If days had off buttons…

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off switch

 

Do you ever find yourself wishing your life had a standby switch, or even an off button until you were ready to get things going again? You know what I mean it’s that feeling you get not long into the day when you know you are never going to get this time back again and you’ve got so many other things that you’d rather be doing? Well that was today – and it’s becoming a more regular experience. It reminds me of that terrible film “Switch” with Adam Sandler (to be fair this is a phrase that has been used for all his films since Happy Gilmour) where he has a remote control and can fast forward and pause his life. I know I’d miss a lot but at least you could skip work most days.

I think the big issue at the moment is all the things that are almost happening, but aren’t quite in place yet – and unfortunately they are things that I can’t really blog about at the moment which is why I’ve been largely absent from my keyboard this week because all I want to write about are those things. It’s really frustrating to be so close to those opportunities yet not have anything confirmed but both of which are things that I’ve always wanted to do since I was younger. Both would allow me to express myself fully and work in environments I love and know I’d enjoy.

Back to today and I found myself on more than one occasion questioning why I bother going into work at all when there only a handful of students really interested in learning – I mean I get that the subject is not what they signed up to do, but they must understand that the skills they get are a means to an end and will allow them to do their job properly. When I made the move into further education I thought I’d have to fight less for the attention in class, but the sad truth is that I have to fight even more than ever and the pleasure that I got in the secondary sector was from the interaction and the interest shown. Too many at the level I’m at now don’t care and you have no real power to do anything about their attendance. There are a handful who want to work and will go on and do well, so you try to ensure they get the most out of their time but the others can spoil it.

The sooner things move in Project Sshhhhh volumes one and two the better – my mouth (or keyboard) won’t be able to stay quiet for much longer!!!

JD

Avenue Q: Curtain Call

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Avenue Q Cast

 

Well after six months of hard work it’s all over. The Set is away, puppets boxed up, cast recovering from hangovers and a tinge of sadness at having to say goodbye to an amazing experience. People spoke about how they thought it would be sad to finish, but for me I have a tremendous mount of pride in what we as a group achieved over the last week. You don’t want to pick out favourites – and the great thing is that I don’t have to because this was an ensemble piece that needed everyone working together for the show to be a success. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this show and it was down to these people:

Sophie “Kate Monster” – A real professional with a great sense of humour. She perfected and made Kate adorable and foul-mouthed in equal measure. Every night I heard feedback from friends in the audience that said her performance of “Fine Line” brought them to tears. A genuinely lovely person and I wish her all the best for her wedding next year.

Roo “Princeton” – I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like Roo before. A hyperactive potty-mouthed c*nt is probably a fair assessment of him but his work ethic and abilities shone through. In the last few weeks you saw the work that he had put in to the part and made what could have been an unlikeable character sweet and funny. A great and talented guy.

Matthew “Rod” – My sparring partner in the double act that he stole the spotlight in every night. From the voice to the manipulation of the puppet he stole the show for me and it was a privilege to perform alongside him. His generosity and help was invaluable in getting the double act just right. I am so pleased that I got to work with him.

Rachael “Gary Coleman” – A voice that is big and powerful and a sponge-like mind to pick up lines, harmonies and blocking on the first go. She is so skilled on stage and the ability to jump in and out of character is fantastic. While I know she was worried about perhaps causing offence, her performance as the former child star superintendent was pitch perfect.

Jennifer “Christmas Eve” – There’s a switch that goes on in Jennifer and you can see how seriously she takes the performance but she is so sweet and funny too. The fact that she doesn’t take herself too seriously either makes her even more adorable. Her singing is great and she can kick ass at karaoke too.

Steve “Blian” – Dopey, lazy and hen-pecked, this role was a real stretch for Steve… How he managed to juggle directing one show and being in another is beyond me but somehow he did it, and with great success. His cowboy hat action is something that will stay etched on my brain for a long time. Great to be around and a real support too.

Sandra “Thistletwat” & “Nicky’s right hand gal” – The best compliment about the show I heard was about Sandra, that she was so in sync with Nicky that you forgot there was only one person working the character. She adapted and coped with being the other half of Nicky that I forgot she was there sometimes as it felt so natural. A huge thank you to Sandra without whom the character would not have been the same.

Gavin & Tanya “Trekkie Monster” – Again a double act with one puppet and it was the combination of the two that made the character great and such a favourite with the crowd. Both were great at taking ideas on board and the development of the character and the voicing by Gavin made it a memorable character. In the rehearsals and backstage they both were so positive all the time – an asset on a show like this.

