10 February 2010

10 on 10 (in #10!)

I *finally* remembered to bring my camera with me on the 10th of the month, so I present my first contribution to "10 on 10" (see the original blog here!)

From Rebekah's forward:
take a photo once an hour for ten consecutive hours on the tenth of each month. 
document a snapshot of your life and find beauty amoung the ordinary things of your day.
leave a comment to be added to the list of contributors..happy photographing!

I had to cheat a bit on mine - most of my time spent getting up and getting in to town is within the same hour, and I had to do the backstage shots during the dinner break, as I don't think I can have my camera backstage. (At least not at this point, where I have to be ready for just about anything at this point) Still, a quick snapshot of a day in the life of a West End dresser. :)

Catch-Up Time!!!

Well, well, well... *ahem* between the not-so-subtle suggestions of my mums and the insistence of my friend Katy, I had my evening post-tech sustenance, then decided to see how long it had been since I last posted in here... eep. Seems I need to do a bit of dusting to take down the cobwebs. So, let's recap the past ... two and a half months!

Visa Issues

When I last left off, my Visa was winding its way to the Home Office for its third attempt at application, with the knowledge that it had to be back in my hot little hands before I could fly home for Christmas, and had to be approved before January 31st (or I would be kicked out of the country). As it turned out, although I could've applied for a second passport from the American Embassy, it would be just that - a passport, without my Student Visa included, meaning I probably wouldn't be allowed back into the country if I left without my usual passport returned to me. I had, by this point, already bought plane tickets for a completely arbitrary date (by which, of course, I mean the cheapest possible date around the time I wanted to fly), so I simply had to sit on my hands and hope and pray that it arrived back in time for me to fly out at noon, on Thursday the 17th. (It should be noted that I could change my airline tickets, but only up to 48 hours before the flight, and I would lose nearly all the cash I'd already spent on them) 

On *Friday* the 11th, I received a phone message while I was at work, "This is the Home Office, could you please call me back regarding your visa application - this is rather urgent". Irritatingly enough, I didn't receive the message until after the office had shut for the day and -of course- the government isn't open on the weekends. I spent Saturday and Sunday chewing my fingernails to the nub, then spent Monday frantically calling and calling to no avail. (I was later informed that the cleaning staff, over the weekend, had somehow unplugged this guy's phone!) Fortunately, around 3:30PM, he realized the problem on his end and gave me a ring back. Turns out that, if I could get him proof of a wire transfer between my father and myself, he could approve the visa! (Calloo callay!!) However, to get it to me in time for my flight (it would have to arrive on Wednesday at the latest, since I'd have to leave my flat on Thursday morning far earlier than the mail would arrive), I HAD to get him the proof before the end of the business day, so that he could put it in the mail "Next Day Delivery" early enough the following morning. As his office closed at 4:30PM, the next hour was an absolute madcap rush of phone calls and 7AM car chases on the Seattle end, as dad and mom rushed the needed receipt to dad's work in order to fax it to Sheffield. Bless his heart, the Home Office guy kept the office open 'til 5PM in order to get the fax, approve the Visa, and get everything printed, enveloped, and into the bag for the morning post. 

I can't imagine how I survived Tuesday, and Wednesday I spent pacing the floor - waiting for the mailman. Unfortunately, the envelope was sent requiring a signature, and the mailmen here are absolute ninjas. (By which, of course, I mean they're too lazy to actually bother to push my doorbell, preferring to simply write a ticket "Sorry, you were out" and race off when no one is looking) Fortunately, I got the aforementioned card early enough in the day that I could race over to the mail holding facility and claim the envelope. Huzzah! I screeched to a cloudy sky - Calloo callay!!

However, this isn't where the story ends - I received it back as soon as I ever would've been able to get it back, so I thought, "Thank goodness I didn't book those airline tickets for even a DAY sooner!" but, I also thought, "Well, but if I'd bought them for a day *later*, I wouldn't have had such a heart attack". Wrong again. I flew out of Heathrow at 12 noon on the 17th - by 6PM, the entirety of London was under pelting snow clouds, the runways were iced over, and nearly all flights were cancelled. (And remained that way through the following week). 


