I don’t know what brought it to mind but the other night in bed I started to think about my really disastrous career in Yorkshire as a director of musicals for amateur companies and why I fell out with each one.
CHARLIE GIRL – Chris was directing this one but asked me to take over the dialogue scenes which I did. During a break in a rehearsal I happened to mildly remark one of the girls didn’t know her lines and she really ought to have known them by now. Back on the floor she was missing and I was told she had gone home in floods of tears and if looks could kill the tea harridans would have done for me then and there. “You can criticise but you can’t take criticism” I was told. I till don’t know how they arrived at this conclusion but the rehearsal went ahead, frigid atmosphere though it was, and with no more than about fifteen minutes or so to the finish I was ordered in no uncertain terms to stop right there, everyone was tired! Every one was tired? I couldn’t believe it. I walked out and never went near them again.
I then went on to direct a number of musicals for Ripon, ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD, CAROUSEL, MY FAIR LADY, all very successful but then I fell out with Ripon. Why? Because they wanted me to direct SHOWBOAT and I said no. The thought of all those ladies blacking up was too much. They never forgave me.
Amateur companies seem to have a habit of misjudging things. Because flavour of the month was 42nd STREET, I had a telephone call from St Ives a long way away in Cornwall saying they were going to do it and would I direct? Well I wasn’t going to go all that way if I knew nothing about them so I asked a couple of questions. Firstly how big was their stage? It turned out to be absolutely miniscule. There was no way they could do a musical as big as this. Secondly could they supply enough dancers both boys and girls who can tap? No, they couldn’t, so the project (Thank you for your information) was dropped and I didn’t go down to Cornwall for three lovely months.
WHITE HORSE INN – That hoary ridiculous old number that should have been put in mothballs fifty years previously or even more. I turned up to rehearsal one evening to find them all having their photographs taken for the programme. This was much more important than rehearsing and I sat around twiddling my thumbs. Nobody thought to tell me the photographer would be in that night and there was no point in calling anybody at any time. They were hanging around the photographer in case they might miss out and invariably if someone was called there was no one to do his or her scenes with them, and there are no monologues in a musical. They were in such bad shape that I asked them if they would do an extra rehearsal. Result? Silence, except for one dancer and the butcher who said as it was so close to Christmas he needed to dress his turkeys. That was the end of me and that particular company. I went to see the show when they eventually got it on, it was pretty bad and I hope the butcher’s turkeys were better dressed.
But now we come to my last and what a humdinger! It had to be 42nd STREET of course – flavour of the month remember, and was being produced by the Halifax Catholics. Again the big question was could they provide enough dancers? Of course they could. They could borrow some from other companies. I ended up with five girls, not the slimmest in the world, and a boy of twelve who incidentally was very good but a number like WE’RE IN THE MONEY for example requires a lot more than five girls and a boy of twelve.
The committee wanted references and I put them on to Ripon who gave a glowing account of my prowess which is how I got hired. Now before rehearsals start I do a complete breakdown of what and when is being rehearsed so that people who are not wanted can come in if they feel like it (as long as they didn’t natter and I had to keep shouting to keep the noise down) but they didn’t have to come. I’m not one of those who believes that a cast should be there all the time. The schedule is based on people’s availability. Everyone in the company gives me dates when they can come and when they can’t. Would I say it was bit of a waste of time? For example one rehearsal was specifically centred around our young leading lady involving all her scenes. She informed me at the previous rehearsal that she couldn’t make it. Why? Because a boy band was playing Halifax that night and she simply just had to be there. The cast invariably arrived late to rehearsals called for seven o’clock (“I was kept late at work.” “I had to do something or other with the baby” “We’ve been moving house and I had to supervise it”) and talk about lack of discipline! In the end ten to fifteen minutes or more lost every night amounts to a good deal of rehearsal time and there seemed nothing I could do about it. Then rehearsal one evening fell on a public holiday and I said there was simply no excuse to be late so please for once be on time. And they were; every single one of them, but guess what… the rehearsal room was locked and an hour or so later while we had been left standing around in the street the committee finally turned up with the key and they wondered why I blew my top. At the auditions there was one wonderfully cookie girl with such a personality and I wanted to cast her in a part but she insisted she only worked chorus and there was nothing I could do to persuade her. She would have been terrific but she was terrified of working solo. One good thing that saved my sanity was that I had a fabulous choreographer to work with who in the end was mainly responsible for putting on the show because, quite frankly, by now I had little if any enthusiasm left.
Dress rehearsal in the theatre came, dress rehearsal went. Amateur companies rarely rehearse more than once in a venue. Once again they hadn’t done their homework; this time it was the backstage boys who discovered when the sets arrived they couldn’t get one of them on stage. We sat in the stalls and waited while they tried to sort something out and we waited and we waited. Finally come midnight I said I was going home and I advised everyone else to do the same so we had only half a dress rehearsal. I can’t remember how it was resolved. I didn’t attend the opening night, pleaded I was suffering a cold. The local paper gave the show an excellent review, but local papers always treat amateur productions kindly. I did attend a performance in the middle of the run and had to give a few notes and a reprimand or two to those who knew better than me and had taken things into their own hands to change at times everything I had done I did not go to the last night either. Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me there.
Before rehearsals even started we drove all the way up to Glasgow to see an amateur production of 42nd STREET in the Kings Theatre, a stage by the way on which I had many years before performed in a musical, and I was quite simply knocked out by it. It was fabulous, so much so the production and the performers could have put a lot of professionals to shame. The band was terrific; I take it they were professional musicians. And what did the committee think of it? “Ours will be better.” No, it just couldn’t be… and it wasn’t.
Sometimes amateur companies like Glasgow can really pull it off. We went to see a production of THE RINK, a show I don’t like, but boy, did they put it over, a wonderful production and again bursting with talent.
The Halifax Players were the last lot I directed. I really couldn’t take anymore. Maybe I was just unlucky with the material presented to me or maybe I was just not a very good director. (Though Ripon would gainsays that). Whatever, here in Crete I was approached to direct an amateur production of a straight play for a newly formed company but, knowing what I know about amateurs, I declined. Is it any wonder?