Annotating Alex

October 21, 2011

Art is Calling to Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — alexweatherhill @ 5:27 pm
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Earlier this year I received an email from my Alma Mater – that makes it sound far more Stephen Fry than it actually was… My old school. That’s better! They, for reasons best known to themselves, wished to interview me for the school magazine. After the initial shock and disbelief at the flattery I accepted and proceeded to receive a bundle of questions to answer about my career – a somewhat over statement of my ramble through jobs and blights of unemployment! It was only when I received the questions that it dawned on me that I hadn’t actually enjoyed my last few years at school and had felt trapped into the academic subjects on offer. That said, my results were a mixed bag of pleasant surprise and mild disappointment. They have, at least, left the door open to further study.

The question is: would it have served me better to have gone to a college and studied vocationally? An inherent (as in from parents, but also school) action from me is that they are not worth the time, effort, or paper they are written on. My mother always said ‘talent will out’. Not about me I hasten to add. My parents have never fully understood why I gave a ‘proper’ job and forced myself upon debt, uncertainty and either working all the hours under the sun or none at all! That, however, is a topic for another blog entirely.

The questions I ask are purely rhetorical, as I know I have no right, or indeed wish, to answer them. It does give me cause for concern though when I see intelligent people giving up academia too early. Maybe I am old fashioned at heart. Actually there is no ‘maybe’ about it, I’m practically prehistoric!

I certainly wish I had been given the choice and advice to pick my ‘A’ level subjects more wisely. Or, at least, the chance to change them once I had realised my mistake. I would not change my choice of academic over vocational though. Call me elitist, but I think the terms and titles mean something.


June 16, 2011

Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither

Filed under: Uncategorized — alexweatherhill @ 10:30 pm

Firstly, the above is a reference to finishing the wonderful Iolanthe contract. I don’t think I have ever missed a contract, role and group of people as I miss that gang now. It was wonderful and the reviews (almost) universally amazing. Check out my website as there will soon be photos and links posted there. I’m so very proud of our achievements and Sasha Regan’s wonderful production. A gem and hopefully one to be repeated.

Secondly, I refer to an almighty trip I have undertaken with my partner in a fairly elderly MG Midget, called Molly. It took a while to persuade me that this could be classed as a holiday, but we ventured to the south of France in a large round trip using said tiny car and Mrs Tom Tom as our guide. On the way we planned stops and gatherings with various friends and extended family and it was to be as much about the travelling as the destination.

Having caught a ferry from Hull to Zebrugge (mercifully a very calm crossing), we hit Belgium with the little wheels spinning and sunglasses on. First stop, gay Paris (insert own dodgy French accent here)! Our two nights of accommodation were lovely, but I was a little surprised to find that I’d booked us in to the middle of the red light district. You learn interesting things when returning to your hotel at night through the red light district! We walked the entire Paris road network, main and back streets alike and saw (the outside, at least) of most of the tourist places. A first for me.

Paris done, we sallied forth to the Loire to meet up with some friends and hit the troglodyte caves….we know how to live! Chateaux, zoo and many a pain au chocolat later and we waved goodbye and trotted off on the next leg to Bordeaux. It was a flying visit en route to our next destination. The most remarkable thing, apart from the hireable bikes, was that I think we spent more time trying to navigate the one way system than we did actually staying in the city. In fact when trying to get to our hotel we spent a good deal of time seeing it, but not being able to get to it through the impenetrable road network.

The following day we reached the final destination, Pechine. With the temperature climbing through the 30s, the gin and tonic, relaxing views of the Pyranees and dip in the pool accompanied by both were most welcome! Les Burrowes were on fine form and spoiled us rotten. We took in some of the local sights, but got rained off some of our exploits. Now that was unexpected! In fact we were caught out twice in Foix where there was only 3.5 minutes between blue skies, first drip and torrential downpour! The learning curve also included finding out just how man places Molly leaks and how many tissues and hands holding absorbent materials it takes to make it back to dry land! More caves, an underground river and some pottery buying lar and it was time to hit the road again. This time it was the start of the epic trip back.

Millau and photos of the bridge on night one, Dijon and a boot full of mustard on night two. Day three took us to Reims after a bit of worry with the car and lunch with the bonnet open. She wasn’t happy, but the problem wasn’t fixable there. Several Frenchmen stopped to help, sadly my 17 year old GCSE French didn’t cover much in the way of vehicle maintenance. Day four saw us leave France under human power as Andrew pushed Molly through the Eurotunnel check in, but board the train, in front of some very nervous passengers, under here own power. We limped two aunty Ali’s for an overnight stop, before trundling up the motorway back home. Molly wishes to retire to home for the mechanically bewildered, but will have to make do with a light spa treatment and a new bolt!

As for me, I was totally underwhelmed by the thought of starting the trip, but we have already begun search to repeat the exercise, with slight modifications and a bigger toolbox. Next time……Spain!

Oh lordy!

