Britain’s Got Fashion

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BGF Landscape Text

It has been a wonderful journey working on this play with Get Over It Productions, the all female London based theatre company who famously perform Shakespeare with female only casts.  I was therefore thrilled when I met Velenzia, the producer, in a networking event a year or so ago and we had an instant rapport as I told her about an all female play that I had written in response to an actress who complained there were never enough good parts for women on stage. I had developed it as far as I could and had had a couple of professional readings, then ran out of steam and passed it over for more pressing projects.

I always felt it had great potential but that there was perhaps a scene or two missing and a satisfying ending, so I was seduced by the idea of doing some development workshops with the company and improvising around the script to see what would come out.  Then they surprised me by jumping the gun with the idea of a showing at the Camden Fringe Festival to see if we could get a producer interested and on board with the project.

It also gave the company something to work towards since they have been faithfully bringing a show to the Camden Fringe Festival for the last eleven years, almost since its inception.

During workshops the cast appeared to embody my characterisations with remarkable ease which was a great relief as I was concerned they would be criticised as two dimensional stereotypes- the usual easy put down- but they assured me they were fully rounded with clear development to their journeys and lives of their own.  It’s sheer joy watching consummate performers inhabiting these characters and bringing them so perfectly to life as I envisaged when writing them. But watching them improvise around the script was fantastic and I filmed the resulting scenes and began the painful process of annotating every word they uttered across each other in a flurry of exchanges.

I was excited to try and incorporate some of these scenes into the existing script so set about the time consuming cutting and splicing of improv with my original. The script swelled to another twenty odd pages or so and was far too long for our ninety minute slot. So I waited patiently and exhausted whilst the team slashed most of the added scenes from the script back to largely how it was before. But the penultimate scene worked much better with the added improv material as I knew I had been too heavy handed and sentimental in my original. Now it was a tender scene with real heart between a caring Gillian and the young model, Leanne. The final scene also worked better and was much cleaner and more focused without the added material.

The tough process of editing has continued in rehearsals as I’ve had the privilege of hearing actors speak the lines and heard where they are sounding a little wordy or holding up the action and then edited in consultation with the rest of the team.

We searched for the right venue and decided it could only be The Cockpit Theatre for what could potentially be quite a big show with a live televised catwalk to stage with a cast of six, costumes and enough space to allow it to breathe. We’ve gone for the 9pm late slot as it has that slightly risque, rude, Burlesque adult body positive vibe in parts.

What, you still haven’t booked your tickets? I also wanted to give centre stage to a leading role for a black female actor who is the designer finalist of the title reality TV show who is hell bent on promoting her collection. But everyone has their work cut out to compete with the celebrity girl about town, Sloane ranger, Monaco, who’s fronting her own show, A Day In The Life of a London Socialite. Though our Burlesque girl, Candy Peel is taking no nonsense from her and is the one voice of reason who is not afraid to tell it how it is.

The young and vulnerable Leanne is a fish out of water and is proving something of a liability on a live catwalk with very little training as a green and fresh faced model from the Agency. And what a day it proves to be with the World”s First Supermodel, Gabriella Sodenburgh, giving her hard boiled, hard won wisdom and words of advice to the wannabe models. Gillian is holding the whole show together just about until events begin to spin out beyond her control but she seizes back the show from the depths of despair to give Monaco a role she can be proud of at last.

This had been a great process and I’m thrilled to have finally finished this play and had the opportunity of bringing it to life with such a talented cast and company for the 2017 Camden Fringe Festival.

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Surviving the First London14/48 :The World’s Quickest Playwrighting Festival

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So Thursday 6th August I made my way to the LOST Theatre in Wandsworth Road for the first meeting and briefing about the festival. It’s a strange corporate styled theatre with a crazy, oppressive overhanging lobby that juts out into the street like the worst carbuncle of 70’s Brutalist architecture, though it was only built in 2010. In fact, it was only over the weekend that someone pointed out to me that this unfortunate bulge is the auditorium of the theatre accommodating the rows of raked seating. It appears to follow the prescedent for modern theatres to be built on the first floor of narrow office buildings rather than occupying the more obvious ground floor level, welcoming access.

