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Old 10-23-2008, 04:26 PM   #1
Sundae
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My Evening as a Supporting Artist

Today I went to a filming session for Psychoville, the new series written by two of my heroes Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. This is the report I wrote for the fan website, although I've edited out some of the more fangirl stuff. I've been to a couple of filmings before, but this one was obviously special to me.

I had really bad bus karma on the way. We stopped at every single bus stop (I forgot it was school kicking out time) and also seemed to hit every light on red from Greenwich to the Elephant and Castle. Given that the doors were supposed to be shut at 16.30 SHARP I honestly thought I was going to get there and end up just pressing my face against the window, crying.

As soon as the bus stop I ran as well as I could - lurch, lurch - to the Theatre. At least I knew where it was and I was on the right side of the road.

Anyway, I got there at 16.32 by my watch, but to my immense relief that doors were still open! My word. I was a little red and sweaty however, a fact which was obviously noted by the lovely but slightly camp man who was standing alone in the foyer to take names. He reassured me that they were running 10 minutes late (of course they were!) and that I had time to cool down. He also fanned me with his clipboard and told me that I looked very sexy, so he was either very charming or very short sighted.

I was directed up two flights of stairs to a crowded, hot and mostly dark room. The lighting was at best atmospheric - it consisted of different coloured lights at one end slowly changing colour so that people’s faces spookily flashed magenta, cyan and green out of the gloom. I stood in pain for about half an hour until a young lady came and sat on the (locked) bar and introduced herself. Her name was Bea and she was the Third AD. She’s obviously been sent in to jolly us along, as most people had now been there an hour and some of the natives were getting restless.

She’d just got into her stride, talking about the parts of the sketch we were about to see and that Christopher Biggins wasn’t filming today but Reece was, as the Evil Queen (YAY!) and some dwarves etc etc And then thump thump gasp - a fellow SA had keeled over in the middle of the room. Bea went to minister to her and we didn’t see her again.

About 10 minutes later they started to usher us in to the theatre. Bea had already explained that we were up in the seating area, the floor was mostly equipment and cables except for a couple of seats they’d placed there, and the actors would be on stage. As we lined up to be seated in groups of 5 or 6 they asked for a group of people to go and sit at the front. I was pleased because a big group of people in front of me charged off, leaving me in the next group to be seated - I just wanted a nice sit down.

Then, magically, the chap taking the other group downstairs asked for a single. Never have I been so pleased to admit my solitary status. “Me!” I called and pushed my way through before anyone else could.

We were lead back downstairs and split into four groups according to height. The second tallest group was group 4 (no, not the security firm) and that was my group. As we walked down to the temporary seats in front of the stage (oooh - 4 rows, I’ll be ever so close!) I looked across and saw a slight figure in a close fitting but incredibly garish red and black dress. Hello Mr Shearsmiths! It helped to know he was playing the Evil Queen, because from a distance he wasn’t immediately recognisable as he had a black hood (snood?) completely covering his hair, like the queen in Snow White. I had a good long stare as we walked towards the stage. We were then seated, back to front. Group 4 at the front. At the front!

Now as soon as I sat down I could see there were no cameras on us, so I won’t be seen on the show. That’s okay - I was there for the Gents, not to be on TV. But it did mean that I was as close as I could possibly be to the actors. Which was good.

Before they started filming, Steve came in and joined Reece on stage. They both said a few words of thanks to us and said they hoped we’d have a great time and they really appreciated our help.

Reece was then left alone on stage while they made the final preparations. He was wearing a pair of slippers and had to put his (very high) stilettos on. He oofed a bit at how uncomfortable they were. He talked to those of us at the front, saying he didn’t know what to say when it started because he was making this bit up as he went along. He asked us to respond in panto style ie Oh No Your’re Not and She’s Behind You if he gave us the cues. He was really friendly and engaging. At one point he asked, “Do you think it’s a bit much?” gesturing at the dress. I immediately responded, “Are you in costume?” and he said, “Nerr, Ah’m just off to change” in almost a Papa voice.

We had been asked to start with a boo, but the silly audience hadn’t been told when to stop, so they didn’t. I did, because Reece started his line. And I have common sense, having been to a pantomime before. Sigh. Anyway, they were told just to boo/ hiss once and we went again. We did it two or three times - we booed, Reece said a couple of lines (different every time) then they cut. At one point looked down into the front row and said, “Where are you from?” to which I replied, “London” in a really squeaky voice. Weirdly, then he said, “Have you been on holiday?” which isn’t the next line, but he was thinking on his feet. I said no and of course he said, “Well your teeth are brown!”

