Coming Soon To A Theatre Near You…

By Susan Roberts

When I tell people what I do for a living, their eyes light up and they exclaim, “Oh, it must be SO exciting to work in the theatre!” Of course it is, but probably not in the way that they imagine.

I recently passed the 32 year mark in this industry, and have spent most of that time as a stage manager. Would I swop it for anything else if I had those years back? Yes, if I could become a best-selling, rich-and-famous author or a Disney princess, but let’s be realistic here.

It wasn’t always fun. Like most people who began in stage management over thirty years ago, I started off as an assistant stage manager or ASM. What a misnomer that was! The grandest part of the job was its title, and once I got over that shock, the realisation hit me that I had studied for three years at university only to become a floor-sweeper and tea-maker, to be seen and not heard. I was frowned at if I ventured a drama student-like opinion on anything that wasn’t related to sweeping, tea bags or petty cash slips. Even after I had climbed the ladder to actual Stage Manager status a few years down the line, the most important things that anyone wanted to know from me was whether the urn was boiling and if the milk was fresh.

Stage management as I first learnt it fitted perfectly into the old British class system. Picture any scene from Downton Abbey that involves the servants – even those who are highly-prized and sought-after by other stately homes – at the beck and call of their masters and mistresses at all hours of the day or night. This will give you a rough idea of what it was like to be considered a good ASM back in the early 80s.

In that small but larger-than-life world, ASMs were essentially second-class citizens. We addressed leading actors as Mr or Miss; we swept the floor and set their props before they arrived, then made sure that their tea was ready when they needed it. We spoke only when spoken to and took the blame like whipping-boys when anything went wrong on stage or in rehearsal. If an actor forgot a line, it could usually be blamed on something that the ASM did or didn’t do which distracted the actor and threw his concentration in that crucial moment.

Anyone who dared to rise above the glass ceiling set by actors, directors and producers was said to have “ideas above their station” or were “uppity” and “wouldn’t last in the business.” Well, several of my fellow ASMs left after a few months to take jobs which paid more. Even those who made it to stage manager usually moved on before the age of 30. I lost colleagues in those early years to journalism, restaurant management and television production, but somehow I never quite managed to follow them. I tried leaving the industry three or four times, but always found the right hole to crawl back into, putting myself back where I belonged, where I felt at home.
theater-seats-10035525 Why did I stick it out for so long? I don’t know but I’m glad I did. And it got a lot better along the way. Cynics might say that my enjoyment in the industry depends on how precariously those rose-coloured spectacles are balanced on the end of my nose, but I find it fascinating to be an observer of life that is a little more skewed than reality. I have always been an avid student of literature and I am constantly intrigued by the motivation behind people’s actions. This love of drama and history has provided me with endless material since I turned to writing.

I still enjoy stage management though, and thanks to the way the industry has evolved in 30 years, those old master-servant lines have long since blurred. In fact, in the theatre community in which I currently work, they have been erased altogether. With shrinking budgets, actors have become directors, set-builders and stage crew, while ASMs frequently double as performers. We all work together as a team instead of a hierarchy, and it’s a great place to be.

After more than thirty years in this industry, I can look back on a warm, fuzzy core of happy memories, outrageous stories that no one would believe, and a community of theatre friends who pull together, support each other, laugh a lot, and are worth their weight in gold. Today we can all watch Downton Abbey without feeling like some of us should be below stairs.

Maybe it’s a fairgold-stage-curtain-100147119y tale world, but I wouldn’t like to be anywhere else. Somehow I never grew away from wanting to be part of a world of make-believe and today I channel my spare energy into writing imaginary characters in a fictional world. Maybe not so fictional, given that store of outrageous stories I have collected first hand. When theatre’s been your bread and butter for so long, you get comfortable with the taste of it.

Tame the Crazy

by Julianne Alcott

I’m a big fan of the book “He’s just not that into you.” I love their catch phrase “Don’t waste the Pretty”.

I have come up with one of my own catch phrases from watching my behaviour, and the behaviour of my friends… and the behaviour of so many women in my many years of Rom Com movie viewing.

Tame the Crazy…

You probabcrazy-girl-cross-eyed-and-pulling-her-ears-10054848ly know what I mean. The checking our phone five times a minute to see if he’s replied. Roaming through his Facebook newsfeeds to see who he was with, when he said he was busy and couldn’t see us. Sending him a strongly-worded message when he says he’ll get back to us later and he doesn’t. Driving slowly by his work to see if we can spot him.

