It's the end of a very long week in Manchester and I'm soaking in a very hot bath at 6pm because, well frankly because I can! This week the Annie Get Your Gun team hit the road and moved the production from our rehearsal rooms in North London to Manchester's Opera House Theatre. In the space of only four short days the theatre was transformed into our theatrical big top, resplendent with corsets, cowboys and coiffures galore, and we have now played our first three performances in front of an audience.
Technical weeks are among the most exhausting of any rehearsal process. The days are very long and often stressful with each and every member of the team working flat out to ready the production for previews. On Monday our incredible band were rehearsing in the foyer bar whilst onstage the various crew were busily putting together the set. In the auditorium Sound and Lighting were implementing their designs for the show and backstage Wardrobe and Wigs were hard at work readying the fruits of their own labours. In fact the only ones not there were the actors!
That all changed on Tuesday when we joined the band for the Sitzprobe, singing through the show for the first time together. Sitzprobe is one of my favourite experiences as you finally get an idea of how the musical numbers are going to sound. The lush orchestrations rang out around the theatre as we worked our way through Berlin's beautiful score and several passers-by were seen pressing their noses up against the foyer windows, hoping for a cheeky glimpse inside.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent teching through the show in terms of staging, lighting, sound, wigs, costumes and so forth. Despite a few inevitable hitches, such as the necessary perfecting of quick changes and a delayed prop or two, the tech for Annie Get Your Gun has passed remarkably smoothly. I think a vast amount of the credit must go to our creative team: director Ian Talbot, choreographer Lizzi Gee and musical director Steve Ridley. All three have exuded a calmness throughout which has made the atmosphere probably the most relaxed of any technical process I've ever experienced.
My personal tech has been hectic but wonderful. There have been many final costume tweaks, several interviews and quick changes aplenty. My Act 1 to Act 2 change is particularly epic requiring a full make-up, wig, microphone and costume change - right down to the underwear! After a few practice sessions we've managed to get it down to 19 and a half minutes... which is helpful as the interval is only 20 minutes long!
Then suddenly, almost without warning it seems, Friday's first preview is upon us. As the audience hubbub in their seats, you stand backstage in the hazy dark, listening to the nervous beating of your own heart. The band bursts into life, the lights burn brightly, the music swells and reality drops away, thrusting you into the world of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. The show runs fairly smoothly, yet at a seemingly dizzying pace, until that final company bow and as you run into the wings, grinning insanely from ear to ear, the realisation of what we've created in under five short weeks hits you full in the face.
But there isn't time to rest on our laurels. Only once the show is seen by the public can we figure out what is working and what isn't. Saturday morning the entire team assemble for notes and then we tech in the changes that we have time to make before two more shows. There are spacing adjustments made to the bows, the top of Act 2 is restaged and the trapeze routine is adjusted temporarily until more dramatic changes (which will require more time) can be made in the coming weeks. For the minute at least I'm grateful - several hours of teching a trapeze routine has left me with some pretty impressive bruising.
Finally Sunday comes and we can rest. It says so much about this company that many of us meet up on the day off for a 'family' roast dinner and a bit of gala night dress shopping. We are collectively shattered yet exhilarated. Our first eight-show week looms, complete with gala and press nights, EPK filming and more rehearsals and whilst I couldn't be more excited about getting back up onstage tomorrow, I think for now I'll just lie here and soak a little longer. After all, Mum always said Sunday was bath night.