Silence. Reece cracked up and they cut it. He then congratulated us (the four rows were the only ones he could talk to) because if they’d asked for complete and utter silence we’d have given the best reaction ever. He also shrugged and said, “That’s the best I’ve got!” Through all this he was obviously having a great time. Another time he started to ad lib about the curtains behind him. He said, “Oh do you like me curtains, I just got them from John Lewis, what do you think?” With everyone else sat there like blocks of wood I shouted out, “They’re rubbish!” which made the people behind me really laugh. Well, it’s what I would have said if I was there for real - you can’t hear smiles folks.

That was it for Reece’s solo part.

We had to film a scene where the Prince comes in to kiss Snow White, but she’s been knocked out and doesn’t rise. And then a curtain call, where we applaud the first two bows, then the curtains close and people start getting up to leave. They open again and people are left a bit embarrassed and sit back down. Reece gave us some special direction, “You’re ready to go, and then we come back again and you don’t want us to and it’s all a bit eggy.” Oh thanks Reece, I didn’t get that bit (it is quite possible some people didn’t of course, and they missed their cue to stand up and leave too).

We were then asked to go back upstairs and join the rest of the audience. When I got up there, Steve was sat with the rows of cub scouts they’d brought along from Muswell Hill and their scout master was taking a photo of him with them. He was chatting away to them quite happily, giving them a bit of direction. I was sat in the back row this time, and over to the extreme right, with empty seats beside me, so they are highly unlikely to use any of my reactions. What it did mean was that I was practically first out when they finished - more of that in just a bit.

This part was pure reaction shots. Laughing, confused, clapping enthusiastically, clapping half heartedly, boos and hisses, she’s behind you and oh no you’re not. Bea conducted this part again, but it was a little confusing. We couldn’t look at her as she was next to the camera (makes sense) but we couldn’t hear her direction once we were making a noise. So I’m sure some of it went on for far too long!

Steve thanked everyone again and told us there were sandwiches for us in the bar.

Sod the sandwiches - I hadn’t had a chance to say anything to Reece so I was determined to speak to Steve. Hurray! He was right behind me and I pounced. I was probably gabbling, but I thanked him for letting me come along, to which he responded thanking me of course. I said I’d had a great time and I couldn’t wait for the series. I then told him I was seeing Jeremy next Friday, which probably sounded massively over-familiar, but hey. And then said another thank you for everything “you four” have done and said they were all very talented. He seemed genuinely pleased and gave me a really cheeky grin. I shook his hand too. It sounds silly, but I am so familiar with his voice on the commentary that it’s almost a shock to find he has the same accent in real life. I’m so glad I didn’t say anything like that out loud (cringe!)

I did say I’d tell you in detail! Oh and as I was leaving I overheard two of the cubs. One was saying to the other, “Are you going to get your Mum to tape the third episode then?” so I guess that’s the one we saw!

The end.
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Old 10-23-2008, 04:50 PM   #2
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Cool! That sounds like a really fun time. I'd never have the confidence to shout stuff out like you did. Well done.
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Old 10-23-2008, 05:11 PM   #3
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To be fair, panto is very much about audience interaction, so it was a natural thing to do.

And yes, it was really good fun. There were some right moaners there, which I couldn't understand as it was a really short section (we were done in about 3 hours!) we were sitting down and the reaction parts were really simple.

Some people don't know they're born!
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Old 10-23-2008, 08:34 PM   #4
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Thanks for sharing that, it was really interesting! You are a colorful writer!
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Old 10-23-2008, 08:51 PM   #5
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After spending most of the afternoon confused about your apparently very enjoyable experience, I finally decided to look up panto on Wikipedia and was amused to find that the British tradition is very different from the pantomime I've experienced. From what I've seen, what 'merkins call "pantomime" is silent mime -- "oh, I'm stuck in a box" sort of thing. But British pantomime seems to involve people dressing in drag, audience participation, lots of sexual innuendo, and most importantly, dialogue.

Would you mind describing panto a little more, SG? It's obviously something that you enjoy very much. I loved reading your description, but I am far from understanding it!
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Old 10-24-2008, 06:30 AM   #6
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Okay

A little bit about The League of Gentlemen first, in case you tie them in with pantomime because of the rest of this post.

