#LoveTheatreDay: My favourite theatrical moments.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Shall we talk about theatre, then?

Lately I haven't done a lot of that on the internet. The reason being I'm a big believer in that Mum-favourite "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything", and for a little while I didn't have anything nice to say. In 2016 I had a theatre day-job that made me happier than I'd ever been, and I was writing musicals with a legend. As 2017 rolled in, I lost both in very quick succession. I was not, as you'd imagine, theatre's biggest fan for a while. It absolutely ruined me, and I absolutely wasn't talking about it.

It crept back in, though. It always does, doesn't it? I wrote a play, and learned in doing so that I still want to write musicals one day, jumped back in to the day-job-field I fell unexpectedly in love with, and continued to make myself feel better by sitting in a large building, in a central part of town, in a dark room listening to songs as part of a play (I stole that line from Ed Kleban. I don't think he'd mind).

The obvious truth is, I love it even when I say I don't. Theatre is hard, and frustrating, and kind of soul-destroying when you're in it, and vital, and world-expanding, and completely brilliant. I've spent 11 years now wrapped in it's slightly too tight hug, ushering, serving drinks, producing, selling tickets, and writing (also did a little bit of social media, a little bit of marketing, facilitated a couple of workshops and spent far too much time flyering). I toy often with the idea of a change of scene (remember that time - it was last week - that I was very seriously going to apply for a job at the National Crime Agency?) but usually come back pretty quickly to the reality that the reason it sometimes drives me so crazy, and leaves me jaded and sad and stressed out at moments is that when it's good? Oh, there's nothing in the world like it.

So this #LoveTheatreDay, I want to focus on the good. Not just my good, although there are inevitably a few professional best bits listed below, but the good-in-general. The times that make me carry on. The five theatrical moments of my life, as they've been so far. Let's have a bet if I manage to keep it to five. I predict the chances are slim.

1. Standing in the wings at the Royal Albert Hall
Listening to Idina Menzel sound check Heaven Help my Heart. It had been ten months of the hardest and most rewarding work I had ever known, and somehow, which is so rare on a show day, I had found a moment to just... stop. Marvin Hamlisch stood on his podium, or maybe next to it, I can't remember over half a decade away from this moment. It was quiet. And then Idina, small and gorgeous and finally here after endless weeks of logistics and planning... began to sing. And I remember thinking Oh God... we actually did it. So much had happened up until that point. So much was still going to. It had not been easy, and it was not going to be easy. But right there, in that brief moment in the middle of a huge undertaking? It seemed simple. Reduced to the whole point of it all, for just a few minutes. Just a woman singing the most beautiful song to an empty auditorium, while Marvin Hamlisch conducted, and, unseen, I watched.

(Very very special mention to a year later - Apollo Theatre, Autumn. There was a space where Marvin should have been, both on the stage and in the universe. I wasn't in tech; hadn't looked at the set list either. I was on the other side of town, producing another show, and came out to a text message from the depths of the Apollo stalls: "She's doing A Chorus Line. You're going to lose it". It worked out somehow that I didn't get to see that particular part of the show 'til the first preview. In the week's worth of shows that followed, there wasn't a single time I watched that song without crying).

2. Watching Darren play Hedwig.
I scheduled meetings in New York around this one. Some stuff had happened that meant Darren Criss and I were on each other's professional radars (and by some stuff I mean one night in Paris we sang Aladdin and Les Mis in a hotel until 4am. That was fun) and I was desperate to see him play a part that was so far outside the realm of what I'd seen him do before. So I flew over to talk about that musical I was writing, and on a Saturday night off, I put on a very tiny sequinned dress (I thought Hedwig would approve) and went on down to the Belasco. Let's start at the end: my body was giving him a standing ovation before my brain caught up. (It actually sort of hurt). I knew already that the man was generous-of-spirit, so why I was surprised by the generosity of his performance I have no idea, but he was fearless. He gave everything away. He looked beautiful. Producers, please. You know what I'm asking, right? It was one of the most abundant single performances I've ever seen.

3. The moment in Waitress where she gives him the "Thanks for taking me to the moon moon-pie".
Most of Waitress, really, but that bit especially, 'cause it's funny, and clever, and reveals the most incredible strength of character. I've told this before, but when we left the theatre that October Sunday afternoon my friend Chrissie said "Bits of that were just you, and bits of that were just me, weren't they?" and yeah. Exactly. I'm still proud that Broadway's first all female creative team made the best musical I saw last year, and that moment? Where she does the exact right thing even though she really doesn't want to, with her cleverly named pie and her perfectly chosen words? I wished that was one of the bits that were just me. (LOL it wasn't, though. I'm trying very hard not to ruin the plot here, but I... could not have). (Also Jessie Mueller, standing stage left, voice cracking with a bit of emotion singing She Used to be Mine? I will not forget that).

