What a whirlwind few days! These are some of the reasons why I both love and hate my profession, I love how varied and how off the cuff it can be but I hate how it doesn't allow me to plan ahead! Allow me to explain this by talking through my last few days….
Friday - 5:30pm
I'm away visiting my Dad and we've just finished playing golf (modesty forbids me to tell you who won in a landslide victory). My agent calls and says a casting director that I know quite well has phoned asking why my agent hadn't submitted for a beer commercial that I would be ideally suited for. My agent tells the casting director I'm unavailable to go to the casting so didn't put me up for it. The casting director suggests I could film myself doing some 'street magic in the style of Derren Brown' and email it to her instead. Fortunately I have a deck of cards with me so I go out with my Dad into his garden and film a short 5 minute sequence of me performing some magic.
Saturday - 10am
I upload the film to Dropbox and email the casting director a link.
Sunday - 9:32am
I'm out Rock Climbing at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset with my girlfriend. Casting director texts asking a couple of background questions.
Sunday - 10:49am
Whilst I'm belaying my girlfriend as she is half way up a craggy rock face the casting director texts again to confirm that I got the job and I have to fly to Romania the next day! I manage to not drop the rope holding up my girlfriend...
Fly from Manchester to Bucharest via Istanbul. Arrive at my hotel at 1am.
Tuesday - 6am (that's 4am UK time!)
Get picked up and taken to the set. We film until 8:15pm then I go out to see what I can of the Bucharest night life for 4 hours. Basically I went to a load of bars!
Wednesday - 7am (so 5am UK time)
I get picked up and taken to the airport to fly home.
Wednesday - 3:45pm
I walk back in my front door.
So, in the space of less than 5 days I've auditioned for a role, got the part and flown to Romania and back to film it. You never know what adventure is around the corner….
I need to say a big thank you to all the Romanians that looked after me so well. I'm always embarrassed that we British generally speak very infrequently in other languages. Everyone on set was able to converse with me, the only Brit, so fluently in English and put us to shame. Thank you to Andrei for getting me where I needed to be and Mihai for making all the arrangements. Thank you to fellow cast members Cristina Mihailescu, Ana-Maria Mirica, Delia Tudose, Ionut Florea and Katy Matei for speaking in English all day and making me feel so welcome in Bucharest. Also I want to thank casting director Tracie Saban at Crocodile Casting for letting me email my audition piece in to help me get the gig! Superstars the lot of 'em.
I was very fortunate to get to work with one of my idols on Saturday night, mentalist Derren Brown. Those of you who know me will be aware that for a number of years I've worked as a magician to supplement my acting income. Over time I've learnt more and more stuff and nowadays I gig quite a bit as I thoroughly enjoy baffling people! Anyway, I don't really have a favourite magician as such but someone I've always respected and followed closely is Derren as his performance is in a similar style to mine (in that I like to take the mickey, not that my act or effects are comparable to his in any way!). So on Saturday night at the InterContinental Hotel on Park Lane, London, I was booked to be Compère at a swanky private party. It had been booked in for months but due to secrecy clauses in my contract I didn't find out who my guests were going to be until a few days before. Now the London Community Gospel Choir were indeed excellent and party band Mixed Feelings were great but my eye immediately jumped to my headline act, a 45 minute show by the UK's top mentalist, Derren Brown.
Well, obviously I'm not going to go into any details at all about his act but the reaction from the audience (for whom he was a surprise!) was brilliant and they lapped him up. He does some phenomenal routines and has such an easy yet commanding presence on stage it'd be hard not to get sucked into his world.
After he had finished his show he had a bit of a mingle with the crowd and then we went to the bar. I had now finished my spots on stage so was able to let my hair down a bit so Derren, Coops (his stage manager) and Matthew Cooper (his assistant stage manager) and I had a good old chin wag for an hour or so taking in all things magic, theatre and his new tour Infamous. My other half phoned me half way through as she had just finished her get-out of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert in Oxford and was on her way home. Derren answered the phone to her and had a cracking little chat (he is one of her Ideal Dinner Party guests) so she was really made up!
I had a brilliant evening all round. Derren, Coops and Matt were all absolutely delightful and my colleagues Belinda and Gali once again fantastic to work with. Isn't it great to enjoy what you do for a living?!? Being a presenter (or a magician) can be very lonely as you're usually working by yourself - which is ironic seeing as you are always performing to lots of people. To get some genuine people on a gig that are lovely to spend your down time with is a lot rarer than you might imagine.
In short, people say never meet your idols. I'd argue that if your idol is Derren Brown you most certainly should.
What a fabulous weekend! I've been lucky enough to be working closely with Age UK Buckinghamshire as the compère on their showpiece concert 'Rock The Night Away' in High Wycombe. It's been such a fabulous experience and thoroughly, thoroughly rewarding. Linda Petrons, from Age UK Bucks, approached Pippa Gearing from Rock Choir a few months ago to see if they could come up with a fundraiser. Pippa basically said that if they were going to do something, they were going to do it properly - and how right she was! Pippa and I have worked together on various shows and so she got in touch to ask me to help out along with one of the best sound engineers in the business, Sarah Sendell. Next came the venue, the choirs, the acts and then, finally, the audiences. Pippa got everything spot on and we ended up with two exceptional nights at the Wycombe Swan. On that point I need to say a huge thank you to all the crew at the theatre. Steve, Jamie, Denzil and Andy were all top drawer and made my time calling the show very easy indeed.
We had a different Rock Choir on each night, Hemel Hempstead on Friday followed by Amersham on Saturday. The whole principle of Rock Choir is brilliant (seriously, check out their website to see the type of stuff they get up to - I've waxed lyrical about them already on this blog loads of times!) and those two choirs gave two corkers of performances. The solos were spot on, the dance moves were crisp and they did everything I asked them to backstage - tip top!
Our other acts were all either linked to Age UK, Rock Choir or the local area. First up we had the Pandemonium Drummers who were part of the Olympics Ceremonies. They wandered around the auditorium beating out different rhythms on their upturned bins and even wore the costumes from last summer. I particularly loved their blue suits with matching bowler hats complete with light bulbs mounted on top! Our solo artists were George House, who sang some soul and R&B tracks accompanied by his guitarist Richard; Jess Harvey who was alone on stage with her piano, her beaming smile and three terrific tracks; Tim Smith who sat down with his guitar and played some pop in a beautifully relaxed manner, and Hannah White who had the audience mesmerised with her lilting voice whilst accompanied by Matt on guitar and Jamie on the cajon (a new instrument to me that is pronounced 'cahon'). We also had some other drummers each night, Africa Junction on the Friday and the Hartbeat Vitae Drummers on the Saturday. Both involved some djembe, dun-dun beats and singing plus their costumes were delightful!
I also had the opportunity to perform with a vintage vocal group called The Rockabellas. I've been following them for a few years now and not only did they do 2 brilliant sets (they are basically today's answer to the Andrew's Sisters) but I got to sing All I Care About from Chicago with them being my backing singers - awesome! It was proper 'dream come true' territory for me and a wonderful experience! Fortunately I didn't have to fit in with their tag line of 'killer heels, killer curves and killer harmonies' (even though I played Dame at Christmas I don't think I would have looked right alongside them!) but I can't speak highly enough of those girls…..
So, we ran a raffle and I also had a chat with the Chair of Trustees for Age UK Bucks, Carole Hetherington. It was fascinating finding out about a charity that I openly admitted to not knowing much about, and one that I will certainly continue to support in the future. As a local charity on average they have raised around £7,500 a year for the last few years. Our target for our two nights at the Wycombe Swan was £10,000 so as you can tell we were going all out. I've had it confirmed today (Tuesday 12th February) that we have in fact raised a whopping £13,000!
I cannot tell you how proud I am to have played a small part in this event and raising all those funds for such a good cause, people can be so generous giving their time and money. Humbling.
**Warning: I may start blubbing…..**
Whilst I'm feeling a lot of comfort writing this sat at my desk in my warm office in my house surrounded by my things, that means panto is over for another year and I'm really going to miss this lot. I've had 11 wonderful weeks in Harrogate and I've made so many fantastic new friends.
As with all good productions we went out with a bang rather than a whimper yesterday afternoon. Our last 4 shows were all sold out and the audiences were all really up for it. I was also lucky enough to have people in in every show during the last week which was fabulous! Since my last blog we have fought our way through the heavy Christmas period - 24 shows in 15 days with only 1 day off (that day being Christmas Day). It's always the toughest part of any panto run as the sheer volume of performances can get quite overwhelming. On the plus side, every show was sold out and the audiences are undoubtedly up for a good time which helps keep us on our toes! This year was harder for me personally than years gone by due to illness in the cast. All the other cast members (and crew, come to think of it) have been ill at some point. Never has the old adage 'The Show Must Go On' been more true than at Harrogate Theatre, though. I took some other characters' lines and singing parts in various shows just so as we could keep sections in. Some bits couldn't be covered by other characters so, for example, when Fleshcreep lost his voice both of his songs had to be cut. It's always a shame when that sort of thing has to happen but at least we didn't have to cancel any performances. It was more annoying for me, though, as the bits that got cut in shows were always during my costume changes and therefore I didn't get to have much of a breather! One change that I did enjoy was when I got to do the songsheet. Tim Stedman lost his voice and had to give up bits of his show for a while. I have done the songsheet in panto for years and so I found it quite odd not doing it this time around but when the Stage Management team asked me if I'd do it I almost bit their hand off! I love having to think on my feet when I'm on stage and as they only asked me at the interval there was no time to rehearse anything. Great fun. I ended up doing the songsheet for 27 of the 72 performances and I loved every minute!
Over the course of the run I've had visitors from Manchester, Doncaster, Leicester, Woking, Worcester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Bradford, Sunderland, Dublin(!), Oxford, Stevenage, Huntingdon, London, York, Lincolnshire, Sheffield, Leighton Buzzard, Bridlington and Birmingham amongst others. THANK YOU! I cannot tell you all how chuffed I am to have such brilliant friends! Out of that list I really need to say a huge thank-you to the Stevenage bunch. I've done panto for the last 2 years at the Gordon Craig Theatre and last Tuesday 7 of the cast, crew and management team drove up the 3½ hours on their day off from panto to come and see me. Dedication. I was deeply touched by that!
One of the best things about working at Harrogate Theatre was the staff. All the offices are along one corridor on the top floor of the theatre. I used to wander up every day to say hello to everyone and I was always welcomed with a smile and cheerful greeting. What a lot of people that don't work in our industry don't realise is that when you're living away from home you don't have any friends in a town other than the people you work with. You don't get the chance to get friendly with any locals other than those people you are surrounded by every day. That is why I feel so lucky to have met the staff up on the admin corridor. Sure, I was with the cast and crew more often but when you socialise and work with the same people on a daily basis for 11 weeks it's wonderful to have a slightly larger 'family' to lean on. The admin corridor and Front of House staff were my extended family in this case and I really hope to be able to keep in touch with each and every one of them (and in more ways than just Facebook!). In the last week I was even able to fit in a game of golf with the Executive Producer of the theatre, Kevin Jamieson, at Rudding Park. Modesty forbids me to tell you the result (a crushing victory for one of us with the final putt of the match on the 18th green) as I don't want to have to remind Kevin and give him anymore nightmares. I'm very considerate like that….
So that's it. Thank you to my fellow cast mates, the 2 teams of dancers, the band (in particular the MD Mr Nick Lacey - my drinking buddy and the only other person on the show who didn't get ill!), the stage management team, the crew, the chaperones, the creative, the office staff, the FOH team, the staff at Oxford Road Sandwich Shop (particularly Claire!) and everyone else that has contributed to a fantastic season. Special thanks to Theatre Administrator Emma Tugman for putting up a smelly actor in her house, to director Phil Lowe for being… err… beardy (the poor bloke's from Derby so I have to give him a mention out of pity), the Chief Executive David Bown for being such a good friend for 11 years and starting the ball rolling to get me to Harrogate in the first place, and finally to Tim Stedman. He's been a rock on stage and a wonderful dressing room buddy. THANK YOU EVERYONE!
Roll on 2013……
I'm writing this on a very slow train down to London the day after our Christmas party. I won't deny it, I'm a little hungover today but then I guess you're supposed to be! We've been open for 3 and a bit weeks now and the show has settled down very nicely. Audience feedback has been great and the reviews have been superb - we must be doing something right!
So far nothing has really gone wrong with the show; the beanstalk has always grown, the giant hasn't fallen over, we haven't had a powercut (a traditional panto problem in Harrogate apparently!) and none of the cast have been ill....... yet!!! Illness is always a worry for panto casts and crews as the schedule is usually punishing with lots of new germs being introduced to the theatre by the 1,000 members of the audience everyday. Fatigue sets in and the cold winter air regularly starts people snuffling. I get myself a flu jab every year and take a heavy mixture of vitamins and herbal remedies in the hope of staving off any poorly throats or noses. Fingers crossed I stay fit and healthy!
Last night was brilliant. We had 2 cracking audiences in during the day and then it was straight down to the Stalls Bar for nibbles, booze and Secret Santa. I got a fabulous white feather boa which now adorns my dressing room wall! After the theatre we moved onto a club in the town where we had a booth reserved. I was very relieved about this as I'm not really one for dancing in nightclubs, I'd much rather sit down and have a giggle with everyone instead. I'm not at liberty to divulge too much about what happened last night but I had a fantastic night. Simply fantastic!
The reason I'm heading down to London now is because I've got an audition first thing tomorrow morning before hot-footing it straight back to Harrogate for an evening show. I had to go down and back in the day on Friday for a casting, too. Anyone that says our job is easy really doesn't understand how much work we have to do behind the scenes. Jobs don't come out of thin air (and two £100 return train tickets to London in three days show the costs involved, too)!
As of tomorrow we enter our 'silly' period of shows; 24 performances over 15 days with only 1 day off (the 25th surprisingly!). I doubt I'll get any time to update this blog over that period so I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a brilliant New Year. Thanks for all your support throughout 2012!
So we've been open for just over a week now and I've finally found the time to write another blog post. After rehearsing 10am-8pm every week day for 3 weeks (plus having gigs on all my days away from rehearsals) followed by a tech week where we were in 9am-10pm every day, my day off last weekend was mostly spent catching up on 4 weeks of sleep! Opening night went well, and both shows on the Saturday seemed to be relatively smooth. For me it was brilliant to finally have an audience to play to as the people that were sat in rehearsals had heard all the jokes that many times they'd stopped laughing and, therefore, everything was beginning to feel a little flat. In a panto the audience (whether they like it or not!) are an active ingredient in the telling of the story. They have their own lines, they have their own songs and their participation is paramount to the success of the show. So far, the Harrogate audiences have not let us down!
We're now 12 shows in to our 72 show run and you can certainly sense the cast starting to settle into their roles and finding new bits of business for their characters to have. I'm definitely still only scraping the surface of the potential for Dame Trott. I think my performance has changed quite a lot over the last week (all for the better, hopefully!) and I'd like to think that my learning curve continues right up until the 13th January! If anyone reading this came to opening night then I'd love for you to come back on closing night and let me know what you think!