Thank goodness for the Christmas holidays - it may have been a headache (not to mention a death-defying car ride for mums), but it was such a needed and completely welcome break to recharge the batteries, see the family again (especially my super RIDICULOUSLY adorable brand-new nephew Will!!), not be racing about like a madwoman, and mostly just be around people that I've known for more than just a few weeks! It's amazing how much of a salve to the soul it is simply to have someone recognize an inside joke, or swap stories with that you both remember, or join in on old traditions that you've done since childhood. I'm all for seeing the world and experiencing new culture, but every now and again you need to "go home again" and watch "Muppet Christmas Carol" or get hugs from the nieces or laugh about that year when we decorated the tree to the Ren & Stimpy soundtrack. 

New Years / January

I "had" to return to London before New Years, as I was supposed to work a Lola job on New Years Eve. Irritatingly enough, it was cancelled - to be fair, however, I would've been hardly more than a walking spectre at the event, as jet lag hit me HARD this time around. It took me a good solid week to start being able to stay even partly awake while the sun was out, or to at least be able to close my eyes and lie still at 3AM. Par example, I slept until 10:45 on New Years Eve, even though I'd told myself that I would get up and go do something fun for New Years. Instead, I made myself some dinner and watched the fireworks go off on the Thames on good ol' BBC1. They were very lovely and, after they'd finished, I told myself to turn the computer off and go back to bed, then get up when the sun rose. However, as I was wandering my way "out" of BBC iPlayer, I noticed that they'd put up the Torchwood "Children of Earth" miniseries, which I'd always intended to watch. Although I knew perfectly well that I'd regret it, I wasn't sleepy at all anymore and promised myself I'd only watch one episode. By 6:30AM, my eyes hurt, the sun was streaming in through the window, and I had to shut down the screen and go to bed. Whoops. 

January 4th, I started at "Blossom & Browne" in Holland Park - a premiere launderers and dry cleaners. I know when you hear "dry cleaners" you don't exactly picture "posh", but I should make the point that this is the largest chain of dry cleaners in London, and hold the patronage (and royal crest bearing that information!) of HRH The Duke of Wales (aka Charlie), HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (Philly), and HRM The Queen (Lizzie herself!). A good portion of the customers who come in are Lords and Ladies, and I was here when a woman came in to pick up one of the Princess' napkins. 

It's a very sweet little shop in the heart of residential Kensington - I'm in the shop with Liz, the sweet older lady who runs the till and deals with the day-to-day running of the shop. I, meanwhile, am set up in the front window, puttering away on my industrial sewing machine or with my knees up to hold my hand-sewing closer to my face. I have sewn buttons back on, relined coats, both taken in and let out suits, taken up hems, etc - I love watching their eyes light up in absolute delight when I tell them that I can darn holes. One very sweet Frenchman (Fred) has brought in just countless jackets and jumpers (sweaters) that have holes the size of silver dollars (though he's a favourite of mine, because he prefaces everything with "just do what you can - I understand it won't look brand new"). 

I had a woman bring in two large bags worth of linens that were holy to high heaven; this included a very nice linen double sheet, with a 4-5" rectangular hole almost dead center to one side. When I warned her that I couldn't darn such a hole (I could only patch it - and, as it's just about the spot that your toe will always catch, the patch wouldn't last very long anyway), she asked if I could just cut that part out and turn the double sheet into a single sheet! I had a good laugh over that and enjoyed doing it, but I had to wonder if I'd managed to time travel back to 1940's Britain, and whether I should start up a Victory Garden in the back and hang up a picture of Rosie the Riveter to inspire me. 

Job Hunting

I enjoy my work at Blossom and Browne - the customers are sweet, it keeps my sewing skills up to scratch, and it's nice to be able to sew at a nice, leisurely pace. (The customers get it back when it's done, rather than the work needing to be done for tech this afternoon so it needs to be done now!!) However, the goal was always to get back into theatre (that's why I'm here in London, after all!) I'd been sending out CV's, but knew that I needed someone to let me jam my foot in the door somewhere - I have a strong CV of Seattle theatre, but -thanks to the time zone differences- it's pretty much impossible for a company here to contact anyone back there. 

