Prompt corner blog Tour 2011

11th December: End of the Tour, the weather report.

Well, we made it!
Stoke made sure we had a full selection of it's weather on the first day.
Sun, rain, snow, wind, sleet, hail, sun, RAIN, wind, sun. All in the space of 20 minutes!

As we were only doing La bohème, we had the utter luxury of walking away at the end of a show, and not having to dismantle everything to go back into the lorry.
It felt very alien though.
Also, as an added bonus I got upgraded to an enormous suite in the hotel. It was big enough to play a game of 5 a side footy, although we just stuck to a small cheese and wine evening!

On Thursday, we had a rehearsal with the understudy cast, who did the Schools' performance the following day. We ran through each act with Duncan playing on a keyboard in the orchestra pit. Another torrential downpour followed at lunch time. Must remember not to wear down jackets in the rain!

The Friday show was great fun with lots of (hopefully happy) screaming kids at the end, and as it was an early finish there was a bit of a party evening. Apparently dancing on tables may have been involved, but sadly I have no photographic evidence...

Saturday was officially the last show of the tour, and it was like the last day of 6th form.
There was lots of silliness during the beginning of Act 2, and I got dragged onstage by the chorus police on more than one occasion.
At the end of the show we packed the lorry for the final time, and as we had no other shows, we shared our wagon with Wardrobe and Wigs.

The end of the tour is always a strange time, as many people will try to travel home straight away. For many of us this is also our last day of work at Glyndebourne until mid-March.
Quite a few people will go straight onto a Panto season, but I shall have a month away from opera, visiting family in France, then snowboarding in Colorado.

Next year, our department will start preparing for the Festival towards the end of March, with rehearsals commencing in early April.
I shall be on the book for Cenerentola, Figaro and the Double Bill, and hopefully I shall be allowed to report back to you with a festival blog...

Thanks for tuning in, and Merry Christmas!

Snowboarding last year on Mount Caburn, near Glyndebourne.

7th December: Week 5...It's Finally Getting Colder

After last year, the weather has felt unseasonably mild so far, and is probably to blame for all the germs doing the rounds. But at last, we got to break out the hats and gloves.

Wimbledon was quite an eventful week. On the Wednesday performance the Pasquale revolve decided to stop in the middle of the overture. The motor had overheated due to being in too confined a space, and had tripped out.

For those of you who haven't seen the show, the overture is a continuous revolve cue, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and at the end it goes into what we call Warp Speed (apologies to Mr Roddenberry). While the revolve is spinning around, Malatesta climbs through trap doors into the various rooms, the crew change the wall coverings, and Stage Management set different furniture and props to create more rooms.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible (not to say messy) to pick up the action in the middle of the overture, so when we were able to restart, we had to start from the very beginning.
Luckily, Pasquale is nice and short, so it wasn't too bad adding extra time on, but with longer shows, stoppages can sometimes mean lots of people going into overtime, missing trains and all sorts of complications.
The second visit to Don P was mostly uneventful, apart from the fact that it was the last night and we were saying goodbye to another tearful group of people.

Of course bohème wasn't going to give us an easy week either, and on the Friday show, Bryan our Rodolfo succumbed to the dreaded lurgy and was unable to sing. His understudy, ex-chorister David Butt Philip gave an awesome performance and was hugely cheered on by his colleagues.

On the Saturday afternoon we had to do a bit of jiggery-pokery with the lorry contents, as we only wanted to take the bohème props, costumes and set up to Stoke, while Rinaldo and Pasquale would be sent back to the farm.
The get-in/out at Wimbledon isn't the easiest to deal with though. There isn't a dedicated loading bay, so trailers have to park on the street and we have to compete with curious passers-by to get across the pavement to the door.
There is also the challenge of pushing heavy flight cases and furniture up and down slippy wet metal ramps, and last year in Stoke (which has a similar street get-in) we had the added bonus of thick snow underfoot and dodging snowballs thrown by the crew from the green room balcony.

After almost a whole weekend at home, it's time to drive up to Stoke and play another round of car games such as "punch buggy" which involves thumping the person next to you when you see a VW Beetle and shouting "punch buggy red/blue/other". This is a favourite of the Company Office/Music Library vehicle. Stage Management have recently developed a variation called Mini Squeeze.