After next week we will thankfully have finished the school shows and move onto a normal theatre schedule of matinees and evening performances. It's not the fact that the schools shows audiences are 99% screaming kids, it's the fact that I have to be at the theatre before 9am - that is NOT why I went to Drama School!
The cast enjoy a glass of Champagne after the opening performance
Back row (L to R): Tim Stedman, Polly Lister, Chris Clarkson, Finian Blaxhall, Rachel Windsor & Philip Stewart
Front row (L to R): Katy Dean & David Kendra
After 2 weeks of panto rehearsals everything is going
swimmingly. We're on schedule according
to Phil Lowe our director and various aspects of the show are coming together
nicely. I've had a few teething problems
with my first Dame experience, I'm not going to lie. Firstly, I'm finding it very hard to stand
still. For the last few years of playing
the comic I've spent pretty much the entirety of each show running around,
bouncing up and down or falling over. In
contrast to this, the Dame should be quite a stationary character to show their
status and also contradict with the comic's pent up energy. Old habits die hard and I've had to tell Phil
to throw things at me from behind his desk if I start to get a bit too
Working opposite Tim Stedman (Harrogate's resident comic of 13 years) has been fascinating. He's a complete perfectionist and his attention to detail is very impressive. From day one he has been dotting the i's and crossing the t's of his performance, remarkable!
Harrogate Theatre is a brilliant place to work. It's a stunningly beautiful Opera House built at the end of the 19th Century and recently restored to all of it's original glory. Aesthetically speaking it is quite possibly the prettiest theatre I've ever worked in, a real delight. I've not really met the crew yet properly but the guys and gals up in the management, press and marketing offices are all fab. I've been doing no end of interviews for newspapers and radio plus a few public appearances and photo shoots so far, I'll have to try to collate some of them as the articles have been lovely.
In terms of the rest of the cast there doesn't seem to be a bad egg amongst them. We've been out for a bit to eat most nights and also to a couple of pub quizzes (where, I hasten to add, we have been rather successful!). Polly Lister, Katy Dean and David Kendra are all returnees to panto in Harrogate whilst Rachel Windsor and Phil Stewart are all first timers like me. I've worked with Phil before during my time on Blood Brothers (albeit 8 years ago) but everyone else is new to me. After another 9 weeks here in North Yorkshire, though, I'm sure I'll know them all inside out and back to front!
I've just arrived home after spending 3 brilliant weeks down in Stevenage rehearsing then performing an in-house production of Woman In Mind by Alan Ayckbourn. It wasn't a play of his that I was particularly familiar with but it's certainly now one of my favourites. To be able to write a successful comedy (albeit a very dark one) about mental illness is a hell of an ask but Ayckbourn succeeds with aplomb. It centres around a middle aged housewife called Susan whose life is so dull, controlled and unloved that she imagines a completely wonderful (and completely fictitious) new family. I don't want to say any more about the plot in case you go to see it at some point!
I'm very fortunate to have a great relationship with the Gordon Craig theatre after spending 2 brilliant Christmas' there. It's such a fun theatre to work in and I get on brilliantly with all the crew and management that I nearly bit Producer and Director Catherine Lomax's hand off when she called me to ask if I'd be in it! I called some crew friends to arrange spending 3 weeks in their spare room and then it was onto learning the script 'blind' (ie. learning it before rehearsals even start - a very hard thing to do!). I was to play Tony and I couldn't wait to get started!
Angie Smith took on the lead role of Susan, and consequently didn't leave the stage during the show. Indeed, we didn't even always let her leave it during the interval… I was part of the imaginary family along with the lovely Caroline Rodgers as Lucy and former EastEnders star and Celebrity Jungle inhabitant Marc Bannerman as Andy. Due to the fact we were only ever on (and off) stage together we became thick as thieves and I know I've made a couple of cracking friends there. In the real family Tim Heath played Gerald, Faith Hanstater played Muriel and Andy Haig played Rick. The other member of the cast (and honorary DILF of the company - not my name for him!) was Ian Houghton who played Bill. As a company we had plenty of socials, pub quizzes, curries, Italians and even a Chinese night - a lot to fit into just 2 weeks of rehearsal and a solitary week long run!
We were lucky to have a strong cast and under Catherine's organised direction we could probably have even opened earlier than we thought, a rare luxury! This meant that by the time press night came around we were all comfortable in our roles and fully prepared for however the audience might react! Pretty much all the feedback we received was favourable and we got a couple of lovely reviews including 4*'s from WhatsOnStage.com (click for link).
I do need to mention how lovely everyone in the theatre was to me on the Thursday of performance week. It wasn't just any Thursday, it was my birthday! I got a bottle of bubbly from the cast and creatives, a brilliant card signed by all the Front of House staff (bless 'em, they've had to sit through my nonsense on stage more than anyone else in the theatre!), taken out for lunch by Caroline, messages from friends, cards delivered personally to stage door and a group of us went out for a curry after the show. It was only the second time in 10 years that I've had a show on my birthday (the other was in 2003 at the Bristol Hippodrome when I was touring with 'Blood Brothers') and I absolutely loved it!
In what seemed a rather fitting end to the run, I was counting up the number of individual performances I'd done on the Gordon Craig stage and it turned out that the last show of Woman In Mind was in fact my 200th appearance there. Humbling.
With Caroline Rodgers (Lucy), Angie Smith (Susan) and Marc Bannerman (Andy).
(Photo by Dave Nott)
What an amazing weekend! I don't normally brag but I severely feel the need to on this one occasion. If you had said to me when I was a young lad that I would spend a Saturday being a pitchside announcer at Wembley Stadium on a Saturday followed by getting to drive a real train on a Sunday then I wouldn't have believe you - it's what dreams are made of!
To begin with I spent Friday night stopping in the suite at the Wembley Hilton. That's a good start to any weekend. I spent the evening quaffing free wine with 3 collegues (hereafter known as my 3 witches) in the Executive bar on the top floor with a fabulous view of the stadium. We were working for Rock Choir and for Saracens rugby club at the Saracens vs Leicester Tigers Aviva Premiership match the following day. As I'm sure a load of you know, I am a 4th generation Tigers fan (with my own season ticket for 25 years now!) so I was especially excited. To make the situation even better, the Tigers squad were also stopping in our hotel!
The day of the gig (match) arrived and we toddled off the 100m to Wembley Stadium for a sound check at 10am. Walking around on the pitch of an empty 80,000 seat stadium was weird but oddly liberating. I then spent the next few hours mingling with the crowds as they made their way into the ground (there is no segregation in rugby so everyone just parties together) and trying to stop myself from getting too excited. I was hosting the pre-match entertainment involving Rock Choir, the people I compered a series of concerts for earlier in the year. I was presenting straight to a camera that was being broadcast live onto the big screens in the ground and some also made it onto the tv. It went brilliantly well and despite having our half time spot cut (really still quite irked with Saracens about that) we were very well received and we all had a great time doing it. Just a shame the match was rubbish!
As soon as the final whistle went I ran (yes actually ran) out of the ground to get away before the notorious Wembley traffic queues started. I had to drive straight up to the East Midlands ready for a 7am call time at Derby train station the next day.
So, I was filming a corporate safety film for Railtrack and I was playing a train driver. I got on the train at 7:45am and we pulled back into Derby station around 2:15ish in the afternoon. Over the course of the 6½ hours on the train itself we travelled around 15 miles (most of the shoot was in a railway siding) and personally I was actually only filming for around 4 minutes. However, 3 of those minutes were some of the most enjoyable in my life. I drove an East Midlands passenger train at 125mph*. Wow. There is nothing more to say on that. WOW!!!
Wonderful company, fabulous gigs, perfect weekend. My boyhood dreams came true!
Above: On the pitch for the soundcheck. Below: Being a train driver!
*There were no passengers on the train at the time!
This weekend I went to a reunion marking 10 years since I graduated from Bretton Hall. It was the second of two reunions organised between friends to catch up and see how life has treated each other since we left drama school all doe eyed and full of aspiration. Meeting so many old faces and wandering around the now closed campus set in the heart of the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park was wonderful, reviving memories about exploits, conquests, terrible performances we put on, achievements and socialising - all of which helped us grow into the adults that we are today. I'm not going to go into much detail about the reunions themselves as I want this post to be about my old college, not a couple of fun-filled, alcohol fuelled days in 2012.
I cannot comprehend what life would have been like had I not gone to Bretton. I realise that's a stupid statement but it's completely true. Bretton had a more profound influence on me than any of my schools when growing up. Sure, I had individual teachers who left their mark on me in indelible ink from primary school all the way through to A Levels but as an institution Bretton Hall left its logo clearly emblazoned on my forehead. My only problem with this is that I didn't even come close to realising it at the time.
Bretton Hall didn't just give me a degree in Theatre: Acting. Yes we had modules on Shakespeare, naturalism, post-naturalism, physical theatre, comedy and Artaudian theories etc not to mention skills classes in movement, dance, accents, singing, acrobatics, stage combat and voice. But Bretton taught me life skills and gave me a very firm grounding.
One of my most stark memories from my training is from about two weeks into my course. A tutor set us a short task (I can't remember exactly what it was but that's not important) that we had to perform to their rest of the group in about 5 minutes time. We rehearsed frantically, performed excitedly and sat patiently waiting for his response. "Well, it's clear from that there are no natural actors in this room. You've all got your work cut out to graduate from this course" he said. Dumbstruck. Whether or not he meant that wholeheartedly or if it was a pre-planned statement he shook me to the core. "I know I'm better than that, I'll show you!" screamed my internal monologue. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it created a mind-set through the whole of my 3 years to push myself harder to achieve more. It probably still pushes me now. Although I instantly formed a dislike of that lecturer I'd love to meet him again now, thank him, shake him warmly by the hand and ask if he did indeed plan that or not. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
One aspect of the industry that Bretton prepared me for was unemployment. It seems very defeatist to train actors for three years only to tell them that they probably aren't going to work that much. To use a fact I got from Equity (my trade union) a couple of years ago, people who class themselves as actors only work for an average of seven weeks per year as actors. A horrifying statistic but one that reflects the competition in the industry. Bretton taught us skills to prepare us for the wider world. As an example, in the cast of one of my first professional theatre jobs there were two fresh graduates, myself and a girl from Mountview. Although her course had taught her exceptional levels of singing, dancing and acting, she had no idea how to write a theatre CV. Not only that, she hadn't been taught how to approach agents or what to do to become registered self-employed. Some of my fellow students actually looked down on Bretton at the time due to it not being one of the big drama institutions. I never did but the more time that passed after leaving the more I appreciated both what it and, indeed, the course had done for me. I was always surprised at how well regarded the place was, too. In countless auditions the panel would comment positively on my training. At first I thought it might just be because they were sick of seeing RADA clones or people from Arts Ed who were just 'tits and teeth' but no, it seemed they all respected the place. Again, it's only in hindsight that this is becoming clear.
My final bit about Bretton Hall is more of a brag than anything analytical. It's set in 334 acres of rolling Yorkshire countryside and dates back to the 14th century. The village of West Bretton doesn't have a pub (but does have an idyllic cricket club) and the closest town is about 7 miles away. It's stunning. To be able to walk around the house and gardens of what is essentially a National Trust property in all but affiliation on your lunch break was marvellous. Whereas most drama schools and universities are set in the middle of a city, Bretton was remote, peaceful and tranquil. When the course became intense you could head off into the isolation of the Country Park and be hundreds of metres away from another human within 5 minutes. Being able to escape briefly by yourself and gather your thoughts in silence was fabulous, particularly for an only child like me! So yes, a thoroughly beautiful place to be. Brag over (although I hope you're jealous).
Finally, I've had a real topsy-turvy 10 years. Some people at the reunion had had families, had bought houses, had travelled the world, had moved in a completely different career direction or had pretty much done nothing with their lives, all of which are naturally perfectly valid ways to spend the 10 years. Out of that list I've only bought a house in which I live happily with my partner. I've been lucky enough to have worked all over the UK, the length and breadth Europe and even in Russia. I've played some of the biggest theatres in the country, been in various TV programmes, learnt loads of new performance skills, struggled for a few years with a very serious bout of depression (maybe I'll do a blog on that sometime) and met some wonderful people. Throughout all of this I've had some great constants, though: my mum and family, my best friends, my agent and the Leicester Tigers. Always keeping me grounded.
Oh, and a nod of the head to Alex, Ali, Annabelle, Ben, Cath, Gemma, Hayley, Irina (who flew in from Finland!), Jane, Jenny, Kate, Lovely Fran, Lyns, Mary, Nic, Nick, Pink Karen, Rach, Suzanne, Snowy, Welsh Dan, Zara plus everyone else who came along (including the kids!) to the reunions. Really great to see you all. I miss my time at Bretton Hall and it's a pity it closed down in 2007. I'll forever cherish the memories & be thankful for the lessons.
The view from the front of the Mansion looking out over the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Bretton Country Park with the lower lake in between.
Some of the gang on the steps outside Mansion. We used to pose here each year before the Summer Ball!
So, I've finished my stint of working with Great Britain's leading contemporary choir - Rock Choir. I've been the host of 5 of their concerts in total: Welwyn Garden City, Milton Keynes, Dunstable, Amersham and Hemel Hempstead. It has been nothing but an absolute joy to work with these choirs, each and every one gave a superb concert and included me as one of their own, something that doesn't always happen when you're a jobbing presenter like me.
I've already written a piece about Welwyn (see the earlier blog) so I'm going to focus on the others. At Milton Keynes I was working with their leader, Lottie Greenhow. After a slightly late start (my train from Manchester got diverted due to a blown down tree blocking the line) we set about talking through the running order and organising the staging. This was the choir's first concert so they were understandably very nervous and on edge. Lottie had a fantastic calming effect on them and set them up for success. I spent a lot of time taking the crew through the lighting and sound cues so unfortunately I didn't get to spend much time socialising with the choir. However, the members I did get to chat with were telling me about how hard they'd worked in the build up to the concert and that they were very, very excited! Anyhow, the show ran well and the choir were very warmly received by the larger than expected audience. The soloists and small ensemble numbers went down well, too!
A few days later and I'd arrived at The Grove Theatre in Dunstable for my final 3 concerts on 3 consecutive nights. All 3 choirs were old hands at performing in shows and so a lot of the nerves were replaced by eager anticipation (although nerves were still prevalent in certain cases!). Up first were the local gang - Dunstable Rock Choir™. Being local they had a huge audience that were whooping and cheering from the outset. Having that level of support instantly relaxed the choir and they performed with panache. Night 2 saw the Amersham Rock Choir™ take to the stage... and take to it they did! They were the biggest choir I'd worked with and blimey could they make some noise (in the melodic-al sense, naturally). There are some real characters in this choir and they let their true nature shine through in their performances. A great spectacle! And finally, the third night saw the Hemel Hempstead Rock Choir™ step into the limelight. I'd been warned about this choir (in a good way) that they were a bunch of jokers, regularly playing tricks on Pippa. Now, I consider myself quite light hearted and I enjoy a good prank or two so I knew I would get along with them, and I did! Once again the show went down very well and they received a standing ovation well before they'd finished their encore. A job truly well done!
