What a busy, tiring, but fun week Show week was!
I expect most of you read my numerous posts and tweets promoting Barnum in the past few months, some of you might even have got a tad fed up with me, but selling tickets and making money to cover increasing costs is a hard slog, so it needed to be done!
The show is done and dusted, but as I look back, I reflect, on whether in my mid fifties I am too told to do Am Dram?
I joined TOPS back in 1988 when I was in my twenties and had my first teaching post in Hounslow. My first show was Guys and Dolls in 1989. I was young, needed to gain more confidence, wanted to increase my social circle having moved to London, and decided that doing something I enjoyed was the best way forward. Good golly, I look young!
I met my husband in that show and as many of you know my family have been involved ever since. We have moved away from the area, but still continue to travel back up the motorway to the company that has become an extended family, our TOPS family.
This year was the first year that only me, the eldest member of my immediate family ( yes, my husband is a toyboy by ten months!) was taking part. My husband was producing the show and I resurrected the role of Joice Heth, a part I first played twenty years ago, as the oldest woman in Barnum’s circus, aged 160! HUMBUG.
So having finished an exhausting, busy week, when do you know if it is time to hang up the shaky body and dodgy voice for good? Am I getting too old to perform on a stage when most are considerably younger?
There are issues with being an ‘older’ person and performing on the stage.
Issue number one is memory. Every musical has lots of song words to be memorised, not just a few but loads, and if you decide to go for a part you have scripts and directions to learn too. There are dance moves to be remembered, cues to be learnt. These days I struggle. Never mind ‘Thank God I’m Old’ but thank god I did this part twenty years ago when my memory was better! All I asked, and it was still a big ask, was for my memory to search ageing brain cells for words learnt long ago. Thank God it was nothing new and fresh. It managed, with not one word forgotten. Remembering all song words and dance moves was another thing altogether!
When I first joined ,the shows were luckily in the Easter holidays, but now the venues have changed and it is when they can fit you in! This for the past few years has been in May, close to my half term , but never actually in my half term! I use half term to recover from the whole exhausting experience.
Not only do I have a full time job, but the show and rehearsals are not local to us. We have to make the long drive up the M3 and then the annoying drive back down the M3 when it is usually closed thanks to road works, so it takes forever! (Thus it got a mention in my vlogstars, as one of the things that wind me up!)
I also have to get up early to take my son to the train station, so I can’t even have a part lie in. Although, I have to admit I did make him late one day in the week, by telling him he needed to catch a later train or he could make his own way. Of course he didn’t and God, did I feel like a bad mother! Holds head in shame.
Number three is dressing. In every show there are costume changes. Often you have to put costume on top of costume and sometimes these changes need to be super quick. When your body doesn’t move as fast as it once did and you struggle to actually reach your feet, fast dressing can be a real problem! This year, long, yellow stripy socks were the issue, but thankfully I found a good family member to assist in five minutes of fast dressing!
Number four is time. A show takes up a lot of time. We rehearse once a week in the evening from 8-10pm and closer to show week we have some long weekend rehearsals. Then, of course there is show week when you don’t have time to do your housework, washing, eat or sleep properly! You live life in a theatre ‘lovie’ bubble and on an overdose of adrenaline. I hope it is good for me?
Number five is money. The show costs money in joining fees, huge amounts of petrol, costume bits and during show week the added expense of food and drink on the run to keep you energised! We never have any money, so could save many, many pennies by not doing it! My husband probably should be spending time on his own business rather than the time it takes producing a show. It pays something, but nowhere near enough for the hours spent organising it.
The trouble is it’s been our life and not doing it would leave a huge void. Is it a void we are ready for?
Number six is dancing. I have never been a dancer and never will be, but I have to try and learn the moves, or accept that I will be just standing around singing and doing nothing, which despite being old and not a great mover, I don’t want.
As I ponder on the last week of Barnum I realise that if I didn’t do the shows my brain cells might cease to function, my body cease to move and my life might be very, very dull. Dressing and dancing continuously keeps me active, singing keeps my brain ticking along, happy endorphins are released and keeping busy means I don’t have time to watch what these days seems to be very depressing news or soaps! Sometimes you feel like you exist in a very unique world for the week, but its a fun, happy world full of positives.
I can have a horrible day at work and the very thought of driving up the motorway seems like the last thing I want to do, but then I go to rehearsal and the days troubles are forgotten, my mood improved and I’m so pleased I made the effort. Singing, dancing and laughing with friends is the best tonic.
I can be exhausted during show week, but the buzz of performing, that feeling when you come off stage having smashed it and realised you’ve put on a great show is like no other. Hearing audiences clapping and cheering the cast is a special feeling. You realise you’ve given an audience pleasure and entertainment. This week we did not sell every seat, but I think, no I know, we succeeded in doing this! Here is one review.
I might be one of the ‘old birds’ now, but performing alongside and being in the company of so many young people, with so many different characters, I believe helps keep me youthful in spirit, openminded and hopefully, allows us ‘oldies’ to keep our bodies going for that bit longer! I’m banking on it.
We held an after show party, I might have gone to bed at 3am, but the young had little sleep and my husband tried to keep up with them. He spent the following day asleep , I spent it giving breakfast to those who were slightly delicate!
The special thing about TOPS is the friendships. You can’t share an experience like show week without building some special relationships and having some amazingly funny moments. I have known some of the people in the company for nearly 30 years and that makes the bond unique and unbreakable.
As we take our final bow on Barnum and I look out of a hat that covers my ageing eyes with limited vision, I look forward to seeing what show is next and reflecting on the positives of being one of the ‘oldies’ There are indeed plenty.
P.S there will be a Vlog about the show mistakes but my technical help has been busy, so it will have to wait!