Diary of a Thespian


How the hell did I get here? Last year I was one of many who attended the successful adult Panto, Cinderella, in aid of CUDECA and other local charities and if you read my review you might remember I was a little apprehensive about amateur dramatics. That is despite having done a little acting darlings, in my youth, don’t you know; a sidekick hunchback to Dracula, a badger and a lamplighter is the sum total. My dubious claim to fame is the guy who I replaced as the hunchback sidekick went on to be a star of The Full Monty, Flintstones, the TV comedy Thin Blue Line and now appears in adverts for Tesco. Look where it got me. Maybe that was it. It hit a nerve and the pull of treading the boards again was too much. Or was it peer pressure from friends who, in some strange way, were encouraging me for some private joke so they could ‘extract the urine’ so to speak.
“Go on, we think you should do it. You’d be good. It’ll only be a laugh” A laugh for whom? I’m easily led.

More credence is given to this latter theory when I persuaded another friend to take part for this “laugh”, who then promptly pulled out after the first script meeting. I won’t embarrass him by mentioning any names. Oh, sorry, I have to interrupt this article briefly as my wife has asked me to pop and buy some SUGAR and we need something to SPICE up tonight’s curry……..right I’m back with you. As I was saying, I won’t mention any names.
So the first meeting was held to announce the next CAMPO Panto and it was to be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. All those interested were asked to register their interest, whether it was acting or working behind scenes and we were given a taste of what we were in for as some of last year’s participants recounted their experiences. I think some were still in character from last year. Blimey, does it last that long?

Next it was the script meeting, which I was drafted in on along with my then partner in crime. For the purpose of this article we’ll just call him ‘Judas’! Now, this is an adult panto but despite this some of the lines still had to be removed or changed to suit the audience we would be performing in front of in Cómpeta. If you are reasonably broadminded you will find it entertaining but if you think ´bashing the bishop’ is an assault on the clergy and a ‘sizeable lunchbox’ is something you take to work packed full of cheese sandwiches and a Kit Kat, then maybe it won’t be your thing. Some scenes needed to be re-written so a few of us were to work on that.
Whilst that was being done we were all eventually contacted by Tom, the Director, to confirm the parts we would be playing.  Although Snow White doesn’t have a Dame, as this is no normal panto, Chester Williams would take the lead role of Snow White. As not many 3 foot high people applied for the part of dwarfs, Tom had to make do with what he had. Geoff Tyler (6’ 4”) would be Bashful, Ray Rowden (6’ 1”) would be Dopey, Phil Smith (6’) would be Grumpy and yours truly (6’ 3”) would play the part of Sleazy. That’s not a misprint I did say Sleazy. Some might say type casting at its most blatant others might say I’m misunderstood. Janice Tyler as Doc and Chris Love as Happy are the closest you’ll probably get to dwarf size but still some way off. As for the type casting of a bossy Doc, I’m saying nothing.

Following the allocation of the panto’s roles, we then had the first full read through so we could all get a feel of how the script sounded and each “hackter” had the opportunity to get a feel for their own part. Being Sleazy there was plenty of opportunity to feel my part and deliver lines along the same theme. I did warn you. Immediately, some characters already seemed to be some way down the line of being formed, or was it just clever casting? Some of the more risqué sounding lines actually took on a new life and sounded less risqué with emphasis and character behind them. It was already taking shape.

Rehearsals started shortly afterwards and we started to get a good idea as to how the panto was going to look as well as sound. Some “hackters” had even gone as far as using props and even breaking in costume items to enhance their character at this early stage. Women’s shoes with a man’s jeans and shirt was a sight needing a double take.
The characters of each “hackter” outside their actual part also started to show themselves; divas, method actors, type cast actors but far be it for me to pinpoint which type applied to whom. We can’t have any backstage ego clashes now can we? Well, you know what these actor types can be like don’t you, sweetie. I’m still waiting for confirmation of my own dressing room with a gold star with my name on the door, by the way. The ego has landed.
The script was still evolving as we rehearsed and no doubt we will have further changes as we go. Behind the scenes, so to speak, people were working away on costume design, further script re-writes, scenery, venue and even dance routines. You’ve heard of the film, My Left Foot? Well this was like the sequel, Two Left Feet. I’ll say no more at this stage.

As we approach May’s rehearsal schedule, thoughts start to turn to actually learning lines and not reading them from our scripts. The show will start to take further shape as “hackters” won’t be able to hide behind their scripts in between lines but will need to start acting or risk looking like a stage prop that only comes to life in short, sharp bursts. If you don’t learn them well enough it’s when the Prompt, Mave Moore, becomes your best friend. Upset her and our prompt won’t be forthcoming, you’ll look like a lemon and your fellow “hackters” won’t thank you as the cue for their line fails to deliver. Still, that’s half the fun of amateur dramatics, isn’t it? It’s like watching F1 motor racing, nobody watches to see a flawless performance they want to see a spectacular crash and the ensuing chaos that follows. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of that as we continue to the big night. Now back to work on my character of Sleazy – another normal day in the shop, then.

by Alick Howard

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