Tuesday, 14 May 2013
OK, listen up, before I take my leave. In my first few days at the Gielgud I spotted a few celebrities and soon realised this would be a regular occurrence. I knew, at that rate, I'd be likely to forget all the famous names that I saw, so began keeping a list. I updated it every time another celeb was spotted, and here it is - the final list, ready for publication. Some of these I saw more than once. Some I worked with. For the purposes of clarity, if a name has an *asterisk by it, I saw the person randomly - usually because they came to the theatre to see a show, sometimes just on a street somewhere. Names without asterisks are those I saw deliberately - either by having a ticket to see them in a play or at an event, or because they were a member of a cast I worked with. Some I saw in both circumstances, and so they are starred or not depending on my first encounter with them. Capiche?
Bill Nighy?* (not sure, think it was him but it was passing on a street and I didn't like to stare)
Richard E Grant*
McFly x2* (don't ask me which ones)
Someone from Made in Chelsea*(? - God knows, I was told this was the case)
Noel Edmonds* (Not in London, but thought I'd include him anyway)
Dame Helen Mirren
I thank ye.
“So, hopefully, this is the start of my big adventure. My new year's resolution this year was to be brave and start living my life. I think I might just have achieved that. I shall keep you posted!!”
These were the closing words of my first post in this blog. The ‘adventure’ which followed was certainly big – bigger than I could’ve imagined then and led on to the greatest time of my life. That adventure came to its close last week, but in style, making for an unforgettable climax.
Exactly one week before my leaving date, the occasion was marked by my two favourite celebrities finally walking into the theatre. After seeing so many famous faces come through the door of the theatre, my week was made by the two and only French and Saunders strolling in together! We prepped their interval drinks with a decorated order slip and (through just a tiny bit of misbehaving) I managed to chat to them both at the interval. They were every bit as lovely and funny as I hoped. Major high.
On the Saturday following that, we had a shift during which an incident happened that two days later would make the international press. It is an astonishing thing to witness a story first hand and then to see how it gets reported, exaggerated and responded to in the press. I needn’t tell you about it myself: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/4917429/helen-mirren-drummers-rant.html
On the night, it was very funny but we never thought it would get far beyond the little village of the West End. But when I turned up to work on Monday, I was greeted by a throng of press: TV cameras and journalists. Helen came in just afterwards wearing the T shirt in one of the pictures in the article. I listened to her being interviewed and cleverly spinning the story in her favour.
The following day, I was on stage door and hoped that it would all be over. On the contrary – ‘drumgate’ continued with Helen doing a photo shoot outside with some of the drummers involved. She brought them inside the theatre, ushering them along behind her at such a speed I couldn’t possibly sign them in, so wrote ‘Drummers x4’ on the visitor sheet. Since the whole affair, I have had emails and messages from around the globe and pretended to laugh at countless customers’ joke about drums.
Also that Tuesday I spoke more to the actor in the cast I’ve got on the best with to date and unearthed all sorts of ‘small world’ type coincidences – he knows the villages where I’m from and my sister goes to school with his neighbour’s son. I invited him along to my leaving do on Thursday.
Which brings us onto my last day. Thursday 9th May. I met with Myles, Greg and Maria for a spot of afternoon tea and then we headed into the theatre early to mess around and take photos on stage. I had been allowed to choose my position on the rota for the evening and had a nice shift despite a South American guy who was late twice because he couldn’t wait to have a cigarette.
At the debrief meeting I was presented with a beautiful card and present and we headed off to the Phoenix. So many people were there, which was wonderful. Almost the whole of the bar and front of house teams; box office; backstage; supervisors; people I have worked with in the past and Paul from the cast, who came later as promised. We stayed til close, I had a wonderful time and went back to Myles’ afterwards against my will because I was deemed too emotional to make it home alone!
My first evening off was spent with Sophie, having a nice Italian meal in Covent Garden. Then it was back to the Gielgud, as if I couldn’t stay away for more than 24 hours. It was strange watching everyone come out from a distance. I met Myles and we returned to his house to make the final preparations for the next day: The Moonwalk!
We’d been in training – in a fairly loose sense – for the half marathon walk for several months and were so excited about it! We’d dressed our bras in sweet wrappers (the theme was ‘space’ so we found a good excuse to eat lots of Mars, Galaxy and Milky Way bars); donned ourselves in flashing pink tutus and headgear and headed to Battersea and the pink tent. The atmosphere was amazing; we had a fab time around the course and there was a great sense of camaraderie throughout. I am so proud of my team who together have raised over £1000 and counting for breast cancer charities.
