Seats at the Mayflower Theatre

As of March 2018, I have been to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton 20 times. Being the local theatre to my old uni, I made the most of my student loan by seeing many touring productions there! I therefore think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on the pros and cons of different seating areas at this theatre, so here are some of my thoughts on the views I’ve had of various shows.

Stalls

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My view of The Addams Family from seat T32 in the stalls

When I first started visiting the Mayflower, I almost exclusively sat in the stalls. The stalls area of this theatre is enormous – much bigger than at most other theatres I’ve been to. The stalls are great for seeing shows close up – it’s the best place in the theatre for witnessing discreet facial expressions, and for appreciating every little detail. However, I found that sitting in any of the front 5 rows means that you have to crane your neck upwards to see the action onstage, because you are so close to the stage, so I would recommend sitting anywhere from row F backwards. But then again, if you sit too far back then the overhang of the circle can block some of the scenery up high. Another downside is that although the seats are slightly banked upwards, with the seats at the back being higher than the ones at the front, you may still suffer if a tall person sits in front of you! (Disclaimer: I am 5 foot 2, so I don’t have much of a height advantage anyway). There is plenty of leg room in the stalls, and the vast amount of seats in this area means that there are lots of different pricing options.

Circle

I have only sat in this area twice, and don’t have a photo (sorry!). The circle is the middle section of the theatre, and it is split into two sections: the dress circle and the rear circle. It is very much the middle option for seats at the Mayflower, and it feels more cramped than the stalls, with less leg room; and the floor of the balcony above the audience’s heads makes it feel a little claustrophobic. However, the view is pretty good, especially from the front section (the dress circle), and I imagine that the view from the front couple of rows would have all the advantages of the stalls, plus a bit of extra height and no tall people in the way!

Balcony

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My view of Funny Girl from seat H21 in the balcony

You can always find the cheapest seats in the balcony, so this is a really good option if you’re short of cash, or if you’re not totally sure if you’re going to enjoy a show enough to justify spending upwards of £50 on it! The balcony is very steeply banked, so you shouldn’t have too many heads in your way. However, the seats are very far away from the stage, so it can be difficult to see specific details on stage that you can see from the stalls. You also have to climb up over 80 steps to get to the balcony, so that can be a ‘fun’ pre show workout (ew). I would definitely recommend trying to get central seats in the balcony however, as you’ll get a much better view from these than from the sides, despite being miles away from the stage.

Boxes

I’ve never sat in one of the boxes, but it does look pretty fun to have your own little private seating area! The view however probably isn’t the best as you would be side on to the stage, meaning you’d have to look around to watch the show. I would love to sit in one for the experience though!

Band pit

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My view of Billy Elliot from… the band pit!

Unfortunately you can’t buy seats in the band pit, but having had the pleasure of sitting in the pit for a show, here’s the view!!

There are definitely pros and cons for all of the seating areas at the Mayflower Theatre. I would say that the best seats are mid way back in the centre area of the stalls, because you’re far away enough from the stage to take in all the action, but you can also see the close up facial expressions of the performers. However, the balcony seats are often brilliantly cheap, and due to the steep incline of this layer, the view isn’t that bad at all. My advice would be to choose what’s best for you and your price range, and be sure to return at least 20 times like I have to try out all of the seating areas (except maybe the band pit…!).

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Post show blues

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Post show blues is a state of mind that the majority of theatre people have felt after a show they loved has finished its run. One feels empty, aimless, and often lonely once they’re no longer surrounded by a theatre family. It’s the inevitable crash after an incredible week or two of doing something you love and want to do forever, and the transition from being super busy all the time, to having to return to normal, often mundane life.

Having experienced post show blues several times after shows at school and university, I thought I was over it. After the last few shows I did last year, I was pretty fine, but this was very much down to specific reasons for each show (I went straight into rehearsing another show/I went straight into finishing my degree/I travelled to the Edinburgh Fringe the next day = three reasons why I didn’t really grieve for three different shows). As I mentioned previously, having a full time job not directly linked to theatre means that my opportunities to do shows have somewhat diminished, so I seized the opportunity to work through my half term holiday and play in the pit band for a youth production of Fiddler on the Roof.