Still, this was to be our generous home for the weekend festival. We all met in the theatre where a young bearded guy with a microphone was enthusiastically recounting the history of the Festival originating in Seattle and coming over to Leicester and Wolverhampton and this was its inaugural London debut. It was great to feel we were making history.

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Photo by Scott Rylander

Photo by Scott Rylander

Photo by Scott Rylander

There was some useful simple practical advice on writing short scripts. 6 pages is 10 minutes of playing time, which was great to hear and sounded entirely manageable. Think about the pace of your script. Give everyone something to do. I think this is the obvious but vital advice of the night. All these actors volunteering their services to rehearse the scripts in a day want to be rewarded with great parts for everyone in our scripts. Make the best ten minutes you can. You need a narrative, conflict between people and a resolution at the end and change.

I was nervous about the theme, since everything hinges on our being able to interpret it to provide sufficient impetus to write a play overnight. That is what the whole Festival is relying on. Seven writers being able to rise to the challenge in just a few hours and deliver fully formed plays by 8am the next morning.

Having read a recent blog by 14/48 Seattle veteran playwright, Marcy Rodenborn and chatted to her that evening I had a better insight into the process. “Go with your first idea, you haven’t time to change it halfway through. You have to keep going till you make it work. I try to get mine done by around 1am but have found myself still working till 3am on occasions. Then go to bed and get some sleep. You’ll need it” .

Invaluable advice, since I had pictured myself writing right through the night, waiting for inspiration to strike. There isn’t time. You have to knuckle down and get on with it.

Shawn Belyea photo by Scott Rylander

Shawn Belyea photo by Scott Rylander

There followed a wonderfully rousing speech by Veteran 14/48 American Festival Executive Director, Shawn Belyea, who had come over to keep a watchful eye over the smooth running of the f`estival and to take part as an actor, making his London stage debut. It was just the right level of inspiring prep talk and I suddenly felt honoured and excited to be taking part in the first London 14/48 Festival. He put the whole concept into perspective citing how normally theatre is such a cut throat, competitive business full of ego’s and most of the time we are all watching our backs and keeping a beady eye on the competition. How refreshing, he said, to have this festival where everyone can come together and work in collaboration with oneanother to the greater good of the shows. All of us giving our time and talent towards producing something really awesome.

The theme was picked out of a plastic pot “Into the Deep”! My first thought was seven plays about swimming pools would be a killer. Next , the writers were called on stage and asked to pick a brown envelope, like a card from a fan of seven. Mine was to be play number 4, which I thought a great placing just before the interval and I had to write for two females, one male. This I was delighted about, since writing a play for three characters is a great number for conflict. So I thought around the idea and mulled it over on the way home. By the time I got back I had an idea of a man taking the plunge, coerced into marriage, when circumstances conspire against you and the earth pushes you inevitably in a direction you didn’t want to go. Divided loyalty. Two women vying for one man’s attention and matrimony.

Writers learning their fate! Photo by Scott Rylander

Writers learning their fate! Photo by Scott Rylander

I spent a while writing out notes on the characters, getting to know them and what they wanted. I came up with Rochelle, an upwardly mobile materialistic girl who is shopping for shoes, designer bags, churches, engagement ring and a husband. Matt, a bachelor who wants fun but no ties or responsibilities and is seeing two women he can’t decide between, neither of them right for him.  Kerry, a club hostess is troubled but streetwise and savvy and knows how to play Matt to land her catch! I had the luck to witness a strange relationship between a young woman on a bench and a man having a stand off, leaning against the wall on the train platform on my way to the theatre on Thursday night. I made this Kerry and Matt. Having got to know the characters well I then felt able to write for them and began typing out the script on the computer. I finished the script at 2.48am, (Just within Marcy’s 3am deadline) turned the main lights on in the kitchen to give myself the biggest fright, finding a huge spider the size of a child’s hand crawling by my feet.

I was pleased with the piece but felt the plot didn’t quite have enough drive or twist in the final denouement. I wondered if the morning would bring a better ending? I awoke at 7am with a few amendments to make to the script including the ending and clarifying and editing some lines which I was pleased about and emailed it just before 8am. No time for shower, shave or breakfast, I had to race to catch two changes of trains to reach the theatre by 9am.