I got home at 8am on Sunday morning, went straight to sleep and awoke early evening to immediately pack and head down to Kent. And so, farewell London. And also, farewell to this blog. I will end it with the end of my time in the city, to close the chapter properly. It’s been amazing and great to report my adventures here.
Thank you for reading.
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Although I haven’t updated this blog in a while, I think all who read it know the latest news anyway, and that is that this week is my last in London and thus in employment at the Gielgud Theatre. And what a week it has been. From the best #celebrityspots of my whole career here, to the theatre being at the centre of a Bank Holiday ‘and finally’ style news story that’s gone global, it has certainly ensured I’m going out with a bang.
In leaving, I am ending what has truly been the most brilliant, crazy, funny, insane, unique and unforgettable chapters in my life. When I began writing here, I was excited about the prospect of living and working in London, but had no idea just what an incredible adventure would unfold. And now, in leaving, I must write here again in an attempt to pay tribute to the best nineteen months imaginable.
Aptly, I am writing from the stage door ‘box’, probably my last time here. My career as stage door keeper has been hugely fun, sometimes stressful, but has led to some of my favourite Gielgud memories, and has created friendships I’d never otherwise have made. In my first shift, I discussed jacket potatoes with Ben Miller, and in a more recent one bundled Helen Mirren into the back of a Mercedes. It’s an unusual way of making a living, and has no doubt afforded me tales I can tell in years to come!
My cover shifts on bar and kiosk have been equally varied if not quite as glamorous. The most stressful times on bar have involved tearing around for well over an hour, racing against time to prepare the interval orders before the last words of act one are spoken on stage. Most recently this has involved us yelling ‘No, don’t draw the line!’ at Dame Helen, and back in the day ‘Oh God, teatime is five, arghh!’ at the sound of Peter Capaldi’s final line before the break of ‘The Ladykillers’. At the other end of the scale, we would be lazing about for an hour during Chariots’ long first act with nothing to do, and it was a relief to finally hear James McCardle declare that he ‘can’t wait.’ Kiosk is generally slightly more steady, although the programmes fly off the shelves for this show at such a rate I can barely press the till buttons quickly enough. I look back fondly at the week I did it last summer, when without fail at 6.30 Nick Grace would saunter through the foyer, bid me and the box office a cheery hello and disappear through to back stage.
Although there have been periods when it’s seemed I hardly get to do my standard, front of house, ushering job, it is the one constant throughout. The shows, audiences and level of busyness may change, but the job is the same and the same questions are asked over and over:
- Where are the toilets? Is there a toilet? Can I use the toilet? Why do I need a ticket to use the toilet? You said there was a toilet and there isn’t!
- Where is Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus/Covent Garden/Jersey Boys/somewhere to eat/the Piccadilly Theatre/the nearest Pret a Manger?
- What time does it end? Is there an interval? What time’s the interval? Where’s the stage door?
- I have vertigo/bad back/bad legs/height issues – can I move to a box/the stalls please?
- Do you have ginger/raspberry ripple/cookies and cream/mango/Baileys/toffee/coffee/lemon sorbet ice cream?
Recent favourites include the lady who couldn’t comprehend why the script wasn’t updated to include every change in line, whilst simultaneously conceding that this would indeed be an impractical and ridiculous suggestion; and the man who ordered a bottle of water for the interval with 5 glasses and who wanted me to open the crisps he’d ordered too and ‘present them nicely’.
Yes, we’ve had the customers, yes we’ve had the stars. But the people without doubt who have truly made my time here are my colleagues and friends. We have created a web between us of memories, inside jokes, history and shared experience which will bond us forever. With them I have gone through every possible emotion. I have cried and laughed til I cried. I have changed because of them and seen them change. We have teased each other, supported each other (often literally after a night at the Phoenix!) and gone through the craziness that is theatre life together. I will miss seeing them daily so much I can barely contemplate it, but know that leaving work will certainly not include leaving them and that we will truly be ‘friends for life’.
Thursday, 28 March 2013
Once upon a time there was a stage door cover called Rachel who had the easiest job in the world. She worked on a show in the West End called ‘Chariots of Fire’; a quiet piece of theatre which apparently stayed under the radar of the majority of the public. The most famous actor in it was one Simon (‘Brenda’) Williams, of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ fame (yes, him), whose demands hardly stretched beyond a clean costume and working fridge.