Each night we ran a raffle alongside the concerts in aid of The Princes Trust, Keech Hospice, Scannappeal and St Francis Hospice. I'm very proud to announce that from just the raffle alone we managed to raise a total of £3460 that will be split equally between the charities that attended each night. An amazing achievement that doesn't even include the collection buckets! On the last night there were 2 prizes left over so in the bar (after a glass of Champagne with the delectable Pippa Gearing) I jumped up on a bar stool and ran an impromptu auction to sell them off. 3 minutes later and there was an extra £125 going into the pot for these worthwhile causes. Thank you to everyone in the bar who took part!
Finally, one of the highlights of the Grove shows for me was the opening of Act 2 and the flashmob performance of Dancing in the Street. Not because of the song itself or the way the choirs sang it (although they all sang it very well, naturally!) but for the moment when we had to get roughly 35 members back up on stage via one small set of treads from the auditorium in about 30 seconds - it was carnage! I explained each day that there was very little time to play with and that they had to peg it as quickly as they could whilst making sure they didn't hurt themselves (I said that they could kick the audience out the way of necessary but fortunately it didn't come to that). With real excitement we rehearsed it once each day then just chanced the performance itself. I can happily report that every choir succeeded in getting their full contingent back on stage in time for the button at the end of the song. Dunstable just made it, Amersham made it with about a bar to go and Hemel made it with about 4 bars to go! (No choir members nor audience members were damaged in this feat of aesthetic brilliance...)
So that's it. 5 great shows with 5 great choirs. Best memories are 'hangover', 'my face is moist', putting blazing spotlights on our sound department to scare the life out of her in the thank-you's, 'stripper' and 'trade mark'. You may or may not understand all of them, you had to be there. For the 1,750+ people who were there (not including the 900 choir members) - I just hope you enjoyed the shows as much as I did. Thank you Rock Choir™!
Team photo from the week at The Grove in Dunstable (from left to right):
Chris Clarkson (presenter), Sarah Sendell (sound),
Pippa Gearing (choir leader) & Sarah Formosa (prefect/dogsbody)
Chris Clarkson (presenter), Sarah Sendell (sound),
Pippa Gearing (choir leader) & Sarah Formosa (prefect/dogsbody)
Just a quickie to mention what I got up to today in Yorkshire. I was lucky enough to be asked to host the event that marked the Olympic Flame arriving in Bradford City Centre and then passing through in it's 70 day relay throughout the UK. Although the actual appearance of the flame itself was relatively brief the council decided to put on quite a do with an event that lasted for about 4 hours. We had brass bands, flashmob dancing kids, a parade with over 500 people in and more Union Flags than even Wellington would know what to do with! However, the main reason we were all there was to see the flame pass around the Mirror Pool in City Park in front of the Town Hall before heading off out again through Centenary Square.
I was talking on the mic from 1pm letting the crowds (around 5,000 people we think) know interesting facts and figures about the relay, the torches used, the torch bearers, the flame itself etc. and also having chats with local people finding out about their Olympic stories or what events they were looking forward in particular this summer. The whole atmosphere of the place was lively, upbeat and expectant - they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the torch.
Shortly before it arrived we had a young lad called Jamie Brown dropped off in full white tracksuit and brandishing an unlit torch. He was due to take over the relay in the Mirror Pool and run out of the square. I was able to grab him for a few words, he was very nervous about picking up the flame but I think he was even more nervous about talking to me over the mic! Anyhow, as the flame arrived the crowd went beserk and Jamie was calmly able to light his torch and head away without a hitch.
There aren't many gigs that I walk away from having had just as good a time as I would have done were I not working, but this was certainly one of them. People of Bradford - I salute you! Today you did yourselves and all of Britain very proud!
Running around like a headless chicken interviewing members of the public
Chatting to Jamie Brown before he received the Olympic Flame
This week I started a series of gigs for Rock Choir™, the leading contemporary choir of Great Britain. There are over 15,000 members of the choir in the UK all belonging to their own local groups. At various points throughout the year they get to perform their sets in theatres and concert halls and I've been lucky enough to be asked to host some of these shows. I had my first one on Monday night for the Welwyn Garden City Rock Choir™. The choir mistress, Pippa Gearing, is a good friend of mine and she was the one who got me on board. The day started badly as Pippa had had a root canal the previous week which had flared up causing her immense pain and for her chin to swell up. Also, I had been up all night with food poisoning so we had taken enough (medicinal!) drugs between us to start a small chemists! Fortunately, in the 200 strong choir there were a couple of nurses so we always knew help would be on hand should we need it.
The concert was taking place at the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage, a venue I have come to love over the past 2 panto seasons. It was lovely to be able to pop around front of house and say hello to all my friends in the office, in the restaurant, at box office, behind the bar etc. It was also nice to be able to work with some of the crew again!
We rehearsed all day, making sure the soloists and small groups of singers had a chance to have a go with the mics and check their sound levels. Sarah (our marvellous sound engineer) knows the music inside out and back to front so she mixed it perfectly, the show was starting to take shape. Then, setting the 200 choir members onto the stage was easier than I thought. Mainly because I went off and had a brew in the Green Room and let Pippa get on with it herself.... After a full run through we released everyone for a break. It was clear from talking to the singers that nerves were high but there was more of an air of excitement than fear, these guys were ready to go! We had nearly a full house in and from the outset they were clapping, cheering, whooping and whistling.
The concert went remarkably smoothly and the audience gave the Welwyn Rock Choir™ a well deserved standing ovation. After a quick drink in the bar (a non-alcoholic one as I was still feeling remarkably dicky) I said my farewells and made an exit. It was a fantastic night and a brilliant introduction for me into the Rock Choir™ world. Milton Keynes up next in just over a week followed by Amersham, Dunstable and Hemel Hempstead. Do you know what? I can't flippin' wait.....
Over the last week I've very much had my presenting hat on, working in 3 very different environments. First up I was hosting the Tesco Distribution Christmas Party at The Lowry Hotel. A Christmas party in March is, unsurprisingly, quite rare but I particularly enjoyed pointing out that regardless of the company, logistics departments always take ages to sort themselves out as they're usually doing it for everyone else first! We had some fabulous entertainment for the evening including guests from the 3 big Saturday night entertainment shows; Britain's Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor. The evening started with a display by dancers Flawless who were phenomenal (and thoroughly nice blokes, to boot) followed by a half hour performance by 2 of the Strictly professionals, Darren & Lilia, who also taught us all how to samba! Finally, we had Paije Richardson performing a set of covers. He is a brilliant singer and each time I've worked with him he's never failed to get the room on the dance floor! A great evening that went so smoothly it was a dream to host, all thanks to excellent planning and a wonderful crew. As an aside, I spent a good 10 minutes stood with the Manchester United squad as they were all stopping in the hotel before a home match against West Brom the next day. I chatted with Rio Ferdinand for quite a bit and I was surprised how small Paul Scholes was. Rooney was… well, he was just Rooney!
Next up was the Tesco F&F Fashion Event at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Over the last 6 months I've worked quite a lot for Tesco in various guises (including being in their March TV and radio campaign) but it has been quite by coincidence. Anyway, this one came about in a very last minute fashion as when deciding who to book to be compere one of the Tesco Directors organising the gig remembered me helping him with his presentation style for a big event that he had to speak at and so got in touch. I've never worked at the Ricoh before so it was nice to be in a new venue. It was the first F&F conference and fashion show for 5 years so the pressure was on to get it right, add into the mix that I was working for Bacchus, the company that produce London Fashion Week, and you can see how highbrow the event actually was. Fortunately (and I seem to have been blessed with this lately) I've had some great teams to work with and the event went off like a dream - on time, on message and with a healthy dose of humour and energy. I'd like to think that the 600 delegates all went back to their stores across the UK enthused about what was coming up in the new season.
Finally, I ended the week presenting the Fashion Live 2012 Event at Westfield Derby. I was on stage for 6 hours on both Friday and Saturday giving away free shoes to the ladies of Derby! I even had a couple of pairs of Jimmy Choo's to give away so as you could imagine demand was high. I interviewed over 250 shoppers live on stage over the course of the event and gave away around 80 pairs of shoes. Leaving 3 blokes to run a female shoe event on stage was a bit touch and go at times but Lee, Chris and I just about made it through unscathed! Happy days.
What a day on set that was! I spent all of Friday filming at the iconic Shepperton Studios whilst speaking incredibly quickly. I'm fronting a new Price Drop campaign for Tesco and I had to recite a total of 124 products to camera in a combined total of 60 seconds! We filmed a 30 second advert and three 10 second ads over the course of the day which will be on screens in the UK from Sunday 26th February 2012 for a month.
In what was a whirlwind week I had one of my most pressurised days of filming in my 10 years of being a professional actor. The ad centres around a store worker reciting a list of products in the new Price Drop campaign when stopped by a customer on an aisle in store. I've always enjoyed tongue twisters and I've sung a lot of patter songs over the years so my tongue is already relatively dextrous when it comes to high speed diction. Working with director Peter Cattaneo (from The Full Monty fame) we played around with various characterisations and tried to pepper the list with both light and dark moments. There are 67 products in the 30 second ad so it was important to make them all sound slightly different and not just like an alliterative shopping list! From my point of view there was a great deal of pressure. Normally on set there are loads of things that could slow filming down like lights being tweaked, camera angles changing, trying different shots, etc. but in this commercial the cameras were fixed and therefore once the lights had rigged they didn't need to change. The only thing that could really go wrong was the actor. Me. There were probably about 30 people in the studio (crew, creative, clients) all waiting for me. If I went wrong, we stopped. Pressure! As it turned out I think pretty much everyone appreciated how difficult my job was and they didn't whinge when my lines went astray. In fact, so difficult was my job that when I'd finished the final link the director stepped up in front of the camera and tried his hand at speed-talking. He got 4 products into the list before he went wrong. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't smug.
As an aside, some people don't 'get' my job and don't understand why I cannot make plans more than a day or so in advance. For the record I want to put what happened last week down in ink (well, pixels);
Monday morning: Agent submits me for the role.
Monday mid-afternoon: Get called in for a casting 400 miles away in London the next day.
Tuesday: Travel to London. Do well in the casting and get asked to stay back for a recall early evening (subsequently missing train home and having to wait an extra 3 hours for off peak trains to start again).
Wednesday morning: Get pencilled on the job (that means I'm on the shortlist), told to keep Thursday and Friday clear.
Thursday morning: Get confirmed on the job. Have 3 hours to get a train to London.
Thursday at 3pm: Wardrobe fitting, receive details of where the hotel is that I'll be stopping in, get the script.
Friday at 7:40am: Picked up in a car and taken to the studios ready to film all day.
From not having any job on Monday morning to filming 4 new adverts by Friday night. Having to drop all plans for 3 of the 5 days. It's not all glamour and glitz - this is an actor's life!!!
Panto is over for yet another *sniff* but plans are already afoot for next year! Beauty and the Beast has been an absolute joy and I've been very fortunate to work with a brilliant group of people both on stage and off. Doing 13 shows a week is remarkably tough both mentally and physically so I'm very pleased to have survived the season intact (albeit only just!).
There have been many highs and lows over the last 10 weeks, highs like phenomenal audience feedback and lows like 3 shows on Boxing Day (grrrr!), but I want to write a few words about our final week. Traditionally at the Gordon Craig the company has it's party on the Saturday night but the new addition to the schedule is the Producer's Party on the Friday night. Chris Jordan had 5 pantomimes this year and as we were the last one to finish he invited the other 4 companies to come to Stevenage to see our show then have a big end of season party all together. It was lovely to meet some other actors (especially the other comics) from the other shows particularly as one of the shows was a carbon copy of ours! It must've been really odd for them to come to see what they had just finished doing! Anyhow, Chris made a lovely speech and we partied on until the early hours. I think (and I say I think) I got back to my digs at around 4am.
The Saturday night was brilliant. After the curtain came down on the show we had to vacate our dressing rooms ASAP so as the crew could move in. Cod Pantomimes are when the crew do their own version of the show. They involve a lot of in jokes, mickey taking and bad language! I'm not at liberty to discuss here what actually happened in the piece but I was played by Amy the follow spot operator and my favourite scene was the crew's version of the plate breaking sketch. It was quite simply hysterical, full on tears and everything. After the Cod we had the Panto Awards Ceremony. Over the course of the final 2 weeks of the run we all got to vote for people in different categories like Campest Performance, Biggest C*ck Up and the hotly contested Fittest Body Award. I'm very proud to announce that I won the Spirit of Panto Award for (amongst other reasons) my 'boundless energy' and 'unabashed eagerness'. I'm absolutely smitten with it, particularly as it's an award from my peers. Claire (my girlfriend who was working as Wardrobe Mistress on the show) won the Services to Pantomime Award. Our mantelpiece at home is now houses our trophies. I also need to mention my comedy partner, Paul Laidlaw, with whom it has been a pleasure to tread the boards again. He won an award marking the fact that it was his 25th anniversary of becoming Stevenage's resident panto dame. Truly deserved.
So, I'm home again in Cheshire and looking forward to a week or two off before starting my 2012 adventure culminating in panto somewhere. Claire is off on tour with Chicago now for a year so going from all the noise and hustle and bustle of panto to a silent house is quite odd, albeit lovely. I've got a lot of happy, happy memories of Beauty and the Beast and all the cast, crew, kids, band and creatives. Here's to the future.
So we're up and running and have now done 16 performances. That sounds a lot in just over a week but when you consider we've got 96 scheduled in before the 22nd January I'm sure you appreciate there are a lot more laughs to come!
Opening day was, as is often the case, 'interesting'. No matter how much you rehearse something before you put a live audience in front of it you never know how it is going to be received. Bits that we found hysterical in rehearsals are met with a stony silence and bits we thought were a little weak get huge guffaws. Swings and roundabouts! The show adapts very quickly and soon we get into a rhythm that is good for both us and the punters. However, in panto this changes very frequently! No sooner was opening weekend done that we then started schools performances. Having 500 four year olds in the auditorium is, unsurprisingly, drastically different to an evening show with 200 adults and 300 kids. Suddenly all the 'older' gags are lost but there are hysterical whoops when I get hit over the head by my mum. Accordingly we have to alter what we do and how heavily we weight each gag. It's almost like we have 2 versions of exactly the same show! This is one of the many reasons that I love panto, as a performer it is fantastic to be able to honestly say that no two shows are the same.
Press night was last Friday and it was a nice night. We had a good house with a good mix of ages (the best sort of house from our point of view) and technically speaking the show went well. I've only seen one review so far but it is very positive (and rightly so as I think it's a great show). Over half our shows have been sold out and we've got a busy week coming up. All this points towards a fabulous season!
