Improvised musicals

I start this post with an apology.

To the group of 40 or so students from the University of Virginia who contacted me last year about a new project they were working on – an online musical on YouTube, that would be developed weekly with help from viewers’ comments and suggestions.

Sorry that I didn’t watch it when I was supposed to. In September.

My only defence is that I was still recovering from the after-effects of my involvement in last September’s 24-hour musical (which incidentally, turned out to be Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin), oh, and that they contacted me on what happened to be the eve of my birthday, so I’m sure there was something incredibly exciting going on. Not.

Anyway, only six months late, I tuned in. Of course, the whole audience participation thing is over, so I have no way of knowing whether any of my suggestions would have influenced the final piece.

Episode One of The Online Musical made me smile. In a good way, so I will be watching Episode 2, hopefully sooner than Christmas. I’m not going to get into a long review here, frankly I should have done this in September for it to count, but for the record, I enjoyed what I saw – a bunch of enthusiastic people (all noticeably younger than me) making a musical out of the idea that life really is a musical. Which is what I and many of my musical theatre friends actually believe should happen anyway.

Coming soon is the group’s next project, The Mini Musicals, a series of 10-15 minute musicals based on topics suggested by their audience – that could be you and me! Anyway, I will try to follow in a timely manner this Spring, and I wish them luck as the project unfolds…

… incidentally, I’m seeing Showstopper! The Improvised Musical at the lovely Theatre by the Lake in Keswick at the weekend, so maybe I’ll pick up some ideas?!

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Free weekend?

“I have just realised that my next free weekend is also my birthday! 12th September. In the autumn. WTF? #fb 2 months ago

It’s Friday night and Husband of Mine is down the pub, trying out his new, hand-made mandolin.  Children of Mine are tucked up in bed, so I thought, I know – I’ll log on to WordPress… but what’s this?  Wait a minute – I haven’t posted anything since 30th June?

And then I saw the Twitter Update in the sidebar, selectively tweeted to Facebook.  And realised that, against all odds, this weekend is still free.  It is still my birthday (on Sunday).  And it is now autumn (although I’m not sure it was ever summer).

Since that tweet on 6th July, my weekends have been spent rehearsing / in a tent at Guilfest dressed as a nun / at an operatic concert at an art gallery / at a wedding / on holiday in Mallorca / rehearsing again / performing at the Arundel Festival in Little Shop of Horrors / rehearsing non-stop for 24 hours to perform in a production of Pippin.

WTF?

I’m not saying a word…

“Last night I dreamt I was in a theatre. On the table there was a box. It seemed to be full of presents.  Wrapped.  I couldn’t be sure.  Are they presents? I said.  We pulled off the Christmas wrapping and they weren’t presents but clues…”

Mary.  Linda.  Linda.  Mary.  MaryLinda.  MaryLin.  MariLyn.  Marilyn Munroe.   A 24 hour character crisis.

Then, “Suddenly everything makes sense; in fact it’s triplets…”.  No.  This time it was twins.  And not Mary’s, someone else’s.

Mickey and Tony were in the dream.  And Simon and Eddie.  Caroline, Donna Marie, MaryAbi, ‘B’, ‘Streets’, ‘PinkUkelele’ – were all there too, together with unfamiliar faces, who by the end of the dream, were like old friends because we had been bound together by a shared experience.  Sammy was there, but not Sam – how could she be with her head down the toilet?  Charming On Stage Lover was there too, but only fleetingly as the doctor I remember him to be; then he would appear with a crate of milk in his hands; but most of the time he had to be uncharacteristically cold, distant and unfeeling.

Artist Masquerading as a Manager enters centre stage with Liverpool-inspired paintings.  A funfair.  Beads and bleachers and colored lights. As if she already knew.

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 Artwork © Joanne Webb

They were young, free and innocent – three good friends. Mickey, Eddie and Linda – “she’s a girl, but she’s all right.”  But is the couple in the picture Mickey and Linda? Or Linda and Eddie?

It could have been either. And yet they both died – the two clowns, who could and did get their lines right. Leaving Linda alone.

Bring the curtain down. Until September.  Because other people’s words said it all…

Learn a musical and perform it 24 hours later? But which one?