We’re probably all guilty of some of those antics. But they don’t help the situation. If we let ourselves get carried away like that, we will just end up stressing and becoming obsessed.

Now I’m young-lady-thinking-10049596not talking about times when there is real evidence that we need to be suspicious of the man in our life. I’m speaking of ordinary men and ordinary relationships.

I’ve been there and done that, and I’m tired of living that way. So I decided to try something new. Instead of talking to my lady friends about my woes, I asked the men I knew. Friends, work colleagues and friend’s husbands.

After all, how were other women really going to give me insight into the workings of the male brain?

One of the problems is that we expect men to think like us, and they expect us to think like them. So if a man doesn’t message us back for a whole day, we look at the reasons why we wouldn’t message someone back for a day. It usually involves being tired of them, or thinking that they are not important enough.

If you ask a man, often he will look at you with a surprised and defensive expression, and say that he was busy.

To busy too message me back! Immediately women look for hidden motives and ulterior meanings, while men find that reason to be totally acceptable. They all know of times when they were concentrating on something, and answering a message just wasn’t in the picture at all.

Their phones are often just a work tool for them. They don’t check them regularly for social interaction. They might read a message, but then they get busy, and don’t remember it five seconds later.

Yet we excuse the same things in our girl friends that we find maddening when men do them. If our best friend says she was doing a 12km cycle and forgot to charge her phone the night before, we understand. Woe to the man who takes a day to get back to us!

Men are men. They will always think like men. They may have the same values as women, but they don’t think like women. Women need to put that fact into our hearts and minds, so that we don’t ruin something that might turn out to be good.

There is a brilliant example of that in “Harry Potter, Order of the Phoenix”, where Hermione describes what a girl is thinking…

“Don’t you understand how she must be feeling? Well, obviously she’s feeling sad about Cedric, and therefore confused about liking Harry, and guilty about kissing him. Conflicted because Umbridge is threatening to sack her mum from her job at the Ministry, and frightened about failing her O.W.L.s because she’s so busy worrying about everything else.

One person couldn’t feel all that, they’d explode!

Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon…

Tame the crazy!

I know just what I’m talking about. I was in a relationship with a lovely man, and I never saw the end coming until it hit me in the face.

Okay, so part of the problem was that he was immature, out of his depth and often bailed out of things when they got difficult. But I didn’t tame my crazy either, and that was a bad combination.

I wanted to spend every moment of the weekend with him. I wanted to see him at least once during the week as well. I wanted him to message me every day. We were well-suited and comfortable with each other, but of course there were a few sticky points, and I handled them badly.

There will be sticky points in every relationship, and we can choose how we solve them. I found that writing messages that I never send works for me. (Important: I NEVER send them!) I get all my frustrations out by yelling at him in a Word document. I don’t talk it over with my friends, because that riles me up again.

After writing a few messages, I have usually calmed down enough to tame the crazy. I delete the messages, and then discuss it with him as a light-hearted, relaxed woman. I definitely get better results than the crazy angry lady used to!

In my previous relationship, I was smothering, stressed, clingy, needy and at times whiney. I needed a huge wake-up call to see where I was going wrong.

Love is like a flower. It blooms slowly. It grows with time and nurturing and care. It can’t be forced to hurry up, just like roughly opening a flower will only damage it.

Often women are impatient to know where the relationship is going. We are so sick of wasting our time with jerks and losers, that we rush things. We want to know if it’s going to work. We want to know if he loves us NOW. We demand all the information up front. Want to solve all the issues immediately. We bring out the crazy!

And we can persuade or nag a man to do something we want, but in the end, he’s not going to own that decision, because he didn’t decide for himself. He needs to come to the conclusion that he loves us on his own, and in his own time.

Take the same lovely, but immature, out-of-his-depth man I went out with. After he broke up with me, I got him back again. I’m good at that. I worked 6 years in retail, and I sell things to random strangers in shops. I convinced the socks off him that we should give it another try.

But it didn’t last, because I was the one who had persuaded him. It would have had a better shot of working if he had come to the realisation on his own, and had come to find me and get me back in his life.

We want things to go our way, so we do the craziest things to try manipulate what is happening.

We mustn’t go all “My Best Friend’s Wedding” on the situation. If you don’t know what I mean, find the movie and cringe, as Julia Roberts’ character gets more and more frantic and creative as she tries to stop the inevitable.

Women also take things far too seriously. We revolve our whole lives around the latest man. The relationship affects everything; what we wear, how we feel, what we think about.