They’re a group of four writers, three of whom perform. They’ve had a radio series, three television series, two live shows, a film and three books. All very successful. During their first live show there was a point at which the audience started booing (the character Pauline) and Steve would turn to the audience and acknowledge them, saying, “What do you think this is, Dick fucking Whittington?!” (pantomime) which always got a big laugh. So when they came to do their second show, they went all out and put their characters into a panto setting. It fit perfectly, although theirs was darker, dirtier and more flamboyant than is strictly traditional (suicide, murder, pederasty, bestiality, buggery etc!)

But The League aside, yes I am a genuine fan of pantomime.

In this country, this means a specific type of performance. Not all of the elements I detail below are in every panto, but many of them are. You would certainly expect to see them if you went.

Pantomimes can be based on any number of children’s stories/ fairy tales. The most popular are Cinderella, Snow White, Aladdin/ Ali Baba, Dick Whittington, Babes in the Wood. The stories are only loosely told, and are twisted either to cater to the specific talents of the stars, to fit in with the scenery/ props available (in amateur productions) and simply to fit in guest stars. For example I saw a poster for a panto a couple of years back which guest starred Spiderman. It was the year the film came out. No idea how they shoe horned him in, but you can bet it was just a few minutes onstage.

Big groups of children often go, and the person in charge of the group will let the theatre know, so that they can be name checked from the stage. I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it is the hear Widow Twanky say something like, “I’ve got so much washing to do! I was hoping for some help from the 9th Aylesbury Brownies, but they haven’t turned up!” at which point you shout and wave and cheer.

The principal boy (ostensibly the male lead) always used to be played by a woman. She’d have stacked heels, very short cut, fitted costume and fishnet tights. There was very little kissing in panto (urgh! Kissing!) so as kids we never thought there was anything weird. It’s less common now, as male actors tend to want their names higher up on the cast list, and the amount of ex soap stars we have means there aren’t enough roles to go round.

The Dame (different roles depending on the panto but always known as the pantomime dame) is played by an older man. If he is a slim man he will be padded – the Dame always looks like a galleon in full sail! Her costume will be as ornate as the budget allows, although at some point she will always call on the audience’s sympathy because she is always poor and is convinced she is dressed in rags.

There is almost always a person in animal costume. This is usually the principal boy’s sidekick (probably started with Dick Whittington and was borrowed because it worked). If this isn’t the case, there will be a section where local children come on dressed as animals. I remember cracking up one year at the Oxford Playhouse because my bf and I couldn’t work out what one of the kids was. The costume was just weird. In the end he decided it was an armadillo, which made me laugh even more. He kept shouting things like, “Bring back the armadillo!” and gave the kids a standing ovation during their curtain call, specifically for the armadillo. I left there quite weak from laughter.

Anyway. There is always a baddie. Usually male but can be female depending on the story. They are booed and hissed by the audience, but it is almost always the best role. They will be irredeemably bad, although they often have comic bumbling sidekicks, who they camply reprimand. They can really scare younger children! They often abuse the audience. The baddie will often do magic, or at least have a pyro effect on his entrance. Trap doors, smoke and creeping in through the audience are his hallmarks. By these shall ye know him!

Audience participation is a big part of panto. The standards are to cheer the successes of the goodies, especially the comedy characters, who often win out over the baddies’ henchman by chance. You boo and hiss the baddies, making thumbs down gestures. They will turn and hiss and boo and mimic you in return. There are standard responses to some questions. If asked what you think of the show, you shout back, “Rubbish!” If a character asks where another character is, the response is, “Behind you!” There is obviously a visual clue to this! The set piece is the character looking over their right shoulder while the other person ducks left and so on.

If a character is making grandiose claims, it sparks a dialogue, “I am the most beautiful woman in the whole of the kingdom.”
“Oh no you’re not!”
“Oh yes I am!”
“Oh no you’re not!”
This can go on for a while.

As mentioned before, the audience’s sympathy is called on at some point, encouraged by hands movements the audience will go, “Awwwwwwwwwww!” and usually then be told not to be patronising.

Pantomimes invariably involve songs. The usual format is to have at least one song where the audience is spilt in half and encourage to sing two different parts. This is done by two different characters who try to get their half to sing louder and better. As a child you immediately feel a part of the show from then on, and will applaud “your” cast member loudest at the end.

