The first thing you need for rehearsals is a rehearsal room and for a musical the ideal rehearsal space should fill the following criteria:
Be within 400 yards of Leicester Square tube station
Comprise: 1 large space for the main production calls
1 smaller space for dance calls etc
1 room with mirror & piano for costume fittings and music calls
1 room with phone/internet as a company office
3. Be available 9.00am – 10.00pm
4. Have a sprung timber floor
5. Be well heated so that dancers don’t injure themselves
6. Be in a nice middle-class area with access to cappuccinos, ciabatta sandwiches, noodle bar, and a pub for the stage management to brood in at the end of the day.
How many rehearsal rooms fit these criteria? None. Most rehearsal rooms are in socially challenged areas where the local kids can strip the wheels off a BMW and leave it on bricks in less than 3 minutes. Most are inconveniently placed in quadrants of London not served by the underground and most are draughty and dank, too small to mark up the set plan on the floor, have limited access and provide a wide variety of cultural and sporting activities for the local community in the evenings requiring a complete clear up of the space at the end of rehearsals every day. The latter drawback is often viewed as a plus by some wily producers who realise that a full programme of table tennis, Brownies and Tae-Kwon-Do in the evenings will prevent the director from rehearsing after 6.00pm and thus save thousands of pounds of stage management overtime.
Project Model – Maintenance!
Due to the short notice of the deal with the Piccadilly Theatre the Maintenance! management have had to book rehearsal space at the last minute and have ended up with the Parish Hall of the Church of Our Lady of Cheerful Countenance in East Ham. This is a sub-standard space by any reckoning. It is not big enough, it is badly lit and heated, it is a nightmare to access from central London and worst of all, the local priest is a musical theatre enthusiast who likes to pop in and discuss how things are going with the director.
The first day of rehearsals gets off to an inauspicious start when stage manager Rowena Pettifer and her team turn up at 9.30 to set up for the morning’s ‘Meet ‘n Greet’ session only to find the hall securely locked. After half an hours detective work they find caretaker Sid Stickler a few doors away. Sid, who, unlike his parish priest, believes that all musicals, with the possible exception of Bernadette, are the work of the devil and that the unhappy group of stage management on his doorstep are only one step removed from being Satanists, is not helpful. He declares that there was only a pencil booking, that nothing has been confirmed and that no advance payment has been made, furthermore he has no intention of opening the hall until he has a call from Doris Quill the parish secretary telling him that a cheque has been received. With that he departs for his allotment. Rowena hastily calls Kevin Whimper, who is already half way to East Ham and now has to turn round and return to the office to pick up a cheque for Mrs Quill. It is a miserable, drizzling February morning in East London and slowly the group of disgruntled actors, management and creative team huddled together by the locked doors of the hall grows larger. The Church of our Lady of Cheerful Countenance is marooned in an ocean of derelict industrial sites interspersed with the occasional decaying tower block or vandalised playground, there is not a Starbucks for miles and the only catering nearby is a petrol station where the pork pies have sell-by dates from the previous year. Director Kevin McHarrowing eventually cancels the morning call and tells everyone to return at 2.00pm. Producer Samuel J Bloodlust curses everyone within earshot including the Lady of Cheerful Countenance and sets off in his chauffeur driven BMW with his leading man and leading lady to buy doughnuts for everybody.
By lunchtime the cheque has finally reached Mrs Quill and the stage management retrieve Mr Stickler from his allotment (he is discovered in his shed reading a periodical entitled ‘Zips ‘n Buckles’). He grudgingly opens the hall and even more grudgingly turns on the heating. At 2.00 the company are finally assembled, seated in a semicircle in front of a table where the producers, Samuel J Bloodlust and Alvin Toxteth sit with director McHarrowing. Bloodlust gets up to speak.
“Welcome everyone. I am Samuel J Bloodlust and I and my partner Alvin, are the producers of Maintenance! Today is a proud day both for us and for the creative team on this project, today is not the beginning but is a vital staging post on a journey that began one night two years ago in the departure lounge of Berlin’s Tegel Airport. On that night these two guys”, he pauses to indicate composer Gunther Eisenkopf and book writer Dermot O’Dainty, “met at the bar and in an evening of creative inspiration wrote the basis of the show that we are about to put on”.
Eisenkopf and O’Dainty nod sagely knowing full well that they were both so drunk on that fateful evening that they had no idea that they had written a musical until the following morning when the airport police released them and with the personal possessions returned to them was a bundle of paper napkins on which they had laid down the basis of Maintenance!
“Dermot brought the project to us soon afterwards and I’m happy to say that we are now fully funded”, at this point his partner Alvin Toxteth looks distinctly shifty, “and as you all know we are scheduled to start previewing at the Piccadilly Theatre in 7 weeks time. We are very excited to have secured the Piccadilly with its superb location and long history of successful runs”. This last laughable assertion sets some of the company sniggering. “However I’m not going to take up any more time, I’m going to pass you over to Anthony your company manager who has some business stuff to get out of the way and then to Kevin who will lead us on the journey that is Maintenance!"
Anthony Fawning gets up. “OK everyone. Welcome and many apologies for this morning’s problems. Now if you haven’t been seen by our wardrobe department and been measured then you need to have done so before you leave the building. You also need to have handed me your starter forms before you leave. And finally I know some of you had trouble finding your way here today and I know that two of you ended up at Stanstead Airport, so can I recommend that you go to Stratford East by overland then get the 429 bus heading towards Barking and get off at Asda and get a 365 heading towards Woolwich which will drop you off at the top of the road. Any questions? No? OK it’s over to you Kevin”.
Director Kevin McHarrowing gets slowly to his feet and surveys the clay from which he hopes to mould a hit musical. He has never staged a West End musical before but he has absolute not to say psychotic confidence in his own abilities and has no doubt that given sufficient intellectual rigour he can transform the sentimental pap that is the current book into a socialist parable for our times, a parable that will bring hope and meaning to ordinary working people and not just the contemptible pleasure seekers who come to the theatre solely to have ‘a good night out’.
“Good afternoon everyone. Before I tell you something about Maintenance! I think we should all introduce ourselves and tell the room what we do. So Gavin would you like to start”.
“Gavin Shoestrap playing Barry”.
“Erica Fortinbras playing Sharon”
One by one the cast and staff announce their names and the part that they are playing or the job that they will be doing.
“Miranda Williams ensemble”
“Harry Hopkins playing Foreman, Pet Shop Owner and Registrar”
“Diane Wilkins ensemble & dance captain”
“Peter De Vriess ensemble.”
“David Casper, Foreman, Pet Shop Owner and Registrar”.
“Ah” says McHarrowing staring at David Casper who he fails to recognise. Alvin Toxteth quickly intercedes, realising that somewhere in his office something has gone horribly wrong and that somehow they have contracted two actors to play the same parts.
“David you and I need to get together on this”
“Do you mean I’m not playing the Foreman, Pet Shop owner and Registrar?” says the aggrieved actor.
“No, no, no. We just need to have a chat”. says a flustered Toxteth and gestures for the next actor to introduce themself. Finally all are done and the company look around with mixed feelings. The Company manager and stage management study the sea of faces trying to work out who will be the company nutter, the rest look around and compile a mental list of whom they would most like to sleep with and David Casper leaves the room to ring his agent.
McHarrowing starts his introductory address.
To be continued