Monday, 12 October 2009

It’s Only Rock N Roll (But I Like It)

By the half-way point of the show I knew that acting really wasn’t my thing.

I’d got into amateur theatre the same way I get into many things – through a combination of sheer boredom and a desire to give anything a go at least once – but I think I knew fairly early on that if I was going to be on a stage then I would prefer there to be a guitar between me and the audience.

It all started when, bored of a woman at work constantly saying that she was looking for a play for four women and couldn’t find one, I wrote a play.

And OK – so it was hardly Shakespeare, but it did lead to getting involved with the Amateur theatre group that produced it (once in a field in the middle of nowhere, and once in a competition) and auditioning for a part in their Panto (1).

Although I enjoyed my stint in Panto (as the villain – always fun to play) I felt no burning desire to continue experiencing the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd (2) and it was only when our new receptionist at work found out what I was doing and asked me to audition that I became theatrically involved again.

This time around I was to play the vital role of Mr Yates in (Jane Austen’s) Mansfield Park – a character so important to plot progression that most adaptations miss him out. To be honest though I was never interested in playing the big parts – far too much pressure to get it right (and the more nights you DO get it right, the more you begin to stress that you won’t).

For anyone who has not been involved in Amateur Theatre you have to know a few things:
* IF you think actual actors are a bunch of “luvvies” (3) then amateur theatre players (in my experience) are 100 times worse
* The best roles always tend to go to the regulars
* There is usually a pretty intensive rehearsal period, which can be as often as 3-4 nights a week and a weekend rehearsal
* The “run” of the show can be anywhere from one-off to every night and matinee (afternoon) performances for two weeks

So the question I had to ask myself on night five of “Mansfield Park” was “Am I enjoying this enough to make it worth the effort?” – and the answer was “no”.

Having thus decided that my acting career was over you can imagine my surprise when, barely a few months later, I found myself in the audition hall clutching my guitar to my chest and looking down at a piece of music. The director (who might just as well have had “Panto Dame” scrawled across his head) had thrown the book down in front of me and challenged me to play a song – being unable to read music I sadly failed.

Regardless of this, and regardless of giving one of the worst auditions of all time, I landed the all-important role of Third Bloke From The Left and had the task of looking surprised, playing guitar, looking surprised, playing bass and falling over whilst looking surprised.

It was a rock n roll musical – one of those that uses popular songs to tell a story and, as second guitarist, I had two lead guitar moments: firstly the lead guitar in “The Young Ones” whilst doing The Shadows Step (4) and “Johnny B Goode”.

And of course, being a guitarist, I was determined to get my moment of glory right. And we all know that there are certain things that guitarists have to do to be proper rock gods:
* Throw guitar up in air and catch it whilst still playing – however Health & Safety concerns stopped me doing this
* Destroy guitar – this was discussed, with a “dummy” guitar rigged with pyrotechnics – however the guitarist concerned was a) concerned about destroying a perfectly good guitar and b) concerned about losing his arms in resulting explosion
* Throw plectra into crowd triumphantly (5) (drummers traditionally throw their sticks into the crowd – so I guess we can only thank the stars that piano players haven’t joined in the game)

And this is where I fell down slightly with my Rock N Roll credentials – because actually I’m quite fond of my plectra and the thought of throwing it away was uncomfortable at best, so I guess it’s just as well that I own neither a Rolls Royce or an outdoor swimming pool.

And so I took a special trip to my local music shop and specifically bought enough spare plectra to throw away at the end of my solo (sad, but true)

The play took part in two separate locations – once in the middle of a hot July at a theatre where no one had told the producers that the car park would be closed for the duration (resulting in one performance to a crowd of 10) and once about six months later – but it has to be said that my efforts at throwing my plectra away were not entirely successful.

The trick, or so they tell me, is to flick it with the wrist so that it flies out into the audience and catches the light, falling somewhere in the middle of the rapturous crowd.