The band included several old uni friends, and despite my challenging piano part which took a little while to get to grips with, and the LONGEST ACT 1 EVER, I had a great time performing the show for the week. I always love the way that everyone in pit bands bonds due to being in such close proximity with each other for such a large amount of time, and we, of course, developed our own in jokes and critiques of the writing of the show! It was also pretty cool to be working such different hours to my usual job (8am-5pm) – on matinee days I was working from 2-10:30pm, which meant I could get my much needed lie ins.

And then it ended.  I had one day to sort myself out between the show ending and returning to work, and I was already in a bad mood! Cue a 6:30am start on the Monday morning and all I wanted to do was return to my working life of the previous week. I missed the people, I missed the proper theatre and the proper pit (a novelty for me having performed in a space at the side of the stage throughout uni!), and I missed the thrill of playing a show or two every day. Don’t get me wrong, I do like my full time job, but having one solitary week of *exciting* work and then returning to the real world was always going to be a bit of a shock! It was also just a bit of a surprise to be experiencing post show blues after such a long time  having foolishly assumed that I was over it… I am not!

Thankfully I have two more shows coming up soon: a school show, and the revival of YMT’s Jabberwocky at the Other Palace. I’ve always found that having another show (or two!) to look forward to helps dull the post show blues. I guess it’s a good thing that we get so invested in shows that we miss them terribly once they’re finished, but damn they can be difficult to get over! Bring on the next one.

Backstage Tour at the National Theatre

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I’ll begin by saying that I LOVE going backstage at theatres. The few times I have done, I’ve been amazed by the winding corridors and seemingly maze-like routes behind and below the stage, as well as by the sheer quantity of space and rooms and goings on behind the scenes to make shows happen. So when I discovered that the National Theatre offers backstage tours most days, I seized the opportunity to buy tickets for myself and my boyfriend (the excuse being it was a birthday treat for him, but I knew we would enjoy it equally… but it was mostly for him. Honest).

We (and the other 18 people) were introduced to our tour guide Maya, who was so knowledgeable, engaging, and generally brilliant. We were given fetching orange high vis jackets to wear which was fun, and gave me a false sense of importance despite the fact that they said ‘National Theatre Backstage Tours’ on the back. Maya told us all a bit about the history of the building and when and why it was built – it’s much newer than I thought, with the building being opened in the 60s (despite the concept of a national theatre being in talks as early as the 19th century).

We entered one of the three auditoriums within the building: The Lyttelton Theatre. I was immediately struck by how modern the space is, but also by its simplicity. Maya explained that the whole idea of this particular theatre is to not let anything draw the audience’s eyes away from the action on stage, explaining the plain decor and the black box around the performance space. This theatre holds nearly 900 people, and it felt like such a nice intimate space from within the stalls.

Next we went into the main auditorium: The Olivier Theatre. Walking into the circle of this theatre was amazing – the view of the stage seemed to be perfect from every angle, and this is because the seating curves around the stage, somewhat hugging it, and the angle is exactly that of humans’ peripheral vision, meaning that the actors on stage can always see everyone in the audience. This space is where Follies was performed, and Macbeth is in technical rehearsals there right now. Sitting in the circle and looking down at the stage made me desperately want to see a show there!

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We reluctantly left The Olivier, and went backstage! We got to see several props from past productions, some of which never even made it on stage due to script and design changes. We also saw the carpentry workshop where many set pieces and props are made, and had a peek into some other workshops too. The National Theatre is a producing theatre, meaning that many sets and props are made backstage, which can be hugely beneficial when shows are rehearsing within the building, as things can be changed very quickly as the shows develop. It’s much like Theatre Royal Plymouth and TR2 in that sense, but on a much bigger scale!

We were taken back to the foyer and handed back our orange jackets, and said a big thank you to Maya (who was brilliant!). We discovered that there is a great theatre shop in the building, which I wish I’d found before because we spent at least an hour in there!