The cast was large, and Rachel was at first bamboozled by the number of new faces to learn, but she astutely studied the programme when front of house and sitting in (well, it was preferable to actually watching the show) and soon managed to match face to name. Many of the actors never recognised her existence, but as long as she knew which key to give to which primo uomo, she was happy enough.
Those were simpler times. Cast and crew came in, did their thing, forgot their keys, left to get the tube; she found their keys and locked up after them. During a show there was time to chat with the smokers, eat, catch up with iPlayer and write her novel (ie stare at a blank Word document). She got paid good money and was happy.
Then, the world changed. The quiet show faded away and, after a couple of weeks of practising her art when there weren’t any actors at all to look after, a new show entered the building. If Chariots were the little helpless villagers, The Audience was the huge giant whose booming, earth-shaking footsteps could be heard weeks before it arrived. A true titan of theatre, its reputation was global. It had the star. It had the esteemed director. It had the experienced writer. It had the faintly glittering supporting cast. It had corgis. The ‘House Full’ sign was dusted off and has taken up permanent residence outside the doors on Shaftesbury Avenue.
And so, Rachel embarked upon her first stage door shift in the brave new world...
I wanted to write about my experiences of two recent shifts in the box because, like I say, it’s a different beast altogether these days. Normal service happens to an extent: keys are exchanged, people sign in and out, call outs and phone calls need to be made. However, with the end of a show in particular, this all has to happen alongside a whole new, somewhat complicated set of tasks.
This is the first time I have experienced working with/for a truly VIP actor. I assumed that at least by working a stage door shift I would finally get to meet Dame Helen, but in fact I've achieved nothing more than brief eye contact. As I worked on matinee days, she was already in the building when I arrived, and stayed downstairs until leaving at the end. Everything regarding Helen is directed through her PA, thankfully an incredibly helpful, kind and easy-going lady. She will take down her post, guests and messages, as well as answering her phone and helping to deal with the business of autographs.
So here’s what happens for Rachel the stage door keeper these days.
All is quiet at first, for, arriving in the building at 3, the show has already gone up and everyone is hopefully where they should be. So, unless the usual messages, visitors and phone calls happen, I can relax at first. There may still be some undelivered post so I ensure that is bundled together by recipient (on Wednesday Helen had a huge stack, from as far and wide afield as Germany, Australia and the USA) and pass it on if and when I see the actor it's destined for. The radio tends to be quiet, again, as the audience are in their seats and happily watching the show, so there shouldn’t be any problems for the front of house team to discuss until the interval.
Des the dog man comes in and out of the building several times during the show, usually accompanied by his fluffy charges Cocoa and Rocky the corgis. These are truly lovely dogs, with a great temperament, wagging tails and friendly disposition, manifesting itself in a hearty lick if they get the opportunity. He will also deliver and pick up the Golden Labrador puppy working at the Apollo next door, who is utterly heart-breakingly adorable and I want to take home.
At the interval, the radio buzzes with updates on ice cream stock, auditorium temperatures and booster cushion requests. Backstage, things mostly remain quiet: a crew member may come up for a cigarette or an actor pop their head round the door to inform me of a guest they’re expecting, but generally nothing much happens. At any point it’s quite possible that a sparkly-eyed member of the public may come in to breathily enquire about Helen Mirren’s movements or obtaining an autograph, but that’s easy enough to deal with. I am amused that Cocoa and Rocky are included in the Act Two beginners’ call.
We ease into Act 2. Edward Fox, who does not appear until the curtain call in this half, has been known to come to chat to me, or to inform me about his expected guests. At some point towards the end, I will don my coat, grab my radio and go outside to unfold the metal barriers we have at the door, designed to keep back autograph hunters once they appear.
It’s then a waiting game until the curtain comes down. And it’s at this point that things are different.
A few minutes after the show comes down, people begin to trickle round to stage door. Generally, thankfully, so far, the autograph hunters are sweet and polite, but I am always prepared to deal with those who aren’t. The most difficult adjustment to make is having to let all the ordinary things that would happen at the end of a show just happen. Usually, I would be in the box, collecting in keys, signing them in, greeting visitors (last week these included Jude Law) and calling actors to send them to the right room etc. Now, however, I have to stand outside the door, ensuring the crowds are behaving themselves and must let keys come and go with trust. Visitors, of course, must still be dealt with, and it is difficult trying to balance making and receiving phone calls with being outside. I am just having to be less precise with signing them in, and focus on the basics of making sure they’re not a complete randomer. Once the throng of fans outside is at its throngiest, I make an announcement to them all. The arrangement is: they write their name of their programmes or tickets, I collect them in, give them to Helen’s PA, who takes them down to her dressing room to be signed. I try to keep the crowd entertained, until she comes back up with them and I can dish them out again – a process reminiscent of handing back kids’ homework.