I must write one quick bit about our most dreaded day - a 3 show day. Everyone involved in the show goes a little stir crazy on a 3 show day but from my point of view it is a nightmare. Not only do I spend a hell of a lot of time on stage but I also expend a serious amount of energy. My diet for a 3 show day is usually just water, caffeine, Lucozade, Berocca and sweets. When you consider that we only have about 25 minutes between each performance you can appreciate that there is no time to go anywhere or really do anything other than sit still briefly. Also, I have to squeeze a shower in and obviously put a fresh costume on and re-apply make-up. But it's not only an actor's body that suffers, it is incredibly taxing on the brain, too. I'm not alone in suffering what I call an 'Out of Actor Experience'. This is when you say a line and suddenly think 'Hang on, have I already said that?'. Chances are you have already said it. Twice. In the previous two shows. But then whilst you're pondering this you realise that you have said your next line automatically without having thought about it. You then have a mini panic that you've missed a bit out somewhere. This all happens over the course of just a second or two but it's like you're standing behind yourself watching your own performance and suddenly not being in control of it. It's very disconcerting but, fortunately, not something the audience ever become aware of! The best thing about a 3 show day, however, is that your first pint in the bar afterwards is always well deserved!
So, week one of rehearsals have gone very well indeed, culminating in possibly the best Producers Run I have ever been involved in over lunch on Saturday. A Producers Run is where you perform the show in the rehearsal room to the producers (unsurprisingly), designers and technical staff so they can get a decent idea about how the show is directed and can then plot lights or alter costumes accordingly. For us as actors it's a chance to put what we've got in front of a small but friendly audience and try to get from A to B without using our scripts as much as possible! Everyone involved is really upbeat about it and I certainly think that it's going to be a brilliant show.
We've made steady progress all week after first all meeting each other on Monday morning. There are 7 principle cast members and all seem to be very well suited to playing their roles. This isn't always the case in pantomime and it's one of the reasons that I like working for Chris Jordan Productions as they never let 'celebrity' get in the way of a good, traditional story. Panto is, for most children, their first ever experience of theatre so we have a huge responsibility to make sure they enjoy themselves and leave the auditorium enthused. I have been in commercial pantomimes where the producers have pandered to 'celebrities' and the shows are always the worse for it.
Anyhow, back to our production of Beauty and the Beast. I'm a little torn about how much I'd like to tell you as I don't want to ruin any surprises for those of you coming along. There is a lot of music in this year's show, hence why we've got some fabulous singers in the cast. Bernie Nolan as Malevolent, Leanne Jones as Fairy Formidable and Rachel Jerram as Beauty are all West End leading ladies and Simon Pontin as the Beast is an opera singer of some repute. Graham Jones as Jean Jacques (Beauty's father) has a couple of numbers (one of which will get the BIGGEST cheer of the show!) and Paul Laidlaw and I as mother and son get to… well… that would be telling! It is wonderful to be working with Paul again. We hold the same belief that the audience need to laugh regardless of who delivers the gag. Neither of us are precious and so we both want the show to be the best it can be. For me (as the comic), the dame is the one member of the cast that I really need to be able to bounce off. If the dame and the comic clash in any way then it is immediately detrimental to the production. Indeed, a few years ago I was in a panto where the dame was the main writer. I only had 7 gags in the whole show! Ridiculous when my character is called, as I mentioned, the comic. So yes, it's brilliant to be back treading the boards with Mr Laidlaw who, incidentally, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his first panto here in Stevenage. Longevity.
As mentioned in my earlier blog I turned on the Christmas Lights in town on Thursday night and I've got a few other events in the calendar, too. None this week, though, as we go into tech week. In fact, tonight I'm off out for a curry with some of the other company members as it'll be our last proper meal before a week on Monday. Who says an actor's life is glamorous, eh?
'Tis the season to turn lights on…..
As part of being in the Stevenage panto I'm fortunate enough to be asked to be part of the Christmas Lights event in the town. Instead of presenting it all (my usual role) I'm there as a special guest and someone interviews me for a change! This evening I went along with 2 other cast members, Bernie Nolan and Leanne Jones. Leanne is playing Fairy formidable in the show and she sang 'Good Morning Baltimore' which was her opening number when she played the lead in the West End production of Hairspray. Despite the fact that her backing track skipped around like no-one's business she coped admirably and left the crowd with smiles on their faces. Bernie and I then went on for a quick interview. Quite how the girls were able to get away with not wearing costume (unlike muggins here) I'll never know!
I went back on later during the show to do a short spot of my own and then also be there with their headline act, Kitty from X Factor, to press the plunger and turn the lights on. All in all it was a lovely event and I was really pleased with how warmly the crowd received us. Plus it was great to work with the Jack FM guys and to be on the receiving end of their questions!
Chris (dressed in costume as Potty Pierre) with local luminaries and Kitty from X Factor
Brilliant evening! Tonight I picked up from where I left off last year and presented the Cheshire Oaks Tree Lighting 2011. It was a fab evening (even if it was a bit damp) and we had some wonderful acts entertaining us on stage. I got to work with new boy band Eli Prime, X Factor's The Risk and Sophie Habibis and also with two of the cast of Dirty Dancing. Our headliners were 2009 X Factor winner Joe McElderry and 2008 winner Alexandra Burke. Rossi from Radio City came back again bringing with him his cohorts, Claire and Jay. The singing throughout the course of the evening was first rate and it was great to be able to chat to members of the crowd (which was about 20,000 strong) during the night. I particularly enjoyed having a bit of banter over Twitter!
Anyhow, we started the festive season with one hell of a bang at 7:30 with the lighting of Britain's tallest Christmas tree which was decorated with over 80,000 baubles and 100,000 lights. The fireworks were simply INCREDIBLE!!
Chris with Claire, Rossi & Jay from Radio City
Well, what a lovely week at Celtic Manor! I've been fortunate enough to be the compere of the Tesco Christmas Conference and I've had an absolute blast. With over 1,200 delegates and most of the Tesco hierarchy there along with a host of celebrities and some of Tesco's major suppliers it is safe to say that I was under quite a bit of pressure! Rehearsals started on Sunday evening which were basically an opportunity for everyone to run over their bits and a chance for me to chat to the different Category Directors about how they wanted to be introduced and interviewed. Fortunately, everyone on this job was lovely. That in itself is quite an unusual feat but on a job of this scale it's pretty much unprecedented! I was working for a company called Fanfare 3000 (part of TMB Events) and my bosses were all fab. I was the only person there who didn't know anyone else (it's lonely being the only person in your 'department'!) but I was included wholeheartedly by all the Event girls and TechPro team.
So the Conference itself was split into 2 independent groups, the south and the north, both of which lasted 2 days. On day one we had James Cordon and The Hairy Bikers come along in the afternoon session and then Jason Manford came to do his set in the evening. The Hairy Bikers were very chatty but had such thick accents some of the delegates (who were all from the south) had trouble understanding them! James was simply brilliant. I'll be honest, I thought that he'd be a bit egotistical and hard to work with but he was an absolute joy. He had the whole room hanging on his every word, superb! In the evening Jason had the room in hysterics. He used some material that was tailored towards Tesco and so went down a storm. On the Wednesday we had 2 singers, Paije Richardson from last year's X Factor and Dionne Bromfield. Both were excellent and had great voices but for me Paije was the better act. That man can work a room! The final day had a return visit from Jason Manford who once again held the delegates in the palm of his hand, and a visit from author Anthony Horowitz who read a humorous short story that he'd written specially for the Conference where the main characters were the Tesco bosses! All of the celebs were fantastic and very easy to work with!
I need to say a few special thank-you's to Dave Thomas (Top Tesco Dog), Tony Haines (Tesco Conference boss), Freya (my main boss), Nigel (the man who 'found' me), the Event girls, the tech teams from TechPro and IML and to Jonathan and Leon from Celtic Manor. I had a lovely week. If only I had had enough time for a round of golf…..
Chris on stage at Celtic Manor
I had a rather exciting time yesterday at the Manchester Arndale when I was lucky enough to present Lipsy's launch of their new Pixie Lott Autumn/Winter Collection with Pixie Lott herself! We had over 1,000 people crammed in to see Pixie perform live acoustically on stage before officially opening her new range. I spent nearly 2 hours on stage before she arrived running competitions and keeping the crowds entertained. I had 2 fabulous helpers from Lipsy, Jess and Rachel, who were on hand to give out prizes for me and also to talk a bit about what people could expect from Pixie's new clothes. When Pixie arrived with me after spending a while meeting VIP guests and talking to the press I whisked her straight on stage with her guitarist, Louis, to sing 3 songs. I then had a nice Q&A session with her before disappearing again to let her perform her single It's All About Tonight that was number one a couple of weeks ago.
Pixie was a thoroughly delightful and pleasant girl to work with and an absolute joy to interview. She wasn't remotely difficult, starry or arrogant. That's the way it should be!
Pixie's new line is now available in all Lipsy stores and online.
Photos by www.peteoakley.co.uk/
Yesterday I spent the day filming an infomercial for Philips in Antwerp, Belgium. It was my second time in Antwerp in just over a year but my first time working for Philips.
The gig was all about how to install recessed spots into your ceiling at home. I had to do the whole lot for the film, measuring up, sorting the electrics, drilling the (huge) holes, connecting up the series of lights etc. so I was in my element! The only downside was that I spent the vast majority of the morning up a step ladder. It's not that I suffer from vertigo or anything like that, it was physically really hard to keep repeating the same moves over and over again (all of which invariably had me holding drills or fittings or screwdrivers above my head) for the camera whilst in a very warm studio surrounded by hot lights. Still, I got to play at DIY so I don't really mind too much!
If people ever think that my job is glamorous then think again. Although saying that I got to fly to Brussels to work might sound swanky I may as well have been working around the corner from my house. I got picked up at the airport and driven to my hotel arriving at 9:30pm. I was then picked up at 8am from the hotel, driven to the set, filmed until 6:15pm (with only a 30 minute lunch break!) before being driven straight back to the airport. What I saw of Belgium out of the car window looked nice but I can't really say I've been there and done that!
Anyhow, I'm pleased with how the shoot went and I'm looking forward to seeing the end result in a few weeks time. Unfortunately, though, the film is only going out in Belgium - not the UK!
On set holding one of the Philips recessed spots.
It's all over. I've cracked my last slapstick and uttered my last battute. What a fabulous 12 weeks I've had working for The Rude Mechanicals in Gentle Harry's Farm. I've lost a load of weight, got a tan and made some fabulous new friends. Having said that, though, it's wonderful to finally be back home!
Since my last blog post we've been across to Somerset, Devon and Dorset plus had our only 2 night gig in Lewes. Far too much has gone on to possibly blog about it all and, to be fair, what goes on tour stays on tour so it's tough anyway!
Our last performance was a corker. We had over 300 people sat in glorious sunshine at the beautiful Michelham Priory on Sunday night - what a way to finish the tour. After the get-out was complete I said my goodbyes and jumped straight in my car to drive the 273 miles back to Manchester (and my own bed).
A big thank you to Pete Talbot, Rosie Armstrong, Georgina Field, Pall Pallson, Elliot Quinn, Steve Simmonds, Claire Petzal, Jack Roberts and all our helpers for a fabulous tour!
My personal tour statistics:
5 different characters
23 costume changes per show
989 costume changes for the tour
My cheat sheet for the show. Act 1 on the left, Act 2 on the right & the scene numbers are listed (6 changes in the final scene alone!). Characters are colour coded & speed of changes are noted!
We are 5 weeks and 28 performances into our tour now so I thought it was time to write another blog post. We've played at some really beautiful venues and had some absolutely wonderful audiences. The hospitality shown by the locals has been delightful and I've gotten to stay overnight in some absolutely idyllic rural homes.
The show has been very well received everywhere we've been. We get a number of gushing comments after each performance and very little criticism which is extremely fulfilling. As with all shows it has grown and developed when put in front of an audience making it slicker and honing the gags and pruning the bits that don't work. All in all it's a bloody good show (if I say so myself!). With only 15 performances remaining I know I'm going to miss it all when it's over although I will be more than happy to have a decent break. It's a very physical show, what with it being Commedia dell'arte, plus we have to do the get-ins and get-outs (that's putting the set/tents/costumes/lights/fence/etc. up in the afternoon and taking it all down in the dark after the show finishes) so it really does take its toll. That's not a whinge as I really enjoy doing it all, I'll just be glad of a rest!
I'm not going to say something about all of the venues as this blog would take forever but there are certain places that need a special mention. West Chiltington's venue was a cricket pitch with spectacular views. It's was such a beautiful evening that at one point when I have to stare wistfully out over the audience I actually lost myself briefly and ended up staring wistfully at the lovely English countryside! Fortunately I found myself again before my next line but it was a little 'out-of-actor' experience that I've never had before!
In Halnaker near Chichester we were part of a festival (not the Goodwood Festival of Speed that we could hear about half a mile away!) and we performed at a private house. There was a jazz band, swimming pool and barbecue there at our disposal so needless to say we all took advantage! Perfect weather for it all.
In Ropley my host was a chap by the name of Nigel Richardson who is a travel journalist of some repute having spent 13 years as the deputy travel editor of The Daily Telegraph. We sat up until late in his converted barn drinking whiskey and discussing all sorts of topics. He's also a published writer and he gave me a signed copy of one of his books The Rope Ladder which I will be reading as soon as I finish my current book.
After the New Ash Green gig in north Kent we knew we had a long 2 hour drive to get home, although we got stuck in traffic behind an accident on the M25 for an hour until 1am, eventually getting back to Eastbourne just after 2am! That was particularly hard going as we had only had one day off in a fortnight and were all exhausted. Fortunately we had a few BBC radio comedy podcasts to pass the time…
Greenwich was a corker of a night. It was our furthest gig north and therefore I invited loads of my friends to come along. I ended up having 14 mates in the audience (6 people cancelled on me last minute - grrrrrr - they know who they are!) and it went down brilliantly. It had been very heavily raining all day and we got soaked doing the get-in. The audience started arriving at 6 to have their picnics but all of them ended up eating in the church hall as it was still peeing it down. Then, at 7:15pm (yes, 15 minutes before the show was due to start) the rainclouds departed and left us with beautiful blue skies and a very pleasant evening. I was so relieved that the show was able to go ahead and I'd really like to say a huge thank you to all of my friends who came along, especially the 8 who had come all the way from Bury St Edmunds!
The final place I'm going to mention for the moment is Hambledon in Hampshire. We had a great show followed by a brilliant evening in their village pub, The Vine. There was a piano and a local lady (Mrs Gates) sat down for over an hour playing sing-a-long tunes like Drunken Sailor, White Cliffs of Dover and She'll be Coming Round the Mountain. Raucous and merry doesn't do it justice! When we all eventually got kicked out of the pub (no idea what time it was) we went back to my host's house (a lovely chap called Chris) to continue the party. I'm not going to say what we got up to but I know I didn't go to bed until 4:30am. Breakfast at 9 was rather bleary eyed to say the least!
That's it for now, we've played at a number of other stunning places and met some truly interesting and delightful people but I shall save those stories for my grandkids. I'm so very lucky to have a job that I enjoy so much and to have the opportunity to meet such a variety of interesting people.