Gav & Naomi “Bad Idea Bears” – the teamwork continued with these two and both great performers individually they combined so well as the conscience of Princeton. How Gavin was able to take the lead in “The Producers” and balance that with AQ is beyond me but he nailed it on both counts. They were a potential odd couple but combined brilliantly in the show.

Michelle “Lucy” – The classiest slut around! The last of the cast to mention but a scene stealer each time she appeared, Michelle added a real depth of flavour to the puppet and I think she bonded with Lucy as much as I did with Nicky. She built up the persona and played it perfectly.

With the production team it’s difficult to know where to start but to all of you thank you and the amount of faith and patience you all showed with me during the process was hugely appreciated. Craig especially trying to rein in the idiot that couldn’t harmonise for five out of the six months did a great job. John was a great source of joy and laughter throughout and provided great advice and tips that gee’d me on. Lisa always had her work cut out because this boy ain’t built for dancing but she smiled and suffered my mistakes well. Neil was always great company throughout the process and never dismissed any of the many stupid questions I asked along the way. Ross, as always it was a pleasure working with you so let’s not leave it so long next time. Davie, Hayley and the Gordons kept the mood positive backstage and the band (especially cousin Callum) did a great job considering the short space of time they had to learn the score – phenomenal.

If this is the only musical I ever do then I can say with confidence that it was a great, rewarding and humbling experience to work with such amazing people. The key to selling out for the five performances and receiving all the praise the show did was down to everyone working together. Stuart pulled all those parts together and him I have the final thank you for. As Director people think it’s all about ordering the bodies around on the stage, but it’s not it’s about ensuring the right people are in the right jobs and then guiding the whole process through to the end. Thank you for taking a chance on me – I know I wasn’t first on your list before auditions and I’m sure throughout the rehearsal process I can guarantee you questioned the decision a couple of times – but in the end I think i got away with it and that’s down to you, your support and your positivity (even though like me you haven’t told your face yet.)

So farewell to my small green buddy Nicky and to an experience I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed. I doubt I’ll be able to top it, but you never know what my next challenge will throw up. Thank you to everyone from the show and to everyone who came to see it and said such nice things about it. It was a pleasure to do and I’ll miss the camaraderie twice a week of a bunch of loons and their puppets.

JD

Poking the Hornets’ Nest

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Well it’s been interesting in blog and social media land in the last day or so with me opening my keyboard and letting my stomach rumble on yesterday’s post. What I said, I stand by and many have put forward ideas on both sides of this discussion. By pointing out that the review written for the Evening Express for Avenue Q lacked any real engagement with our show, I (and others) received messages from friends who have connections with the Journals to explain why it might have been as generic as it was.

Firstly it’s not a personal attack on Ed as I don’t know him and as I said on the blog I didn’t know what his brief was, word limit or how it was dealt with editorially. I can see the point from both sides as those of us in the show felt that it didn’t engage with our interpretation of the show and the signing off by comparing it to “Book of Mormon” and saying it wasn’t as funny was just rude and irrelevant. However the point made by friends from the papers that he may have been given a limited space and that outlining the story is what the readers want and need is understandable too.

I have always written this blog primarily for myself and occasionally I let rip or have a rant and it bursts out into the mainstream – but when it does it should be seen as a starting point for a discussion on an issue. I never claim to be an expert on the subjects I write on and I don’t want people to get in trouble because I’ve opened my mouth and thrown my feet straight into it. In this case I genuinely wonder if there is an issue about the portrayal of the arts through things like reviews. If you consider the vast column inches and publicity shows like ours get in the run up it doesn’t add up to review them in such a general and disconnected way – that’s an issue for the paper, not the individual critic.

My main point was I was annoyed that someone who gets a free ticket to a show (whether they liked it or not) should have the freedom and space in a newspaper to be honest – not cruel or vindictive – but honest enough to say if something or someone was good and obviously if things didn’t work too. There is a skill to reviewing things – and I claim no real expertise in the field – but if you are being paid to do it and your employer wants a section with reviews both should be well presented and engaged with the shows, otherwise why bother?

The fact that there have been so many discussions between fellow cast members, other am-dram performers and those involved with the Evening and P&J means that it’s opened up a dialogue on the issue. If you consider the amount of talent in theatre, dance, comedy, music and other performance in the city there is so much scope for us to highlight the successes – and to give the papers their due, they do support it well – but perhaps rather than just using each other to promote shows or sell copies there is an opportunity to genuinely engage in a celebration of local talent.