The backstage tour at the National Theatre was awesome, and I would recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in theatre. I learnt so much and now really want to see something in any one of the three theatres. I think it’s so great that a big producing theatre such as the National offers tours such as this, as it definitely sparked my love for theatre even more.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk 

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The view from the third floor of the National Theatre

What graduate life is really like

DSC_0784As I’ve definitely mentioned before, I graduated from my music degree last year, and since then I’ve had a crazy theatre filled summer, got my first professional house share, and my first full time job. I’ve also learned a lot and realised a lot, specifically in terms of comparisons between student life and adulting life. So, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past 6 months.

Early mornings are HARD.

Throughout my three years at uni I was pretty much constantly tired, but now that I get up at 6:30am 5 days a week I have no idea how that was ever the case. 9ams used to be a big deal, but now I start work at 8am every day, and have no choice but to get up and go!! I’m not saying that I leap out of bed when my alarm goes off (especially as the dark winter mornings make it SO unappealing), but I have definitely got into a routine. My former uni student self would laugh if I told her that I now go to bed at 10:30pm most nights!

It’s an all or nothing life

At uni I constantly had things I needed to do hanging over me – assignments, rehearsal preparations, piano practice – and these tasks were present in my brain ALL THE TIME. I never really felt like I got a rest from it all, because there was always something else I needed to be doing. But now that I have a job, all my work is done at work, leaving my evenings and weekends completely free! Obviously some jobs require work at home, but I’m lucky that mine (for the most part) does not. Honestly, having a totally empty weekend with no responsibilities other than, y’know, other boring adulty stuff like housework and food shopping, is so liberating. Would recommend.

Not everyone is your age

This sounds completely obvious, but hear me out. At school and uni, and all the time until you graduate, you’re mostly surrounded by people of your own age, give or take a few years. However, when you’re thrown into the workplace, there are people as young as 18, and others nearing retirement age in their 60s. It has been really nice to socialise with people who aren’t just in their late teens/early twenties, and I really do love my colleagues, but sometimes I can’t help but crave time with a big group of people who are the same age as me, and at a similar life stage to me. I definitely didn’t appreciate the social hub that was uni enough at the time.

A professional house share sounds deceptively nice, but it’s still better than student housing

So I live in a house with 4 other people, none of whom I previously knew, and luckily we get on! My landlord is 100 times nicer and more attentive than my student landlord (who, by student standards, wasn’t bad at all), and the house is *usually* in a relatively good state! Sure, there’s some mould in my room and the kitchen ceiling is a bit of a mess, but it’s a waaaay nicer living space than your average student house. Oh yeah, and it’s quite nice that when you get up at stupid o clock in the morning, other people are up and about too. Solidarity!

You’ll be in debt, but it doesn’t matter

And finally, I’m earning nowhere near the amount that I need to be in order to start paying back my hefty student loan. Props to any recent graduates who are!

My YMT UK experiences

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Youth Music Theatre UK prides itself on being the ‘leading music theatre company for young people’, and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in two of their productions during the last two summers, as both a band member and as an assistant musical director. These shows have been invaluable to me as someone trying to get more experience in the theatre world, and with YMT’s auditions tour happening right now, I thought I’d write about the two projects I’ve done.

In 2016 I decided to apply to play keyboards in the band for one of the organisation’s eight projects that year. Although I already had an interest in MDing and had some experience of it at uni, my plan was to be in the band that summer, and then AMD the following summer (which I did!). Anyway, I auditioned in Southampton in January, and then found out in April that I had been placed on a show called The Dark Tower. So after much anticipation I travelled to a boarding school in the south of England to begin the residential rehearsals. The cast of the show had already been there for a week, so myself and the other band members had to slot into both rehearsals and the social life! It was awesome staying in a boarding school, and the fact the rehearsal period was residential was so beneficial, because it meant we were never missing anyone, unlike rehearsals for other shows I’ve done. I became good friends with the rest of the band (and the MDs!), and after a week we travelled to London.