What a brilliant week of touring! My first full week with the Rude Mechanicals was a real experience. After being filmed by the BBC in Burwash Common on Day 1 we went to the legendary Rudes venue of Worth Matravers for Day 2 (or more importantly, Night 2!). Days 3,4 and 5 were terribly refined and ended up with a performance in Hampton Court Palace! A real roller coaster of a week.
One of the differences with this tour to any of the others that I have done in the past is that when we are away from our base we get hosted by someone local. This means that a few people from the village that we are performing in take in a cast member or two for the night. Basically when we get to the pub after the show we divvy up who goes where (bearing in mind we have no idea who the people are that we are heading off with). Fortunately for me I lucked out each night last week! I had a cooked breakfast in each house, a comfy bed and some lovely conversations with each host.
The show is bedding in now and has been very well received. We've had to do some additional curtain calls some nights so we must be doing something right! I've not had any of my friends or family come to see it yet (my mum is coming this week) so I'm looking forward to getting them in and hearing their opinions. It genuinely is a good show so I want to get loads of folk in to see it! It's terribly important to support the Arts in all it's forms, particularly after the misjudged, misguided and drastically severe Government cuts (DON'T even get me started!).
Worth Matravers certainly lived up to expectations. It's a remote village near Swanage and we play in the back garden of a pub, The Square & Compass. After the show we get the best in hospitality from the pub, including all of it's locally brewed ales. I even got to go behind the bar and pour my own. The next morning we hiked the 1½ miles across beautiful unspoilt countryside down to the beach in order to have a swim in the sea. We had phenomenal weather, a beach all to ourselves and a brief dip in the sea (brief mainly due to the fact that it was so cold despite the soaring temperatures!).
The rest of the week was made up of our wettest show to date (Abbotsbury) and our hottest show to date (Hampton Court) with a picturesque one in Droxford in between. Next week is all commutable from Eastbourne so we won't be hosted anywhere. That's why I stocked up the beer fridge this afternoon….
Visit www.therudemechanicaltheatre.co.uk and come and support the show!
Well, we've opened. Tech week was a bit of a nightmare as the weather was really dodgy and we didn't get to have a dress rehearsal until a few hours before the first show. Dunkirk spirit got us through it all, however, and opening night went really well.
Our final week of rehearsals were at Friston Place, our first venue, rather than in the church rooms we had been in for the first 3 weeks. This meant we could use the set, costumes and correct size of performance space. Theoretically. Our final day of rehearsals was a complete washout and we had to spend the day cramped in a dusty barn! Glamorous it ain't! Our first performance was on Saturday night so during the day we had to move the backstage tent and all the set etc. from the lawn where we were rehearsing up the hill 200m away to the performance space, set it all up and then do our only dress rehearsal. Fortunately the cast are all really strong performers so anything that went wrong was quickly rectified and re-rehearsed if necessary. More so than in most productions, a full dress rehearsal was incredibly important. The biggest problem for us all is that of costume changes. There are 6 actors and 29 costumes. Personally I play 5 characters and have a total of 23 costume changes, with 6 of those changes in the last scene alone! In many ways there is more of a performance backstage than there is frontstage! Anyhow, we worked it all out, scripted a few extra lines to cover the really quick changes and got on with it. Bar a slight drizzle for the opening 5 minutes it stayed dry for us. The only pain was that it was very windy so acoustically we really had to push our voices. The rustling of the trees close by nearly drowned us out a few times but we battled through. Overall the first show went down a storm and we had nothing but positive feedback. Even better than that, we managed to make it to the pub for last orders…
Last night we performed at Cuckfield Park, a beautiful private residence with substantial grounds. Again, it was very well received, particularly as it was a new venue for the Rude Mechanicals so audiences sometimes need 'breaking in' to get used to the unique style we perform in. Today I've got a day off so I'm drinking tea and watching Wimbledon (strawberries in the fridge). Marvellous.
Cuckfield Park before the audience turned up. Sunday 19th June 2011.
We're half way through week 3 of rehearsals now and we're at the stage of starting to run the show. It's a lot more complicated than the usual shows that I'm in but I'm really enjoying the challenge! None of the 6 cast members gets a break from beginning to end. If you're not on stage acting in the scene you're playing music, making the sound scape (doing the sound effects like birds chattering etc), getting changed or helping someone else with a quick change. As it stands I have 23 (yes, twenty-three!) costume changes between the 5 characters that I play! I've got 6 changes in the last scene alone! The other guys have got similar so it'll be (organised) carnage backstage. Anyway, I've just about learnt all my lines and the 2 songs that I'm singing. I get to do a love ballad and a patter song - right up my street. From next Tuesday we get to rehearse in situ (so to speak) outdoors at our first venue, Friston Place. I'm really looking forward to that as we can't use the stage or the puppets (oh yes, we've got a load of puppets - I don't think they could afford any more actors…) until we get there so I don't think I'll get a proper feel for the show until then. Plus we've got to rehearse building the stage, erecting the backstage and box office tents, putting the fencing up and sorting out the gas powered lights. There's a lot to think about! Can't chuffin' wait to get started…..
On another note, I had my photo shoot today for panto. I'm heading back to Stevenage to play Potty Pierre in Beauty & the Beast alongside the brilliant dame, Paul Laidlaw, and our head liners Bernie Nolan and Leanne Jones (original Tracey Turnblad in the West End production of Hairspray). The show runs from 26th November 2011 until 22nd January 2012.
Well we're at the end of week one of rehearsals for my latest project Gentle Harry's Farm. It's gone really well and the opening few scenes are really starting to take shape. The director, Pete Talbot, leaves us to develop the scenes ourselves and only acts as an outside eye. It's not a way that I'm used to working but it really gives us as actors a sense of ownership of the scenes. The show is all rooted deeply in Commedia dell'Arte, one of my favourite genres. Commedia players were the first professional actors in the world and toured around the cities, towns and villages of Italy, setting up on the green and performing to the locals before packing up and moving on. We, similarly, will only do one night in each venue (except for 2 nights in Lewes) and we do the get-ins and get-outs (setting up and packing down) ourselves, not a crew member or techie in sight!
Commedia is an extremely physical discipline so it's been quite a tiring week. Although some of my lethargy might also be due to me burning the candle at both ends this week - well, with a new company you've got to get to know them all socially, haven't you?!? Anyhow, I'm playing five different characters, a robber, a policeman, a magpie, and two rams. Quite a mixture! As we are not using any props we have to spend a lot of time creating the scenes using mime. All six cast members have to know where the furniture is, how heavy the tray of cakes is, which way the doors open etc so the audience all believe what we're doing and buy into the world that we are trying to create. Couple this with some very complicated physicalisations and the scenes take a lot longer to rehearse than usual!
I've now got the weekend to consolidate my lines, rehearse my slapstick routines and cheer the Leicester Tigers on in the Aviva Premiership Final. C'mon Tigers!
The show runs from 18th June until 14th August. Visit the Coming Up… page for more information and tour dates.
Well, what an amazing experience. Who'd have thought that jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane 13,000ft up (that's nearly 2½ miles) would be a good thing? Well that's what I did yesterday, partly for the kicks and partly for charity. I was raising money for Focus12, an independent drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity based in Suffolk.
The day started very early and I was sardined into a minibus with 16 other good folk to make an hours journey to Beccles Airfield near Lowestoft on the Suffolk coastline. We had perfect weather for the jump and everyone seemed in high spirits. I chose a rather fetching orange and purple harlequinesque jump suit and got fitted up with all my harnesses. I'm not going to say too much about the jump, partly as there is a video of it but also because I was that excited there are a number of blank spots in my memory! I remember looking down over Southwold (a small seaside town that I used to go on holiday to pretty much every year as a kid with my mum and grandparents) and also the breathlessness that came with free fall. It was weird, the best way I can describe it is that it was like drowning in air. Having wind forced up your nose at 120mph is not that pleasant an experience! Imagine what it's like when you stick your head out of a moving car window… then amplify that substantially! After Geoff (my parachute chappie) had deployed our 'chute we floated gracefully down to Earth but not until after he had let me perform some stunts. We did this kind of spinny thing like when you pull one of the cords on a kite. The G-Forces were incredible and today I can certainly feel where my harness had been on my legs yesterday!
In short, it was brilliant, and something I'd love to do again. And again. And again. A big thank you to everyone who was there on the day supporting the jumpers and also to my fellow jumpers. Finally, a great big thank you to Sarah Stamp for organising it all (with aplomb I might add!).
Here's to the next jump! But in the meantime, I start my new theatre job tomorrow. No rest for the wicked…..
I was asked by www.LastMinuteTheatreTickets.com to write a piece for their new 'Meet the Cast' section. The following now appears on their website.
Behind The Scenes With Actor Chris Clarkson
I'm a bit of a workaholic. I have never liked sitting still for too long (although the irony of this sentence will be revealed later). I've always wanted to be an actor but I don't hail from a particularly theatrical family. Both my parents are teachers and did excessive work after hours so I think I had the ethic drummed into me from an early age. However, my workaholism (probably not a real word but I'm sure you get my drift) is strictly performance related.
In a nutshell, my career has spanned most forms of acting. From West End (Blood Brothers) to pantos (all the usual ones, being a Prince in my younger days but now playing the comic), from Shakespeare (Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew) to fringe musicals (Cabaret, Soul Traders), from soaps (Emmerdale, Corrie, Hollyoaks etc) to TV dramas (Touch of Frost, The Royal Today, The Chase) to specialist telly bits (Crimewatch, My Parents Are Aliens) and adverts (Gillette, Ronseal, DFS, DHL) I pimp myself out to anyone who'll pay me a wage. I even spent a few months working as a guest presenter on The One Show. I'm lucky to have had a varied career but by no means am I one of those annoyingly talented actors who just goes from job to job.
After graduating from Bretton Hall in 2002 I was fortunate enough to get 2 telly jobs and a short theatre gig in swift succession. Come the autumn, though, I got my first taste of resting. I'd like to point out that I have never been resting, just unemployed. I'm not lah-de-dah enough to tell white lies about my lack of work. That autumn I realised very quickly that temp work in offices/call centres/warehouses was not what I'm built for.
After a chat with my agent (and mentor) she told me about what she calls 'An Actors Toolbox'. In a nutshell she reckoned if a casting director required a singer that an actor should reach into their 'toolbox' and pull out singing. If the casting director wanted a juggler, the actor could rummage around and pull out juggling. In essence, the more saleable skills you have as an actor the more work you will get. I liked the theory so I set about learning extra skills.
My non-acting career then took off. No sooner had I learnt to stilt walk than I was picking up gigs at weekends. One day of stilt walking earned me as much as cash as a week of temping plus it kept my weekdays free for auditioning etc. I quickly added to my 'toolbox' by learning fire breathing, skins work, acrobatics, poi, magic, presenting and living statues to name but a few. When I'm not acting nowadays I have a second career to fall back on. OK, it isn't ever going to earn me a load of money but it is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting in a windowless cell and cold calling annoyed members of the public! These days I mostly just do magic and presenting work. However, back in 2009 I represented Great Britain at the World Living Statues Championships in Holland (oh yes, such an event does exist) where I was voted The World's Most Popular Living Statue! Funny where your life can take you (particularly when you don't like sitting still).
Chris' website is www.chris-clarkson.com and he is also on Twitter (@MrChrisClarkson) and Facebook (ChrisClarksonActor). This summer he is touring with The Rude Mechanicals in their outdoor commedia production of Gentle Harry's Farm.
Hope you like it. I decided to approach it from a different angle to all the others on the site and make it a bit more personal.
For some unknown reason I have agreed to do a charity skydive on Saturday 21st I don't know exactly why I have agreed to attempt this life-endangering feat but I do think it's because I'm a bit of a soft touch. I've always had problems using the word no when it comes to good causes and when a lovely lady called Sarah Stamp got in touch before Christmas and started haranguing me it didn't take long for me to crack. I'd have much rather hosted a bring-and-buy sale or done a sponsored silence or sat in a bath of spaghetti hoops but unfortunately they weren't options. Add in the fact that a few friends (including my girlfriend) were doing it and I realistically had no choice. Ms Stamp had won this round…
Anyhow, now is not the time to whinge about my impending death, oh no, it's time to start raising some money. We are all jumping in aid of Focus12, an independent charity working with people who suffer from the effects of drugs and alcohol. They provide detox, rehabilitation and treatment alongside facilities for the families of people who have been affected by addiction in one form or another throughout their lives. A very good cause, indeed.
In order to prepare myself both mentally and physically for the event I have created a specific, tailor made training programme after in-depth research (ie chatting about it over a pint with a mate). It includes;
- Launching myself onto my bed to simulate throwing myself out of a plane
- Sitting with a desk fan blowing on maximum onto my face to simulate breathlessness
- Driving quickly (but legally) over hump back bridges to simulate the loss of stomach
- Logging into Google Earth and when in Satellite Image mode scrolling in very quickly to simulate the visuals of Sky Diving
- Jumping off of the garden furniture and commando rolling on the grass to finesse my landing technique
- Filling up my hipflask to simulate what I will be doing on the morning of the jump
- Watching the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me when 007 (Roger Moore) opens up his Union flag parachute to simulate… err… well, just because I like James Bond films
Please click on one of the many links to visit my sponsorship page and spare whatever you can for this cause. Every single penny donated goes to the charity, the cost of the skydive doesn't come out of the money raised as I'm paying for that myself (I'm not doing this simply to get a free jump).
Thanks guys. If I live that long, I'll write a post jump blog on Sunday 22nd May.
Today I had possibly the shortest working day of my career. I've just completed work on a new Ronseal advert which is essentially just a re-hash of the one I was in last year. Today was all about the script and getting a few different versions down on tape. Over the last few weeks I've spent a considerable time recording voice overs for Gillette so it was nice to be recording something that wasn't shaving related! I was in a studio that was new to me in Trafford Park that of photographer Justin Windle. It was a nice space with a couple of stages. In fact when I arrived I walked into a Simply Be shoot! I was really confused!
The advert will be out 'just before Easter - the official start of DIY season' according to Creative Director from Principles Agency, Keith Lishman!
Last night I started a new job as Presenter at Salford City Reds home games at The Willows. Now, for those of you who don't really know me, I'm a staunch rugby union fan. I'm a fourth generation Leicester Tigers supporter (my great-grandad took my grandma down to Welford Road for the first time in 1930 and she still goes now) and I've been a season ticket holder myself for 23 years. That is rugby union, Salford play rugby league - the enemy! I have swallowed my pride, bitten the bullet and taken the opportunity to find out more about this sport (better the devil you know, eh?).
My friend John Norcott has been working at the club on match days for a few years now but his Wedding Singer and DJ business is growing so quickly he asked me to cover him at The Willows when he was double booked. I shadowed him a few weeks ago so he could show me the ropes and then last night was my first time in charge. The match against Wigan Warriors was, I'll be honest, still a little hard to follow as a lifelong union supporter but I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to the fans and having a good laugh with some of the players. I spent a while winding up Ryan Boyle and Sean Gleeson as neither of them wanted to be interviewed on the microphone, and I had a few good chats with Salford legend Shane Hanson. After the match I had a good interview with Man of the Match, Luke Patten. I must say a big thank you to Commercial Manager Andrew Bentham for all his help on the night.
