The GRP

The Green Room Productions is a theatre company based in Eastbourne

Is this a script I see before me?

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I read scripts ALL the time, and am always on the hunt for a good play.  I have a pile of plays I would like to produce one day, but it is always about logistics, timing, venue, budget, available cast etc.  So my script 'to-do' pile gets higher & higher every year, and my bookcase wobbles that little bit more.

Twitter is a wonderful tool for so many reasons.  I have met some wonderful people through Twitter, increased our attending audience, found people to work with, new friends, and I usually learn something new every day - it might be a useless fact, but even so.  Another big advantage of Twitter, is that I get to keep up with all the new theatre being produced throughout the country, and spot potential plays in the making. 

So what makes a good play?  Well that, I believe, is in the eye of the beholder.  When I start reading a script, I can usually tell within the first 20 pages of writing whether I am going to like it, by the first 40 pages whether I can stage it, and by 60 pages I will know whether I am going to produce it - then it all rests on whether I like the ending of the play.  The hairs literally stand up on my neck when I read a good play; I cannot put it down and have to finish the whole script in one sitting.

What makes a bad play I hear you ask (I am sure you did).  A bad play in my opinion consists of:

  • Too many pages - nothing worse than a lonnnnng play.  Theatre has changed so much in this regard.  The last ten years have seen plays reduce drastically in length, and so many playwrights now tend to favour no interval.  Look back to when we had three act plays, and three intervals, you almost needed a camp bed to get through them.  I am definitely a fan of the no-interval-shorter-play.
  • Bad writing (obviously) - characters who are one-dimensional, thin storylines, too complicated storylines, and no storylines! Comedies that are not funny, tragedies that are not tragic, and drama's that have no drama.  Finally my big pet hate are very bad/cop-out endings.
  • Sets so complicated you need a house builder to construct them for you. Personally I think a playwright should think seriously about this if they want their play to make any money for them.  Yes, they might get a commission, so one theatre is happy to stump up the money, but after that the play will be left on a dusty shelf where no small theatre company will ever be able to afford to stage it.

In our 2014 line-up we have two superb plays, both so very different, and both had me gripped by the first 20 pages.  I fell in love with 'Before it Rains' by Katherine Chandler because it is not a play like any I have read before.  It is written in a realistic way, but the playwright found the poem 'The Law of the Jungle' by Rudyard Kipling a real inspiration for not only the world, but the themes in the play too. We’ve all had those lazy, hazy sunny days when everything’s going our way but then along comes the rain.  We have an excellent cast for this play, and I am very excited about starting work on this superb piece of writing in January.

When I was a teen I bought a book at a jumble sale called 'Ladykillers', which was the real life story of five lady murderers, one of whom was Ruth Ellis.  From here my interest in her story captured me.  When I saw the script for 'The Thrill of Love' by Amanda Whittington I had all my fingers crossed it was going to be a good play - I was not disappointed.  Again, it is written in a very unusual way, and the stylised manner in which Amanda tells her story of Ruth Ellis, makes it an exciting and captivating play.

So to end on a little bit of theatre logic for you ...

In is down, down is front
Out is up, up is back
Off is out, on is in
And of course-
Left is right and right is left
A prop doesn't and
A trap will not catch anything
Strike is work (In fact a lot of work)
And a green room, thank god, usually isn't
Now that you're fully versed in Theatrical terms,
Break a leg.
But not really.

Click here to see our 'What's On' page

 

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me ...

On Monday we held an 'open audition night', the purpose of which was to meet new actors & actresses who had expressed an interest in our company.  What a lovely evening it was.  No ego's arrived through the door, no pretentiousness, just a bunch of great actors wanting to get their hands dirty and produce good theatre.  A refreshing change I can tell you!

We are a funny lot us actors - a breed unto ourselves.  People full of confidence & insecurities.  Outgoing people full of shyness.  People willing to put themselves on the line & yet nervous to do so.  We are a psychiatrist's dream ... although we tend to use acting as our own prescribed treatment.

I have met every type of actor over the years, and believe me there are a whole big mix out there.  From the super talented and don't know it, to the totally incompetent and yet think they are the next Laurence Olivier or Maggie Smith. 

Monday highlighted for me the qualities I look for in an actor, and this is a pretty accurate list:-

  • The ablility to take direction - that may seem like a given, but believe me it is not!
  • The actor who works as part of a team and not for their own 15 minutes of fame.
  • The selfless actor who does not upstage.  Who supports their colleagues both onstage and off.
  • The actor who learns their lines, and has their books down when asked. 
  • The actor without an ego. 
  • The actor who realises, you are only as good as the people you are on stage with, and more importantly, the people who are backstage supporting you. 
  • The actor who will happily get their hands dirty

I am a passionate director I know, and boy the thrill I get when I see talent is so exciting.  The thrill I get when I see actors improve beyond what they thought they were capable of is a joy.   The thrill I get when I see a play come together is what makes all the hard work totally worthwhile. 