The directors went on stage and picked envelopes with plays to find out what they would be directing. This was a tense moment for the writers as we sit intently watching the facial expressions as seven directors pour over their allotted scripts in silence for the first time. Matt, a veteran festival playwright from Leicester told me this was always the most nerve wracking moment where you hold your breath. Then there is just under an hour to talk through your piece with your director, giving any particular notes of emphasis or points you want to raise. My director, Gavin, a quirky character in a flat cap asked if I’d like to go out to a cafe for coffee to read through the script together.

Gavin Dent photo by Scott Rylander

Gavin Dent photo by Scott Rylander

We found a greasy spoon over the road where I had a stewed orange tea and Gavin a coffee and we hit it off straight away. I thought we were going to alternate parts but he asked if I would read the whole script out loud to him, how I thought I wanted it to go. As we went along he broke it down into smaller beats and stopped to ask pertinent questions about the characters; quizzing me on what they wanted and their motivations, making detailed notes on a Excel spreadsheets for each character.

It was remarkable that Gavin told me he actually knows real friends like my characters and related to each perfectly. He invited me to join in rehearsals, saying he feels its important to put the writer at the centre of the process and to help with language whilst he deals with the visuals; the miss en scene. He is obviously someone who works visually more than verbally and is an intuitive, on his feet thinker, which I always respect.

At 10am we were beckoned back into the theatre where all the actors were assembled, filling up rows of seats awaiting their fate. Again the directors were called up on stage in play order to blind select the actors required for their pieces from one pot with male names, the other with females. I was incredibly lucky with this random selection of female actors, getting two girls perfect casting in looks and age for the parts and the male actor too. It was as though someone was watching over me!

While Gavin arranged for a cab to take us to a rehearsal space he’d hired above an Irish pub in Clapham, he asked me to sit in the lobby with the three actors and take them through our first reading of the script. I’d written one girl slightly older than the other and so they assumed the roles to fit their age first but It wasn’t immediately obvious this was right. Gavin mentioned we’d try it the other way round when we got to the rehearsal room.

Carl and Zoe photo by Scott Rylander

Carl Fletcher and Zoe Mills photo by Scott Rylander

Jodie and Carl photo by Scott Rylander

Jodie McGregor and Carl Fletcher photo by Scott Rylander

As soon as they did, it was obvious, that Jodie, was a natural for the Rochelle part and Zoe likewise for Kerry. And Carl was playing Matt, the guy who didn’t know which was to turn! I  loved being in rehearsals, observing the process and decisions that emerged on staging and blocking and we tweaked a couple of lines to suit. I had intended to head back home after a couple of hours to sleep all afternoon but soon decided it made far more sense to just kick back, enjoy watching the process and stay out until the show that night. I was running on excitement and adrenalin.

The show arrived and I was really looking forward to seeing what the other writers and directors had come up with, how they interpreted the theme. There wasn’t one play about swimming pools. Though some interesting choices about space travel, nuclear bunkers and a body in a pond! Gavin and the actors were a wonderful team to work with and I was thrilled with the results of our labours in just a few hours… and they were completely off book by the evening performance!

I couldn’t relax yet however, I needed to wait until the audience had put their ideas for next evening’s theme into the plastic bucket to be drawn at random, so the writers had their brief for their next plays. It turned out to be “Invaders”.

I knew then that it would have to  be about immigrants with the current news concentrating on the immigrants in camps at Calais trying to invade the Channel Tunnel and smuggle themselves on lorries entering Britain.

I drew another brown envelope to discover I was to be the 4th play again which I was delighted with and likewise writing again for three characters, this time 2 male and one female. There was certainly a pattern emerging!

I got back late Friday night after 11pm and having spent all day in rehearsals then watching the shows, wasn’t quite feeling the inspiration so decided to go for a walk around my local park in the dark for inspiration. I mulled over the idea of Romanians, Calais refugees but the one’s that held most intrigue for me are those who take their life in their hands, people smuggled on life rafts for days without food or navigation equipment.

I knew I needed to do some proper research for authenticity so after finding some old newspaper articles, I finally settled on writing about two male immigrant survivors fresh from a boat, being interviewed by a female detective.
But I had to go to bed at 1.30am as I simply couldn’t stay awake anymore to write. So I went to sleep and put my alarm on for 5.30am next morning and cracked on around 6.30am but as 8am fast approached I had to submit the four and a half sides done but could see I wasn’t going to be able to nail it in time. I had to get a bit of an extension till 9am for the final draft!