4. Watching Lin-Manuel Miranda watch In The Heights.
Actually I was sitting the row in front of him, so watching isn't accurate, but let's go with it.  I say it often and I think people think I'm joking: Ticketing In The Heights was one of the absolute joys of my career (and life). That whole day was special, and to share it with with two of my pals who had been there through all the hard bits of trying to run a ticketing operation from a hut in the middle of a main road (if I sound disparaging it's cause I'm trying to deny the fact that not a single day passes where I don't miss it) made it all the sweeter. When it comes to In The Heights, even after all this time I've never worked out which parts are Lin-Manuel and which are Quiara ('cause a book writer doesn't just write the script, y'know?) but listening to him laugh at jokes I assume were hers? I was jealous. Imagine, a collaborator so heartily supportive of you, and everything you do? It was the most inspiring thing. Inspiring also to watch people who had become friends over the year in our Kings Cross home perform the show they loved for the man who had created it (if you were there, I guarantee you remember Josie Benson almost literally tearing the roof off the Kings Cross Theatre. Was there a mid-show standing ovation or am I making that up?). I could talk forever about all the wonderful things that happened because In The Heights came to town, but I won't. I'll reduce it to a second that encapsulated all of it; sitting in our auditorium, one of our heroes behind us, laughing at his own show, and us, thinking how lucky we are.

Surprise! We're going for 8! Who would've guessed?

(Me. I knew as soon as I got to 3).

5. The first broadway show I saw was RENT.
With Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. It was sort of an accident actually (I say that as if we hadn't crossed the ocean at least in part for that reason). We didn't think it would be on TKTS, and had planned to hit up the Nederlander Box Office the next day. Our first show, though, would be whatever we could find on the booth, back when it was in it's temporary home and the queue went underneath the Marriott Marquis (remember that?). When we reached the front and saw they were offering RENT, there was not even a question. It felt frantic. It felt like they were the last few tickets, but I don't think they were. I have seen it in far better shape since (closing cast, just before the surprise extension), but something about that one will stick. Something about sitting in the auditorium where all those stories we'd heard had happened, in a city that was still new enough to me to be overwhelming, watching two of the original cast of the show that made me fall in love with theatre. I'm realising right now, a decade later, that so many of the experiences on this list (and in my life) were born of that moment, where I sat in a Broadway theatre thinking maybe this was something I could really fall in love with, and was proved unequivocally right.

6. White masks in mirrors
Sleep No More, the first time. I've learned a little bit more about White Mask Theory (well, that's a thing I just made up) in the years since I first visited The McKittrick, and know now that there's a definite relationship between the mental state of the character and whether they can see the crowd of creeps following (literally) their every move, but I didn't then. Back then, after three hours of chasing Macbeth around a warehouse-turned-hotel, the crowd of onlookers skidded to a halt as the subject of our attention stopped in front of a mirror. He looked in to the glass, and straightened his tie. Around him, surrounding him on every side, were white masks, making his unmasked face in the middle that much more pronounced. It felt, I suppose, like we were watching over him, protecting and observing him on this final part of his journey. We all knew how Macbeth ended. We all knew it was close. He straightened his tie, and I was gone. Here you go, Punchdrunk. Here's my heart. You can have it.

7. Yerma
Honestly, all of it. The first scene change, when the parameters of possibility changed entirely. Every considered move Billie Piper made. The light. The lack of light. The brilliant subtitles. The bit I'm choosing, though? That moment where (and I'm paraphrasing here), John tells her they will be alright, if she'll just stop writing about it, and she replies "I can't do that". Oh, God. Everything about those four words (their delivery, their placement, their meaning) was just absolutely perfect.

8. Is it strange that one of my top ten theatrical moments happened in an airport?
It was early, and I'd treated myself to lounge access on the logic that you only get to fly to New York to see your first show open once. I'd been to bed and woken up; Gianni hadn't gone to sleep yet. In an armchair, eating a Sausage sandwich, drinking a latte, I checked in to let him know I was on my way and make a plan for when I landed, not expecting him to pick it up until New-York-Morning. It was about 4 hours after the full version of The 8th Fold had it's first ever public performance.
"How was it?" I asked, and his reply was immediate.
"Standing ovation".
I switched from coffee to Gin.

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