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The Dark Tower was performed at The Bussey Building in Peckham, and it was an immersive experience for the audience, with the production being set over all three floors of the performance space. Obviously this raised logistical problems, such as having to have a keyboard on each floor! We also happened to perform the show during some of the hottest days that year, and sometimes the temperature was unbearable, especially with so many people crammed into the space. I absolutely loved my first experience of YMT, which totally inspired me to apply to be an AMD for a show the following year.

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So, in 2017 I applied for the Creative Trainee scheme, and went to an interview in London, and a few weeks later I was told that I’d been placed on a project called Jabberwocky. Being on the creative team I rehearsed the project for the full two weeks, rather than only one like the previous year. We started rehearsing the show at another boarding school, with our cast of 36 girls aged 11-17. I much preferred being on the creative team and getting to be treated more like an adult, as on The Dark Tower the band were still considered to be ‘young people’. As AMD my responsibilities were to accompany some rehearsals, work on solo sections with small groups of the cast, and to teach some songs to everyone. It was amazing getting to work alongside a professional creative team, who also became our friends!

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After a week we travelled to Kent, as the show was to be performed at Theatre Royal Margate – one of the oldest and most haunted theatres in the country! The theatre is beautiful and it was such a privilege to get to perform there, and it was so nice to be able to have picnics by the sea during breaks from technical rehearsals! The shows went so well and I had such an overwhelming sense of pride for all of the girls in the cast once it was all over.

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YMT projects are such a good way for young people interested in performing to spend their summers. I’ve really appreciated everything both the projects I’ve taken part in have taught me, and I’ve met so many good friends and industry contacts. To anyone interested in doing musical theatre in the future – get involved!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, I’m just passionate about the company!

Shows I worked on in 2017

As well as seeing a fair amount of theatre during 2017, I also managed to make some too! Well, musically direct some anyway. Over the last 3 years the majority of shows I’ve done have been through the musical theatre society at my (old!) uni, but this year I’ve managed to branch out a little bit more too. So here’s my year of shows!

Curtains – March 2017

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Credit: Charlie House Media

Curtains was my last ‘big’ uni show, and definitely my most challenging MDing experience yet! This was partly because I wasn’t just the MD – I had a named part, 3 lines, and a (very short) solo song. Throw into the mix that said part had an indeterminate European  a Russian accent, and this was quite a lot to take on! I also had my first experience of stick conducting a band, and while I relished the challenge, I definitely much prefer keys conducting. Or just keys playing. Anyway, the show turned out brilliantly despite significant levels of stress and I was very proud of everyone involved. #sop

Made in Dagenham – March-April 2017

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This was a show put on by a local amateur dramatics group, and I was ‘only’ in the band! It was great fun though – I played keys 2, and it was really refreshing to be involved in a show outside of uni (although most of the people in the band were uni people!). This was also my first paid pit band gig, so that was exciting… hopefully the first of many??!!

Little Puddle – May 2017

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My first original show! (Not written by me, I hasten to add). I was pleased to be able to help out on this crazy production as AMD, and I also played keys 2 (and a kazoo) in the band. It was so interesting to work on an original show and to be there throughout the process of lyric rewrites and spontaneous key changes!

The 24 Hour Show – June 2017

Every year, the musical theatre society at my old uni rehearses and puts on a show in just 24 hours for charity. I was on the prod team as a co MD, and we auditioned everyone and chose a cast… but didn’t tell the cast what the show was until 24 hours before the first performance. It was a totally mad and surreal experience, during which I got an hour of sleep (which was more than most!) and felt like I went a little bit insane. Nonetheless, we pulled it off, and it was a great show to finish my uni experience with!

Jabberwocky – August 2017

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Having played in the band for a Youth Music Theatre (YMT) production last year, I was so excited to do another one – but this time as the assistant musical director. Getting to work alongside industry professionals was so valuable, and it was such a rewarding (and exhausting!) 2 weeks of constant theatre making! The show involved 39 girls aged 11-17. This was also an original piece, so there were constantly changes being made to the score and script, and often these changes were a result of what the cast spontaneously did which was awesome. Performing the show at the Theatre Royal Margate (the oldest theatre in the country) was amazing too.