This gave me the time I needed to complete the resolution to the piece and I knew I was on to a good thing when I started crying as I wrote about the immigrants naive romantic notions of having breakfast in a British cafe and visiting Buckingham Palace and saying good morning to the Queen, tears streaming down my face as I typed. I finally finished it just on 9am then raced for the two changes of train to reach the theatre for the selection of actors around 10am.

I made it with fifteen minutes to spare and Richard, the organiser, informed me I was lucky I had the best director in the room for my play. Himself. I was delighted to have the experience of working with another director and hoped I would be allowed to join in the rehearsals again. After a few minutes to talk the play though, I was delighted to discover we were “on the same page”, so to speak, so I explained my staging concept having fully experienced the space the day before. Richard’s immediate reaction was not to try and break that strong opening by literally staging it with having them sat at desk and chairs as per my stage directions but acting straight out, direct address. I could see this was the perfect solution for maintaining power.

Richard Jacques photo by Scott Rylander

Bryony Thomas and Richard Jacques photo by Scott Rylander

Then the directors were invited on stage in order to select their actors for their pieces.  Carl was drawn again for my piece as yesterday and another two wonderful actors, Tom Cray and Bryony Thomas, again being incredibly lucky with casting. Richard told me he is more a “hands off” type of director, leaving the actors alone to run lines themselves and find the piece then meeting back together to check progress. But I was delighted to be invited to witness rehearsals with him again. We had a very small dressing room which was unbearably hot so read outside on benches on the landing. It was clear how effective it was as Richard says he felt the hairs on his arms stand on end and Bryony, playing Detective Inspector Griffiths, was in tears with emotion.

Tom Cray photo by Scott Rylander

Tom Cray photo by Scott Rylander

But I risked a serious drama about two immigrant boat survivors, the only ones from their boat, with dramatic lighting and slow motion entrances. It was a bold and powerful piece and Richard organised a haunting bed of looped static background noise that was too loud in the tech run but once he was able to control the levels from the soundbox, lent such a foreboding atmosphere, combined with the strong yellow spotlights, the two men swaddled in blankets, staring out at us dazed, as though just off the boat. The audience were like rabbits caught in headlights, hypnotised by the eerie atmosphere and tragic stories that had them in tears! The first show was a bit wobbly but they certainly nailed it the second time. That got them, I thought to myself, proud as punch I had pulled the rabbit out of the hat, not once but twice in one festival!

It was time to head home as I needed some sleep for the following day when I had a very special date with a lady and another theatre festival of a rather different variety.

Tenth Ave Theatre: Tech Rehearsal and Ghosts


The next day, July 1st we are scheduled a Tech Rehearsal at Tenth Avenue Theatre at 8pm -10.30pm. Bryant calculates if we can get all the lighting and sound cues sorted in the first hour we have time for a full run through afterwards.

We are called to meet again upstairs at 6.30pm in the rehearsal space just outside the office and Bryant is delivering the settee, side tables and props so we can have a dress run through with set before the tech.

Earlier in the day I email Ryan to see if he wouldn’t mind giving me a lift in to town later as he lives out near to me. “Oh, sure, of course, no that’s like, totally fine.”

In fact, knowing it will be a late night at the theatre I suggest he might like to join me for a late lunch at the local Italian place on the corner of Adams Ave, which calls itself Antique Café. He says he’d be delighted and in fact it’s a nice opportunity to get to know him a little better as there is little time to chat in rehearsals. He never hangs out in this area he tells me and assumed, like me, that Antique Café was, in fact, an antique store!

I have one of their specials; a wonderful stir-fry chicken dish on rice while he orders a burger in a bap when he arrives. We sit outside on the corner boardwalk in the welcome shade of trees, enjoying a perfect Californian afternoon relaxing in the lull before driving into town for a full evening of rehearsals and Tech run.

Since relocating from San Francisco, Ryan appears to have done extremely well establishing himself in professional stage management in theatres in California at the tender age of twenty-three. He was recent stage manager on The Mother Fucker With a Hat at Cygnet Theatre and got his big break work training at the Old Globe Theatre after pestering the Artistic Director with daily emails and phone calls till he finally caved in. Persistence pays off being the moral of this particular tale! He then worked at another San Diego theatre and has news of just getting another show after mine so he is certainly on the right track!