It’s not deadly serious. Meeting someone, and getting to know them should be fun.

We don’t try a new shampoo, and then base all our thoughts and needs on whether it succeeds. Of course finding a life partner is an important thing, but if we make it the most important thing in our lives, we are going to be stressed, and the crazy will screaming-young-woman-holding-her-head-100218357take over!

We need to relax. We need to make a new relationship just an aspect of our lives, not the sole motivator of it.

This is an adventure. We should be enjoying the pleasure of getting to know another human being. If it works out, then great. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t a good fit, just like our new anti-frizz shampoo wasn’t quite the right thing for us.

The important thing is that we are rational, fully grounded women having adventures. Cheerfully giving love to someone. Sensibly exploring new things.

Not scheming, hysterical, unconfident, nagging, volatile, smothering, suspicious banshees. Why would any man want to stay around that!

Fame before following

by Penny M

Just before I set off towards foreign lands in February my blood made a lofty dash to my head, and I signed up for a freelance professional journalism course through correspondence. I completed an entry form online and had no proof that I‘d correctly selected my preferred starting date which was mid-March. I received my first tutorial in the middle of February, two weeks before my departure for Australia. Hmm! I forgave them.

Am I the only one who thinks in months? Don’t answer that, I’ve just realised that the course is Australian and Australians in certain areas think in one or two week intervals. No, I don’t mean they only think every two weeks. Salaries are paid at two week intervals and rent is payable weekly. I guess that’s why the Morris Journalism Academy schedules tutorials every other week.

I’ve now had five. So, not only do I have to get my brain around the time differences (see my last blog), but I have to reschedule my priorities and deadlines to cope with an influx of Australian notes.

I’m devouring the contents of each tutorial and thoroughly enjoying them. Unfortunately my assignments are forming a stack on my To Do List along with numerous other projects I want to get to yesterday.

boy on books
I reached a section of my third tutorial, entitled ‘The Column and the Blog’. I quote:

‘The “column”, “comment piece”, “opinion piece”, or these days, “the blog” (short for “web log”), is an altogether different matter. It’s specifically designed for the writer to present their opinions – and sometimes biases – on a subject, though in a manner that is logical and backed up with facts.

Columns that appear on a regular basis are usually written by an expert or identity, but all columns focus on current events or topical themes.

These, then, allow the columnist to present their interpretation of what is happening in society. Ideally, readers will buy that publication each week or month, or visit that website, to find out what the writer has to say on that issue’s chosen subject…’

‘Editors are only interested in presenting the opinions of experts, identities or celebrities, so a column, or an idea for one, is not something a new writer should attempt to sell…The same goes for blogs on high profile websites. These are the domain of experts and identities, who have often become so through years of writing on a particular subject and building a strong knowledge base.

The high profile bloggers have in-depth knowledge in a specific field, and are considered by editors to be an asset for their website – something that people will come back day after day, or week after week for.’

The above reminded me that a pure blog expresses opinion and/or comment.

Our Scribbling Scribes blog is fun to write, good discipline and it’s a pleasure to delight our readers who, I suspect, are still mostly family, colleagues and friends. However, I’m under no illusion that I have a thirsty public out there who would hang themselves if I missed a deadline.

This will change when the world knows my name.

Until then I need to expand my profile by producing articles, novels, stories et cetera that make a difference in the lining of my pocket.

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

I hope for editors, publishers, agents and the like to discover me and then read my blogs as a reference. I agree with the author of my course notes and have concluded that fame comes before following.

So, if I skip a Scribbling Scribes deadline on occasion, it’s because I’m concentrating on building a public who will miss me if I don’t deliver. I hope our readers will understand and forgive me.

The End

By Sue Trollip

How do you know when it’s time to say hasta la vista to your baby?

Bob Dylan perhaps had the best comeback because the answer, my friends, is too variable to be anything but ‘blowing in the wind’.

I recently read an article by Jerry Weiss in The Artist’s Magazine  called ‘In praise of the unfinished’, in it he wrote:

‘At its worst, the desire to finish a work can produce a kind of embalming, a waxed sheen of good intentions that smothers whatever life an idea once possessed.’

And although Weiss was talking about paintings I thought it applied well to manuscripts too. Editing is a tricky job. Writers may think it easier to look at a canvas and say, it’s finished when it’s full of paint, but painters are also in the habit of moving people, and trees and buildings to get a better composition.

In my brain the voice that cries out for one more edit is loud. Another voice, the one that ponders about over-editing, is quieter but no less worrying, because that waxed sheen is not what any author artist wants. It is the roughness that brings texture to the text and by texture I mean reader participation.

