Manchester, Plymouth and Hull…oh my!
This was not a long tour by any stretch of the imagination - or so I have been told by my friends in the industry who have toured before. I'm a tour virgin, so I'm new to living out of a suitcase and being away from home for weeks on end. I am also new to the constant forward movement that seems to happen even on your days off. New, too, to teching the same show week after week and the constant adjustment to new venues.
But let’s start with I-must-get-digs-now-or-I-will-be-living-on-the streets panic. It was the first week of rehearsals way back in January and I had just got back from my Christmas break in South Africa with my family. I was deeply tanned and incredibly relaxed from afternoons in the sun around the Durban Country Club’s pool, which just happened to be nestled between palm trees blowing in the sea breeze. Idyllic and blissful. Then we started rehearsals and suddenly there were questions and mutterings of digs. Where? How far from the theatre? “HOW MUCH??!!” Nothing left in Hull…and there blew away my palm trees and time idling by the pool. I was in the new world of touring, stricken with panic. Soon, I was spending every moment on the phone, digs' websites, and email, trying to procure homes in each of our venues. Script in one hand, of course, because I had failed miserably in looking at it when I was poolside. Some people seemed very relaxed about the whole digs issue, only sorting themselves out the week before arriving in the new venue. People like that make me nervous! Finally, it was all sorted, and I could concentrate on the show and that little thing we do called performing.
So, six theatres have been our home on tour. Six very different spaces, each one with negatives and positives. We have gone from the wide space of Manchester’s Lowry with its manageable acoustic and warm embrace to the Hull New Theatre with a tricky booming acoustic and an auditorium that seemed too far away from us. Voice production had to be so different. In Manchester, there was a need to reach out but not too much, making sure that consonants were spoken clearly to finish words. However, in Hull we had to be careful of pushing our voices too much because of the boom that came back to us from the hall-like atmosphere. These adjustments can be tricky when you have so little time to adjust to the new spaces.
As for living out of a suitcase, I have pretty much done this since last September when I finished my season in the Swan Theatre. I went travelling: first I did the Camino (more on that another time), then I was here for two weeks before heading off to South Africa for Christmas. It seems that I have been abode-less for a while. But there is a different element to touring. It's work, and you constantly find yourself in new places or moving to new places, dragging a full suitcase behind you. Sundays are usually reserved for that quick train journey home for a night, while Monday is reserved for travelling to that week's city. Always bumping into people at train stations. Here is one of the things I have loved most about this experience - I have been and lived in cities in the UK I had never previously seen before. I knew Manchester as that was where I met my partner, but Hull, Newcastle, Northampton and Plymouth were all new to me. And I loved seeing those cities. Each has its own tone and vibe. I didn’t love all the cities but some, like Newcastle, immediately felt like home.
Every Tuesday on tour was our tech day in the new spaces. That means that most Tuesdays you would find us arriving around lunchtime and going through the show from start to finish. It was an exercise to get us to see what could or couldn’t be done in each space. Some venues had ample room backstage, and some were so small that adjustments had to be made. For example, there is a long rod that usually pushes on Claudius and Gertrude’s throne from backstage, but the backstage space in Newcastle’s Northern Stage theatre was so small that the rod had to be broken up into segments. Eventually, my servant character had to come on pushing the thrones. New entrances and exits had to be found in certain venues depending on the depth of the stage and where light fixtures were placed. These are just a few examples of what we had to do to adapt. In fact, I think that that has been the most important thing I have come away with from the tour: adapt or die. And it's usually pretty easy to do. You just have to get on with it and be aware of what can and can’t be achieved.
Just a little word on our amazing stage management/crew/wardrobe/wig members! We would not be able to do this touring thing without their hard work, from setting up the stage each Monday to endless hours of tech and adjustment of props and costumes, followed by long hours of set striking on Saturday nights. Also, each crew member had to teach the venue crew members and dressers the show and make sure they were confident in their tracks. Thank you so much for everything!
This is just a little snippet of our touring life, and soon we will all be sitting in a plane on our way to perform in New York. More of that when we get there!