Monday, February 08, 2016

Working In Theatre- Part 15

Looking back on my time working in theatre, over about a 6-year period and most of it a good 40 years ago, I'm desperately attempting to remember a good deal more. It's a pity I don't have a diary or any written material. I used to have a large box of photographs from the shows I worked on and also programmes from those shows and at one time even the posters. But I have moved around many times over the years and, unfortunately, such material got lost or simply mislaid. Whenever each show was opening we would be given a programme and very nearly always the cast members would sign these programmes. Such a pity I have nothing to post on here. 

I have mentioned working on pantomimes, although, I have to admit to not being over-fond of them as a form of theatre. At Ipswich the year I was there, I think 1973, we did a Christmas show called "Sir Prancelot" based on a B.B.C. television children's programme which had been made by John Ryan, who had earlier created "Captain Pugwash" and animated in his very original style using cut-out figures which were articulated and operated very much like live-action puppets as opposed to 'stop-frame' animation. In actual fact the year before "Sir Prancelot," Ipswich Theatre had done another Christmas show based on "Captain Pugwash." I have to admit that "Sir Prancelot" was rather lacking in originality and was thin as regards plot and character, but nevertheless, I think it did reasonably good business, but the budget was tiny so the sets and costumes weren't up to much. At one point in the action Sir Prancelot and his gang were supposed to take off in a rocket (and this was supposed to be set in the Middle Ages, so definitely an anachronism.) and all we had to suggest this was a sort of wooden cut-out which we hauled up into the flies above the stage and to suggest the rocket engines, some sort of fireworks attached to the bottom edge, which, when lit, produced some really unpleasant fumes, which I doubt would be allowed today, under current health and safety regulations. I had been set the job of working on the fly floor, operating the flying system with a couple of other members of stage management. Hard work, spending the entire show hauling up bits of scenery and letting other bits in on cue.

Poster from the Ipswich Theatre 
production of "Sir Prancelot."

Part of the scenery for "Sir Prancelot" was what is known as a 'scrim.' As in most pantomimes, there are 'cloths' which are painted canvas and the width of the stage, and the height from the stage floor to just about the height of the suspended bars on which hang any lighting. They are then suspended from ropes which go up into the 'flies' in what is called the 'grid', an arrangement of pullies from which the ropes which are used to haul up or down the cloths for scene changes. The 'scrim' was used for scene changes up-stage of it and because it was translucent whatever was lit behind it could be seen by the audience, but if the lights behind it were turned off, the audience would not be able to see anything up-stage. This scrim was lowered in order for us to do scene changes. As this was going on, a scene would be performed downstage, thus allowing us time to perform the scene change. I trust this is making some sort of sense. Anyway, on one occasion the lighting technician didn't remember to turn out the lights behind the scrim as we did the scene change so we were seen by the audience, and since they were mostly children in the audience, they began to shout out that we were in view, making the actor's life very difficult as you can imagine, attempting to continue with their scene with children shouting out! We had to remain stock-still until the lights were turned off up-stage so we could continue with the scene change.

On one occasion we were messing about on the fly floor. I expect something to do with it being the Christmas period, the result of doing perhaps three shows in a day and being over-active. General fooling around. Well, anyway, as a result my knee came into sharp contact with one of the cleats which were used to tie off the ropes (or 'hemps.') At exactly the right height for my knee and it really hurt. As a result, for a day or two, I could hardly walk without a certain amount of pain. That's what comes of tomfoolery and actually quite unprofessional, even though, on reflection, I say so myself looking back on it now. A fly floor can be quite a dangerous place if you don't know what you are doing.  I still get a certain amount of pain from that knee even today, whenever the weather is cold,  there's a sharp wind or damp in the air. 
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