 

Now that I have a full time (non theatre based) job, my opportunities to do shows have somewhat diminished, but I hopefully have at least 3 lined up for 2018 already!

My favourite new shows of 2017

Well it’s that time of year again when I come out of blogging hibernation to write about my favourite shows of the year! Although I saw overall fewer professional productions this year than in 2016, I did manage to fit in 12 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and another trip to West End Live. So here are my favourite new shows of the year:

Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre, London

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This was one of my first shows of the year, and what a spectacle it was! Amber Riley was fantastic in the leading role, and the whole company worked together brilliantly to put on a stunning theatrical experience, featuring some highly impressive vocals from both the soloists and the ensemble.

The Addams Family (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

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This was the first production of The Addams Family musical in the UK, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Andrew Lippa’s score is simply fantastic, and the cast were true triple threats, with stand out performances from Cameron Blakely and Carrie Hope Fletcher. I wouldn’t be surprised if a West End transfer is on the cards!

Half a Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre, London

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Many people would associate this show with Charlie Stemp (who portrayed the lead, Arthur Kipps), but having experienced a flawless performance by his first cover, Sam O’Rourke, I can safely say that the show’s success was not totally reliant on one individual (as fantastic as I’m sure Stemp was in the role!). I adored this fun, cheerful show and really hope to see it again some day.

The Play That Goes Wrong (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Oh yes, a play has featured on the list!! This show was definitely one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it was a touring production (with a touring set!) made it all the more impressive. I loved the way that the performance started as soon as you entered the auditorium, and it was so (hashtag) relatable for those of us who have put on amateur productions ourselves!

Showstopper the Improvised Musical (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Winchester

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After seeing this show in Edinburgh I was so keen to revisit it – especially as it would, obviously, be a completely different show! I have so much respect for every member of the company, but particularly the band (led superbly by Duncan Walsh Atkins), who I could not take my eyes off! So. Clever.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Yes, it’s another play. Yes, I saw it twice. Having read the book several years ago I’ve always been eager to see this show, and it was brilliant. I got to watch two different actors take on the role of Christopher in the two different venues which was so interesting, and I also got the opportunity to go backstage (read about that here). It’s such an enlightening and eye opening show.

School of Rock – New London Theatre, London

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This show is insanely good! I love any show with talented kids in it, and this production took that to another level! The adult cast complemented the child cast brilliantly, and the relations between parents and children were so interesting and often realistic. Oh yeah, and the children formed THEIR OWN BAND. Wow.

The Toxic Avenger – Arts Theatre, London

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So this is another show that I saw in Edinburgh and loved, and had to revisit in London in its full form without any bits cut out! I thought it wasn’t possible for it to get any better, but it absolutely did!! The five cast members were all hilarious, and the ridiculous concept of the show just made it even funnier. Also, the band were on stage which is always a bonus in my eyes.

Review – Tamar Broadbent’s Get Ugly! – Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Get Ugly - courtesy of Rebecca Pitt

It’s not often that you find a one woman show which is so hashtag relatable (sorry) to 21st century life, but Tamar Broadbent’s Get Ugly definitely manages it. The show mixes stand up comedy and musical theatre style songs to create a fluid show which certainly entertained many different audiences during this year’s festival.

The first thing that struck me upon entering the space was how intimate it was. At this Wednesday afternoon performance there was an audience of around 20-25 people, all facing the small stage area on which Tamar performed – although the aforementioned stage was already partially occupied by a keyboard! Tamar herself welcomed us into the room which was a nice touch – I liked the fact that the performer/audience divide was blurred before the show had even begun, and this was a trend which continued throughout the performance – I very much felt like the audience were Tamar’s new friends, which was such a nice relationship to form within the space of an hour.