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Tenth Avenue Arts Center exterior is painted a curious dung colour, and seems to be similarly rendered the texture of an old cigar. Art Deco in style, it is reminiscent of cinema architecture. It’s symmetrical sleek lines and large multi-pane windows, set between four tapering squared columns running the full height of the building are redolent of a Mondrian painting.

I believe it’s an old 1920’s chapel that was converted into a theatre some years ago. The building next door was originally The First Baptist Church where the faithful worshipped since the 1800’s. I’m going to quote directly from the website since it tells the curious history most succinctly.

“In the mid-1920’s, a generous member of the congregation donated money so that the church could build a chapel. The benefactor’s intent was to provide a 24-hour place of worship for the military personnel of San Diego arriving home from a long stint at sea. The thought was that if sailors arrived in port at three in the morning, they should be able to come to a house of worship for comfort, prayer and motivation.”

It also cites the story of the ghosts that are said to haunt the building and again I shall let the website regail the stories.

“Ghost 1- The British Lieutenant

During World War II, a Navy doctor had a special tradition upon returning to the United States, he would go to a nearby church and pray for the men he treated, but could not save. One particular soldier had suffered a gruesome chest wound. The doctor desperately worked to save the man’s life to no avail. The doctor was cupping the soldier’s heart when he felt the heart give its final beat. The doctor simultaneously felt some odd sensation throughout his body.

When the doctor returned to port in San Diego he set out to fulfil his solemn tradition of praying for the souls of his fallen comrades. He did this at the chapel of the First Baptist church. He reported that he entered the sanctuary and sat down in a pew at the back row. He knelt to pray and was suddenly rocked backwards against the pew. As he gazed to the ceiling with his eyes and mouth wide open, he felt that same odd sensation that he experienced back at the field hospital on Okinawa. A church official found him slumped to the floor and unconscious where he had been kneeling. It seems as though the spirit of the British Lieutenant had entered the doctor’s body back in that hospital and was now free and had taken up residence at 930 Tenth Avenue.

Following this doctor’s visit to the chapel, the eerie echo of a British officer’s voice has been heard throughout the building. At times, it sounds like the officer is barking out orders as if in battle. Other times, the voice seems to be keeping soldiers marching in unison with a staccato march cadence. He has even been heard singing pub songs as if celebrating the victory in the Pacific over Japan.”

Ghost 2- Missy

When the building was occupied by the First Baptist Church the rooftop was used for a variety of outdoor activities. The church youth took advantage of the great downtown playground for such games as basketball, badminton, volleyball, and shuffleboard. On one particularly hot day in October, a girl named Missy had had enough fun on the roof and wanted to go back downstairs to get out of the heat. The pastor supervising the handful of kids on the rooftop reassured Missy that right after the current basketball game ended the group would be going down to the social hall on the second floor for refreshments but impatient, she bolted for the staircase.

The pastor excused himself from his referee duties and ran after Missy. In the stairwell, Missy had made it down the first flight of stairs. When she heard the pastor calling her name, she turned the episode into a game and yelled out to “Catch me if you can!” The pastor quickened his pace down the stairs and as he rounded the landing between the third and second floor, he heard the last words of Missy’s young life. All she was able to shout was “Catch me…” before the pastor heard a small shriek, then a series of dull thumps.

Missy’s body was found at the bottom of the stairs on the second floor, her head split open and leaking blood. The horror-stuck pastor scrambled down the stairs to the twisted body of the dead girl. He would never be the same.

Missy has been known to only roam the stairwell. The thought is that she is playing in that vertical playground for eternity. While travelling the building’s stairwell, a person might have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the little girl peering around the corner of a landing. She’s easy to recognize. She had mid-length dark hair with straight bangs across her forehead. She also sports a white headband. She’s wearing a green and white striped dress and will draw attention with her whimsical smile.

Ghost 3- The Baptist Pastor

The pastor who ran after Missy never recovered from the idea that he had caused Missy’s death. After the tragic accident, “Catch me…” echoed in the pastor’s brain, just as it had echoed off the smooth, plaster stairwell walls. Eventually the pain and guilt reached a level that was intolerable for the pastor.

