do it but at the same time in just over a week there will be bums on seats having paid to see a great show. So it is a thin line to tread to find the right mixture of fun and hard work – there was a lot of hard work along with the fun I should add!!! 

We had a production meeting this week, that really settled my nerves. Also – might have said this before – I am not technical. Not in the slightest. I know what I want lit and when, and the sounds I need. But how that happens? No idea. I don’t know a gobo from an LED, or what either of those two things do. So far this week I have spoken with Ollie, Clayton and Joe – these guys (plus one other) are my technical salvation. Because I don’t know what I’m talking about I have no idea if what I’m asking is crazy or not. So when I was talking about corridors of light, spots, a different type of light for indoor scenes and out door scenes and lighting for someone to sit with their legs off the stage the fact they just went “yup” made me want to hug them. I’m just letting them have free reign, I’m just going to get in the way during the Get In. So – my plan is to make myself useful, do as I’m told, make lots of tea and bring sweets. I guess at that stage – well… the dress rehearsal my job is done. So I can go home and put my feet up! Jokes. I’ll be there. Every night.

Things I’m looking forward to this week: costumes arrive tomorrow!! With the clacks machine!! – SH is amazing and saving me a trip to Bristol by driving them to my door. Everyone needs an SH they are invaluable. Programme will be finalised and sent to the printers. The last of the props arrive. 

Next weeks blog will most likely be written from the theatre!!! 

A Monstrous Production: A Directors Blog. 

Good evening folks,

This is attempt two of tonight’s blog… my first version was the show in numbers – then as I was about finished (counting tweets and costume changes and rehearsal hours etc) I realised I was spoiling half of the surprises we have in store for you… so I’ve stored that away for my last blog. It was a lot of numbers.

What happened this week? Well… we’ve had 12 hours of rehearsals (I just can’t resist those numbers!). We’ve run act 2 many times, (last week was all about act 1). We’ve done both normal and speed runs to drill everything in. Currently the cast have a prompt, we’ll soon get to the point where that’s removed and if a line gets missed or forgotten they’re going to have to help each other. I guess it’s easy for me, I have the script in front of me, but we’re having title issues at the moment – Privates, Corprals, Captains, Lieutenants and Generals – and not everyone stays the same, there’s a lot of promotions in this war! And that gets confusing. 

(Finding pictures of rehearsals to intersperse my babble that didn’t give too much away was incredibly hard!)

Lots more props and costumes arrived this week – it’s the little things sometimes that make it. There’s a letter that Polly reads near the start and I know it’s only a piece of paper and it’s used for like 1 minute on stage but my lovely chief of props (Adam T) nailed it and must have spent ages cutting bits out! I have to say I was less impressed at the picture of the Duchess… Adam has a warped sense of humour sometimes… 

Sometimes as a director you have to push your actors to do things they don’t feel comfortable with. I’m not talking about anything illegal or dodgy but an emotional place they’d rather not go for example (lucky for us this is a comedy). But as a director I did not think that I would have to do anything outside of my comfort zone. This week, I had to go out of my comfort zone. Since I moved from on the stage to behind it, I have felt so much more comfortable. Now, I have gone on stage since, but I get terrible nerves these days. I got a phone call from my awesome marketing lead saying we’d secured a TV interview and would I go and talk about the show. Argh!!! But I did it because my cast are awesome and have worked so hard they deserve a great audience to perform to. If you haven’t already seen it, you can catch the interview here. And thank you to That’s Solent for giving us the opportunity to come on and chat about the show. 

Right, that’s me for this week, I have to go write a lot of lists… maybe that will be the theme for next weeks blog: Lists I have written – jokes. You’d be bored senseless by that! 

Directors Blog: A Monstrous Production

Good Evening Folks!

First off, thank you to Adam who gave me a week off last week! But up until show week we resume normal service with my updates. 

So, we returned to rehearsals this week, we did two different rehearsals to usual this week. As I had given the cast over Christmas to get their lines down (an extension on my original deadline) our first rehearsal back was a line run to make sure we were all books down. Then the second rehearsal was the Regiment only. This was a chance for us to go over important things – like marching and standing to attention. Getting 8 people (one with a limp and one 7ft tall) to do things in sync is much harder than it looks. I also got a chance to have a chat with them about how they interact with each other. One of my favourite activities (from a direction point of view) is to ask them to stand where they think they are in relation to the others on the stage at different points of the play. This is where I kick myself as I wish I’d taken a picture of them doing it! Actually some of their responses surprised me, because I would have placed them differently. But that encourages conversation – why is “Wazzer” standing far off, why was “Carborundum” always away from the group, and of course whenever anyone moved why did “Igor” move to stand equidistant from everyone else. I hope the cast didn’t think I was mad! But it’s not just about learning lines, it’s about who you are, what are your motivation, what is your relationship to the people around you. Although we’re in a fantasy world the audience has to relate to your characters. 

Which brings us to Sunday – we had a long rehearsal today, our first one with props! We worked long and hard on act 1. The second time round I was so engrossed watching them that I forgot to take notes for a couple of scenes! Which although not massively helpful for rehearsal point of view is a brilliant sign for the play! 