The show features several clever and amusing songs about modern day life, specifically focusing on female problems and dating. I particularly enjoyed the musical take on the concept of ‘Facebook suicide’ and the song about dating featuring a male audience member playing the recorder was a hilarious touch. However, these comedic songs were juxtaposed by a heartfelt number about Tamar’s sister, which balanced out the audience’s emotions towards the end of the show.

The target audience is primarily young (single) women, which is understandable given that this is the demographic that Tamar herself falls into, meaning that there were some jokes and songs which were not particularly relevant to certain audience members – but this is surely unavoidable when the material has been written by one individual and is very much rooted in personal experience. But the fact that the show is so rooted in personal experience is definitely a good thing, as it makes it more authentic and real, contributing to the intimate feel of the piece which was apparent from the moment that the audience entered the performance space.

I got the feeling that Get Ugly is a show which changes every single day, depending on who happens to be in the audience – and that’s such a healthy and interesting way to approach a one woman show. It was certainly nice when Tamar referred to us as ‘a very nice Wednesday afternoon audience’, and it was such an awesome feeling to know that we, as a collective, were witnessing a show which would never be performed exactly as we saw it again. I suppose that’s the joy of a solo show in a small performance space – the audience and performer both get so much out of it.

Tamar Broadbent’s Get Ugly is such a perfect show for the Fringe. It’s interesting and constantly engaging, and I’m sure that every audience member was able to relate to and laugh about at least one 21st century first world problem! The venue, while small, is the perfect place for the show, and Tamar’s endearing, likeable and hilarious personality really shines through both her stand up comedy and her original songs. I can’t wait to see where she takes the show next.

4. Theatre MDing: what I’ve learned

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Prior to coming to uni, I didn’t really know what an MD was. I didn’t know that I’d maybe like to be one, and I certainly didn’t know that I’d go on to MD 8 shows during my three years of studying. So when I applied to be an AMD for my first show at uni (thank you, Drowsy Chaperone prod team of 2014/15), I still wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for. I’d like to think that I now know a fair bit about MDing (musical directing), so here goes:

MDing is not just one job. It is many jobs.

The title ‘MD’ means that you direct the music of the show. So you tell the cast what to sing and how to sing it, and tell the band what to play and how to play it. But there’s much more to the role than just bossing people around! Most MDs also act as rehearsal pianists before the band comes in, and the conductor for when the band are involved. This means that the MD has to carry out two completely different roles between rehearsals and shows, which is TERRIFYING. When I had to conduct a show earlier this year, I felt so thoroughly unprepared because while I knew the music inside out, I was so used to playing it on the piano, not conducting it for a 12 piece band! Other jobs include leading vocal warm ups, making cuts and adding repeats, and liaising with other prod team members. So onto the next one…

The cast recording will almost definitely not match up with the score. Sorry.

There is nothing worse than coming into a rehearsal (a bit underprepared, oops), and realising that the choreographer has worked very very hard to make up a dance to suit a certain song or dance break on a cast recording… which doesn’t match up with the score in front of you. I’ve since learned to comb through the score before rehearsals even begin, but this is such a laborious task, and even if discrepancies are spotted, the MD then has to explain how many bars are added/missing, and often disappoint the choreographer in the process. I’m aware that this makes it sound like choreographers are hard to work with – they’re not and I’ve worked with some wonderful choreographers! It’s just very annoying when this happens. Argh.

Vocal warm ups will become anthems… and sometimes they will have dance routines.

Every rehearsal starts with a vocal warm up (except one time when I forgot), and these vary from the technical scaley ones to the funny tongue twister ones. I’m not really sure where we get these warm ups from – I’m pretty sure they’re sort of spread around in little MD circles as we impart our knowledge onto one another! ANYWAY, one of my good MD friends at uni introduced a warm up called Ba Bey Bee Bo, which *somehow* got its own dance. (Note: the choreographer was not involved and no bars were added or cut).

During breaks, everyone will flock to the piano.