The larger (professional) pantos will have well known faces as their actors. The smaller ones will just have a guest star – one of the Gladiators, or a regional TV presenter etc. Amateur pantos just make do with local actors, but probably include more local jokes.

The actors break the fourth wall all through the show – the boys and girls are often asked for help, whether it’s spotting the baddies, calling for another character to come on stage, help with magic spells or just banter. It’s a Christmas family tradition and really really good fun. If you ever get the chance, brief your kids on what to expect and get a ticket. Or go without kids, like I do 

Hope this helps!
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Old 10-24-2008, 06:45 AM   #7
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A review of Sir Ian McKellen in Aladdin at the Old Vic for you, check the full article for pictures:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertain...ts/4110707.stm
Quote:
Kevin Spacey's tenure as artistic director of London's Old Vic theatre got off to a sticky start with the poorly received Cloaca - but he is guaranteed a recovery with his version of Aladdin, starring Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey.

In the season of joy, this version of the famous fairytale is a celebration of pantomime itself, with Sir Ian's pantomime dame taking centre stage.

An absolute minimum of plot is used as the base on which to hang a feast of musical numbers, slapstick, audience participation, innuendo, and outrageous costumes, often all at the same time.

The story, such as it is, is the usual - bad guy Abbanazar is after a magic lamp that grants three wishes, and needs Aladdin to get it.

Aladdin, however, wants to use the power of the lamp to woo his true love, the Princess of China.

But the lamp and genie stuff is generally sacrificed for as much booing, sing-a-long, smut and "it's behind you'" as possible, together with some brilliant topical jokes, camp villainy, and Sir Ian in a dress. Several dresses, in fact.

So much has been thrown into the mix that it is surprising not to see the kitchen sink in a supporting role.

But it's Sir Ian's Widow Twankey who steals the show.

Striding on stage in a coat of colours, Sir Ian launches into what is virtually a stand-up routine.

"You know who I am," he declares triumphantly, before embarking on a hugely funny monologue.
He throws in memories of his home town of Wigan, some sly digs at other theatre directors, and masses of innuendo based on his character's name.

Sir Ian - the man best-known for playing Shakespearean roles and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings - will undoubtedly bring in the punters, and to hear him bellow "one ring to rule them all" in the flesh, is in itself well worth the price of the ticket.

But, in places, he is almost upstaged by Roger Allam, who exudes comic menace with every word he sarcastically spits at the audience.

Much of his dialogue is, of course, often drowned out by booing, but Allam does not need words - his malevolence is clear in every roll of the eyeballs.

Meanwhile, Joe McFadden is very good as cheery Aladdin, the role basically designed to keep the kids onside while the adults laugh at songs about the wonder of "happiness" (say it with a French accent), or some biting satire. Slapstick lovers will be more than happy too.

There are a few songs, including one specially-written but dismal ballad by Sir Elton John. But these tend to slow the action and get in the way of the laughs.

The songs do improve in the second half, in particular a joyous number celebrating pantomime. And that is really what staging a panto at the Old Vic is all about.

Any show that features set design by a 12-year-old (the talented Flo Perry, daughter of Turner Prize-winning potter Grayson), a magic carpet that really flies and Sir Ian as a scantily-clad Lady Britannia is only ever going to be about the fun side of theatre.
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Old 10-24-2008, 07:19 AM   #8
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Yes! I wasn't expecting anything so detailed -- thank you very much for a thorough explanation. I feel like I've learned something new, today, and of course your original post makes a lot more sense now.

The shows sound like a blast -- I'll definitely keep an eye out for any productions like that here.
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Old 10-24-2008, 07:43 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chocolatl View Post
Yes! I wasn't expecting anything so detailed
Never ask a pedant for more information
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Old 10-24-2008, 08:20 AM   #10
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Quote:
Any show that features set design by a 12-year-old (the talented Flo Perry, daughter of Turner Prize-winning potter Grayson), a magic carpet that really flies and Sir Ian as a scantily-clad Lady Britannia is only ever going to be about the fun side of theatre.
Now see, is there any price too high to see Sir Ian as Britannia?
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Old 10-24-2008, 12:06 PM   #11
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Fascinating. The closest thing we would have is old "melodrama" shows, but those are A.) very old-fashioned, mentally lumped in with Vaudeville, and B.) never as raucous or funny.
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Old 10-24-2008, 12:20 PM   #12
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We like to get our kids started on the cross dressing and dick jokes early :P
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Old 10-24-2008, 07:19 PM   #13
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Dick jokes?
Is that Wittington or Knob gags
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Old 10-24-2008, 07:20 PM   #14
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*grins* both.
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Old 12-16-2013, 04:56 PM   #15
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Not really telly, but one for the Brits.

