As Michael Xavier and The Pajama Game cast start previews, the West End star lets us in on tech week, Sitzprobe and what staging a musical has to do with citrus fruit.
Learning a musical is quite like learning how to peel an orange. You begin tentatively picking at the outer skin of your vocal and movement ability. You eagerly await the Eureka moment of your, often reluctant, brain breaking through the pithy barrier of remembering passages of dialogue. Then you finally get that satisfying burst of all your creative juices when dance, song and text seamlessly combine into a how-did-I-not-know-this-a-week-ago equilibrium.
Just as you’re chomping into that succulent segment, you gnaw down on a pip; the dreaded ‘tech week’!
Technical rehearsals are a beast like no other. For three weeks now (yes, only three weeks!) we have rehearsed The Pajama Game as intuitively and in as much detail as we can. The rehearsal room marked out to the dimensions of the stage and coloured tape representing wings and staircases and the front of the stage (don’t forget that one).
You leave the room feeling assured and confident that you know the show inside out and back to front. Right? WRONG!
Tech – or technical – rehearsals are when you first come into the theatre and realise that the safety blanket of a rehearsal room has been whipped away from you and exchanged with a scratchy sack! They are a chance for all the creative team and crew to get to work on the technical requirements of a show – and in this case they work fast! What the lighting state should be for a particular scene, how the set moves from one ‘space’ to another, where the sound should be coming from for a certain effect are just some of the details being played out this week.
For an actor it is an opportunity to squeeze yourself (no, I’ve let the orange puns go now) into the physical shape and journey of your show. Where do my quick changes happen? How long do I have between scenes? Will my dresser, in this case the wonderful Davina Elliott, be ready with a water bottle as I gasp my way through the backstage darkness like a camel in a Sahara night storm?
Amazingly, unexpectedly and just like magic you forget everything you did in the rehearsal room! You’re left thinking “What the…? What show IS this!? Who are these people standing opposite me?”
Yes, the tech trips us up. Some more literally than metaphorically as my incredible co-star Joanna Riding found out when a toolbox was left in the wrong place – crunch! Luckily she’s fit, healthy and made of concrete so she was bouncing around like Tigger a minute later.
So there you are, you with the stars in your eyes – in this case spotlights – just about making out these strange characters; the other actors in wigs, costume and sometimes comedy facial hair. The words you’ve been so avidly learning hopelessly ebb away from your memory. One step forward, 45 Latin-American steps back!! You’ll get that joke once you’ve seen the show.
Oh and to top it off we had the Sitzprobe during our first run on stage!
The Sitzprobe is the term used for the first time the company comes together with the band/orchestra to play together; normally one of my favourite rehearsal days. We were thrown in at the very deep end by hearing the band for the first time whilst running the show in lights, costume and make-up.
So, opening a show brings you through o-range of problems. Okay, okay, I’ve stopped! No seriously, I’m not taking the pith anymore. I’ve made enough of a lemon of myself.
Tech week has finally finished and we have played three previews to standing ovations already but the work doesn’t end yet. We have 11 shows before the press critique the show and there are many things the audience will tell us – timing, where the jokes land best, the response to the rhythm of the scenes and much more.
This is not an open invitation for every Tom, Dick and Hernando to give the actors notes at the stage door (yes, it HAS happened on many occasion). I’d leave that to my superb creative team. So for now, let’s hope there are no more unwanted pips to chew and we can get on with the show!
Sorry, I mean Olé!