At the Tesco, I left my musical colleague in charge of ordering the breakfast while I headed to the clothing department. I grabbed a shirt that looked like my sort of thing (made of 100% cotton and patterned) and ran through the self-service checkout with it. Good stuff... so I thought... then I realised that the shirt had a tag on it. The self-service checkout doesn't de-tag stuff. I called an assistant over. He looked at my shirt and took the tag off. He didn't ask for a receipt. He just assumed that he should remove the tag. Somehow, I couldn't help but wonder whether there was not a lapse in security there somewhere. Never mind. I could live with it. I got to the breakfast queue before my colleague was served. Breakfasts were procured.
It was only when I got to the table with mine that I realised that something big had been missed off. I can't now remember what exactly it was - a piece of fried bread, perhaps, or a hash brown. At the time, I remember thinking how little care and attention had been put by the member of staff into providing me with my breakfast. Surely it's not difficult to put a bunch of items on a plate? However, I didn't go running after the extra item. I realised that my dietary habits had been pretty poor over the last few days and even the extra energies I was expending in performing the show weren't quite enough to save me from my eating. It was probably for the best that mine was a slightly leaner breakfast. I was full enough and ready for the day ahead. There was to be much work to do in the theatre, unloading cars and setting up the final version of the show.
It should be easy
We'd been to the theatre before, so we knew the score. We knew where everything was and what sorts of problems to expect. I'd sent a full technical run-down of what equipment I needed - it was a new requirement of the theatre. We'd been doing the show lots recently and so knew exactly how to get the techie up to speed quickly. In addition, it was the same techie as last time. Yeah. It should be really easy.
We got to the theatre, unloaded and started work. The secret with the show is to locate the carpet first. Everything hangs off it. The lighting needs to light the acting area - this area is defined by the carpet. The set and props are all located at the right place on the carpet. This is exactly why I decided to use a carpet. It was a placeholder for the whole show. So, we put down the carpet. We argued slightly over its position. I was wrong. It wasn't actually an argument - nobody got heated. What was the point. We all wanted the same thing. So, the carpet was moved. Ultimately the set was constructed upon it, thusly:
This doesn't look too dissimilar from last time we were there:
We decided, having used no microphones since the 4th show, not to use microphones for this show too.
Mirror ball action
Since last time we were in the theatre, I'd bought a mirror ball. I was planning to use that. No. The theatre in their wisdom had hired me a mirror ball. Somehow they'd managed to remember that I used one the previous time and completely ignored my instructions for what to provide me for the one I was bringing. Never mind. We'd use the mirror ball that was already up there, rather than complain. This mirror ball had a motor which was rigged up to the same circuit as the lights. This meant that the motor wasn't running when the lights came on. The effect of this was an effect where lots of little dots came on and then started moving. In Glasgow, we'd experienced a similar moment accidentally. The mirror ball motor there was located at an angle and so acted a bit like a universal joint with the ball. Sometimes this arrangement jammed for part of a revolution, so the ball sometimes stopped for a moment before turning again. When we got the mirror ball effect on on the Saturday night, this happened and my other half felt that it had contributed to the effect, rather than detracted. Whatever... we had a mirror ball hanging off the lighting bars, up in the air, one less thing to rig. Never mind the cost - after all, Glasgow had lost me most of its costs, so this wasn't going to be a money-making scheme.
Well sound, like
Last time we'd had a cool auto-pausing CD player, provided by the venue. This time they'd managed to provide us with no CD player. My DVD player was going to do the treble. It's a bit tricky to use, though quite logical once you learn it. It can also read the sound effects CD, so it was to be the workhorse for the sound effects for one last time.
Since the first time we played this venue, I'd gotten a lot more kit. I'd also found lots of different ways of rigging up the sound equipment we needed. This last performance was to use the method I used in Edinburgh (and Newcastle on the second performance) for getting the instruments connected. We'd run it all through my wee little mixer, which did us well in Edinburgh, simplifying the setup as much as possible. You can see the flight case for this mixer, hiding in the top left of the picture (well, in plain sight, but less visible during the show). I only needed to run one line to the sound desk. It was the same sound desk as last time. I like that desk. The equipment was starting to feel like a collection of old friends. I had been on the road too long.
As I ran round sorting stuff out in the theatre, my colleague had a problem to solve. We had lost some costumes. To itemise what we'd lost:
1. My shirt
2. My jeans
3. His jumper
My shirt was made at great length on a train, which made it easy to strip off (velcro is a great thing) for the big reveal of the nudity stuff. Sadly we'd have to go for a manual shirt removal - the shirt I'd been wearing the last two days, in fact. The jeans were just jeans. I could wear the ones I already had on. The jumper was more of a problem. He needed to be wearing a jumper during the show which came off easily and which masked the fact that he was wearing a white shirt, waistcoat and bow tie.
Somehow we managed to lose stuff that was either not absolutely critical or replaceable... but only just. In addition, we'd forgotten to bring CDs, which I'd planned to sell after the show. The big supply of discs was still left in Newcastle Arts Centre, but there were some spares back at the house in Bolton. So, again, I was left setting up in the theatre as my colleague went out to run after loose ends. Again, it was the only way to do it. I feel bad that he had the stress of running round after stuff as I was left in the relative sanity of problem solving in a confined space. I'm Mr Techie and he couldn't do what I did (or at least, he might have got it to work, but perhaps I would have made it tricky for him with my technical pedantry). Plus, he had local knowledge and would know how to get hold of a polo neck unzippable jumper on a Sunday afternoon in the North West... I didn't even know where to start.