Guess who I had dinner with tonight? No?
No, you wouldn't be able to guess as there are so many people in the world.

Heston.
And the Schofe.

Re-re-wind (when the crowd says bo selecta)
Can you tell I'm still all fizzy?

Serious business now.
The fine supermarket I work hard for, asked for staff to be in the audience for a live TV event (live on their online channel). I was one of those picked in the draw. Yay me.

There were only five people from our branch and we knew very little about it.
We probably should have, but being so close to Christmas, in-house communication tends to focus on sales. So we turned up at the meeting place in "smart Christmas Party clothes" and were then ushered across to the hall where we would be filming.

My lickle group were pretty much through the door first.
We didn't queue-jump, but none of us had coats to check in, we'd all turned off mobiles or not brought them and we'd already signed the disclaimer forms.
This did mean that the table we were allocated was at the back, but it was okay, the hall they were filming in was pretty small. And we were close to the runners/ catering staff - woohooo!

There weren't any seats, but the film time was less than an hour. I was happy standing in my red heels. I love my red heels.
We stood at waist high tables. Turns out that the TV chefs/ presenters we feature in-store and in our adverts, were all making a Christmas dish. A mini cookery show. But. Every time they made their food, we were served with a taster too.

You know me. I'm TV savvy.
I immediately got the fact that the Steadicam guy would have to come past us.
I got the fact that the cable was going to have to go over us.
I got that I had to check my peripheral vision and be aware of what was happening behind me.
The runners/ production team liked this.
Some people were moved prior to filming. We weren't, and we got extra servings

On the tables from the start were glasses of Prosecco (I had Schloer) and Heston's festive range. I checked with the staff whether we could eat them. Not yet, not yet, wait until the show started because they were going to pan in.
You don't want to mess with people who work in live tv, even if it is online. Not because they're dangerous, just because it's not fair.

The floor manager introduced himself. Cheer and clap and laugh throughout he said (we tried, but we were at the back)
He introduced Phillip Schofield, who introduced Heston Blumenthal, the Baker Brothers and Rachel Allen.

SCOFFAGE TIME!
I checked over my shoulder and got the nod. Yup, we can start eating. Same with all the food.
Some tables dived in too soon and were glared at. I think they were too scared to eat after that.
We left stuffed as a tick.

Heston started.
Roast potatoes.
Blah, blah, blah, roast potatoes.
I should have listened more to the recipe, they were amazeballs.
Really just the best roast potatoes I have ever eaten.
Clap, cheer.
Potatoes deserved a standing ovation but we were already standing.

Oh, in case you didn't know, Philip Schofield is tiny. Not short - Heston is shorter but muscular. Pip is just... tiny. Little pipe-cleaner man. Probably to stop Holly Willoughby looking too thin next to him.

The Fabulous Baker Brothers.
Who are quite yummy. Especially the little one.
Cooked some gammon, and we got gammon cobs.
A little bit of a shame because I genuinely like Tom & Henry and I got a really fatty slab of meat in my cob.
Cobs removed from table, off go the cobs, no crying from me.

On comes Rachel Allen. Nice Irish lady. Made something sweet and chocolately. There was salt and caramel involved, and orange peel. Little glasses appeared with little spoons. I just wanted Heston's pies back, and his potatoes, and to talk to the Baker Brothers about cheese. But I ate the dessert. Rude not to, especially when I knew it would be whisked away very quickly. Bye-bye dessert.

I hope to get a connection to the video at some point.
The link doesn't seem to be working right now. Or at least not for me.
I got to wear my long, long skirt and fancy top, which I despaired of getting to wear (because the skirt is already slightly too large and is way too dressy for our GTG, even by my over the top standards).

And I kissed Henry.
Or he kissed me.
He was just right there as I was leaving and although he was talking to production staff I figured he'd like to hear that I loved his work and all this and all that.
So I said thank you and that I was a fan and he said "Christmas kiss?"
And I can't remember if I kissed his cheek or offered mine. Kiss is kiss though, right?

Only one I've had this year.
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