I'm back at The Willows on 2nd April for the Crusaders game. I genuinely enjoyed my evening but I'm really looking forward to getting the train down to Leicester today to watch some proper rugby! Come on Tigers!
After 10 brilliant weeks in Stevenage my tenure here is now at an end. I've had such a wonderful time down here in Hertfordshire it will be a real wrench to leave the place (although I can't wait to get home and sleep in my own bed again!).
The show was still going strong right until the end and the audience feedback was all excellent. I think we only had one criticism throughout the whole 96 performances! The final weekend has been a real treat, too. On Friday night the producers, Chris Jordan Productions, invited the cast, crews and creatives from their other 4 pantomimes to come along to watch our show (we were the last panto still running) and then have a post show party. It was really nice to meet and chat with some of the other casts especially the guys playing the other comics. One of the chaps I met originated the role of Herbie the Huntsman (my role) a few years previously so we had a lot to talk about! After the theatre eventually kicked us out of the bar most of us went across to a local hotel where the majority of the visiting companies were staying. Needless to say we had a few dandelion & burdocks...
The following day we had 2 shows to do (as per) before handing the reigns over to the crew for them to perform the Cod Panto. Obviously I can't say too much about it on here but it was absolutely hilarious! I must give particular congratulations to Vicky Burrows who gave up her usual job on the fly floor to give her knockout performance of Ron Seal (ie. me!) on stage in full Leicester Tigers kit! Loved it! After the Cod we had the Golden Gnome Awards in which I won the 'Campest Performance' category (rather ironic seeing as I was the only straight man on stage not including the dwarfs!) and then the disco/party. Needless to say we had a few dandelion & burdocks...
Sunday was emotional and a really nice way to end the run. Two full houses sent us on our way and after a load of tears (not from me, obviously) people went their separate ways. A few of us popped into what had become our 'panto local' just to stretch out the Stevenage Dream that little bit further. Needless to say we had a few dandelion & burdocks...
Anyway, my car is now packed and Manchester is calling me. I'll be forever grateful for working with such a wonderful cast, crew, band, chaperones, creatives and Front of House team. Thank you Gordon Craig Theatre - it's been a blast!
So, we've opened! After a remarkably easy tech week (as tech weeks go) we had a good couple of dress rehearsals before finally having our first paying punters rock up on Saturday afternoon. Our first house was pretty much a sell out so we had all guns blazing from the start. I don't really get nervous so instead of nervous excitement and butterflies I run on adrenaline (and Lucozade!). The parts of the show that we hoped would get laughs did do, and we were very pleasantly surprised by some other moments, too. So far, touch wood, there have not been any (major) mistakes!
Although it is possible to mount a show in less than a fortnight and have it looking slick, as actors we haven't really scratched the surface of the possibilities of our characters. We are able to say our lines, dance our steps and carry the right props but it's still quite methodical. From tomorrow onwards we will be able to relax into our roles a bit more and start to have fun with them. That is when the show goes up a few notches! I had some lovely chats in the bar on Sunday night after the show with the Friends of the Theatre. They were all very complimentary and had nothing but positive feedback for us but I really do hope they all come again later in the run so as to see how much the panto will have evolved!
I don't want to say too much about the show itself as I don't want to spoil it for anyone who comes along, but I will say that it's one of the best pantomimes that I've been in. And with only 93 of our 97 performances left, it's time to book your tickets!
Here is the official video footage of the Cheshire Oaks gig. Read 2 blog posts below for more details on the event!
What a week! I'm completely exhausted after a hectic first week of rehearsals for Snow White in Stevenage. We've had long days and lots to take in but today we were able to have what's known as a Producers Run which is where we basically show all the creatives (like the lighting designer, sound team and wardrobe plus the production team and writer) where we are at to make sure that what we've done is all plausible on the set etc. It also gives them an idea of what they are lighting etc next week. The run today actually went very well indeed! I got most of my stuff right and I was able to use most of the props that are currently available. Very pleasing end to a hectic week.
After an initial meet and greet on day one we started with a music call to learn some songs. I don't want to say too much about what the actual content of the show is as I don't want to ruin the surprise for those of you coming along to one of the 97 performances. I spend the majority of my time on stage with the Dame (and director) Paul Laidlaw. I'd never met him before the first day of rehearsals and I'm always wary before meeting whoever I'm playing opposite. Some Dames can be very selfish (as I'm sure comics can, too, although I always try not to be!) and it's important to have a good rapport with each other. I've been lucky (on the most part) in years gone by and this year is no exception. Paul and I get on like a house on fire and we are both panto traditionalists believing in stock characters, set pieces and the Holy Grail of the lazzi straight out of pantomime's origins in Commedia dell'arte. I also have been working closely with Sue Holderness (the Wicked Queen), Daniel Boys (Prince Simon) and Katie Rowley Jones (Snow White). There are some lovely little routines, both physical and lyrical, and we've been drumming them into each other all week. Every time Daniel and I pass each other in the corridor we rehearse at least one of our ultra fast duologue's! We also have seven dwarfs (unsurprisingly!), four professional ensemble and three teams of eight kids! It's a big old production!
On Thursday we were on stage in Stevenage Town Centre to switch on the Christmas Lights before some of the main cast headed off to Champneys for an evening photo shoot there. Some of these images are shown below. It i'nt 'arf posh there!
All in all it's been a very pleasing first week of rehearsals. We only have one more day of rehearsing by ourselves before we go into the tech. But, for the time being I'm going to crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy a successful first week in Stevenage. Here's to nine more! *clinks glass*
WOW! Had a brilliant evening at Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet presenting the Tree Lighting 2010. Had some great acts to work with and the show ran very smoothly; bar the audio not working on the opening video! Oh well! The 12,000 strong crowd all seemed to love it and were screaming like mad from the off. First up we had Frixion who have been touring with N-Dubz, Tinie Tempah and Alexandra Burke this year. I then had my first chat of the night to the Behind-the-Scenes Green Room and Radio City's Rick Vaughn. Good to have a bit of camaraderie with the fella! Next we had Same Difference on stage singing three songs. Lovely pair! We had a good giggle in their trailer at the beginning, they've got such vitality. Then we moved onto Diva Fever. What can I say about those boys?!? Such a high energy act and they know how to work a crowd. I had a good chat with Craig afterwards (the spiky haired one) and it turns out we did a gig together on stage in Peterborough 2 years ago! Small world. Next on stage I had Wonderland, Louis Walsh's new Irish girl group. They have got beautiful, lyrical voices and sang some fabulous close harmony acapella stuff. Oh, and they're all tiny, too! After Wonderland I had recent X-Factor evictees Belle Amie. They just couldn't stop jumping around, bless 'em! Our final 2 acts were our headliners, Eliza Doolittle and The Wanted. Both bands got such huge screams as they went on I'm surprised they weren't deafened. Both bands sang their famous hits and the crowd certainly weren't disappointed. I was then joined on stage by Rossi and Fitzy from RadioCity 96.7 ready to light Britain's Biggest Christmas Tree. It is huge! After a final chat with The Wanted and then the crowd we counted down from 10 before millions of lights flashed on and the stage went pyro-mad. Stunning. Although it was great seeing the crowds reaction to it all I'd have loved to have seen everything from their perspective. After a final sing-a-long when we had all the acts back on stage I wrapped the event up and we all got to go home. Phew. Now, onto the next job - panto starts tomorrow......
Chris on stage
Chris on stage
Chris with Same Difference
X-Factor's Belle Amie and RadioCity 96.7's Rick Vaughn
RadioCity 96.7's Rossi & Fitzy and X-Factor's Diva Fever
I've not blogged for a while as I've been working on a big job that I've not been allowed to talk about! However, yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening co-presenting an event at the Concorde Conference Centre at Manchester Airport. The event was called the MFestival and was for employees of the airport and their families. Completely free, it featured a mini fun fair, scalextric, climbing wall, Batak wall, air hockey, a coconut shy, mini casino, bucking bronco, plus loads more. I was on the main stage introducing the live acts including magicians, a Punch & Judy show, street dancers, singers and prize ceremonies. All of this took place under the imposing structure of a decommissioned Concorde! It was a brilliant event put on by Wizardry Entertainments and the 2,000 punters all seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. I was lucky that one of my best friends, Magic Matt, was performing some mix and mingle magic in the crowds so at the end of the day we were able to compete against each other on the climbing wall and mini golf course etc. We drew 1-1 on the wall, he won the air hockey but I whipped him at golf! We finished off the evening with some candy floss and popcorn. It's great when you get the chance to enjoy your work, isn't it?!?
Chris presenting on stage underneath a Concorde!
Wow. I am in awe today of thirteen young acrobats. I was privileged to be the presenter of the Best of British event at York Designer Outlet today where we had Britain's Got Talent winners Spelbound performing live on stage. Their performances were simply stunning, they work so ridiculously hard to get physically fit enough to perform some wonderful acrobatics. Their 2 performances today in front of great crowds quite simply took your breath away. Considering it was an outdoor stage (they have never performed outdoors before and weren't expecting to today!) and quite a windy day they went about setting up their mats and warming up in such a chipper way. I can't even fault them as people, they were all lovely and talkative, signing loads of pictures and spending plenty of time chatting with their fans. They made my life as presenter really easy, too. I really can't speak highly enough of that wonderful troupe - plus Sally and Neil their helpers/chaperones/coach/friends!
So I've just finished 2 days of filming at Media:city for the new series of LighterLife commercials. I have to be honest, I'd never heard of LighterLife before I went to the casting but having now met 12 people who have done the course and lost phenomenal amounts of weight (8 stone in some cases!) I reckon it must be a really good dieting package.
We had 140 extras in our audience and a massive crew in the same sound stage in which I filmed the Ronseal advert back in March. Filming a weight loss advert in a studio called The Pie Factory was, I thought, quite ironic! Anyway, the director, Julian Kronfli, was calmness personified and had a clear view as to what he wanted to achieve (which always helps, amazing how some directors just seem to wing it!). Every single crew, cast and creative was lovely (again, not usually the case) and there was such a nice vibe. My 12 models were all 'real' people and therefore a bit bewildered at times by the filming process. They were all very keen to make it a success, however, and gave brilliant performances. My 11 ladies and 1 man strutted, posed, smiled and vox popped their socks off, and I have a huge amount of respect for them all!
The adverts will be transmitted in the UK for one year from the 6th September. They will also be online on the LighterLife website along with a Behind the Scenes mini-documentary and a series of stills.
I had a fabulous time yesterday in the grand old city of Dublin! I flew out for the day to film an infomercial for AXA. After an initial delay at Manchester Airport of an hour (thanks RyanAir!) I arrived in the Irish capital around 9:45am. My driver took me on a mini guided tour of the city on the way to the studios, making sure he took me past all of the cathedrals (ie. Croke Park, Lansdowne Road (NOT the Aviva - damn them!) and the RDS). The studio was on an estate in a quiet setting on the outskirts of Dublin. We were all to film on green screen (were it in Wales it would've been red screen, Scotland blue screen etc) and the other actors were already there. I met another actor with my agency, Mark Jardine, who was playing the main role, who I had not seen since panto costume fittings at the Lowry in 2005! Anyway, the crew and clients were all great and there was a nice, relaxed atmosphere. It's so much easier to get stuff done when everyone is calm, focused and jovial - rare to find a shoot where all these are in place! Anyway, we finished filming ahead of schedule and that gave me around 5½ hours to kill in Dublin. As I've already done the touristy type stuff in the city centre and we didn't want to get stuck in rush hour traffic, we all decided to go to a small town called Swords out near the airport. The ladies went off shopping and Russell Richardson and I went to sample some of the local Guinness (when in Rome etc). We started in the very traditional pub, The Pound. It was rammed full of blokes all laughing and joking, a real locals pub but one they made us feel welcome in. Then, on recommendation of the make up lady, we went to eat in Wrights and ended up in a pub/restaurant called The Old Boro. Guinness certainly does taste differently over there! A quick taxi ride to the airport later and I was heading for home. All in all a great day - good job, great people, wonderful part of the world.
The infomercial "Secure Advantage Protected Capital Plan from AXA Life Europe" will be on AXA's website soon. A link will be posted when it is up.
I'm always striving to stay fit and healthy when I'm not working plus I also try to learn new skills. For the last 5 days I've been undertaking a course in Bikram Yoga. It's basically a 90 minute yoga session but in what is essentially a sauna! The room is 40°C (105ºF) and there are up to 64 people plus the teacher all sweating buckets! Honestly, I have never sweated as much. On the plus side it is a really good workout, I'm sleeping fantastically and, despite it being tiring, it really does energise you. Top stuff! I've got 5 days left of my course - hopefully I'll make it to the end!
Had a lovely gig tonight in the idyllic little village of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. It all took place at Cutts of Campden, a Ford dealership, in the early twilight of a balmy summer's evening. There were about 200 guests invited and they were treated to a smörgåsbord of entertainment, canapés and Champagne. I was hired to be my Tennis Player living statue alongside a magician, a Rod Stewart Tribute and a trio of feathered showgirls! What a mixture! Met some lovely people and got to have a giggle with some of the guests after I had finished (and done my best to de-silver in a tiny sink!). I love my job sometimes!
(P.S. There were some beautiful cars there, too - my favourite is below!)
I've had an amazing weekend in Lommel, Belgium. It was lovely to see a load of old faces plus make some new friends from around the world. I was working at the Beeldig Festival in the town centre, an annual event full of living statues, performance art and street theatre. On the back of my success in Holland last year I took my James Bond costume along. As I had a lot of trouble getting the gun and 12v battery (to power the gun) on the plane last year I decided that I would travel by train and got myself a ticket on the Eurostar. I'm a bit of a geek but I simply could not wait to ride on it for the first time. I got to meet up with my friends Ed Johnson and Kate Laurisden from The Living Statue Company at St Pancras so I had good company from there on. Both the journey there and back were great, as were the trains to and from Stockport and London. However, the 2 trains from Brussels to Lommel and then back again were a nightmare! We had delays, cancellations and a language barrier to contend with - never again! Fortunately Ed and Kate were in good humour so we were able to bounce off of each other and laugh at our situation - even if we did find one of Antwerp's least appealing bars to kill some time in! Anyway, after eventually arriving 10 and a half hours after I had left home, I was able to meet up with all my Dutch friends from Beeldje on Friday night. We had a good catch up before an 'early' night ready to work the following day.
Over the two days the festival attracted 45,000 people, a new record for them. I'd like to think a lot of the visitors came because of me but I don't think that is particularly true! I met statues from Argentina, musical acts from Italy and loads of others from Spain, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Cuba and Greece. Such a friendly bunch of performers. It was sad saying goodbye on the Sunday night to a lot of them.
Monday was a 5am start (English time) and after an arduous journey I walked through my front door 11 hours later at 4pm. I'd been spoilt rotten, tickled, hugged, applauded and given copious amounts of free beer at a business party that we snuck into on the Saturday night. Apparently it was a good party. At least that's what we reckon after we were able to piece the night together between us the following morning!