So I come to a story about lines ... I was once in a play where one of the cast had not completely learnt his lines by the first night!  It was a complicated play, where characters were coming and going. He came into several scenes he was not it in, appeared through doors he should not, and was in general a complete nightmare.  One night, he appeared in a scene he (for once) should have been in, but started saying his lines from the next act!  There were five of us on stage, we all tried to bring him back into the right scene/act, but the more we ad-libbed to get him back on track, the more confused he got.  In the end (of what seemed like an excruciatingly long time) one of the cast annnounced we should all go for a walk in the garden, at which point every cast member left the stage!  We all had a very quick de-breif as to how to get the play back on track, went back on stage (minus the actor, who when it boiled down to it, didn't even know what play he was in) and managed to get through the scene saying all our lines, and his too.  Suffice to say he never acted again, and I lost 10 years off of my life.

I am looking forward to working with some new actors and creating some more wonderful stories to tell, and on that note ... our next production of 'Everything Between Us' comes around on October 3rd - 5th.  Tickets are on sale now.

Click here for details and booking.

It is a lonely old business ...

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This is my first foray into the world of a one-woman show, and I am not quite sure how I feel about it ...

These last few months I have been rehearsing 'Just Joyce' on my own (with an occasional rehearsal with a pianist) and along side this, directing 'Everything Between Us' (our October production) with a cast.  It has been a useful tool to be doing both at the same time, as I have had a direct comparison.  I think I have come to the conclusion that the best parts of this business we call 'show', are the friends, fun, comradery, and teamwork of working with a cast & crew throughout rehearsals, and I have kind of missed that doing Joyce on my 'Jack Jones'.

Now, on the plus side, I love Joyce Grenfell (or 'Choice Pencil' as SIRI likes to rename her) and have done so from a young age, so it is a joy to be working on such fabulous pieces, and even now they are still making me laugh.   I have also thoroughly enjoyed researching her life, and I now feel I know her intimately.  So all of that has been a huge bonus, and I hope will continue to be so when we finally get in front of our audience in August - although I don't want to think about that just  yet!  We will be taking 'Just Joyce' into some residential homes for the elderly after we have performed at the theatre, and I think this may well be what makes this whole project even more worthwhile.

When the cockney comedienne Nelly Wallace watched Joyce from the wings of the theatre, she was heard to mutter "what does she think she is doing out there, talking to herself".  That is so true of me right now, all my neighbours, people who see me walking my dog, on the tube, trains, in my car and in the street will have seen me 'talking to myself' for the last 3 months - what I am doing, is in fact going over my lines.  I'm surprised I have not been carted away by now! 

2013 has been a year of new experiences for me so far, having written and produced my own play for the first time, and now performing a one-woman show.  I'll let you know in December if I will do either of these things ever again . . . 

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Act I beginners this is your 5 minute call .....

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That sentence is the one that sends the stomach flipping, the adrenalin pumping, the dressing room into hushed tones of nervous silence and the heart racing. This time next week we will have already had our first night, and we will be pacing the 'Green Room' gearing up for show número deux.

'First night nerves' is a funny old expression, it should be 'every night nerves' as far as I am concerned. That feeling of standing in the wings repeating your first line over and over, feeling cold, hot, calm, excited, sick and nervous always raises the question 'why the heck do we do this'? Then the lights go down, you take your opening position and that question fades into oblivion as you settle into the play.

I have an equal passion for acting and directing (actually I think directing is pipping the post of late). Which do I feel more nervous about on opening night? Directing without a shadow of a doubt! Handing the play over to the cast and crew after dress rehearsal is a lonely business. Suddenly you are redundant, and your 'baby' has grown up and flown the nest. As a director I will (more often than not) sit in the auditorium on production nights and nervously watch the audience - yes the audience - to see if our interpretation of the story wins the hearts of our viewers.

Anyone who has acted for me (let's hope none of them read this, or I dread the comments) will attest that I am a notorious 'note giver'. I always have reams of 'actors notes' after each play I have directed. For our current production on next week, I am acting and directing, so my head is torn into two. I have reams of actors notes to myself! My nerves are sliding from actor to director and back again in one fell swoop, and I have a yearning to be Worzel Gummidge and be able to swap heads. I will be intrigued as to which 'head' takes the most nerves next week - I am suspecting my acting one will win the day.