Everyone seems to be quite happy to be in Stoke, the end is in sight and a bit of Christmas spirit is creeping in, although I'm a bit annoyed that I left my new merino long johns at home.

Until next week!

The Pasquale Carrier Pigeon known as "Parrot of Doom" waiting for his last performance.

Pasquale Pigeon

Plymouth 27th November - Week 4 on the road - The food edition.

The ankle is much better, but Tour Lurgy has set in. All of us are feeling croaky, sniffly, sneezy and generally under the weather. That being said, Plymouth week always has a good atmosphere, as we have two birthdays to celebrate in our department, and several more in the chorus and crew.
Food in Plymouth is always in excellent both in quality and quantity. Traditionally we start the week with a group outing to the Barbican Kitchen, then as they say, the world is your lobster. We were also lucky that our trip coincided with the new River Cottage Canteen opening. An excellent lunch was had there.
No trip to Plymouth is complete without a trip to Cap'n Jaspers for a half yard of hotdog, or if you are feeling brave, a Jasperizer. This is a quarter pounder bacon burger atop a quarter pounder cheese burger, with fried onions and relish to taste. Not for the faint hearted!

This Thursday saw the final performance of Rinaldo, and time to say farewell to some people who have been with us for the best part of seven months.
It's very unusual to lose a show almost in the middle of the tour, so there was an excellent opportunity to combine last night celebrations with birthday ones, and a quiet cocktail bar in the Plymouth Barbican area suddenly had an influx of about 150 Glyndebourne company members. I don't think the poor bartenders quite knew what had hit them! This year I managed to avoid the 2 for 1 cosmopolitan offer. Which was an excellent decision.

Theatre-wise, Plymouth is quite spacious so no squeezing this week. One thing we have noticed though is that all the theatres so far have been unbearably hot. I think it's because we seem to be following Ballet Rambert around the country, and the heating always gets turned up for dancers.
As this venue is the farthest west we go, it has a huge catchment area, and the audiences were excellent and seemed to love our particular form of entertainment.

Friday's performance of Bohème was the first time a cover (understudy) has had to go on so far this tour. Nick Lester, our Schaunard caught the company lurgy and was losing his voice. He made it to the interval, but luckily Mike Wallace, his cover, was able to take over for Act 4. Mike did absolutely brilliantly as always despite being battered and bruised by his over exuberant cast mates in the Act 4 dance-off ! A knock-on effect of Mike becoming Schaunard, was that the rôle he sings (Customs Sargeant) then had to be covered by my fellow tour blogger and Guildhall alumni Matt Wright. Having more than one cover on always makes for a challenging announcement for the Company Manager, having to remember all the names and characters in the correct order, whilst being blinded by a follow spot. Now, although being quite food oriented this isn't a cookery blog, but I thought I would include my cold remedy for everyone who is feeling a bit rubbish this week.

Juice of one lime
One inch of fresh ginger, grated, skin on (all the good bits are in the skin like spuds)
One small chilli, finely chopped. De-seed if required.
Generous slug of sloe gin (homemade of course, Plymouth is an excellent substitute!)
Large spoonful of honey
Add boiling water and enjoy the warming glow!

Next week, the delights of Centre Court Shopping Centre and SW19.

Everyone's favourite (non gin) Plymouth activity: Observing Naval Manoeuvres!


20th November - Week 3 on the Road

The week ends as it began, with a radio 4 marathon in the car. From The Archer's Omnibus to The Food Programme precedes a rather lovely roast lunch in a country pub.
We all have our secret places to eat, so I can't tell you where it is.
The drive to Norwich is fairly short and we arrive at our friend's house quite early and settle down to tea and lemon drizzle cake in front of the Aga.
The evening is spent with the Sunday paper in another secret pub that does excellent cider, and a quick consultation with some colleagues throws up another fantastic foodie paradise, so Monday is sorted. We certainly spend Norwich week well fed!

Much as we love visiting Norwich, it must be said that it is a challenge to fit the sets in to such a small theatre. Imagine trying to cram a 10 inch diameter cake into an 8 inch square tin, and you catch my drift. Take a bit off here, squeeze these bits together, apply grease and go.