In any case, I gave Phil Murphy, wardrobe head at Les Miserables (where I did a week's worth of Work Study last January), a ring to see what was shaking with him. As it so happened, one of his Wardrobe Assistants (Kieron, who I'd met when I was there) was leaving, and would I come in to interview for the position?


As it happened, I didn't end up getting the position and was rather bummed about that for a few days. However, my heart was in for a bit of a rollercoaster few days, as I went from being bummed about this turn of events, to getting a phone call from Sandy Smith-Wilson, Wardrobe Head in charge of Andrew Lloyd Webber's brand new show, "Love Never Dies" (the long-awaited sequel to "The Phantom of the Opera") Two more dresser positions had become available for the show, and Kieron (who had left "Les Mis" to become the Wardrobe Deputy for LND) had recommended me for the position! I had a 15-minute interview, after which I was told immediately that I'd received the job, and we'd be starting tech on February 4th.


I had just enough time to talk to Blossom and Browne and get a few weeks holiday sorted out, as I wouldn't be able to continue work there while tech was going on (that said, once the show gets up and running, I'll only be working evenings, and will be able to continue putting in a few hours in the alterations and repairs corner at Holland Park - keep the old sewing skills sharp and be able to put away some cash towards savings every month [as well as save up for something fun and/or crazy!] ), I was able to go in for my interview for my National Insurance number (so I can start putting the taxes deducted from my paycheck towards my own pension fund!), and -come last Thursday- I was officially employed by the Adelphi Theatre (right on The Strand, one block down from Covent Garden, in the heart of the West End) and the Really Useful Company. 


"Love Never Dies"

So, yeah... The sequel to The Phantom of the Opera...

I should point out, right up front, that I have to be really, really, REALLY careful about what information I write about the show - we've all been sworn to secrecy about pretty much every detail, from plot twists to the AMAZING spectacles that the show employs. Suffice to say, Andrew Lloyd Webber has quite literally pulled every trick out of the bag, and every day I've been in the theatre, I've been amazed and awed by something new.

The Adelphi Theatre is right on The Strand, just a two-minute walk down the street from Charing Cross Underground (and Train) Station (which, super happily, is on the Northern line, which takes me all the way down South to Balham, from where it's only a 5 minute train journey back to my place - easy peasy, as they say), next door to the Vaudeville Theatre (currently playing Noel Coward's "Private Lives" with Kim Catrall (bleh) and Matthew MacFadyen (yummy!), and kitty corner to the Savoy, currently playing "Legally Blonde: the Musical" (hells yeah!).

The theatre is a tribute to Art Deco style, as well as -in true London style- a curse to all cast and crew legs and feet. This is due to the fact that the theatre was built "up" rather than "out" - you enter the theatre on the ground level (stage door level), and have your choice - you can go up to the dressing rooms and various crew rooms (the wardrobe room is on floor 3 [the fourth floor up from the ground], while my dressing room is on the 4th floor [5th by US phrasing] ) Yep, five flights of stairs to get to my actors and their costumes. But, obviously, the show isn't happening in the dressing rooms - oh no, for that you have to go back down to the ground floor, then down a FURTHER floor to get to the stage level. However, from here you can only access Stage Right. Because the sets are so monstrously huge, there was no room to allow a cross-over space in the back [for the crew to cross the stage without being seen on the stage] SO, you go down ANOTHER flight of stairs to the "Substage" area (where we have multiple quick-change areas set up, as well as the "catch" area for the elevators and trap doors to the stage - you climb the stairs on the other end to access Stage Left, but have to come back down and through the Substage if you want to get back out again. One of these mornings I'll stop and buy a pedometer. Then again, I'm not sure I really want to know...

