In this industry, I thrive on what I love to do, whether it's performing, directing, radio presenting or, occasionally, dressing up as a nun. But in the past weeks the events that have taken place have been another major learning curve in one's career, dears.
It all started at the beginning of February, in a rehearsal room, directing the "New Four Poofs and Piano - Bigger, Louder, Harder, Longer, new UK Tour". In our industry, you may just spot the odd homosexual here and there... Preparing for many a show, whether it be a play or a musical, you may just catch a hint of gay banter on the air, as frothy flirtations, playful innuendos, and a soupcon of smut are batted around the rehearsal rooms with more or less elegance by those gentlemen of a certain persuasion.
However, when you get four singing "Poofs", the director and the musical director all leaning the same way, with no representatives of the heterosexual community to keep you on the straight and narrow - then gawd help ya! In five days, we managed to get together a show: fun, loud, big, bold, musical, strong, proud and sensitive. But oh my goodness, as a gay man, I don't know if I am allowed to say it, but by the end, it was all... extremely gay, darlings. At times I thought I might swoon from the headiness of it all!
The rehearsals were taking place at studios called Dance Attic, which are in a conversion of some Victorian swimming baths: lots of singers warming up for auditions in corridors, fellow performers rehearsing shows and handsome young boy dancers rushing around, being irritatingly distracting. Each day, to get there and back, I had about an hour and fifteen minutes of commuter hell to get through, unaccustomed as I am to the London underground at rush hour. No chance to sit and not read the newspaper, or to relax and listen to show tunes; instead, I had to learn three monologues, one duologue (I think that's what a classical actor calls a dialogue?), plus two songs. This was all for the new show, McArthur's Parts,
presenting a series of new comedy characters that I've been developing since last August with my writer pal Michelle Singer.
So all was going dandy. Lines were going in, I was making headway. Costume fittings were progressing with the designer, promotional interviews had been done...then opening night arrived. I love that expression "It'll be alright on the night" - so showbiz, so full of starry-eyed optimism! Well, for the first time ever in 17 years of being a professional, it wasn't. I don't really know what happened. All I know is that I started the first character "Peg" - a one-legged prostitute, so me! - and suddenly there was a dimming and a distancing... like I was watching myself in a black and white movie. I was looking down at myself and nothing, nothing, nothing...
Stage fright is something I had never ever experienced before. I'm sure we've all had our moments thinking "Oh, what's next?" Without realising, some words always come out and you get away with it. But to literally go blank was scary. In the past week I have had quite in-depth conversations with fellow performers about this. It's quite a taboo subject - although, funnily, Pauline Quirke was just talking about it on prime time TV on the One Show the other evening! We all think we've turned ourselves into these mean theatrical machines that can power on through it all. And very rarely, in truth, does it go wrong on a frightening level. The following night I was filled with more nerves and dread then the previous night as to what was going to happen. I knew I had to get back on that stage and perform. And yes I did! And it
was all fine! Phew!
Once I had those two performances under my jockstrap, I was then gearing up for a concert that I was performing at LauderDale House in Highgate, dedicated to my favourite composer, the divinity called Stephen Sondheim. I know I'm not quite alone among the theatrical, and the gay theatrical, community, in loving, loving, loving his work. The first Sondheim show I saw was Follies at The Shaftesbury Theatre, on May 31st 1988, when I was just 13. How defining a moment was that? Then I graduated on to Sunday in The Park With George, Into The Woods, Sweeney, and on and on. I can't go into a learned treatise about Sondheim's work, but with his lyrics, his melodies, I just felt such a very strong connection to them from the start.
So the concert went remarkably well - somehow I always find it easier singing as opposed to speaking. What a strange breed we are.
So here I am, on week two of McArthur's Parts, enjoying performing the 60-minute marathon, involving eight costume changes, a fat suit, reindeer antlers, a false leg and a gun... all in a nights work and, yes, we love it. Well I can't do anything else in the crazy world that could make me feel so alive, being alive.... So what's next on my theatrical journey, I wonder?