Weiss mentions Whistler’s paintings saying that their worth is ‘owed as much to omission as it is to elaboration.’

He had me at omission. I do not like authors to paint each flower for me, I much prefer to picture the garden for myself. Damon Galgut does this best with too many examples to mention and then there’s Lionel Shriver. One of her sentences that I can’t seem to forget because it paints a magnificent picture in my head, goes:

‘the buses bursting with cackling passengers three times over capacity and aflap with chickens.

These are authors who know exactly when to finish.

The painter William Merrit Chase  believes that ‘it takes two to paint. One to paint and the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it.’ That’s a tad grim William, but oh so true. Weiss claims that, ‘When done properly, an “unfinished” work states the essentials and leaves the rest to the imagination.’

Now as soon as I work out whether the essentials are in place I’ll have my answer!


A Mountain, A Bicycle and A Meandering Blog

By Susan Roberts

I’m lying in the largest bed I’ve ever seen, in a thatched rondavel high in the mountains near Lotheni. The sun has just risen over the ridge behind my back, and in my view I can see the shadow of our rondavel dwarfed against the lush rolling hills above me.

In the distance the mountains, which looked blue as we drove towards them yesterday, now have a sharper definition. Light alternates with dark to reveal gullies and ridges topped by the crust of rock that juts up before the almost flat escarpment above. In the foreground, however, the rounded hills have a softer look, as if someone has thrown a green velvet bedspread over them.

Through the cottage panes that enhance rather than obscure my view, I can see that not a breath of wind is stirring a leaf or a blade of grass. Such stillness, so high up. I can hear the occasional moo of a cow and there’s a bird calling in the trees across the river.

That river bubbled so noisily last night, but it seems to have lulled itself into a slumber in the early morning while waiting for the sun to rise. It reminds me of a group of cyclists before the start of a race, holding back their strength, hoping they have trained enough and wondering how they will fare during the day’s race.

In fact, that’s the reason I’m here. Cycling. No, not me – I doubt anyone alive can ever remember seeing me on a bicycle. Not even my sister whose bicycle I sometimes borrowed (without her permission) when I was a teenager.MH900437934

The only other bicycle I ever rode belonged to the boyfriend I had in my early twenties. I had to go to the shops one day, and he was out in his car. His bicycle, however, was padlocked to one of the veranda poles. I knew where the key was, so I borrowed it.

I must have turned too sharply at the first corner because I wobbled out of control across a treacherous patch of tar and into the gutter. A group of domestic servants on their lunch break leaped back from the edge of the pavement, then rushed forward to pick me up, uttering cries and exclamations of sympathy. I mustered as much dignity as a person can when their knees and elbows are bleeding, and assured them that I was fine before nonchalantly walking my boyfriend’s bicycle back around the corner to its veranda pole and its padlock.

I’ve never ridden a bicycle since. And I’ve always hated that stupid expression: “It’s like riding a bicycle; you never forget how.” Well, I beg to differ! In ten years I had forgotten it all. Thirty years later I’m certainly not about to risk my precious fifty-something self by trying it again.

I digress. How unusual…

Back to yesterday’s bicycle race. Two of us accompanied a third (cycling) friend to the Midlands Meander so that she could take part in a cycle race from Nottingham Road to Himeville. Because the race was 100 kilometers long, she needed someone to drive to the finish to fetch her. This became the excuse for a glorious weekend outing for all of us.

We arrived on Friday afternoon at Notties to register for the race, and stayed for a sumptuous carbo-loading meal – all three of us despite only one being a cyclist! We spent the night in a nearby rented cottage and got our friend to the starting line early the next morning. Once we’d waved goodbye to her, we began our own adventure. We meandered our way through the shops and eateries of our favourite part of the country, gathering retail and doing more sympathetic carbo-loading. The day ended with a scenic drive to Kenmo Lake outside Himeville to fetch our cyclist before winding up into the hills around Lotheni for a night in a rustic mountain hut.

It’s lovely to be up in the Berg again. Remote, far from home, with no burglar bars or cellphone reception. Gas fuels the geyser, stove and fridge, and a huge fireplace provides warmth for three comfy beds. A few strategic lights are powered by batteries that have been charging all day long via solar panels, and in this complete picture of rustic bliss I feel my writer batteries being re-charged despite the absence of electricity and my laptop.

All the wilderness and tranquillity a writer’s soul could ask for.