After a matinee, that is the end, and I say goodbye to them all, console anyone who missed the boat and explain that sorry, that’s it. After an evening show, an extra added layer of complication is involved.
During the second act in an evening performance, I have to contact Helen’s car company and make arrangements for her driver to pick her up. I then contact the driver himself and we try to liaise when and where he’ll be. After the show, all of the above takes place, plus extra guests come and go, plus all of the keys are exchanged, with crew, cast and front of house staff all leaving the building. In addition, the handing back of signed programmes still does not get rid of all of the crowd, who want to hang on to meet Helen. I try to warn them against taking photographs, which they will ignore, and have to keep them entertained even after the excitement of giving them their programmes.
As slightly stressful and complicated as all this can be, it is actually rather fun. I enjoy the extra pressure and exhilaration it causes and the bubbling feeling of excitement amongst the crowd as they sense the moment they will meet their idol drawing nearer.
I am given a warning of how long she’ll be, and ensure the driver is in position, as close to the theatre as he can get. And then, in a flurry, Helen appears, heads outside, graciously greets the crowds as if she weren’t expecting it and, if she feels like it, signs things that are yet to be signed. I stand beside her as a sort of pretence at extra security and she gradually manages to make her way towards her car, accompanied by the company manager. I get great amusement from seeing people being starstruck: the shiny eyes, breathy voices and shaking hands are brilliant entertainment when watching from the outside, and once she’s safely in the vehicle, say a firm goodnight to those still there.
Some hardcore fans stay to await any remaining members of the company still inside, but generally I then get a moment to gather up and log the keys that have been thrust onto my desk in the interim, ensure Mr Fox is being looked after and try to work out if any of the guests have gone.
When the last of the autograph hunters have gone, I can return to normal service: updating documents, helping to lock up the dressing rooms and preparing to lock the building. It’s a little rollercoaster and a unique experience, but I’ve loved my stage door shifts so far!
In other news, the front of house celebrity spots have not disappointed. Whilst during Ladykillers, the constant trickle was fun and easy to keep up with, with this show it’s almost exhausting! There have been at least one famous name nearly every night: so many I have given up trying to see them, on the whole (although I did make a special effort for Victoria Wood and Ian McKellen, in on the same night. Myles and I were together in the stalls and developed a code we could use over the radio if we saw either of them: ‘Coat on the curtain!’)
One notable occasion was the night we heard rumours Russell Brand was coming in. I was checking tickets in the foyer and tried to spend the whole incoming looking out for him, to no avail. When the curtain went out and it was time to look after latecomers, I approached a lady who was left on her own in the foyer. She said her friend was coming with the tickets, so I directed her to the screen and said I’d look after her and take her in once her friend arrived.
Well (and I’m sure you can see where this is going), her friend came in about 3 minutes later, along with a small group of others and lo and behold, there he was: big hair, tight trousers, boots, the lot. It was quite hard work looking after Russell’s crew, but I managed somehow to gather them all together, explain what would happen and lead them all down to the back of the stalls. He called me ‘love’ and I had to stand next to him behind row W until the scene change in which I could lead them to their seats. Quite an experience! My colleagues were split between envy and pity. He was actually very nice though. Just another one of those bizarre experiences to add to my list (other recent additions involve prepping interval drinks for Annie Lennox and angering James McAvoy in a pub).
Lots of fun times have been had recently. Viv and I went to the BBC to see a recording of a new sitcom called ‘Up the Women’, with lots of my favourite actresses in. It’s the last recorded programme being made at Television Centre, so I am grateful and humbled we got to go. There have been birthdays and my birthday trip to Florence came around, which was absolutely wonderful. Mumford and Sons were amazing, the city is beautiful and it was so nice getting away, getting some slightly warmer weather (this winter is still dragging on to the point of complete ridiculousness) and drinking lots of proper coffee! Did not want to come back. We saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the rain and climbed the 463 steps to the dome of Florence Cathedral, with spectacular views over the city below. Loved it.
The end is definitely nigh on my London adventures. I feel ready for that. More to follow.
Monday, 11 February 2013
"We’ll Be Watching The Audience"
The answer to the question ‘what should you be doing whilst sitting in the auditorium?’ on the obligatory training questionnaire. And yes, ho ho, that will be true now on more than one level.