So, we beavered away on our different bits as the afternoon drew on.
The technical run through
Running the show is tricky and we have only given that job to a single techie on a few occasions. The first time was in this venue (so we reckoned that the techie would be able to do it). The second time was in London. The third time was throughout the Fringe where we had an expert techie - at least he became an expert after a few goes - with a computerised lighting desk, along with the sound effects on his own computer. Everywhere else, we'd used multiple techies. This last show was going to be a challenge for the techie, though.
The lighting desk was antiquated and tricky to get quite right. However, we'd learned tricks from the Newcastle show on how to prepare such a desk to get the easiest route through the cues. The DVD player is tricky to run, but it can be done.
We knew exactly where it would all go wrong as we showed him the cues. The bottom of page one. That's where it all goes wrong. And it did. And we rehearsed it extra times. We did enough run throughs and felt the techie was well prepared. He vaguely remembered bits from the previous time. During the tail end of this preparation, I got a call, indicating that a certain young lady had arrived in the area and needed picking up. She'd been travelling by coach from the South of the country and had transferred, with a heavy bag in tow, from the coach station to the Metro and then to the vicinity of the theatre. I headed off to pick her up. She got the pleasure of sitting in the auditorium, dazed from the long journey, as we finished our preparations. We got to the stage where we thought it was all done and still had time for food.
As a backdrop to the day's preparations, in stark contrast to our fears for the previous day's show, we were concerned about ticket sales for this show in terms of exceeding a sell out. We only had 49 seats and there would be no room (safely) for anyone else. There were random ticket orders coming into us over the phone, the theatre having weird systems for allowing people to reserve or book over the phone. I'm not going into it. It's too complex. I received a call myself from the cousin of someone who had seen the show in Newcastle. She was most accommodating when I told her that I couldn't give her an answer until the box office staff were present and we'd resolved what we knew about extra tickets with what they'd done for us so far. The box office had been closed for enquiries for a lot of the last few days - we only knew that we had a good house... but we wanted it to be full, but not over-full. Aagh. Anyway, I had a number to call if we happened to have tickets. The person in question only needed 30 minutes notice before the show started to decide to come. Wow! That's a good audience member!
Somehow we resolved the ticketing stuff and kept on side with everyone.
All was ready to go. To prepare completely, I headed into Altrincham centre and bought us some Domino's pizza. This fed three hungry mouths and left some leftovers (which were nice in the car on the way home... and the following day too).
The audience appeared and found their way to the bar. They settled there and it was all looking good. It was going to be a good night. A near capacity crowd attended (I think we had 3 empty seats), lots of friends; the last show should have been a breeze.
For some reason, the theatre had managed to provide no front of house staff. I arranged with the box office lady for her to collect ticket stubs for us. Then I had to go to the bar and tell everyone to go out of the bar into the auditorium. I'm very much of the opinion that you shouldn't be seen before the show. If you are seen, you shouldn't be seen in a particularly active role. It undermines you if you appear to be house-staff and then turn out to be the cast... even if the audience know who you are anyway! Still, we did what was necessary to get this show ready to start.
Waiting to go on
Where was the hubbub? The auditorium sounded quiet before we went on. That's not the plan. Surely they should be excited?
Okay. So it was a Sunday night and maybe 40% of the audience had seen the show before... and some of the audience weren't sure what they were getting.
Getting on with it
I realised, as the show started, that this audience needed working. They started out quite quiet. However, the show does have something for everyone. Overall we turned out a technically competent performance. We leaned on the audience in all the right places and the new bits of the show were fresh for everyone - even the people who'd seen it countless times before. Around 20% of the audience were ex-work-colleagues, from Cafe Nero, of my musical other-half and warmed to us at one of the new gags, which related to ordering coffee - it also led us into a great routine - the Tuna Ciabatta routine (which someone else in the audience found extra funny because he was there when we first noticed that "a tuna ciabatta" sounds like "Hakuna Matata" - it was in a pub before we saw Jesus Christ Superstar in Bolton last May... a few weeks before the last time we did The Musical! in Altrincham). Anyhoo, we cracked the audience. They laughed. They weren't energetic, but they gave us a respectable grand finale to the show.
Post show party
I was due back in Newcastle that night with the lovely lady who had joined us a few hours previously. Before going though, there was the backslapping to enjoy. In an attempt not to court praise, I decided not to sell the CDs. I went round and gave them out for free to whoever wanted them. Some people probably felt obliged to take them, but what the hell. If people listen to the disc even once and enjoy it, it makes all the effort we took in writing and recording those songs even more worthwhile.
I had done all I planned to (except packing the car) and nobody in the bar, except my girlfriend, had come to the show for my benefit. There were 3 people in the audience who had come at my suggestion, but they headed home instead of going to the bar. So I sat, rather unsociably, after handing out the CDs and enjoyed some time with the young lady who I got to take home after the show. It's not like a groupie thing. She was visiting Newcastle via Manchester - that's perfectly normal.
Let's get it over with
At the designated moment, we started packing cars. Everything that seemed valuable or needed back in Newcastle was placed in my car and some things were left with my co-performer and occasional housemate to bring back to Newcastle when he chose to return.
We got on the road. We drove for just over a couple of hours. This is an experience that demonstrates the life of a stand-up comedian such as this one. I'm sure it bonded me with the lady with whom I was sharing the journey.
Er... and that's that. There was a huge amount of sleeping to be done. The car needed unpacking, but that could wait for a bit. Sleep. Number one priority. The tour was over and that was the end of the show. That was it. The end.
I was glad to see it end.
I will miss it always.