Fitness regimes, tiredness and nuns; Michael Xavier lets us in on a busy week of choreography work at The Pajama Game:
My family love to rib me about what an easy life I have as an actor. My sister loves to remind me that I “only work three hours a night” and my brother-in-law bellows, “What’s your problem? You’re only prancing about the stage!”
Now, I know it’s done mainly in jest but I can understand this misconception and it’s frustrating for two reasons; one, as an actor you never know when the next job is coming, and two, when you are fortunate enough to get work it can be EXHAUSTING!
Right now, I’m writing this on my commute into London – yes the journey I wrote about last week that caused me to be an hour late, but you can’t beat that sea view! It’s the only time I have during a rehearsal day to actually write. I’m either learning lines, getting the choreography into my bones or humming the tunes to everyone else’s songs but not the ones I’m supposed to be learning. Why do we do that?
When I return home at night I have to do a workout before I eat and go to bed at 22:30 (I can hear the local nuns scuttling my way to sign me up). I normally wouldn’t bother but I have to take my top off at the end of the show so it’s a necessity (nuns scuttle back to the convent).
Anyone who has done a large-scale musical will tell you how tiring it can be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enormously rewarding but it requires an abundance of physical and mental strength. Annoyingly, exercise and diet play a large part.
Ok, let me make it clear that I LOVE CHOCOLATE! Yes, it’s my vice. However, when I started out in this industry I soon realised the significance and importance of a healthy diet. The dancers I would meet with their not-an-inch-of-fat-to-be-found ripped bodies would be eating boiled chicken and broccoli with no sauce. Yep, NO SAUCE! I used to think “Why are you bothering to be alive if you can’t enjoy all the benefits of salt and sugar?” Then I noticed I was getting very tired after lunch; what has been coined a ‘carb coma’. I quickly learned the benefits of eating well to maintain my energy levels, with the odd choccie bar, albeit 75% cocoa, thrown in!
My point is, us actors – certainly in musicals – need to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to be on top of our game. Especially if you have to get your kit off!
So why am I tired? I’m eating all the right foods, trying to stay off Twitter an hour before bed and my sleep app informs me I’m getting plenty of good rest, although I have no idea how it can tell!
I am feeling mentally tired trying to cram in lines but physically tired learning Stephen Mear’s vibrant choreography. And I don’t even do that much!
This week I had to learn two pieces of choreography including Once A Year Day (danced with my co-star, the wonderful Joanna Riding) and Hernando’s Hideaway Tango. You’ll know the tune but perhaps not realise it’s from The Pajama Game. The number is superb! Gladys (the brilliant Alexis Owen-Hobbs) is telling Sid where she’d like to go for a drink. Alexis has loads of exhausting choreography and I’m doing my best keep up.
Now, it’s not that I don’t like dancing, trust me, once I get it in my bones I love it. I just take a while to pick it up. So, not only am I physically repeating the steps over and over, my brain is on overtime as well! Alexis has a baby so I can only imagine how tired she must be!
I guess you could compare it to any new job. It’s bloody brilliant but you always want to run before you can walk, or in this case tango before you can cha-cha.
The ensemble of The Pajama Game – if I can call them ‘ensemble’ as every actor has a character in this show – have been rehearsing the choreography tirelessly and are a joy to watch. Stephen Mear has crafted the movement and choreography into an excitable ball of perfectly-packaged pizzazz and I challenge anyone to leave the Shaftesbury Theatre from the 2 May for 20 weeks only –quick plug there – without a smile on their face!
Right, time for a Horlicks and a Nana nap. I mean, it is getting on for nearly 20:00!
"It’s not that I don’t like dancing, trust me, once I get it in my bones I love it. I just take a while to pick it up."