Yes, Dame H has entered the building and it’s all very exciting, actually. We were back for the first day of training today and the show opens to the public at the end of this week. I have had a couple of brief sightings of her, looking very dressed down and ‘normal’ as if she could blend in anywhere. This is lucky because she is absolutely everywhere in the media at present and thus probably the most famous woman in the country except perhaps the Queen herself. This will be the busiest show the theatre has seen in a number of years, and I suspect that some of our newer starters will be in for a shock at working on a sold out performance. And there will be a lot of those.
We're back after 6 weeks of ‘darkness’ which has actually gone by pretty quickly. In the end, I only had 1 week with no work at all. For the first fortnight, I covered shifts on stage door at the Gielgud, first working the busy ‘get out’ and then staring blankly as nothing happened for the remainder of the time. I got used to locking up solo and happily had a constant stream of visitors to help while away the hours!
My birthday was great and even more extended that last year’s festivities. We spent the night before in a cocktail bar and then a club, with a select number having dinner with me beforehand. The best thing about the night was that so many people came: not all could stay long but that worked nicely as different people came and went as the evening went on. Myles made me the most beautiful scrapbook, full of memories from the last year which I adore and I got a great pile of cards and gifts from a plethora of wonderful friends. On my birthday itself, I headed to Bristol and went out for a meal with Ollie, who surprised me with his gift: a trip to Florence in March to see Mumford and Sons in concert! I cannot wait for that! I spent a long weekend with him, having arranged other stage door cover for the days I was away. We had a little trip up to Cheltenham one day and just enjoyed actually getting to spend some time together.
I returned to London in time for the next leg of my celebration, which was a fabulous night at the theatre to see Viva Forever courtesy of Viv! We had a great laugh, sampled ‘Spice Girl Cocktails’ in the interval and attended a Q&A session with the cast after the performance. Three of us then decided to go for a drink afterwards and discovered a load of cast members already in the pub when we got there!
I returned to Bristol again a few days later, this time amidst the chaos that is Britain in snow. We spent a few days slipping about the place, went for a wintry walk along the canal in Bath and on the Sunday slid our way to a local pub for roast. Most cosy. The snow stuck around, but I made it down to Kent in the next week with Myles in tow, and we had a lovely few days meeting family members, exploring the countryside and Canterbury, playing Cilla Black to a pair of ponies, getting hysterical after being stalked by an enthusiastic tour guide and learning about Princess Anne’s abilities at synchronised swimming. I think that’s right.
Work of sorts recommenced the following week as I was invited to help work on the press night of ‘Quartermaine’s Terms’ starring Rowan Atkinson. Funnily enough I’d seen the poster advertising the show in Bath, and said I must go to see it. It turned out entirely for the best as although I didn’t see much of the show, I had a great night in a theatre with a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere to the one I’m used to. Instead of a party, champagne was served to audience members in the auditorium after the show had finished, and Myles, who was there with a free ticket, certainly made the most of that! My fellow ushers did not wish to miss out on the action however, and before long I was being dragged down to the cellar, to help ‘put the stock away’. Pick up has never been so fun...
We must have behaved well enough though, as we were invited back and I have spent most of the last week working there. I got to see the whole show properly, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and it was nice to have a bit of steady work in the one week I had always expected to be jobless. On Thursday, the one day I did have off, our little gang headed south and had a great evening ten pin bowling. Although it’s been annoying spending more time than expected unemployed, I have enjoyed having the luxury of evenings and the freedom of weekends. One Friday night, in particular, I went with Sophie to see her friend play in a band in a pub in Camden. It was a simple thing of the sort many people here do all the time, but it was such a rare treat for me. I loved it, partly because it reminded me of what a vibrant place London is, of how creative and alive it is. It was magical to be reminded that stuff like that gig happen in pubs and clubs all over the city every night – talented musicians, comedians and actors perform and people go along to enjoy it. It sounds silly but I never get to see it, and we had such a good time.
An epiphany the other day made me realise I am running out of reasons to stay here, and I shall be upping my bid now in the attempt to move back west. We’ll see what happens, but were it not for my friends I’d probably have found the inspiration to leave long ago.
One thing I do definitely have to look forward to however, with some of said friends, is the Moon Walk in May! Four of us have signed up to don our glittery, hand-decorated bras, and speed-walk 13 miles through the streets of London at night, along with thousands of others in the name of breast cancer charities. It should be an absolute hoot, whilst raising money for great causes, so if you read this and I haven’t nagged you already.... http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/the_marching_maracas :)