As we finish taking Bohème props out of the lorry, a Pasquale black chair becomes the victim of gravity and parking on a wonky hill, and takes a tumble. One of the legs snaps clean off, and must be repaired. Wood glue and pressure is applied, and I offer to get some brackets from the nearby shopping centre.
Walking down a flight of stairs, I manage to miss the last one and go over on my ankle.
Apparently I went quite grey...
After a trip to the ironically named walk-in clinic, I am pronounced to not have broken anything, but have a badly bruised and swollen sprained ankle with over stretched ligaments. Ouch!

Stephen escorts me back to the house with ample supplies of ice packs and painkillers, and I am instructed to rest for the remainder of the day. No Bohème for me then...
My cues in the show must now be divided amongst the remaining team members, and I hear the show was well received. It was also the last performance night for our first Rodolfo, Atalla Ayan, and the next day brings more rehearsals for the new cast member, Brian Hymel. Rehearsing a cast change is not a normal occurrence on tour, so our routine is broken up a bit.

Speaking of routine, normally by week three, a strange affliction known as Shopping Centre Fatigue has set in. This commonly manifests itself as an extreme lethargy on approaching shops, a massive sense of déjà vu, and confusion as to why you thought you were standing outside Boots, only to find it's now Debenhams. Ah, but that is the shopping centre in Plymouth. Or is it Stoke???
As you can tell, we spend a lot of time kicking our heels. Touring is all about waiting for other people it seems.

Don P and Rinaldo pass without a hitch, (with a little help from Messrs Codine and Paracetemol) and I manage to keep my foot well elevated on the prompt desk. It's now gone a beautiful shade of green with blue toes.
The week draws to a close, and I am well behind on my Christmas shopping.

There's always next week though. Westward Ho!

The quick change area for Rinaldo. A little more public than usual!

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10th November: Week 2 on the road.

Greetings tour followers!
Week one is out of the way, and we are starting to settle into our touring routine.
Mondays are a rest day for most of Stage Management, but Stephen (Head of Stage Management) and Ben (Stage Manager) take it in turns to go into the new venue, sort out dressing room allocations, label up the doors, post dressing room lists on notice boards, and set up our office.

Tuesdays start with unloading all the props for Bohème from the lorry. As each venue differs greatly in available backstage space, the props cannot always be set as we would normally like. Each show has to be relit for every venue as the F.O.H. Rig (front of house lights) are the theatre's own, and are different to our rig at home. Glyndebourne brings all the lights that are on stage, but again, each light has to be focused to it's particular position. Once focusing is complete, the lighting session can start. We will go through each lighting cue in the show, using the Assistant Stage Managers to walk the routes of the performers.
At 4.45pm the orchestra, principals and chorus arrive and the balance call begins. As the acoustics for each venue are different, the sound produced on stage and in the pit must be 'balanced'. The conductor will decide which sections need to be heard, and Duncan Williams, our touring répétiteur (rehearsal pianist) moves around the auditorium checking the sound levels are fine, and that no singer or instrument is audibly sticking out where they shouldn't.
Occasionally, if lighting has run over, we may have to light during and sometimes after a balance call. But all being well, dinner time follows, and varies in quality depending on the locale...

6.40pm is the half hour call, when Claire or I begin the count-down to the start of the show. Final preparations are made on stage, and we kick off at 7.15.
After the show, the props are put back on the lorry, the night crew arrive to take the set down and put the next one up, and we potter off to our digs, hopefully via a large glass of wine. Repeat for Wednesday and Thursday with a different look and sound.

Friday and Saturday are a more relaxed affair as there's no lighting or balance call. We are usually called in at 4pm, unload props, set up and repeat Bohème and Don Pasquale.

This is how it all should happen, sometimes however, the fates conspire against us.
Day one in Woking was mostly spent stuck on the M25, and the first day of Don Pasquale was beset with problems, resulting in us not being ready until almost curtain up. All was well in the end, even the big change into the garden scene, which we hadn't had a chance to rehearse.
Occasionally we have such big scene changes that we need to use local crew to supplement numbers, and it is easier to show them what they have to do, rather than whispering it to them, while spinning around in the dark.

