There is not a dictionary or thesaurus yet published that contains words enough to describe the awesome responsibilities shouldered by the saintly individuals who undertake the role of Production Manager on a West End Musical. If only the governance of the world could be handed over to a small committee of theatrical production managers global conflict would cease, famine and disease would be eradicated, North Korea would become a tourist hot-spot and the Israelis and Palestinians would put out a joint cricket team.
What exactly do they do? A Production manager is employed by the Producer to deliver the physical production, to employ the staff, to draw up the schedules, to run the technical half of the budget, to supervise rehearsals, the list is endless, but most importantly they need to be ‘The Most Sensible Person in the Building’.
The Company manager is the Producer’s representative in the theatre and apart from running the payroll, petty cash and a welter of other administrative stuff, they face other more challenging tasks like allocating the dressing rooms, not always easy when the Producer has often made contractual arrangements with both leading artists to have the ‘Star’ dressing room. Company Managers are also responsible for maintaining company discipline, a tricky balancing act between being a management ‘Iron Fist’ and having to work with an insecure group of emotional retards, oops! sorry, actors on a day to day basis.
In my youth I was a touring Company Manager for a few years (it was long enough ago that during the second house on a Saturday I would go up to the House Manager’s office to settle up over a glass of whisky. If the show had made money, a rare occurrence, he would hand over cash from his safe) and keeping the company’s morale up in some of England’s more dismal venues was not always easy. On a tour of Michael Frayn’s Donkeys Years I was faced with a bored company whose performances had become sloppy and self indulgent. So before a mid-week matinee in Scarborough, which I knew would be poorly attended I gave the cast a pep talk. Apart from giving them a “pull your socks up” speech I also said that while the matinee audience would be thin on the ground, they would have paid their money the same as anyone else and deserved as good a show as a packed Saturday night house. The cast nodded dutifully and I went round to the back of the stalls to watch and to give the cast their due they took my words to heart and gave a vital pulsing performance until a point in Act 2 when George Leighton was ‘farcing’ as hard as he could down stage centre and a blue rinse lady in the front row turned to her friend and said, clear as a bell (I heard it at the back of the stalls), “Oh this is very boring”. The performance deteriorated from then on.
Project Model – Maintenance!
The Producers of Maintenance! have struck lucky and acquired the services of Stewart Cowless as Production Manager. Stewart is one of the most experienced in the business and if ever there was a man who can impose order on the unruly elements that comprise this particular musical Stewart is that man. At his initial meeting with Alvin Toxteth he failed to mention one or two little availability clashes, namely that during the fit-up and tech rehearsals of Maintenance! he is also booked to be at the fit-up of Trevor Nunn’s new adaptation of The House at Pooh Corner, the tech of Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver 2 and is also supposed to be organising the opening ceremony of the World Netball Championships in Hobart, Tasmania. These schedule clashes may come back to haunt him.
After interviewing 3 candidates for the post of Company Manager the producers offer the job to Anthony Fawning who is always immaculately turned out and has a nice line in psychedelic bowties. Of the other two applicants one smelled distinctly of sherry at ten-o-clock in the morning and the other had child care issues.
The shortcomings of Hampshire Gold TV’s organisational skills are revealed all too soon as the small ad they placed in the Basingstoke & Andover Gazette announcing open auditions for Baby You Can Drive My Car at Andover’s Corn Exchange bring 17,352 hopefuls to the town all on the same day. The town’s car parks are full from dawn, trains from Waterloo are packed to bursting, public toilet facilities give way under the strain, the queue stretches out of the town half way to Stonehenge. By 11.00 the audition panel consisting of director Kevin McHarrowing, writer Dermot O’Dainty, choreographer Bobby Brasso and musical director Gareth Dixon (grandson of Reginald) have only seen 43 candidates. This is due mainly to McHarrowing’s insistence on discussing each auditionee’s political and religious beliefs in some detail regardless of their suitability for the two parts on offer. By lunchtime the town has been stripped of all food and drink, the High St has become an open sewer as the North Rd ‘Pay & Display’ Conveniences overflow and the crowd turn ugly. Local police are unable to cope and the situation degenerates into what locals will later refer to as ‘the Sack of Andover’. Fortunately a detachment of the Welsh Fusiliers are stationed nearby and are making final preparations for their departure to Iraq. They quickly move into the town (codenamed Basra for the day) in full desert combat gear and clear the streets corralling the furious would-be Barrys & Sharons in the Cattle Market, the Bus Station and the Azda car park. Alvin Toxteth then speeds up the selection process by rejecting anyone whose surname does not begin with A,B or C and who wasn’t born in July. This cuts the queue down to a manageable 200 or so. The remainder are herded at gunpoint onto buses and trains out of the town, many are dumped randomly at motorway services all over the southern counties. Toxteth bravely trots out the old cliche about “there being no such thing as bad publicity” while a CNN helicopter hovers overhead. Questions are asked in the House of Commons as to why a sleepy Hampshire town has been put to the sword in the interests of musical theatre and the resignation of the Home Secretary is demanded.
At the end of this debacle not a single possibility for either of Maintenance!’s two leads has been found.