In a production of 'Blood Money', in-between Acts I & II our wonderful props lady was on the set doing a last check that everything was where it should be. Unbeknownst to her, the beginners call had happened, the cast were in place, and the Stage Manager gave the cue to start the second act. Seeing the curtain start to open, she dived behind the sofa (still on stage). The only person who was aware of where she was, was a single cast member on stage who had seen it happen. All the backstage crew were calling her on cans (headphones) wondering where the heck she had disappeared to. There was a knock at the door (onstage), the cast member went to open the door to an actress entering, she hastily whispered "Jill's behind the sofa"! From then on in, everybody had to surreptitiously step over her, or walk around her. All was fine, until a male cast member had to 'die' behind the sofa. Even to this day, the picture of the two of them bundled behind the sofa still makes me laugh!

Let's hope I don't have any theatrical tales of woe to impart after next week!

The Wife, The Mistress, The Chair. April 18th - 20th. The Little Theatre, Eastbourne. Box Office: 01323 479732

wanted 2 x white plastic picnic mugs ...

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Two weeks to go until opening night and the madness kicks in ...

The last fortnight before any production is a manic time for me.  Everything needs to be sorted. Programme designed, practice props replaced by real ones, costumes co-ordinated and worn, liaising on set design/construction, sound FX recorded, lighting designed, cue sheets written up and so on ....  My to-do list just gets longer and longer, and my sleep gets less and less!

It amuses me (in an ironic way) that for so many plays I end up hunting down props that in the past have sat around the garage or loft, and we have thrown them away.  There is only so much theatrical 'stuff' we can house, but I am always wary of throwing things away.  Yesterday I spent AGES looking for just the right plastic picnic mugs online - you know, the one's that were ALWAYS on the top of flasks.  The one's that EVERYONE used to have.  Thank goodness for the internet, and that I don't have to trawl around shops any more!

So following on with some more tales of theatrical woe ... in a school production (some years ago - no comments please), a character I was on stage with, had to spend an entire scene embroidering on a flexi hoop.  As the scene to came to a close, she had a big speech, she stood up to say her piece and she had sewn the entire embroidery (hoop and all) onto her skirt.  She had to spend the rest of the scene with it hanging from her skirt - her final sweeping exit was a hoot!  This was the start of me digging my nails into my hands to stop myself corpsing.

'The Wife, The Mistress, The Chair' has been a props challenge with handcuffs and ropes - not finding, but actually using (and before you ask, no, it is NOTHING like '50 Shades of Grey')!

“What is that unforgettable line?”

So with a month to go until opening night, the pressure is on to 'get books down'.  Act I is pretty much there, but Act II needs some serious line learning on my part. 

The days of having a prompt sitting in the corner as a security blanket have well and truly passed, and we always go on knowing it is down to us to get ourselves out of any sticky situations that may arise.  There is nothing more frightening than seeing the fear in a fellow actors face, as their lines disappear right before your eyes, or the same happening to you.

One of the worst feelings (and it happens to me one performance of every play I have ever been in) is the time your mouth is speaking your lines, but your brain is somewhere else. Usually with me, I have a voice speaking out loud in my head "you must concentrate ... I cannot believe my lines are coming out and I am thinking this ... what is my next line ..... busy house tonight" - and all this goes on while my mouth continues speaking the play!  It does not matter how much I tell myself to focus back on the play, the voices in my head take over. 

The other thing I have to deal with every production, is my repetitve nightmare of standing in the wings waiting to go on into a play I know nothing about.  Desperately trying to learn lines in the few seconds before I am due to enter the scene, not having a costume, or the first clue as to what play I am actually in ...... cart me off in the white jacket now.

One of the funniest prompts I have heard, was in a very bad 'village hall' production some years ago.  Everything that could have gone wrong, had. At one point an actress was vacuuming and the sound effect for the hoover had, for some reason, been abrubtly stopped, so she continued the scene making the hoover noise herself, in-between her lines!  Anyway I digress .... this old actor completely dried, he sidled to the side of the the stage where prompt was obviously sitting, and said very loudly 'PROMPT', to which the prompt gave him his forgotten line "I can't remember what I was going to say".  Priceless.

And on that note, I have well and truly scared myself into pulling out my script and getting those lines learnt!

are we mad?

I have often pondered on why I enjoy acting - never more so, than on an opening night when I am standing in the wings waiting to go on. At these times I actually question my sanity!  Even after all these years, I don't think I have ever found a definitive answer to that question ... except, I just do! 

I do think that there is a large element of enjoying being someone other than yourself.  It is a thrill to get into the mind of another 'human being', and exciting to be able to act things as a character, that you would never do in 'real life'.  So is the answer escapism?  To a certain extent, I think maybe it is.

I am going to remain silent on this subject now, as I am going to post this blog to other actors I know, and see what list we draw up between us .... literally watch this space!