JD

 

Reviewing the Reviewers

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First night done and we awaited today’s reviews and critiques of last night’s show – and they were good thankfully, but terribly generic. The question arises: are the days of the professional critic dead with the advance of social media – or are journalists just lazy?

Here’s the Aberdeen Evening Express’s Ed Earl’s review of the show:

Ed Review

Not one mention of the actual show appears in here. No cast are mentioned, nothing for music or direction, in fact it smacks of someone who didn’t actually come and see the see at all. Or was it a longer piece which underwent a hatchet job by an angry editor? Either way it does seem that although this is not an important part of the newspaper by world news standards you would hope that if someone is given a free ticket to see a show they would actually make the effort to engage with it and give it a genuine critique.

It’s not a plea from an ego, or desperate cry from the cast for acceptance, but when you have worked really hard on a show as complex as Avenue Q is for the best part of half a year you’d expect more than a Wikipedia copy and paste job. Either you do a decent job – or an editor actually makes space for a full review – or don’t bother at all because it’s worthless as a piece of work.

So do we even need critics any more with the world of Twitter, Facebook and the world of social media anyway? We all write what we think of films and gigs when we leave them anyway, why are people still paid to give their opinion and an arbitrary number of stars when we largely ignore them. How often have you heard the phrase “Despite critical panning it was one of the biggest successes….” or conversely “critically acclaimed but did poorly at the box office”? We tend to trust each other rather than the pompous twat Quentin Letts of the Daily Heil these days.

The main reason this annoyed me is that these people are given a free ticket to see a show, a seat that could have had a paying customer in it instead of a cynical and uninterested journalist. With all the evenings being sell outs we didn’t need the publicity and frankly I’m proud of the show regardless. The appreciation from the crowd is all you want and we’ve had dozens of fantastic responses already to last night. If Ed enjoyed it as he eventually says then his job is surely to say why – explain what tickled his funny bone or moved him, not just compare it to another show written by one of the writers.

So Ed, I appreciate that with the Ukraine and Sochi, Flooding and the fire at the beach this morning we are near the bottom of the list of importance, but if you’re going to do a job…

JD

P.S. Avenue Q was here in Aberdeen a couple of years ago Ed, so it’s not the North-East debut for the show. #checkthefacts

Avenue Q: Tonight’s the Night

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Ave Q

 

It’s been a long time coming but we’ve made it (all nearly in one piece) to opening night. The tech and the dress went okay but tonight we open to a full sell out crowd – something we’ll have to get used to as only the matinée has any tickets left now. The set looks great and the show is ready to go so all we need is an audience to finish off what has been a great experience.

There aren’t any nerves yet; they will most likely surface two seconds before we go on stage and that kick of adrenaline will get me through the show. And I was chuffed that I only messed up two lines in the dress, which is good for me as my brain is not known for its rememberafying (or vocabulary apparently). The biggest difference with a show like this is the reaction of the audience because it’s a big bold comedy you need that laughter and applause to carry it through – the pace is changed by that interaction – but one reaction I was surprised by was that Nicky and Rod got a couple of sympathetic reactions too for their scenes which I wasn’t really expecting.

That’s the thing about rehearsing for months you almost forget it’s for an audience as you are running through with only a dozen or so of you there and you work off each other’s reactions to the lines and business. Rachael said last night that playing Gary Coleman was a bit worrying for a tall white female, in that it could be received badly but with the dozen people watching last night she got a great reception – as she should she’s very funny in the show and a phenomenal singer. Riding the laugh and being brave enough to let the occasional pauses hang in the air are the keys to the balance of the show and it’s such a talented ensemble that this is not a worry.

The support of the production team and the crew is a huge help when you are transferring from the practise room to the stage as there were several things in the tech that became apparent that would be an issue for the cast with such a fixed and layered set. Everyone behind the scenes really knows their stuff and that completely relaxes you, allowing you to get on with the job in hand. The fact that they are all really friendly is a big plus too because you need to be able to have a laugh too.

It’s the cast though that make this.Ego and one-upmanship is the worst thing in any team and can undermine and ruin the very thing you are working towards but I’ve not seen any with this cast.  When you see that great ensemble work without ego it’s a rare and brilliant thing – my big concern in returning to do a show after all these years is that I’d be surrounded by a bunch of divas knee-deep in the politics of positioning but I can genuinely say there’s been none of that and the show is better for it. I am so pleased to find myself among such talented and decent folk and especially with a show as difficult as this to learn and perform. 