Now we are in Milton Keynes we can sample the delights of the massive shopping centre, and I've managed to go snowboarding twice so far.
This Tuesday saw Bohème's turn for some problems, firstly the revolve decided to become temperamental during the street scene in Act 2 and had to be assisted by the famous chorus soft shoe shuffle. The city gates in Act 3 were due to have a small snow flurry, but were instead treated to a massive blizzard more akin to the legendary powder of Hokkaido in Japan.
An unscheduled appearance by myself as a street cleaner during the Act 3 to 4 change for a bit of frantic snow sweeping then led to the downstage area resembling a Columbian cocaine factory. At this point the revolve decided it wasn't going to turn, and Ben had to stop the show. Turning the power supply to the motor off and on again seemed to solve the problem and play was resumed.

Rinaldo was a bit of a squeeze in Woking, trying to fit all the beds, desks and science labs in the wings while not on stage, and for Norwich we shall have to get the giant shoe horn out for all the shows, but for now we can enjoy having some breathing space. Until next week...

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Setting up Rinaldo: The OP wing in Milton Keynes. Also temporary home to the Don Pasquale curtain trucks, it is normally quite a spacious place, but the lack of a scenery dock to store unused bits of set means things get cramped pretty quickly!

29th October 2011

Hi all.

Well, it's been quite a busy week with the first night of Rinaldo which was nice and uneventful compared to the Festival! 

Preparations for the tour are gathering pace, and every available space in the corridors is full of flight cases and costume rails waiting to be stuffed full of kit. Our Stage Management flight case must be filled with everything we need to run our office on the road; all the usual stationery, laptop, printer, tissues, ice packs, first aid kit, production files, prompt copies, radios and chargers. A lot of stuff for a seemingly short time away from home.
Thoughts also turn to our own packing, winter thermals come out of storage, and hats and gloves are a must. Sometimes, it can be so cold in the back of the lorry your skin will freeze to metal. In past experience the Momus café furniture from bohème is a prime candidate for this!

This week, I thought I would explain a little more about the role of the Props ASM. Of course, each UK opera house has their own way of doing things, and on the continent and the US the staffing of a production is very different.
Each show we do at Glyndebourne will normally have a Stage Manager, DSM, Props ASM and usually three other ASMs. The major exception being Turn of the Screw which uses the entire department, all in the OP wing except for the DSM.
The Props ASM will liase with the Designer, Director and Props Master about the props that appear in a production, how they should be set and how they are used.
They will organise rehearsal props that will be used until the 'actuals' are made or bought, and occasionally field trips are required (to the Lewes Cobbler along with Gerry Finley and Topi Lehtipuu to learn about cobbling for Meistersinger, or several hours in a supermarket for Hansel for example).
Jobs must be delegated to the other ASMs, and the stage will be divided up between them so all areas are covered.

When rehearsals are in progress, they must make copious notes of what happens with the props, and will turn these into setting lists, diagrams, and also a running list. This is similar to the wardrobe and wigs plot, in that it describes every character's entrance and exit, the location, and what props, if any, they are carrying. Occasionally, ASMs are called upon to do slightly out of the ordinary things, like firing a gun, or an offstage scream (such as Brangäne's in Act 2 of Tristan) but one of my favourite things was sliding the food down the conveyor belt in Hansel.

On the subject of food, this is another thing the Props ASM must prepare for a show. It can range from the very simple, like the Battenburg cake in Don Pasquale, to the more intricate coffee, pretzels, jam, profiterôles and cold meats of Meistersinger Act 1.
La bohème requires lots of ingenuity in the bar-tending department, as there are lots of bottles of wine, champagne and various cocktails needed.
For Così, we had to recreate an authentic Moroccan feast for the wedding scene complete with pomegranate garnish, and for the famous marquee scene in Albert Herring, we had to enlist the help of the chefs in The Wallop restaurants, partly due to the volume of food, but also the special jelly and blancmange that had to be made with 8 x the normal amount of gelatin for the extra bounce factor and so they didn't melt under the lights!
The downside to all this of course is the washing up. Fine at the farm with our lovely dishwasher, but can be difficult on tour when sometimes you don't have access to a nearby kitchen.

Today is our final day at Glyndebourne before leaving for tour, and we have spent the morning having a bit of a spring clean, then loading our famous white trailer with the props and furniture from Rinaldo and bohème. We have to wait until after the show of course, before we can put Pasquale in there too!
A question I often get asked is, how many trailers or wagons do you take on tour? Well, it differs every year of course, depending on the size of the sets, but this year we are taking 12.
One each for Stage Management, Orchestra, Electrics, and Wardrobe & Wigs, the rest are split between the sets of the three shows. This can lead to some intricate lorry ballet outside some of the smaller venues!