On the morning of Monday, November 25, 1963, the church secretary unlocked the front door to the church and proceeded up the stairs to her mezzanine floor office. She was still thinking about the inspirational sermon the pastor had given the day before. He spoke beautifully about the need to be strong after the horrible assassination of President John F. Kennedy that had occurred on Friday.

The secretary knocked on the pastor’s door. There was no response. She walked back down to the first floor and entered the sanctuary and called out for the pastor. She noticed a dim light glowing from a cloakroom on the side of the altar. Thinking that the pastor was organizing the choir robes from the day before, the secretary walked down the side aisle of the large chapel and called out to him. She entered the small room and uttered the pastor’s name again. Suddenly she recoiled in horror as she stared up at the dead body of the pastor hanging from a storage loft access ladder.”

As we arrive we decide to ascend the fourth floor in the small period 1930’s wooden lift, the type one first has to slide open the panelled door of, then the metal safety grill, and close again after you before it can ascend. It’s like a leap of faith and a prayer and not something I would wish to be stuck in for any length of time!

When we reach the fourth floor, Loie and Rhianna are changing into costume in the office and Ryan gets a message that Bryant has arrived downstairs. I offer to go down with him and help with the props.

He has a small settee on the back of his open truck, an impressive American affair he has borrowed from his father to transport the furniture. The settee is a small two-seater lightweight metal frame of a summerhouse style with lift off padded seating that is the perfect solution for transporting around. And by sheer luck or design it just fits within an inch or two into the tiny lift to take it upstairs. While we are negotiating it through the sliding door and concertinaed metal trellis Bryant suddenly regails us with ghost stories about the theatre. He has seen something more than once on the stairs; the figure of a little girl and whenever he arrives or leaves the building he greets them! He has worked here several times on his own accord and had to lock up last thing at night.

He has customised the settee with an attractive embroidered patchwork throw that we are instructed to tie on properly by Loie after she gets her cane caught up in one corner and nearly goes flying when her foot does likewise. A trick of fate is the two random golden damask cushions I picked up in the thrift store on a whim match perfectly with the cover!

Not only that but Bryant has very kindly lent his very own mahogany ‘Campaign style’ occasional table from home to lend a touch of class to the set design. He has also mustered a cut glass vase complete with fake flowers.

“The one thing with me is I have this almost obsessional attention to detail” he confides. It looks as though everything is coming together like a dream. What could possibly go wrong now?

I hear the scenes run for the first time since Saturday and the marked development that has taken place since I was absent all day on Sunday and I am thrilled to get a glimpse of the magic that might finally be achieved. I am sat upstairs with Ryan who is deputising whilst Bryant decamps downstairs to start setting up the tech sound and lighting cues. I tell Bryant I can see the way its come on while I was away and saw a glimpse upstairs of something special, by way of encouragement. It seemed we were finally on target for a coming of age for this show.

When finally we get onto the main stage at Tenth Avenue it is a huge cavernous space with the recognisable proportions of a church and one in which my actors are clearly going to have to play “bigger” and throw their voices far. They appear slightly overwhelmed on first impression by the available space after that of our rehearsals.

Tech runs can be extremely dull but I enjoy being involved in all the processes of a show to understand how directors work with lighting and sound to weave magic around a script.

So for the first time I get to hear the sound effects that Bryant envisages for my piece. I have been slightly alarmed by his verbal imitation of clocks ticking in rehearsals as Sitwell waits impatiently for Monroe to arrive at the top of the play. But I like the fact he is bringing something different to the mix and I understand that it is there to represent the passing of time, while Sitwell waits for longer than any real time we can afford on stage. I also like the Hollywood score he has found to open the show, it strikes the right flavour and period for the piece.

Seeing the different lighting moods is an eye opener. We choose a very sexy half lit pre- set when the audience come in where the set is just illuminated. Bryant selects an unusual backlit dark transition zone between scenes, that don’t go to blackout as I had stipulated in the script but an intriguing semi-darkness. He then works out a dumb play drama between scenes where there is an element of silent film acting as Cukor serves the two ladies champagne after scene one then collects glasses from them after scene two but Marilyn refuses to part with hers until Cukor seizes it, which then gives her motive to storm off set ready for her locking herself in the ladies before scene three. It works beautifully and I love this element that is added. It seems to happen so naturally and organically. The music matches and underpins these inter-scenes with great aplomb.

