Rehearsals. What do they do all day? Well the actors don’t normally learn their lines in the rehearsal room, they do that offsite while in the bath or walking the dog. In musical rehearsals there are normally 2 rooms one for the director and one for the choreographer. The latter lays out the big routines and the former does the motivation and the ‘don’t bump into the furniture bit’. It sounds simple doesn’t it, six weeks later a fully formed musical steps into the spotlight. However as always with Musical Theatre there is plenty to go wrong.
From my personal point of view, a production manager’s point of view, the first day of rehearsal can be both dreary beyond belief and fraught with peril. On the one hand one has to sit through endless introductory speeches and meet dozens of people whose names melt away quicker than snow in the desert and on the other one is likely to be confronted by aggrieved staff members who have discovered that their contracts are not exactly what they expected and one can also be ambushed by the creative team who may have added something to the design concept not previously discussed or costed. So we production managers have to either be on our mettle or find some reasonable excuse for not being there at all.
Project Model – Maintenance!
Kevin McHarrowing slowly rises to his feet, he gazes round at the assembled company, he almost seems to be counting them to check that all were present, that no one would miss his First Day of Rehearsal Director’s Speech.
“Welcome. All of us in this room have something in common, we have all shared at least one experience and that is the feeling of pure bewilderment when we heard that these two guys” here he indicated the show’s producers sitting either side of him, “were going to put on a musical based on the Haynes Owners Workshop Manual for the 1989 Skoda Favorit.. It’s crazy, it’s off the wall, it’s almost surreal” Glaswegian McHarrowing lovingly rolls the ‘r’s in surreal, “which incidentally is a word we will be coming back to later. But now let’s think about the 1989 Skoda Favorit. It was the last crap car that Skoda made, after this Favorit model Volkswagen bought the company and starting making ‘good’ German cars. All well and good but did we not lose something at that moment. Leave your bourgeois ‘What Car Magazine’ prejudices at the door. The Skoda was the people’s car, the Czech people’s car built at a plant deep in the Bohemian forests. Ah Bohemian there’s another word that we will be coming back to in these rehearsals. These are the forests where the Brothers Grimm roamed in search of their fairy tales, where Hitler went on camping trips from school, they are soaked in romance, blood and history and in order to put the Skoda in its true 20th century context we will be doing the opening ‘Production Line’ routine entirely in Czech. At this point I would like to introduce Katarina Masaryk who is our Czech language coach.” All turn to look at the pretty blonde girl at the back of the room.
“And then we have the ‘’Book’”, McHarrowing raises a copy of the Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual for the 1989 Skoda Favorit above his head. It is a mauve A4 size hardback with an artist’s impression of a Skoda Favorit and a photo of something that might be a gear box on the cover. It has been out of print for sometime and is hard to come by. “All down the ages from the Gospels themselves, through A Pilgrim’s Progress , Das Kapital, down to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets there have been books that show us the way, that show us our place in the universe. This book in its humble way does the same. It guides our hero Barry on his perilous journey from adolescence to manhood on what Sigmund Freud described as ‘Das autobahn von der leben’. We can take this book as a paradigm for……”
At the mention of the word paradigm, the meaning of which is known to only four people in the room, the company’s attention starts to wander. Producer Samuel J Bloodlust starts to feel distinctly uneasy, partly because he doesn’t know what paradigm means and partly because he thought that he was putting on a simple ‘Boy Buys Car to Get Girl – Boy gets Girl – Car Breaks Down – Boy Loses Girl – Boy Fixes Car – Boy gets girl Back’ sort of a musical and from what McHarrowing is saying, (he is now deep into the relationship between contemporary socio-political mores and motor maintenance), he is not going to get it.
Stage manager Rowena Pettifer takes a moment to open the box next to her chair which should contain scripts of Maintenance! but to her dismay, due to a cock-up at the printers, contains copies of a 50 page pamphlet produced by the London Borough of Newham entitled Performing Arts for the Elderly – A Users Guide. An ASM is despatched to the printers in a cab.
Choreographer Bobby Brasso sighs inwardly as he listens to McHarrowing. He has sat through many such speeches but this one has the makings of an all time low. Why was it that Brits took the direction thing so seriously, on Broadway there was a lot more pzazz than paradigm. Brasso, who despite his age (58) has been voted ‘Boy with the Pertest Bottom on Broadway’ for the last three years running, comforts himself with the thought that only he can turn things round, only he, using a lifetime’s experience on ‘the Great White Way’ can turn this dreary tuneless English suburban piece of hackwork into a dazzling choreographic extravaganza with routines remembered long after the Skoda Favorit has been forgotten.
Designer Ulla Hoos, clad in her normal khaki dungarees and beret, listens to McHarrowing attentively. She is probably the only person in the room who shares his world view and as his loyal and long term collaborator she desperately hopes that Maintenance! could be their passport out of a cultural ghetto of their own making onto a sunlit upland plain of mainstream work that might pay the rent and buy some new dungarees.
Composer Gunther Eisenkopf sits entranced. All this is new to him, in all his years with the East German heavy metal band Kursk Salient his music (and most critics didn’t describe it as such) was universally reviled by all but a devoted and drug crazed band of fans. His English isn’t good enough to quite follow what McHarrowing is saying but phrases like ‘musically a definitive statement of intent’ and ‘beats the shit out of Rodgers & Hammerstein’ sit well with him.
Book and lyric writer Dermot O’Dainty does know what paradigm means but also realises that McHarrowing is talking absolute bollocks. However he is savvy enough to know that to have any credibility a director has to talk absolute bollocks some or all of the time. He lets his imagination roam to a world where he and Katarina Masaryk make sweet sweet music together.
Production Manager Stewart Cowless sits in his chair trying not to writhe with anxiety. His mobile phone vibrates silently but relentlessly in his pocket as desperate scenery contractors try to contact him to nail down orders for a set that Cowless knows is already over budget and highly impractical. Eventually he can stand it no longer and making apologetic gestures to McHarrowing in particular and to the room in general he heads for the corridor to get on with business.
‘……and that’s enough quotes from dead Germans for one day’ says McHarrowing mercifully concluding his opening remarks. ‘Now I’d like to introduce our design team Ulla Hoos who has come up with a sensational set and Buzz Phelps our costume designer……’
To be continued
Here is a brief reminder of who's who on Maintenance!
Producers: Alvin Toxteth & Samuel J Bloodlust
General Manager: Kevin Whimper
Producers PA: Charlotte Gore Wincanton
Music: Gunther Eisenkopf
Book: Dermot O’Dainty
Choreographer: Bobby Brasso
Director Kevin: McHarrowing
Designer: Ulla Hoos
Costume Designer: Buzz Phelps
Lighting Designer: Geoff Osram
Sound Designer: Ian Geek
Production Manager: Stewart Cowless
Company Manager: Anthony Fawning
Stage Manager: Rowena Pettifer
Deputy stage Manager: Sazz Muldoon
ASM Book Cover: Maggie Truelove
ASM: Justin Philpotts
Wardrobe Mistress: Angie Overlocker
Wig Mistress: Natalie Tongs
And here is a reminder of the location of past episodes in the archive
No 1 Feb 1 2008
No 2 Mar 3 2008
No 3 Mar 31 2008
No 4 Apr 21 2008
No 5 Apr 31 2008
No 6 May 25 2008
No 7 June 1 2008
No 8 June 29 2008
No 9 Oct 9 2008
No 10 Nov 17 2008