March 4, 2011

In A Very Unusual Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — alexweatherhill @ 12:08 pm

Wow, it’s a long time since I blogged. I will frequent this site on a more regular basis, I will! What better reason to blog though than a return to the Stage?

About a million years ago, when shell suits were still fresh in our memories, hair product for men was a choice between gel and wax (and wax was too expensive for me) and when mobile phones required a car sized battery and Jeff Capes to lift…I was a teen. A shy, retiring teen with a dream of bringing a ‘unique’ voice to the world of theatre, but with no knowledge of how, was taken by his parents to an eminent vocal teacher. A man whose career had been founded on being a counter-tenor, but who was now more widely known for his prowess as a conductor. He calmly heard me sing Memory from Cats (dear god, at least some things improve with age). He poked and prodded, gave some tips about support and then pronounced, in Simon Callow tones of doom, “My dear boy, you’re a freak”! It wasn’t the feedback I was hoping for, but thus it was that I heard this term for the first time and so began the very foundation of my career.

Lucky for me I have always embraced my inner freak and it has stood me in good stead. it was my top C ‘enhanced’ Gethsemane that got me ‘spotted’ in a concert series I organised in my very early 20s. It was my/our role swapping version of Tonight from West Side Story that stood Madison Alley Katz (MAK) apart from other cabaret turns and got us some top gigs all over Europe. (MAK was a very camp theatrical cabaret duo involving me and the equally ridiculous Ria Keen – how many other girls can and would hit a bottom (as in Bass) Ab and a top (as in Soprano) C in the one song?) It was the Lederhosen clad, Julie Andrews’ keyed version of The Lonely Goatherd which got me laughs in a production show and introduced to a West End agent. It was a buttock clenching, octave higher than I was intending, version of ‘If My friends Could See Me Now’ which brought me to the attention of the Chicago the Musical casting team and in the door for a Mary Sunshine audition – therefore getting me into the West End. It was this silly voice that meant, when upon auditioning for the HMS Pinafore, first ever ‘All Male’ Gilbert and Sullivan at The Union Theatre (they were struggling to find anyone willing to play a girl on stage) I got cast in all three females roles, young ingenue, middle aged matron and old gypsy baggage. It also gave me a good excuse to release an album of classical crossover material called ‘My Other Voice‘ and prompted me to form a trio of like minded and voiced freaks for a classical group (I Ragazzi)who have triumphed in their early stages (soon to be seen in London) against a tide of ‘The general public is not ready for this’ and won over a large crowds at an open air gig supporting Escala. Finally, it was said freaky voice which allows me to return to the ‘All Male’ scenario and take up residence in Wilton’s Music Hall for a gloriously silly romp through Iolanthe. I shall be taking to the stage amongst a chorus of fairies as their leader (The Queen – yes, Queen of the fairies, you couldn’t make it up)! I can’t, in any way, be said to have lead a trend and made it acceptable for men to flounce around the stage (nay, trip hither and thither in this case) but I am desperately proud to be able to say that I was there at the birth of this ingenious, funny and utterly enjoyable tradition. In fact, more than acceptable. The fabulously talented Alan Richardson has just won Best Male Actor in an Off West End Show for his portrayal of Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance. I am so looking forward to playing Queen to his Phyllis in Iolanthe.

I guess the moral is, listen to your inner voice and follow your dream and you to could be playing a fairy on stage!

Do come and see us, along with a throng of equally, or more talented Fairies, Lords and Shepherds as we wink, nudge and heave our hairy bosoms through the wonderful Sullivan score.

Book soon as the last show sold out.

IOLANTHE is produced at Wilton’s Music Hall by Regan De Wynter and Wilton’s.

Dates: 30 March – 7 May 2011
Performances: Tuesday-Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday & Sunday 2.30pm
Tickets: £23 (£15 previews; £18 concessions; £60 family ticket)
Place: Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley, off Ensign Street, London E1 8JB
Box Office 020 7702 2789

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October 5, 2010

Vocation or Job? Working for free…

Filed under: Uncategorized — alexweatherhill @ 7:56 pm

My interest was recently sparked by the Facebook status of a fellow ranter/rambler and great friend Dr Ria Keen.  I am quite sure that she was not referring to the specifics of my own train of thought, but her comment seemed to provoke an emotive response. The gist was this: “Why do people expect those of us who work in the arts to work for free?”

It’s a contentious topic and one that maybe considered a little hefty for a first time blogger, but it is close to my heart. It is also one which regularly raises its ugly head in dressing rooms and band rooms up and down the country. Suffice to say, it always forces even the most timid into a forthright opinion. As I find myself regularly crossing the divide (and boy is it a long way) between pit, stage and creative team, the subject rarely dims in its treatment.

Why do we do it?

Well, quite! Why? There is generally little thanks, quite often we are taken advantage of and then, of course there is the sordid topic of coin, or lack thereof. Not only are we engaged in an activity which will not contribute to our mortgage paying, bill heavy, over bank charged current account, but we seem to be prevented from earning via any other means due to the drain on time. I refer the honourable gentlemen to my first question – “Why?” The answers are detailed, complex and personal to each case, but here is my story….