It didn’t end there for me and my PM, we still have lots of organising. So back to Monstrous HQ for coffee and planning. First order of business – wigs! I have a lot of cast with long hair that needs to be short. I cannot ask them to cut it off. I think they would tell me to take a running jump – I would… Here’s a tip – if it doesn’t matter how the hair looks (and I mean like they’ve cut it themselves) buy long haired wigs and cut them yourselves. It will save you an absolute fortune! So my house is slowly becoming a wig shop – here’s our practice and a pre-cut version. It actually turned out pretty well. PM thought it best to cut the wig on my head – I assume she didn’t trust me with scissors near her hair 🙄

We then went through the costume list to work out if I had arranged to order the right stuff – we’re hiring a lot of our military jackets from Stage Style Costumes in Bristol – they have been great! I’m lucky enough that SH doesn’t live that far from them so he can pick them up and drop them off for me! We went through what I had planned to order and what we needed (cue me being very smug because I was actually spot on -unorganised, forgetful, easily confused me!). 

We went over lots of other stuff too but I’m not going to bore you with that! 

With three weeks to go we still have a lot of other stuff to do but we’re getting there. 

Tickets are selling fast – so don’t forget to book! And I shall catch up with you all next week! Until then #WeAreMonstrous!

Directors Blog Take Over!! Confessions of a Teenage Troll

It ain’t fair. Your mum and dad always going on an’ on at you: “Where you bin? What time do you call dis? What is dat you wearing? Is dat lichen? All de other girls polish, so why not you?” And the boyz think they is so smart and tuff, wavin’ thez new clubs at me with stoopid grins on thez stoopid faces. “Hey Jade!” dey shout. “Bangin’ mossylocks! Wanna get groophy wid us?” Huh. In thez dreamz! But I show them ALL good. I gonna run away and join de army, leave dis boring stoopid valley and see der world! No more naggy parents! No more stoopid boyz! I gonna see excitin’ forrin places and meet erotic people!
During the auditions I specifically asked if I could play Carborundum (actually Jade) the troll, even though I knew the role had very few lines and involved a lot of standing around. My motive was that I really wanted to have some fun creating an awesome troll costume. Had I made anything like this before? No, but that was going to be half the fun!

The first step (this is a pun, or play on words) was to build some platform shoes to make myself even taller; I am six foot four anyway, but wanted to be at least seven feet tall on stage. An earlier blog post has a photo of my first attempt, which worked but were far too heavy! I remade them using a box structure and thinner plywood, and managed to reduce their weight by more than half.

I’d decided to adopt an agile project management strategy (i.e. making it up as I went along) and was puzzling how the exterior of the feet would look when Adam Taussik gave me two cushions from his old car; the idea was to use the foam inside them as padding for the troll’s body. On closer inspection the rear of the cushions was made from grey plastic leather, and when cut out these panels turned out to be exactly the right size for the feet, and made them look like very big hooves! This was obviously ‘meant to be’.

Plan A was to glue foam from the cushions all over a boiler suit, and then spray paint it to look like rock, but a trip to FabricLand in town led to a much better plan B. I found an ‘end of roll’ stretchy jersey in an amazing pattern called ‘Oil Slick Shimmer’ which was perfect as troll skin. I bought all they had – just over 3 metres – and hoped that it would be enough. I contacted FabricLand’s main depot in Ringwood, and Maxine was fantastically helpful – she contacted their other stores for me and confirmed that I had the very last length… so it would just have to do. And it did… just. I have just a few tiny scraps left over, so again this was obviously ‘meant to be’. 

Plan B involved me sewing tubes of the jersey to stretch-fit over the foam-padded arms, legs and body, as well as the head and hands. This was only the second time I have used a sewing machine (I made a green felt Wizzard hat last year) but after some puzzlement over threading our classic 70’s Frister & Rossmann 45 (thank goodness someone took photos of the manual and put them online) I was away!

I decided early on that the head would completely cover me; I’d looked at photos of ‘open face’ troll heads from other productions of Monstrous Regiment, and although they were mostly very good, I wanted to give Jade a real sense of ‘otherness’; she is not like the others and is always an outsider – even Maladict the vampire and Igor are essentially human. Imogen shared some drawings of lumpy troll faces from the Discworld wiki and I drew on those for inspiration, especially their epic jutting chins.

I started with a cycle helmet and attached a plastic-and-cardboard framework for the chin. I wanted the jaw to move as I talked, so knicker elastic is used to hold it in tension against my chin – simple! Then I built up the shape with foam and covered it with fabric before moving on to the details. An old pair of sunglasses provided the black shiny eyes, and a trip up to the loft discovered some beautiful Icelandic wool for the mossy locks. Model railway lichen completes the look, but is difficult to glue on and will need frequent attention during the run. 

I tried the complete costume for the first time during a recent rehearsal and found that the head is hot to wear and prone to steaming up, which makes it difficult to see. I’ve installed a ‘breathing tube’ which minimises the problem – this looks like a single nostril – and have even bought a small fan designed to cool laptops which I hope will aid airflow across my face. And of course I’ll be able to take the headpiece off whenever I’m not on stage. All this has given me a real sense of admiration for those nameless actors from Dr Who episodes over the decades who have trudged around a brightly lit studio, sweating in their full ‘alien’ costumes!

Needless to say, I don’t want to give a great big spoiler by showing photos of the whole costume here, so come along to the show and meet the fabulous Jade, who knows her own mind, makes her own choices and is really quite petite and slender as trolls go. Go Girl!