ALISON PORTER, Community Ensemble Participant

It’s all gone a bit quiet, adrenaline levels have stabilised and repetition has ironed out the clunky bits. Complacency is now the thing most likely to trip us up, a couple of incidents involving a chair and a crib remind me that the inanimate objects are still out to get us. I’m also wondering why appearing in front of 2000 people is proving far less scary than facing 20. I think it’s something to do with distance, I’m afraid of heights but have no trouble looking out of an airplane window and it seems to be the same with the scale of things viewed from the Coliseum stage.

No one seems to be writing much at the moment; apart from the critics that is. They all have different opinions of course but it’s interesting to see what they’ve picked up on. Maybe we should issue some complimentary opera glasses to the one who described me in my primary teacher role as ‘he’ – I knew the baggy jeans weren’t particularly flattering but mistaking me for a man, hey that’s going too far.

I watched a kind of X Factor for artists on the television last night where the piece of public art work selected by the expert panel was the one liked least by the public – this made me wonder; if the public like something the critics don’t like does this mean the public has no taste or that the critics have too much? Anyway I’m glad this production doesn’t try to tell anyone what is good for them.

Apart from the critics there’s the dreaded flu virus stalking the dressing room, taking another victim every evening. We still have seven performances to go so we’re going to need some true grit and Lemsip to see us through. Jill has been peddling throat sweets and comfort (she was a primary school teacher in real life) and Barbara has been generous with her herbal remedies. At least we don’t have to sing or dance like others in the cast, although it’s hard not to cough with all those candles. I’m still feeling a bit fragile but once the train journey and fight through the commuters is over, the Coliseum is warm and friendly and beginning to feel like home…. and the soup is pretty good too.


Managing tension!

November 26, 2009

ALISON PORTER, Community Ensemble Participant

Not wishing to hog the blog I thought I’d wait a while before my next instalment. Added to that I’ve been completely shattered trying to juggle work and rehearsals, not helped much by the erratic train schedules over the weekend. It’s amazing how waiting in an atmosphere of combined group tension wears you out, it seems to start small and then be multiplied by the number of people in the room and fed back to you 20 times bigger – the closest example I can think of would be the queue outside the nurse’s office at school waiting for a tetanus jab. I’ve noticed the professionals hide in corners so I thought I’d try this. On Wednesday I retreated to the small space between the two clothes rails and adopted the Alexander resting position, I got some funny looks but it seemed to work.

Tension does strange things to the mind, body and inanimate objects, Joyia’s already mentioned missing her mark, for me it was the face powder. All I was trying to do was cover a shiny patch on my cheek when the top fell off and the whole lot spilt over my costume. The dressers looked horrified but recovered a little when they realised I wasn’t on for at least another 30 minutes. Latana helpfully took a photo at this point and one of the dressers ran off hot foot to find a clothes brush from another dressing room. I got the impression that they were trained for just this kind of crisis. By the time she got back I’d managed to get rid of most of the powder but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to be dusted down by the brush they apparently use on Ping, Pang and Pong’s gloves in Turandot.

Otherwise the dress rehearsal seemed to go as well as dress rehearsals generally do (or don’t), the children haven’t done anything too outrageous yet but I guess they’re saving that for the full audience. And talking of audiences we’re no longer in the anonymous bubble of rehearsal, from Friday people we know will be watching. Still I don’t need to worry too much about that if my friend Jonathan is anything to go by. He arrived late for the dress rehearsal, completely missed my big moment in Part 1 and commented over a coffee later ‘I think I may have seen you at the end, did you carry on some flowers?’

ALISON PORTER, Community Ensemble Participant

Woohoo, now this is why I volunteered for the project. I’ve just stepped into the secret backstage world of the ENO and experienced the magic of being on that enormous stage with its towering set. So my first step onto the stage was bringing on an office chair, hey who cares, the important thing is that I was part of the magic world created by these incredible singers, dancers and musicians.

And then there’s the voice of Deborah Warner, heard for the first time calling down from above over the loudspeaker system. If it’s not too blasphemous an analogy, I’d say a little like the voice of God calling down to Moses. For Charlton Heston read Phillip, our stage manager, whose task is similar in degree of difficulty to the parting of the Red Sea with 80 plus people and countless heavy objects to manoeuvre.

And we’re all in costume now, fussing about our shoes, scarves and bags. To quote Jeremy; we’ve been either funked up or frumped down. Actually I quite like my glasses although it’s difficult to see when they reflect the glare of those intense spot lights.

And as for my little notebook it’s not much use now, the stage is bigger and the reference points have all changed so you just need to have your wits about you and try to remember which music goes with which set of walking, standing or kneeling. There’s been a lot of hanging around too but so what, we’re hanging around with the big boys now.

ALISON PORTER, Community Ensemble Participant

Today I have been prodded, clung to and jumped on. The last time this happened was at my son’s 9th birthday party and that was at least 10 years ago. That time we put all the sharp objects away but these kids have sticks and poles…and attitude. With a little imagination they can make anything into a weapon…and they have a lot of imagination.

One minute they are lying angelically asleep on the floor (they had me fooled anyway) and the next they are running round in circles like crazed hamsters on a wheel – where do they get all that energy? But it worked, I couldn’t resist being drawn into their very immediate world where anything goes and everything is either hilarious or a tragedy…if not it’s just plain boring. So maybe that’s what it’s about, this opera thing, humour and tragedy and children being children, scarily comfortable with their individual talents and the rest of us realising that it’s OK to do a cartwheel mid-sentence if you happen to feel like it.


Military precision!

November 3, 2009

ALISON PORTER, Community Ensemble Participant

We’re starting to stage some scenes now and it struck me after this evening’s rehearsal that it’s all rather like a military campaign. First wave, second wave, advance at will – it needs a lot of clarity and some inventiveness to get 44 people to move where you want them to at exactly the right time and pace. Place your object on a target spot, don’t be too fast or too slow, move as a unit of four. I wonder whether the first world war might have been over a lot sooner and with less bloodshed if the generals had been women?

This is a scanned image from Alison's notebook!

Anyway it’s all noted down in obscure diagrams in my little book now,  I just hope I don’t lose it on the way to the next rehearsal and sit down at the wrong time, in someone else’s spot, carrying the wrong object. I feel sorry for the new recruits though they must wonder whether they’ve joined some bizarre chess game. Still Deborah has promised to make it into something beautiful and you can’t help but believe her.