A big thanks to Pieter Neeskens from SUPCO Events and to all those I was with for Beeldig Lommel 2010!
Links to photographs
A close up and posing with Afke Westdijk (Beeldje) and a young local girl
This weekend I worked at Bradford Mela with one of my best mates, Scott Clarke. We were working for Q20 Theatre and basing ourselves in the Lord Mayor's Carnival Parade Tent. Although we were there predominantly to entertain the punters at the Mela, it was linked in with next weeks Bradford Parade. With this years theme being tigers, Q20 commissioned Huddersfield University students to come up with a pair of tiger costumes that performers could wear on jump stilts. We weren't disappointed with the results! With an almost 1970's pimp theme running alongside the brief Scott and I were decked out in tiger print livery from head to toe (well, rubber pad on bottom of stilt!). The only downside from my point of view, was that 2 consecutive days on jump stilts is quite had going! 6 hours of bouncing isn't easy in anyone's book, but it has toned up my thighs and bum quite a bit!
Click here for a link to Bradford Telegraph and Argus article
I started my new job today as a news presenter on Redrow.tv, the multimedia website for the one of the UK's leading residential and mixed use property developers. We were filming in Preston at the head offices of Ainsworth & Parkinson, the marketing communications agency in charge of creating the pieces. I had a fab crew to work with (David, Jade and Abi - Sandra was on holiday this week!) and we had a good giggle off camera. All the dialogue was on autocue which was a blessing as I'd only gotten home from France the day before and I wouldn't have had time to learn it all! Anyway, my pieces for Redrow Scotland will be online from the start of next week.
Spent yesterday sitting in the sun, playing cricket and eating fine foods from your friendly Co-operative/Somerfield store. Or at least that's what this summer's TV advert will lead you to believe! I was really good fun filming it although my skin certainly knows I spent 13 hours in the sun - SPF15 all round! All the food looked stunning but we weren't allowed to touch any. Curses! I had a surrogate extended family for the day and I got to play cricket for hours (albeit on a remarkably shorter wicket than the regulatory 22 yards and we had to keep repeating the same shot over and over and over and over again!). Taylor Murphy is playing the hero dad who just would not get out! The ad should be on screens for two months from mid-June.
My wife for the day, Sue McCartney, and my kids Jamie and Jess.
Everyone playing cricket (left) and the delicious food being filmed.
On Monday night I went to see the musical Laughter in the Rain at the Opera House in Manchester. It is about the life of Neil Sedaka and featured all (well, probably not quite all) of his songs. My friend Kieran Brown is touring in it. I quite enjoyed the show despite not really knowing anything about Sedaka and only having heard of 2 of the songs beforehand! The lad playing Sedaka was excellent. It was a huge role and he played it very well. An added bonus of the night was the fact that Neil Sedaka was there in person. Bill Kenwright (my old boss!) got up on stage at the end and made a speech before Neil joined him and sang a couple of songs. The audience went nuts! Afterwards I was invited into a small drinks reception and met the man himself (Sedaka, not Kenwright!). Great fun. If you get a chance to see the show, do. If you like the music, you'll love it!
I've had a fabulous weekend! On Friday night my mum and grandma drove up from Leicester and then we all travelled up to Cumbria together for my cousin's wedding. Miss Karen Moore has now become Mrs Karen Nattrass! The wedding was in a church in Carlisle and then the reception etc was at The Crown Hotel in Wetheral. I had a beautiful view from my room (see below) but, for obvious reasons, I didn't spend much time in there. I spent a lot of time chatting with as many people as I could throughout the day. I'd never met Jonny (the groom) or any of his family before. To be honest I hadn't even met any of Karen's friends either so it was nice to be sociable! I reckon I've made some great new friends - at least I hope so! I was able to do a little bit of cheesy magic for them and make the odd balloon model, too, so that was nice. My only regret is that I had to shoot off early on Sunday to go to work at Old Trafford, I'd have much preferred to go into the pool and gym! Such a nice hotel! A huge congratulations to Karen and Jonny and also to my uncle and auntie, Richard and Anne.
Me with Karen Nattrass and Jenny Moore (c'mon Jen, get Will down on one knee!)
Had a nice day today on the set of Coronation Street filming an episode for later in the year. Of course I'm contractually obliged not to talk about the storyline but I've been working with Graeme Hawley (John) and Becky Hindley (Charlotte). Spent most of the day NOT eating a plate of food in front of me, partly because I wasn't supposed to and partly because it was hideous! That's the trouble with filming dinner scenes, TV companies won't pay for nice, warm food when the point of it is to be seen and not devoured! I was sat at a table with 3 lovely extras for most of the afternoon. We did have a good giggle so the time went a lot more quickly than it probably should have done. Below is a photo of me giving my big speech during filming.
I'm very pleased to announce that The Art of Doing Nothing in which I feature won Best Short Documentary at the London International Film Festival this weekend. It was filmed at the World Statues Festival in Arnhem last August and it follows the progress of 3 different statues and their different views on statueing. The film's director is an old school friend of mine, Richard Wyllie. The film was shown in Chennai at the International Short Film Festival of India in April and it will feature in the 6th International Short Film Festival Detmold, Germany, in June. Hopefully it will turn up at other Festivals and end up being aired on UK television.
On a whim on Sunday morning I decided to drive up to Newcastle. It was a beautifully sunny day and Leicester were playing their last away game of the season (end of season play offs permitting) up at Kingston Park. As I had to be in York on Monday morning and I could have a work meeting whilst I was up there I thought I'd treat myself. So glad I did! I left Manchester in a t-shirt pair of shorts and hit the M62 with intent. When I got to my friends flat in North Shields I parked up, had a quick brew and had a long hard think about the weather. "It's a little bit grey but I'm sure it's not going to get any worse" I thought, "I'll stay in my shorts. They've got loads of pockets in so I don't need a bag." Done deal. Jumped on the Metro and headed to the ground with a vengeance, a ground where we hadn't won since 2004.
One of the things I love about rugby is the good nature of the supporters. There is never any segregation in the grounds or en route to the grounds. I spent a lot of time chatting with Newcastle supporters on the Metro and on the 5 minute walk from the station. Always love a bit of banter! Anyway, the weather was taking a turn for the worse and it was now chucking it down with very strong winds, to boot. Started to regret my short sleeved rugby shirt and having my legs out! It was 6oC without the windchill. At this point I decided it was wise for my health to keep warm. The most logical way was to wear a beer coat. They sold two pint glasses of Guinness so with no hesitation (and thinking predominantly about my well-being) I purchased one. Very glad I did.
The match was ok for the first 34 minutes. *Attention - brief bit of rugby talk coming up* We scored 4 tries, secured the win and the bonus point and then took our foot off of the pedal. The sad thing is that I don't think we actually played that well, Newcastle Falcons were just terrible. Hope they don't get relegated (a real possibility this season) as it's one of my favourite away days!
So after another medicinal Guinness after the game and yet more banter with some Geordie fans I headed off home, bumping into our head coach, Richard Cockerill, on the way out. I had a great meeting that evening with a couple of bosses of mine and then an early night ready for my audition in York the next day. My only annoyance with the trip was the fact that I only decided to go up on the Sunday morning. Had I planned it earlier then I could've met up with loads of other friends!
Me with 2 pints of Guinness and Cocky. I'll let you work out which is which.
Been filming all day today in Southport for a new BrightHouse ad. Did two ads in total. They were almost identical except one had a distinct Christmas theme! Won't be seeing that on telly for a good few months then! Worked with some lovely actors today and also with the same camera team as last week in the Ronseal commercial! Anyhow, the advert will be on screens in the next couple of weeks and images of Andy the Sales Assistant will be blazoned across posters in branches. Pop in to have a shoofty! C.
Chris as Andy the BrightHouse Assistant. Photography by Barclay Imaging.
Yesterday I filmed a new advert for Ronseal. I was a long old day (18 hours!) but I made some great new friends including my wardrobe mistress Sabine Cockrill and make-up supervisor Charlotte Gibb. We became a right little clique! Filming was good fun but very slow going due to the accuracy needed in the shots. I've never been under more pressure as an actor than when I had to stain some decking - seriously! After an hour and a half to set up the shot, I had to get it right first time as we couldn't un-stain it once it had been stained! Glad it went well.....
Anyway, it will be on air sometimes in the next couple of weeks. I get to say an iconic line in it, too. Bet you can't guess what it is!
This is a little bit belated but last Friday night a group of us from my Thursday night dance class did a little performance at a charity night in aid of Christie's. What a laugh we had! It wasn't a huge thing but for us it certainly felt it! We did a routine to a medley of songs including Cheryl Cole and some other bands (I'm rubbish with music, sorry...!). Although our focus was geared on giving a good show it was really nice to have a bit of a social with the girls afterwards and get to know them a bit better. Seeing as I don't usually chat to them during a class (I feel rather outnumbered at a twenty-something to one ratio!) it was nice to finally have a decent chat. We're hoping to have a few more gigs soon. Again, nothing fancy, but something fun, honest and rewarding!
Click the logo to go to Tiva's website
The team. Clare (bottom left) is our choreographer. Bet you can't see me....
The team. Clare (bottom left) is our choreographer. Bet you can't see me....
I spent today at The Coppice School in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire. It is a generic secondary school for pupils from Years 7 to 13 with Moderate, Severe and Profound Learning Difficulties. Along with the Speight of the Art Foundation I was able to help with a day of art classes. I kick started the day as a Living Statue whilst Oliver Speight gave an introduction to the day and the charity. After a day of cartooning with Chris Altham, making caricatures with Chris Ryder, finger painting, music and calligraphy I was on hand to help present certificates in an end of day ceremony. Today truly was one of those days when you walk out of a building thinking 'Yes, I really have made a difference'. A wonderful feeling and I loved every minute. Thank you Speight of the Art and The Coppice!
Click the Sentinel logo above to read the newspaper article from the day including an interview with Chris
Well, after 7 hectic weeks it's now time to draw a line under Aladdin in Kendal. I thoroughly enjoyed my time up in the Lake District and I've got some very fond memories of people, the venue, the panto and the town. A huge thank you to all involved for making it such a wonderful season! Oh, and the Adult Panto was great fun, too.....
Whilst in Kendal I'm pleased to say that my website passed the 25,000 hits mark. That's a lot of people! What is nice is that visitors have come from 37 different countries around the world! Amazing!
The Aladdin cast, MD, DSM, ASM and Wardobe Mistress lying on the centre of the stage!
The photo was taken from the lighting rig!
As much as I love performing to the kids I'm glad we've now finished the school's performances if for no other reason than the 10am shows! It's so hard getting yourself pumped up for bouncing about looking happy at that time of the day. Let's face it, it's still the middle of the night for actors! Anyway, the shows went well and the kids all seemed to enjoy themselves. The cast and crew are now enjoying a well earned day off. I've come home to Manchester (if only to do my washing!) and I'm hoping to catch up with a few friends whilst I'm here, filling them in about all of the panto gossip. I'm loving my time in Kendal and I enjoy everyone's company. All of the cast, youth actors, girls of the chorus, stage management and crew are fab! Hoping to keep in touch with them all when this year's Panto Dream ends in 3 and a bit weeks time.....
Wishy Washy outside Widow Twanky's Launderette
We had our opening preview performance last night and have got a matinee preview today before we officially open tonight. Exciting stuff. It was fantastic to finally get the show in front of an audience. It all went well and there was only one real error. Without spelling it out in too fine a detail, one character has the line 'Twanky's Tacky Tat' and they unfortunately put the W in the wrong place. Ooops! We all had a good laugh about it on stage, though!
For me personally it was wonderful having a new audience. As I have so many jokes to tell in front of the same people in rehearsals it gets very tiring for both them and me. Last night it was nice to get some laughs again!
Well, onwards and upwards. Day off tomorrow and if I'll try and update again with news about our opening night.
Click on the link below to visit the Go-Style website and read an interview with me about my extensive knowledge of clothes. I'm just below singer Kristyna Myles!
So we're coming to the end of week two of rehearsals and we're bang on schedule. It's been a fun couple of weeks and we've had such a good laugh. As ever with panto it is a time of exploration. I've been allowed to play with all sorts of ideas and I reckon I've come up with some pleasing lazzi sequences. Time will tell (well, the audience reaction will tell) and even though we don't open until next Friday I'm dying to start making people laugh!
On the social side of things, the cast and crew have been out almost every night. Highlights include our weekly inter-department darts tournament, curry night, cinema trips and X-Factor night (NOTE: I did not attend this night as I can't stand that programme!).
Aladdin cast, in order of appearance:
Genie: Denise Hoey
Abanazer: Ian Casey
Princess Lotus Blossom: Annabel Bates
Ping: Bekah Sloan
Pong: Helen Moffitt
Wishy Washy: Chris Clarkson
Widow Twanky: Christopher Wright
Aladdin: Duncan Johnston
Emperor of China: Martin Lamb
Emperor's Guard: Steve Atkinson
Am sat in the lounge of my digs in Kendal munching away on some Marmite on toast and washing it down with a vat of coffee. Need the energy today as it's all about singing and dancing! Looking forward to bustin' some grooves in the rehearsal studio then getting down to some serious harmony making.
I'm sharing the flat with Aladdin, Duncan Johnston, and we're already acting like we're brothers. I constantly rib him and he plays the set-upon little bro' very well! In fact, we've even colluded in some practical jokes that we will start playing on the cast and production team later today. I love panto!
There was a meal last night for the full cast, crew, creatives and management of the panto. The food at the Brewery is fabulous! I had roasted pigeon breast for starters followed by venison for my main. It was Ian Casey's (Abanazar) birthday yesterday so we delivered him a chocolate gateau with a candle in for dessert! Happy days.
I had a fabulous time last night presenting the Christmas Lights Switch On in Warrington. I work a lot at Golden Square and do love the Warrington crowds! We had a number of acts performing for us from 4 until 8:30 including Kristyna Myles, High School Holiday, the cast of Warrington's panto Dick Whittington, dance troupe Nu Era and our star turn, X-Factor's own Lucie Jones. The whole show went swimmingly well except for the fact that Lucie turned up late due to the M6 being closed and the fact that Warrington Town Centre was at a standstill because we had so many people crammed in! But we didn't let that or the wet weather dampen our spirits. Lucie sang 4 songs and joined in with the sing-a-long at the end (not to mention plunging the plunger to illuminate the Warrington sky!). She was a really nice girl and spent a long time afterwards chatting with her fans, having photos taken and doing interviews. I must admit that I don't watch X-Factor (I'm really not a fan of reality TV!) but I do think that that Simon chap has missed a trick by letting her go! Anyway, Warrington is now all Christmas Lighted up and ready to receive it's Christmas Shopping hoards! Golden Square is open until 9 on Thursdays with free parking from 4 and it's also free all day on Sundays! Santa and his sleigh will be there telling stories and having free elf workshops on the Saturdays and Sundays before Christmas from November 28th. Get down there and enjoy the family atmosphere!