Tonight it will be great to have a full house and the atmosphere that comes with that. It’s hard to think that we only get to do it another five times and it’s gone. I’m going to enjoy it whatever happens and I really hope our audiences do too.

JD

Project Shhhh: Day 1

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So today was the first day of Project Shhh, which I can’t really talk about so this blog might be even more unhinged as usual. “Why write about it then?” well because I need to and I’m excited. Hopefully all will be revealed before too long.

Let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start you know) with how I found my way into this situation. At Christmas I realised that going back to work wasn’t what I wanted to do – not in the way that everyone feels after a holiday but more that I knew that I had to make a real change in terms of career. Before the break I had spoken to a couple of fantastic people who were able to advise me on possible approaches and I asked about an idea that I had – the Lego CV. Both the people said they thought it was a great idea if used on the right person – if you want a creative job then you have to show creativity in the application process. And if they don’t respond or like it well maybe they aren’t as creative as they thought they were as a company.

I purchased a few Lego pieces and a box to put them in. The box would hold the ten items that represented me and would have a small card in it that said “Am I the missing piece?” with a link to the website (http://jdcv.weebly.com/) to explain what it all meant. At the end of last month I sent out five boxes to companies across Aberdeen and followed up with an email to make contact. Guess how many of the five got back to me? Two. If you received such an unusual calling card would not at least recognise it with a “thanks but no thanks response”? One of the companies wanted to speak to me asap and phoned the next day to chat about what I was looking to do and would I be free for an interview. A week later I was at the interview and they offered me the chance to prove myself and hopefully get a job out of it – and if not I would have a portfolio of work to show for future positions.

Today was the first day of a long weekend off from work, so I decided to go in to the company and spend some time there to get to know the company and the people as well as to be given some work to do. It was a great day and really interesting to hear about all the different areas they dealt with. The opportunity is a great one and I really hope that it will turn into something tangible over the next couple of months, but time will tell. They are also providing me with a mentor who will take me through the specifics of the job and will train me up to develop the skills required for the position – something that shows their commitment to me, so I’m determined to make this work.

For the last few years I knew that teaching wasn’t really the place I wanted to be, and the move last year from Secondary to Further Education confirmed that – which is a positive thing as much as I am still unhappy with the current career. I could have turned my back on it and realised too late that I’d made a terrible mistake whereas this way I get to try out a new career path without the fear of losing the safety net. Obviously it’s as much for this potential new employer as it is for me so we’ll both be in a position to see if we’re right for each other. And being St Valentine’s day I can safely say that for a first date it was successful and I’m looking forward to our next one on Monday.

JD

Pound for Pound, Scotland’s better in the UK

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A great interview that shows the complete lack of transparency and understanding the SNP have of the situation. Sturgeon is out of her depth here. (And I’m no fan of Andrew Neil either)

For me the Independence debate is like deciding that you want your bedroom to be independent but you demand that you get full use of the bathroom and kitchen. I would respect the Yes campaign more if they wanted full Independence but they seem to be opting for a pick ‘n’ mix approach that suits them but nobody else. I’ve nothing in principle against a country becoming independent, but I’ve yet to hear the compelling case that makes Scotland a good candidate to go it alone that stands up to any kind of scrutiny.

We’ll be unhappy regardless who is in charge, so don’t think that because it’s Edinburgh instead of London things will improve. The downside to the arrangement could be catastrophic – and that’s not scaremongering it’s just a fact. Beyond that I’m sick fed up of No voters being described as Anti-Scottish or unpatriotic; far from it, it’s because I love Scotland I want to protect it and make it as strong as possible within the UK. England, Wales and Northern Ireland are all our friends and we pull together and work to the best of all our needs – putting up a barrier to that makes little or no sense to me. I’m proud to be British, to be European as well and this romantic idea that Scotland will be a great nation on its own is misguided – if it can be great, it could do so as part of the Union too.

All it ever seems to come back to with the Yes campaign is money, but there are two important things to remind them:

1. The oil is not a nationalised industry owned by the people of the UK or Scotland. It is effectively owned by multi-national corporations with headquarters across the world and we know how the whole EU tax thing works with Amazon, Google and Starbucks. They can move their money elsewhere is things are looking bad at any point in the future.

2. The pipes that bring the fuel to shore can easily be moved to south of the border, again at the say so of the oil companies and the UK Government. They might be in a better position than us post independence to offer incentives to move.

I wonder if we didn’t have the oil in the equation would as many people be on the Yes side of the debate?

JD