Next week brings the delights of our first week on Tour, living in a dressing room sandwiched between the ladies chorus, and trying to remember how to do shows in theatres half the size of home. All good fun!

Rinaldo and bohème awaiting Don Pasquale.

Rinaldo and bohème awaiting Don Pasquale.

17 October 2011

Hello all

I'm Sophie, one of the Deputy Stage Managers at Glyndebourne, and I'll hopefully be giving you a taste of backstage life from the tour this year, but firstly I should perhaps give you an explanation of what I do.

The final rehearsals and first nights of Don Pasquale and La bohème were very well received. And now we can concentrate on letting them settle before transplanting them to the tour venues next month.

For this tour, I am ‘on the book’ for two shows, Pasquale and Rinaldo, and Claire – the other DSM – is doing bohème. This means I cue the lighting, flying (pieces that move up and down, such as walls, chandeliers and pigeons!), pyros (such as the fusebox in bohème and the exploding lab tables in Rinaldo), projections and any other technical effects, as well as calling the performers to the stage on the tannoy and telling the Assistant Stage Managers when to send them onto the stage.

During rehearsals in the studio, I notate ‘blocking’ in the prompt copy (a specially bound copy of the score interleaved with blank pages). This is a map of everyone's journey on stage throughout the show, what props they are using and what the set is doing at certain points.

The information from the prompt copy not only helps to put people in the correct places during lighting sessions, but will also be turned into important documents called a technical plot and a wardrobe and wigs plot.

The first of these is a minute-by-minute plan of what each piece of set is doing, when the crew need to move things, and the timings in between cues. The wardrobe and wigs plot has a similar purpose, but gives details of every single entrance and exit of the performers, which side of the stage they need to be on, when they have a costume change, or possibly a very quick change, and exact timings of when these take place.

On most shows, entrances will be the usual Prompt Side (stage left) or O.P. (short for Opposite Prompt or stage right). Sometimes a show will call for more exotic entrances such as an under-stage trap, or from front of house through the auditorium. These of course have to be translated into each touring venue, and have previously seen the chorus exiting a door in Oxford only to have to run around the street in their white costumes to get back to the other side of the stage ready for their next entrance!

That's the easy description of some of what I do, the rest could be anything from dishing out icepacks and accident report forms while cueing the show and trying to answer the phone at the prompt desk, to being a UN peace keeper on the odd occasion when tempers flare!

I can turn my attentions to Rinaldo stage and piano rehearsals now that Pasquale is up and running. As this was also my show in the Festival, it’s all still very familiar, just physically a bit smaller, and of course has a different cast, so a few more names to learn and some old friends to catch up with.

We have a piano dress tomorrow, which is the first time the cast will have their full costumes, wigs and makeup. It will also be a chance for the dressers to practise any quick changes they might have.

I'll leave you now to digest that information overload, next time we shall be packing up and waiting for the wagons to roll!


Saw Boheme in Stoke today with Bangor Uni Opera group - it was fabulous!! particularly enjoyed the workshop that some of the cast put on for us before the show! Thank you! :-)

Most enjoyable read, Sophie! Wish I lived in the UK so's I could see one of your "shows"!
All sounds like terribly hard work, though - no wonder you do all that snow-boarding (?), cycling and stuff to keep fit.
I'll continue to follow your blog with great pleasure - don't spare us any juicy bits, please ...

Ah, Milton Keynes! I remember going there and certainly remember the shopping centre although I think that Eva (my chaperone) and I managed to miss out on the snowboarding experience - such a shame! Your blog is a delight to read Sophie and is a great reminder of the fun I had with the tour of ToS back in 2006. I look forward to the next chapter!

You've done it again Sophie !Good descriptions here. "All good fun" eh? In the cold & damp backstage of a provincial theater I should keep a few kebabs from the Moroccan feast to munch on.
Good luck with the winter weather this year.

Absolutely fascinating at least we now know what your job actually entails, nothing boring about this.

A treat to get such an insight - can't wait for the next instalment!

Brilliant stuff Sophie. We'll keep following the blogs throughout the tour. have a good trip & take your snowboard !

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