Had fun today in Milton Keynes presenting a Fashion Show for XS Productions. It was showcasing loads of different stores in what they call the 'Fashionable Quarter' of Milton Keynes. I got to work with quite a few models that I have worked with before and also had a good laugh with the different audiences that we drew. It was a really last minute booking and so pretty much everything I did was off the cuff. Fortunately, that is the way I like to work!
Long time no post! I've been very busy lately with various projects and my current one is a gem. I've been working in two different attractions at Alton Towers as part of their Scarefest, The Boiler House and The Field of 1000 Screams. Very few people actually get to work in both of these in any one year so I'm quite honoured! In The Boiler House I have been playing the Handyman and in The Field of 1000 Screams I have been both the Hero (RAF Officer) and a Zombie. Great fun! I get to spend 6 or 7 hours just shouting at people and making them scream! Without wanting to go into too much detail, across both attractions we have had a number of 'Code Yellows' and at least one 'Code Brown'. Read into that what you want.....!
Today I had a very BBC day indeed. I was on BBC Radio Manchester at lunchtime on the Heather Stott show and then this evening in front of an audience of 700,000 people I was on BBC1's North West Tonight with Gordon Burns and Ranvir Singh. The radio interview was good fun and Heather was really lovely. She seemed genuinely interested, too, which was nice. Gordon Burns had the shiniest shoes I think I've ever seen and Ranvir was extremely chatty! Both interviews are available on my Living Statues page (click the link on the right of this page!).
Me in the North West Tonight studio
Wow! What a weekend! I am proud to write on here that I won the Audience Award at the 2009 World Statues Championships. Sooooooo chuffed! In the biggest audience vote ever recorded I was fortunate to top the list and I was awarded with my medal on stage at the end of the Parade. As it was all in Dutch it wasn't until the presenter said 'James Bond' in a heavily accented voice that I realised what was going on. Amazing!
Chris in one of his poses. Chris mistakes a young girl for Blofeld.
World Champion Statue (orange) flanked by Chris and the Mayor then
the amateur winners.
I am proud to announce that my pub team won the Cup last night! For those of you who don't know, to keep my singing voice in relatively good nick when I'm not working, I sing karaoke for my pub team, The Crown (416 Buxton Road, Great Moor, Stockport, SK2 7BY). It's like a darts team or a pool team - just karaoke! We came second in the league this season (congrats to The Jolly Sailor on their victory) but last night was the end of season knock out cup final. Our equivalent of Wembley!
Our team on the night was made up of myself, Vickey Farr, Paul Lawton, Andy O'Brien and Matt Lees. I sang Feed Me from Little Shop of Horrors with Andy in the 1st half and All I Care About from Chicago in the 2nd. I must put a special mention here to our opponents on the night, Peters Square Tavern. They are one of my favourite pubs on the circuit and they have an amazing team. We had two incredibly close games in the league this season (one was even a draw) and I can't wait to play them again in 2010!
Thanks to everyone involved in the league for a fantastic season! See you at the Presentation Night on Monday 21st September!
For more information on the league;
* Have a look at the website by clicking here and selecting Karaoke League on the top left.
* Join our Facebook group by clicking here.
Today I was officially invited back to Holland to once again represent Great Britain in the World Statue Championships. I can't tell you how excited I am! I had such an amazing time last year that I was so desperate to be invited back this year. There is usually an audience of about 350,000 spectators. The competition takes place between 1pm and 5pm on Sunday 30th August around the centre of Arnhem. At 5:30 the Festival Parade starts on the square in front of Church Eusebius. After that the nerve-racking presentation of the awards will begin! There are 4 awards; Content, Craftsmanship, Aesthetical Sensation (their words not mine!) and Entertainment. The winner will be awarded with the Grand Prix d'Arnhem and can be addressed as the World Living Statue Champion for a year. I'll be taking my brand new James Bond statue with me. Come along and support! I'd love some British voices cheering me on!
What a great day today was! I was working at Golden Square Shopping Centre in Warrington with Calum Best and the Brit Chix doing a Celebrity Style Challenge with loads of different fashions available in the Centre. Calum was a pleasure to work with and a thoroughly nice bloke, down to Earth and self-depricating. The Brit Chix were a riot! Three fantastic, talented ladies who are more than keen to join in and have a giggle. Plus Neil, Victoria's boyfriend (again, a cracking chap). A day's work does go so much quicker when you enjoy what you are doing and who you are doing it with! Thanks to all involved! C.
Victoria (T), Chris, Maddy, Paisley and Calum
Last week I had my first holiday in almost exactly 2 years as I went off to France with my golf club (Painswick) to play for the Le Coq Trophee. 12 of us made the trip across the channel from Portsmouth and we played 4 courses;
Golf Barriere de St.Julien
Beuzeval in Houlgate
Omaha Beach, (the Le Manoir/Etang courses) and
L'Amiraute, in Deauville.
I'm delighted to report that I won the overall competition playing to around 4 shots below my handicap. I had a fab time with the lads and hope to go back next year. Much fun!
From left to right;
Barrie Hesling , Mick McGarr, Graham Moody, Dave Brazington, Brendan Nunan, Huw Anthony, Robin Anthony, Chris Clarkson, Mike Hoey, Neal Haddock (Captain), Kish Venkatasami, Gil Locke.
Barrie Hesling , Mick McGarr, Graham Moody, Dave Brazington, Brendan Nunan, Huw Anthony, Robin Anthony, Chris Clarkson, Mike Hoey, Neal Haddock (Captain), Kish Venkatasami, Gil Locke.
Not so much a work related blog but one I felt I wanted to make. Yesterday I donated blood for the 30th time. I've been giving regularly since I was 18. The National Blood Service is always on the look out for more people to donate. Nowadays you must be aged 17 upwards (there is no longer an upper age cut off).
- There are only 1.6 million registered blood donors in the UK and that equates to roughly 4% of the population.
- The National Blood Service needs to collect 9,000 pints a day.
Thanks, Chris. National Blood Service
I was very fortunate to be part of the launch for the North Staffordshire branch of the Speight of the Art Foundation at McDonalds in Newcastle Under Lyme. I performed one of my Living Statues for the event. Also there was Ian Cook (as seen on Blue Peter) who led workshops for kids which included making pieces of art by painting with remote controlled cars! Lee D from CBBC's Prank Patrol was signing loads of autographs and walking around entertaining the crowds were magician and balloon modeller Ethan Mark and face painter Mari Leeds.
Yesterday was simply wonderful! I presented a charity event in Salford Quays for Cash for Kids in association with Key 103 and Magic 1152. Basically from the top of the Imperial War Museum North (the tower being 95m tall) a wire was stretched 300 metres across the Manchester Shipping Canal to the front of The Lowry. Fundraisers were asked to raise a minimum of £150 to ride the Death Slide. It was an amazing event and overall somewhere in the region of £40,000 was raised for local disadvantaged kids. Every penny raised went straight back out into the Greater Manchester area. I did some sums and worked out these facts;
2 days of Zipping with roughly 140 Zippers a day = 280 Zips
1 Zip = 300m therefore 280 Zips = 84,000m
84,000m = Just over 52 miles worth of Zipping!
Amazing! For me, though, the best part was that at the end of the day I was lucky enough to have a go, too! Such an amazing experience! I even convinced the man at the top to Gaffa Tape my wrists and ankles together along with putting a strip over my mouth. At least it stopped me running away!
The Zip Wire came out of the dark grey rectangle on the tower and finished just behind the camera.
What fun! I got to be Pete McConey in Death of a Rockstar somewhere in North Yorkshire tonight. I had a wail of a time! I'd never been in a Murder Mystery before and it was a hoot. I got to work with my friends Jon Stokes, Rebecca Jenkins, Rob Laughlin and a new friend Muireann Price. Fabulous stuff. All based on a structured improvisation we were able to manipulate the evening to it thrilling denoument. It was set in the 1960's and centred on the world famous band The Beetroots. I don't want to say much more as I don't want to give anything away!
Well I had a great time with Sue last night on her radio show. It was lovely to have a good chinwag and also great to receive loads of e-mails into the studio from both friends and listeners. I happen to know that there were friends of mine listening in Tyne & Wear, Cardiff, Birmingham, London and even in Russia and Holland! Fantastic! Cheers guys! Manchester Radio Online has over 350,000 listeners every month.
I've started going to dance classes this week. This is a big step for me! I know I'm not a dancer but I do have to dance in shows sometimes so I decided to try and keep my hand in whilst I'm not working. I've been to two classes so far, on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday's session was a bit embarrassing as I had to do a 'girly' dance to the Pussycat Dolls (I don't have hips that I can swing!) but last night's class with Clare was much more, ahem, 'butch'. Sort of. Anyway, I've really enjoyed it so far and the girls down at Tiva Dance in Stockport are great. The studio is lovely and well equipped. Well worth the embarrassment of being a boy in a dance class!
Click here to visit the Tiva Studios website
Tomorrow night (Friday) I'm going on my friend's, Susan Hanks, radio show! I went to Bretton Hall with Sue and she is now a comedienne. Her weekly show is on Manchester Radio Online and is, rather scarily, called The Girly Show. We've been trying to arrange this for ages but either I've been busy working or she has already had someone booked in. However, we were talking about it on Saturday night at her birthday party so finally we've been able to find an appropriate date! Tune in from 9 until 11pm on Friday, I'll be on from 10 onwards!
Yesterday I had the chance to meet a true rugby great - Jason Robinson. For those of you who don't know who he is, he played both League (never mind!) and Union, with the distinction of scoring the only try in the 2003 World Cup Final when England beat Australia.
Anyway, myself and 10 friends went to Edgeley Park, the home of Sale Sharks, to watch Guinness Premiership match between Sale and Newcastle Falcons, and also to have Sunday lunch with Jason himself. What a lovely man! We had coffee and pastries before the game and a roast after (Sale lost the match which was a pity - but ironically great for my team, Leicester!) all in the company of Mr Robinson. I chatted to him about his playing days and his family, and also quizzed him about his new job as Head Coach of Sale next season. Much fun was had and much Guinness was drunk!
Sorry it's been such a long time since my last post but I've been really busy with work. With the website still pulling in over 1,000 hits a month it is about time I wrote something new! This week I will be appearing as the Clerk of the Court in EMMERDALE on ITV1 on Tuesday and Thursday. I filmed it at the end of January in Morley Magistrates Court. Funnily enough, the Judge was being played by a old friend of mine, Andy Hockley. We last worked together playing Son-in-Law and Mother-in-Law... it was in panto! Back over Christmas 2004-05 we were in Sleeping Beauty together at The Belgrade in Coventry (oh, Andy was in drag - not me!). C.
Alas, Aladdin has had to close early for financial reasons. It is a real shame as it really was a great show with a great bunch of people working on it. I've made some lovely new friends who I'm sure to keep in touch with and by and large the audiences have been fabulous (bar the odd idiot...).
We had everything possible thrown at us from company-wide illness to a cast member just walking away, power cuts mid-show to a Peterborough shortage of glitter! Plenty of material for my autobiography.....!
Anyhow, goodbye Aladdin, it was fun! C.
Today is only my second day off since 14th December! 29 shows with only Christmas Day off! I'm shattered! Anyhow, it's going really well and the show is still in fantastic shape. Since Ray Quinn left us, Owen Thompson has been playing Aladdin and he has been wonderful. It's great working with him on stage, too. The audiences have been wonderful although we always need more people to turn up! Some shows are sold out but we can usually squeeze a couple more people in. Also, we are closing a few days earlier on 13th January so get up/down/across whilst you still can!
We had a great New Years party here in Peterborough around at the Technical Managers house. Much table tennis was played and larking about was at a premium! With only a few days left to go now we are starting to gear up for our end-of-show parties, meals and nights out. If you make it along to the show then come say hello and tag along!!!
To everyone who regularly checks my site and to all newcomers and first timers - Merry Christmas! I've had a great year this year with loads of new avenues of work opening up and plenty of new friends. Thank you to everyone who has made 2008 a special year for me.
Panto is going well and after a hectic and tumultuous couple of weeks at work we are now settling down into a nice routine. The company is lovely and we've had some fabulous nights out in and around Peterborough (or Pantoborough as I call it!). I've especially made some very close friends who I know I will definitely keep in touch with. The show still looks stunning so if you can make it to Peterborough - do come along! Always more than happy to say hello to folk after a performance!
Yesterday we had our first two previews of Aladdin and they went well considering how tired we all were! In one of the most complicated technical rehearsals I've ever been involved with, everyone worked incredibly hard to get the show up and running. I've had some lovely messages from people who have been to see the show and I always try to reply to them personally. Thanks for the wonderful response! C.
I'm now a week into rehearsals for Aladdin and it's going well. We're bang on schedule and maybe even a little ahead. I'm hoping to start dancing properly at the start of next week (I should add at this point that I was hospitalised last week with a poorly leg and have been on crutches ever since). The cast are all great. I'm living with Alex McNamara, Alex Bird and Holly Hughes in a lovely little house in a Peterborough supurb. It's been a riot so far! Anyway, get yourself down to The Broadway Theatre in Peterborough for a visually fantastic panto! Never has there been so much glitter in a pantomime - and that's saying something!
Last night I was down in Peterborough to set the fireworks off at East Anglia's biggest display, the Firework Fiesta. Despite getting DRENCHED in the monsoon-like weather it was really good fun and the celebrations weren't dampened down too much! It was nice to be able to meet up with some cast members, too. Anthony Williams, Brian Capron, Gareth Richards and Daniella Valvano were all just as cold as me (Aladdin costumes have a lot of flesh on show!) but spirits were high and banter was rife. I'll be down there again on Thursday to turn on the Christmas lights in the Queensgate Shopping Centre - come on down and say hello!
What a day! For my friend's birthday (damn you Stu!) he decided that instead of having a party, he would make us all do a 5km run for charity in Heaton Park, Manchester. Nice. Well, not wanting to take the easy option of just running around the course, Scott Clarke and I decided to get dressed up and do it on jump stilts! What fun! It took us a lot longer to get around than most people, but we must have used more energy than everyone else put together. Shattered now but, hey, the trees of Manchester will appreciate us! For more information on the charity go to their website. http://www.tree-athlon.org/
Francesca Larkin, Chris Clarkson, Stuart Rooker and Scott Clarke.
Right, along with my new projects of learning two new languages (not saying which ones until I'm half-decent at them!), I have been challenged by a good friend of mine, Fiona J Keats, with whom I'm doing panto this year, to learn the ukulele BEFORE PANTO STARTS! I begin rehearsals on 17th November so need to crack on. Can anyone tell me where I can get a cheap, decent ukulele and also any tricks to learning how to play it. I hate losing a challenge so I need as much help as possible! PLEASE GET IN TOUCH!!!!! Chris.
I'm very chuffed to be able to say that for each of the last 4 consecutive calendar months the website has had over 1,000 hits. In total there have been over 10,000 hits since the site's inception nearly a year ago. I'd like to personally say a big thank you to everyone who has helped update and manage the site for me for the last 12 months. Also, to everyone from the 27 different countries around the world who have logged on! Thanks! Chris.