Now, I don’t really get this one. Picture the scene: we’ve been rehearsing for a few hours, and the director announces that it’s lunch time. The MD leaves the piano stool and BAM – 5 cast members are crowded around the keyboard, desperate to get their hands on it and play some choons. Sometimes this results in an awesome jam session, but sometimes it just results in everyone else leaving the room!

No one else really understands your job.

Whereas most people know what a director does and how they do it, and what a choreographer does and how they do it, not very many know how MDing works. This seems to create an air of suspicion around MDs themselves, and I enjoy this. Not only does one get a fair amount of street cred from being able to play the piano, sometimes people seem a bit mystified by the ability to read music. It’s good fun, and sometimes makes it easier to gloss over mistakes…!

So yes, there are a few things I’ve learned through MDing 8 different shows while at uni. I have certainly learned a lot, and that’s very much down to all the other fantastic MDs I’ve worked with while doing these shows (Becky, Joe, Gem, Andy, Izzi, Ben, Dave, Robbie <3). There’s always more to learn, and I definitely hope to do more MDing in the future, but I’ll always check whether the cast recording matches up with the score first. (Disclaimer: it probably won’t).

3. ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ – an inside look at creating costumes at TR2

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As part of the Theatre Royal Plymouth bloggers’ scheme, I was invited to the wardrobe department at TR2, the theatre’s production and learning centre. We were shown around by Delia, the head of wardrobe, and we got to learn all sorts of things about how, where and why costumes are made, how much it costs, and even how to create realistic looking sick on clothes!

We were welcomed into the wardrobe workshop space, which was full of dummies wearing costumes, which I definitely mistook for real people a few times! Delia showed us some costumes from a production of Rebecca, which was at Theatre Royal Plymouth a couple of years ago, and explained that the costume budgets on shows vary hugely – from around £500 for small, local productions, up to £250,000 for high profile tours of well known musicals. On expensive shows just one garment can cost £1000 to make, especially when fabrics have to be made and printed specifically for a particular character in a particular show. Delia also explained that to work in wardrobe you have to be an all rounder – while individuals have their specialisms, they all need to be prepared to do a bit of everything – including doing the laundry, and even acting as a stand in dresser for performances at the theatre.

Next we went to the costume store: an enormous room full of thousands of garments. While the aisles and rails look crammed full and impossible to trawl through, the room is impeccably organised to make it easy to find any particular piece of costume required. Delia told us that they often hire out costumes to other organisations in the wider community, and that some garments are reused many times in different shows. She described them as ‘treasures I can reuse’, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it, because many of the pieces I saw were so versatile, and definitely ‘treasures’.

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We returned to the wardrobe workshop and Delia showed us some techniques to create special effects on fabric (her own specialism). She emphasised the attention to detail – like when creating fake mud to make clothes look dirty, she has to consider where the production is set, because the colour of mud in Yorkshire, for example, is quite different from the colour of Cornish mud! She used a dirty down spray to customise a pristine white T shirt, and showed us how to create fake blood by using a different spray, and also showed us some fake sick which was… interesting! She told us how different textures can be created using different substances, and stated that ‘PVA glue is my best friend’ due to the sheer amount of things it can be used to make! It was also interesting to find out that experimentation is a key part of creating the correct colour or texture, and that a lot of the wardrobe team’s work is trial and error.

Finally, we got the chance to have a go at creating some fake embroidery. This involved creating a piping bag full of acrylic paint and tracing over a print – it was harder than it sounds! The trick is to create a really small hole for the paint to come out of to maximise the precision when tracing over the lines. Then we filled in the gaps with paint and a brush which was much easier… GCSE art seems a long time ago! It was a really interesting and surprisingly therapeutic task to do and it certainly made us all be quiet for a while!

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Despite knowing very little about the business beforehand, I loved learning so much about the wardrobe department and costume making at TR2. I never realised how much detail goes into the costumes you see on stage, and the size of the costume store was simply immense. I’d like to thank Delia for showing us around and for being so helpful – I have a newfound appreciation for all that the wardrobe team do, as well as a newfound appreciation for PVA glue.