Everything was coming together to make a sophisticated show and I was really looking forward to see how it would play on this wide, generous stage.

Then came time for the run through. It was as though a different cast had been asked to learn a new script that night. It was like watching a slow motion car crash as they lumbered through, forgetting lines and cues so slow it was like a different piece. It creaked, it limped, it apologised for what it might have been. Loie was particularly thrown by the novelty of the large stage, nervous and forgot lines. Rhianna’s words were lost when she turned to face Loie and Randy still fished for the correct sequence of his lines. It was dreadful and we all knew it.

I wasn’t hopelessly worried. I knew there was always a bad dress run before the opening night by law of averages and nerves. It was good to get the bad one out of the way to scare the actors a little into giving a storming performance at the first night in two days time.

What was to be done? Luckily there is one more rehearsal tomorrow night before first night the day after. Do you trust the moment and the actors to do their work on their own until it reaches the arc of perfection.

Bryant, a little shell shocked and distracted like me seems inclined to leave the production to fate trusting that the hard work had been done and now it is just a matter of polishing the fine surface of their toil. It’s late at night and the cast are all tired and anxious after a very disappointing run through and the toll of a full week of daily rehearsals.

Rhianna, usually self contained and smiling, is clearly upset and dashes away in tears explaining that she is so tired and just needs to get home to bed and get some rest before tomorrow. Whether it was sheer frustration at her own or others performance or a dawning realisation that she really isn’t quite sure what she has let herself in for and is now too far committed to extricate herself, I’ll never know. But it is a lot to ask of anyone to perfect such a complicated role in a week.

Loie, quiet and crestfallen surprises me most of all when I offer to walk her to her car. As we reach it, she turns round and asks me, matter of factly, “Could I have a hug, please”? Of course I oblige and I suddenly feel humbled as I realise for the first time behind the formidable façade here is an insecure, isolated human being, just like Sitwell or Monroe herself, wanting to do good and just like all of us, made aware of our own shortcomings and vulnerability, alone in our struggle to resonate with power and ambition in our chosen environment.

I return to the Theatre. They are storing away the settee and side table behind the seating area. We are the last one’s left in the building. As we walk back out to the hallway we turn out the lights and are plunged into darkness, an eerie silence befalls the place. “Goodnight” Bryant calls out to no one as he closes the large double doors, locking them behind him. “Thank you for having us”. “Oh, I always talk to the ghosts” he tells us. “They’re friendly. But you have to respect them.” He laughs at the novelty of his actions, as only someone who has been left to lock up a haunted building on his own in the dead of night knows.

I suppose in a way we are all of us ghosts too, passing through this brief dimension, leaving footprints, sounds and echoes behind us, some of us more strongly than others. I’m  evoking the ghosts of Sitwell, Monroe and Cukor in my play. There is perhaps something strange in bringing the dead back to life on stage and making them interact with each other for a certain dramatic effect. But I hope, in so doing, I have managed to remain faithful to their personalities and to have captured their true spirit.

When Bryant first offered his personal stories of ghosts at the theatre, knowing I was to be working here for the next week and a half, I said tell me later. I never did hear them from him so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind writing down his experiences and so I give him the last word.

“In March, while in rehearsal for Tricks, we were rehearsing up on the 4th floor. Present in the room was the director, Sandra Ruiz, Devon Hollingsworth, her assistant director, Gail Phillips the stage manager, Jacob Cruz, an actor and myself. Right at the entrance (which are double doors with faded windows,) I noticed a shadow constantly peeking through the window. I walked over there and opened the door and nobody was present. It was as if a curious child wanted to know what was happening. I knew that was the little girl who died in that building. That wasn’t the only time we would see the little shadow girl peek through the window.

Downstairs while putting up the panels, the stage manager’s son, Jimmy Phillips saw a man standing near the entrance to the stage. He mentioned that he was a tall man that disappeared.

That same day, we noticed a shadow figure pacing up in the technical booth of the theatre. There was a blue light that would be covered every time he would pace near there.

During our tech/dress rehearsal, as Jacob and I were running Act I, in a moment of an emotional scene, just up stage left of us we heard a sound and all of a sudden, a cable of a stage light just came dangling down almost like the shape of a noose.”