First night we came to my solo and I stepped forward, crashing to my knees, putting the guitar behind my head and generally leering into the camera (despite everything the cameraman had told me about distortion on the big screen behind me), stood up and attempted to flick the plectra and watched as it fell directly at my feet. Rather shamefacedly I bent down and picked it up.

As the nights came and went my degree of success rose and fell. Some nights, buoyed by other events, I forgot entirely to prepare a spare plectra and had to forego my moment of Rock God Achievement, whilst others the offending piece of plastic managed to fly a few rows.

One particular occasion sticks out in my mind though. It was about half way through the second run (in which I only had the one solo anyway – my part in “The Young Ones” having been cut) and for once I managed to remember to have a spare plectra and to flick it at an appropriate angle for it to fly magnificently into the crowd.

Pleased with my effort I stepped back into the band and enjoyed the last few moments of the show.

Afterwards, and after the crowd had exited the building, we were allowed back on stage to collect our instruments and lock them away for the night…

…and there it was, on the front of the stage.

Someone had taken the time to pick up my plectra from where it had fallen and return it to me – inadvertently destroying my one moment of Rock stardom in an attempt to be helpful


1) Panto – or Pantomime. A traditional Christmas play – most popularly Dick Whittington, Cinderella, Babes In The Wood, Puss In Boots or Jack And The Beanstalk – in which the main character (whether male or female) is always played by a woman who falls in love with a beautiful princess/handsome prince (also a woman) – but in which the character that is usually best remembered is the “Dame” – played by a man in drag.
2) The roar of the crowd and the smell of the greasepaint – theatrical expression. Personally I think it makes more sense the other way around!
3) Luvvie – traditional way of describing an over the top actor who is very camp and tends to call everyone “love” or “darling” because they are a) extremely superficial and b) can’t be bothered to learn your name
4) Shadow Step – famous dance/walk perfected by The Shadows (Cliff Richards’s backing group): basically: Left foot forward, right foot forward and cross in front of left foot, left foot back to original place, right foot back to original place – and repeat.
5) Plectra – triangular shaped piece of plastic for strumming and picking guitar strings


Argent said...

Hehe - I've never had to do a guitar solo on stage thank goodness. I was going to be lead guitar in the band I was in back in the day, after our one left. I was too shite though.

Michael said...

Hello DFTP. Quietly funny as usual. Plectrum: fancy word. We just call them picks out here in the colonies. (smile)

india said...

after being cast as the witch in no less than three different consecutive productions at school [due to my dark skin and dark hair] i abandoned all pretensions to a thespian life.
good luck with yours!

The Clandestine Samurai said...

Yes, I was going to say that here in the U.S., "plectras" are just called picks, but Michael got it covered.

I would love to act, but would like to get writing off of the ground first. You should feel lucky that someone returned your "plectra". People sometimes perform and end up losing things that they have no intention of giving out.

For instance, I seen on T.V. a while back, a woman was performing in a rock band and crowd surfing. While this was happening, someone reached up her skirt and took her tampon.

Bloody Hell (get it? Bloody hell? That was tasteless. I apologize. But the story is true.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Argent - i've heard your guitar playing remember: and it's definately not shite.

Michael - thanks. I've been corrected though - apparently plectrum is the singular and plectra is the whilst i bought some plectra i was only ever throwing away a plectrum.

Hmmm...maybe i should call them picks too?

india - how unfair! I'm sure you would have made an excellent princess

Samurai - that is a very worrying story. I hope the filthy plucker had some wet-wipes.

the watercats said...

I can never figure out lead guitar.. or most chords for that matter.. I'm quite happy playing about with my six old reliables (with fingers on or off and a capo for variety). As for the pick thing.. they are dirty pointless little feckers! I couldn't gel with them at all, hence I have developed a super hardened thumb tip, it looks well ard! The ronald has a pick from an eric clapton gig, it's yellow with E.C on it.. He apparanty nicked it from someone else's house or something, but he doesn't even like Eric Clapton!?..
Great piece of writing too, could feel your pains lol! :-)