There are 10 dressers on the show, each assigned to a specific dressing room (or, more to the point, assigned to take care of the actors who are in said room) - I'm the dresser for the actress playing the character of Fleck (a lead - one of the Phantom's henchmen, so to speak), as well as three ensemble women, who are also the first understudies for Christine and Madame Giry. All four girls have been absolutely adorably sweet (Celia gave me a massive hug when I introduced myself, Niamh [pronounced "Neeve"] laughed and said we were in for a really fun year), even despite the fact that I'm the one who has to lace them into their corsets after dinner. ;) I've already learned absolutely HEEPS of London theatre gossip which I wish I could tell, but the Dresser's Code strictly forbids passing on gossip heard in the dressing room. One day, one day I shall write my memoirs, but not until I'm fantastically rich and living in seclusion on a desert island somewhere, eating bon-bons all day. Until then, the secrets told in Dressing Room 10 must remain in Dressing Room 10.

The other dressers (and the Wardrobe Assistants / Wig Persons / Wardrobe Head / Costume Supervisor / etc etc etc!) are all an absolute hoot - we spent our first day called in forced to sit through a Health and Safety lecture on not lifting heavy things and, basically, told us that everything we were doing was wrong. Whoops, but -really- what can you do? It's become something of a running gag amongst the costumers now - "are you keeping your back straight?!" One of the H&S guy's questions was, "Do you eat healthy?", to which we all chortled pretty much simultaneously. I've been bringing a dinner from home and have tried to keep fruit and good, hearty sandwiches involved, but I have also stocked up on microwave meals and diet coke. Especially for tech, what else can you do?

The basic premise of the show is that the Phantom escaped Paris at the end of "Phantom" with the help of Madame Giry and Meg. They escaped to New York and set up shop amongst the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island, where the Phantom has become rich and powerful. In disguise, he summons Christine (who has married Raoul and has son Gustave) to sing for a concert on Coney Island... and... you know... stuff happens. ;) Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (who I have yet to see wandering the halls, though I know it will happen and I know I will make an absolute idiot of myself when it does!) wrote the music (which is absolutely glorious and extremely addicting in the ear-worm sense - I always come home humming the last song teched), directed by Jack O'Brian (it's SOO bizarre to hear an American accent come over the God mike while hanging out backstage with a Northerner and Scots(wo)man), with costumes designed by 5-time Tony Award winning designer Bob Crowley(!!!) Actually, the whole of the Creative Team is absolutely mind-blowingly amazing, but the costume designs are absolutely, positively the most sumptuous, glorious, exquisite creations I've ever had the very great privilege to work with. They are incredibly gorgeous up close and look even more amazing on stage, though it pains me to realize the amazing amount of detail work that people won't even see, just from the distance of the audience. Truly, TRULY stunningly gorgeous.

So, since I can't really tell too many stories (or, at least, it's late and I don't trust myself not to squee out all the incredible things in the show), I will direct your attention to better places to find out about "Love Never Dies":

The LND Blog - with written updates from the cast and crew, as well as video clips where they've brought a camera along to rehearsals. A really fun way to see (and read about) the fun people I'm working with, and watch THEM stumble around trying not to give too much away.

Ramin (the Phantom) singing one of the show's songs "'Til I Hear You Sing Once More" - at first listen, I couldn't help but thinking, "Well, it's no 'Music of the Night' ", but the song has absolutely grown on me, and I catch myself humming it on the tube. Plus, the man has a voice like buddah.

Sierra (Christine) singing "Love Never Dies" - Eagle-eyed listeners will remember this song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday celebration TV special, though it had different lyrics back then. To be fair, I do rather prefer the old lyrics, but that may just be familiarity. Give me time, and I bet this one will grow on me. (And yes, that girl's voice IS that amazing!)

(Late addition: Just remembered a funny story from today that I *can* tell: I was sitting up in Dressing Room 9 with Jess [one of the other dressers] and a few of the girls in the cast. We were discussing the original Phantom vs. the film version of the musical, and I made the point that I found it distracting in the film when the actors spoke some of the musical lines as dialogue - being very familiar with the score of the show, it was distracting to hear the musical lines spoken with a different cadence and without the musicality behind them. In reference to the fact that I knew the musical well, I said, "I grew up with Andrew Lloyd Webber" - this turn of phrase confused one of the other girls, who looked at me with very wide, wide eyes and blurted out incredulously, "Literally?!" It took me a moment, then I laughed, "No, I mean I grew up with his music - I've never met him personally." We all had a good laugh.