Too long ago to count on opposable thumb related digits I left school and entered the big wide world. I always knew that the arts was my true home, but an academia driven eduction left me ill equipped to know where to begin. I entered the Civil Service. A rookie mistake, but one which eventually was rectified. In my innocence/ignorance I decided that I would attempt to bridge the gap between my amateur roots and professional fancies and formed what we would know today as a show choir. I arranged the music, organised a small tour and rehearsed the 20 strong company in my living room. Was anyone paid? No. Unbelievable it worked as I was spotted and began a long and illustrious career with a great mentor and friend (yes, that would be Dr Keen). Long term it also worked out for the choir too as they are still going today and are quite often paid into the bargain.

Five years further graft, countless cabarets, sessions, touring and production shows and a fair few countries under my belt I luckily landed a West End agent who got me seen and consequently into Chicago the Musical. You’d think that would be the end of the happy tale and also of my need to perform at the drop of a hat at any given function, charity do or general opening of a fridge, but no, for the world of Musical Theatre is riddled with those working for free.

It is a common fact that there are far too many of us in the business and the number of shiny floor TV shows seems to be in direct relation to the number of teenagers choosing bright lights and ‘a dream’ over academia. At the same time, the West End is a small place full of the same people moving from show to show and a principal line up gathered from channels 1-99 of freeview.

I’m straying towards another rant altogether, but you get the picture. The point is that in order to widen our casting, be seen by new agents, casting directors and to feel more artistically fulfilled than a commercial, painting by numbers project would allow, most have to consider working for free at some time. For this we turn to the London Fringe. A wonderfully exciting place full of interesting people, brilliant ideas, product that would never normally be considered by the big league and, most importantly, no money what-so-ever! Unlike Broadway, where ‘Off Broadway’ is just to do with the capacity of the theatre, the London Fringe (its equivalent) is a collection of spaces above pubs, under railway arches and in the back rooms of larger venues. They could be anywhere around London and are frequently not easy to find!

To be involved in a Fringe show is a very different experience and one that West End leads are now specifically searching. I know several stalwarts who have requested a stint in a dark and dingy corner of London.

Luckily for me, most (yes, I did a few – they can be addictive to those fueled by creativity and not money) have worked out to be very productive for future work: One afforded me a contact that lead to a number one tour, others have lead indirectly or sometimes directly to future work with the same production team in more financially rewarding times. Plus, of course, I cut my MDing teeth in this environment. The positive note is that sometimes these things really do pay off, the negative is that sometimes they don’t and it could take several years before you see the benefits.

One always hopes that ‘this show’ will make a miraculous transfer into town and that we will all be stars in the making, but the truth is generally far from that. The production houses that regularly go that way are elitist and the common man can’t even get an audition – they are reserved for the select few, who are part of the afore mentioned sect moving from show to show. In general you are involved in order to network. You simply don’t know when you are going to meet the next Mackintosh, Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn or Gareth Valentine. They all have to start somewhere.

To return more specifically to topic – as a creative it is quite exasperating when faced with performers who haven’t really addressed the question of ‘Why am I doing it?’. If their answer was ‘money’ they are clearly barking up the wrong tree. Even the most fastidiously honest ‘profit share’ producers won’t be able to pay you a living wage. In truth, your answer should probably be: To be seen by casting directors and such, to expand my CV, to get an agent, to network or it could be to help out friends, charity etc. There are a number of reasons available, but there should always be one. A lack of an answer will inevitably lead to despondency and back biting.

Having established the reason, then ask yourself “What can I do to ensure my needs are met?” I worked with many who knew why they were there, but then did nothing about it. Pointless. Do you need to write letter, call people, publicise on the internet? Next; “What am I expecting form the company and do they know that?” Never assume. Finally; “What is the base line?” ie what happens if you don’t get what you need out of this project? Ask yourself these questions before you accept. Nay, before you apply. If you don’t have satisfactory answers by the time you are saying yes or no to the job, don’t do it.

Those people who I worked with who I don’t believe could give full answers to these questions are the ones who caused trouble for me as an MD. In an actor-musician piece, the last thing I want to hear on a daily basis is: “I am an actress, not a violin”! I do not purport to be anything influential in the industry, but I am frequently asked to recommend suitable applicants for jobs and my opinion of people with whom I have worked. Why would I recommend someone who causes trouble and creates atmosphere in a rehearsal room?

So, ask yourself “Why?” If you can’t find an answer that betters you as a person or a performer and one that won’t keep you happy through a difficult creative process, do not press submit, do not say yes, do not pass go and collect several hundred pounds of debt.

September 7, 2010

Hello world!

Filed under: Uncategorized — alexweatherhill @ 11:01 pm

And so to the world of blogging. Watch out!

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