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Thursday, March 17

There was a certain air of deja vu as we got ourselves ready to do the show again at Newcastle Arts Centre. This was not the first time we'd unloaded much of this equipment into that room. This was not the first time I'd looked at their antiquated lighting equipment and wondered how I was going to make it work for me.

I had a number of things to solve. I did things in half hour bursts. I had to tackle the highest risk things first and I didn't want to do things in a silly order which slowed me down. I was left by my other half in the venue, once we'd unloaded, as he went off to drop off his car and sort some other things out. I needed some time alone with the equipment, so I was happy.

I started out by laying out bits of the set that form the foundations of the whole show. The carpet (meant to represent the genuinely nasty patterned carpet of my dining room - in which the show is set) went down first, to act as a guide for lighting and as a location upon which to place the instruments. I set up the piano next and spent time getting sound to come out of the P.A. system, via the various bits of equipment I'd brought. We had used a band P.A. last time we were there, and this system was still something of an unknown, though it had looked good when I visited the previous day and had a look at it.

Joy of joys, I got some sound out of the system. I could make it much louder than I needed, and I could make it quiet enough. The sound wasn't going to be a problem. My next task was to set about working out the lighting. The lighting rig in that venue is not the most easy of things to work with. However, I managed to find enough lights and enough spare leads to connect them up. The mirror ball was last up. I said that I owned a mirror ball and I proudly connected this ball with its own motor in the centre of the room. I remembered that there was a quirk with the lighting equipment, relating to the lighting of mirror balls with mini pin-spots. I even solved that problem.

After a couple of hours in the venue, my friend from London arrived, as did my co-performer. Our technical friend helped us make the sound sound right. We balanced the instruments. I connected up a DVD player for the CD-based sound effects. I hid the evidence of my solution to the mirror ball problem (the solution was spare lights, sat on the floor of the lighting booth, but plugged in - these spare lights had the effect of increasing the load on the lighting channel and stopping it from doing an automatic cut-off). I had not one but TWO pin spots on the mirror ball as if one's funny, then two is funnier. It looked great. The lighting was quite balanced, as CAN'T quite be seen in this picture of the show after everything was set up.

At 4pm we gained the company of two guys from work to help with the technical stuff. After worrying about not having a techie at all, all of a sudden, I had three. This was a good thing. Teaching the show to three people meant that there was a chance of them all remembering everything between them. Not only were they three in number, but they were people whose abilities I had no reason to doubt. Brilliant! Another volunteer was going to take over the front of house responsibilities. He was to get his briefing at about 6.30. I had been in the venue working non-stop for 4 hours or so and things were looking good.

We went carefully through the technical stuff for a couple of hours and the guys picked it up. The lighting was tricky, but we worked out an optimal way of operating it and it seemed less tricky. I was feeling confident. As a way of improving our group confidence, it was suggested that we do a full-length run through. We pretty much did this. Not in dress. One of the guys in the technical box hadn't seen the show before and perhaps I wanted to save some of the "gayer" bits for him to experience on the night itself. Anyway, the technical run through went well too. It was all confidence building.

Once everything was ready, we roped off the back section of the hall so people wouldn't sit there until it was necessary (a good way to get your less-than-capacity audience to sit near the front). My performing partner's CD was put on as run-in music and we were ready for the audience to arrive.

It's a bad idea to hang around the front of house as your audience arrive. I should have known that from last time. I just couldn't help myself. Most of the audience were coming because I'd sold them tickets and I had nowhere else to go. That's my excuse. I had some food and something to drink and I relaxed in the front of house (not in costume... it wasn't quite that unprofessional (yet)) and then I stopped relaxing. The anticipation got to me. I escaped to the backstage area, got naked and then costumed. Then I felt calmer. My throat was a bit dry from a day's exertions. We had an audience. We had a show. We had tech... all we had to do now was deliver it. No pressure. 90 people I knew from various walks of my life, were about to watch either a total embarrassment or our finest hour.

A quick aside. I've never held back from getting people in to see the show for free. In Edinburgh, I gave a bunch of free tickets out. In Newcastle, I gave many fewer freebies out. However, one young lady, who used to work at my office when we premiered the show, had been unable to see it at that time, despite buying and paying for a ticket. I bumped into her a few months ago and agreed to give her a freebie, since she'd refused a refund of her ticket to the original show. She was in attendance on this last-night-of-the-show-in-Newcastle. In fact, a few people from the office who'd not seen the show first time round, were in attendance. The front row was made up, from left to right, of Guys and Dolls cast and then people from work. Not that I checked the front row. You perform to the whole room.

Finest hour?
I think we had our best reception in Newcastle. Before the show started, we got a massive round of applause. We did the opening routine, the audience applauded and we were off. This wasn't greatly different to how things had been first time around. However, the big difference was that we understood how to play the show. It wasn't all new. We weren't all nervous and erratic. We gave an assured performance, and the laughs didn't stop coming. It was a joy to do the show. The audience relaxed into it and had come along with an excitement and will for it to succeed. It was indeed a very enjoyable experience.

As with all such experiences, it seemed to last all of 90 seconds. However, I don't think we zoomed through the show without pause for breath as last time. This show had a high-energy pace, but we weren't frightened to take our time. It was great fun. I think we took the roof off. People felt they'd had their £5 worth.

Doing the show is one thing. Surviving it and enjoying the backslapping is quite another. There was much backslapping to do. I also felt the need to thank everyone I knew for attending. While I was doing this, the friend on Front of House duty, along with the ex-boss of my co-performer, decided to sell as many of our CDs-of-the-show as possible. Not bad for the profit margin.

People had really had a good time and were very keen to let us know. Usually, I shrug off any positive feedback, but I'd had a good time doing the show, so I was keen to enjoy the moment with the well-wishers, even if I think it's a little cringeworthy to court praise or revel in it. What the hell. We all had fun and I was already facing the fact that the show would soon enter its never-to-be-performed again phase... best to enjoy it while you can than hold back and miss out forever.

I retrieved my car and we packed all the stuff up. I later found that we'd left the box of CDs and an important bit of costume (for which, luckily, I had a spare). Somehow, in the melee of people packing things (perhaps I'm wrong to say this, but I sort of wish that I'd packed it all myself and had people bring me stuff... then nothing would have been forgotten) the wobble board and back of the bookshelf was lost too. We didn't realise this until quite late on. But that's a story for later.

Back at home there were sandwiches for a late night meal. My friend from London was staying the night. He and my co-performer ate together and I sloped off upstairs for a chat with the ladyfriend. Perhaps this was unsociable, but I'd worked my arse off all day and needed some "me-time". This "me-time" was better spent as "us-time". So that was that. I remembered feeling the hole in my elation at the success of the first ever showing of the show in Newcastle. I'd felt so happy that it had worked and yet simultaneously small and meaningless since I had noone special to share it with. After the success of this show, I felt less small. Possibly this was something to do with having gained a little weight since last May... or possibly it was because it was a harder-earned success and one which I could talk about with someone I felt close to.

However, we couldn't sit talking all night. I had to be in Glasgow the following day. There were bags to pack and sleep to be had. I wanted to be in Glasgow for lunchtime to repeat the whole rigmarole ("whole rigmarole" - internal rhyme in "How to handle a woman" from Camelot).

One show had pretty much exhausted me. Could I do 3 more? Could I also do a bit of stand-up in between? We were soon to find out.


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