4.10am – I am kept awake by Husband of Mine tossing and turning.  He is awake, knowing that he needs to get up at 5.30am to catch a flight to Guernsey for a meeting.

5.30am – I hear the alarm go off, but fall asleep again without too much trouble.

7.58am – I wake, hear the faint sound of the television from downstairs, and realise happily that Son of Mine has, for once, obeyed my instructions to the letter:

“Do not under any circumstances, unless there is a crisis which you cannot resolve yourself, wake me up any earlier than 8.00am.  Especially if it is just to ask if you can go downstairs and watch TV before breakfast. I am giving you permission in advance to do exactly that.”

“But can I come in and whisper to you?”

“No, because whispering still wakes me up, and I need as much sleep as possible because I will be awake from the second I wake on Friday morning, until I am able to go to bed on Saturday night, because of the 24 hour musical.” 

So today is the beginning of that sleep-deprived period of my life.   Tonight at 7.30pm I will embark (no clues there, we’ve done sailors with white trousers) on the sixth 24 hour musical that I have been involved in.

For anyone out there who hasn’t the foggiest what I’m on about, let me explain:

Quite a few years ago, Husband of Mine was contemplating a job move. To Guernsey. As with the other of his potential job moves that have been contemplated over the years, my immediate thoughts turn to theatre – is there one in the vicinity of the said job location; will I find like-minded theatrical individuals who are prepared to throw everything into their hobby; are the groups that already exist in the area competent and unafraid to take a risk on shows that aren’t run of the mill G&S or Rodgers & Hammerstein (not that there’s anything wrong with either partnership, just not all the time).

So in my detailed research of Guernsey (and in case you were worried about my lack of interest, I did also research education and housing), I came across Guernsey Youth Theatre and the production that they were working on during that very weekend of my research in 2004 – Bugsy Malone – learnt and rehearsed in 24 hours without sleep for cast and crew alike.  Read more about GYT’s 24 musicals here – you can also find them on Facebook.

Brilliant! I thought.  I know who would be interested in a similar venture.   I have been in many productions over the last 20 or so years with a talented local director who loves, to the point of bordering on obsession, musicals. Director Who Thinks Life is a Musical is also a fan of short rehearsal periods and quirky ideas so who better to pit the idea of staging our own version of the 24 hour challenge to?  In the summer of 2004, I was in her production of By Jeeves, so mentioned the Guernsey set up to her one day in the pub.

The following Spring, the first 24 hour musical, to my knowledge, to be attempted in Sussex, emerged, blinking in wonderment like a newborn, into Sussex theatreland’s consciousness.  The chosen show was a closely guarded secret until 7.30pm on the night of Friday 1 April (April Fool’s Day – how fitting!), when Director Who Thinks Life is a Musical played the opening bars of – The Sound of Music!  Quickly, this in itself was revealed to be the April Fool – and after 24 hours of rehearsal, set making and painting, and a lot of laughter, tears and the inevitable ups and downs, we staged Hot MikadoFollow the link for a few photos – alas, not of me as I’m always the one with the camera – but believe me when I say I was definitely in it.

The rest, as they say,  is history.  Probably no one involved with this year’s musical knows where the idea came from; Director Who Thinks Life is a Musical has almost certainly forgotten that conversation with me back in 2004.  All credit to her though for making the idea into a reality, I’m just pleased (in a masochistic way) to have been a part of the first, and all subsequent 24 hour productions to date: Grease, Snoopy! The Musical; Dames at Sea; West Side Story and the as yet unknown musical for April 2010.

And so back to tonight’s reveal… which musical will it be this year?  A few clues or potential red herrings have surfaced in the past couple of weeks:

My costume list gives nothing away – jeans, trainers, a plain coloured top, black heels, white shirt and leggings.

But I have been asked for a dark coloured coat – specifically the one I borrowed from a friend for the final scene of The Memory of Water – a black swing style coat with a fur collar.

Someone else has been asked for a blazer.

Eight chairs.

It apparently contains some swearing.  I found this out some weeks ago, when asking if it would be suitable for Children of Mine to see.

And my hair in bunches – hmmm.

Only tonight will tell whether these were indeed real clues – albeit unhelpful ones.