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Dr Ferret Connect Blog

 

Lawrence Smith is one of 20 Scottish Opera Connect singers who'll be starring in our upcoming production of Dr Ferret's Bad Medicine Road Show. In his blog we get a glimpse into how rehearsals are going, and how the young stars are feeling about their Citizens Theatre debut! 

 

9 February

 

So I was fidgeting around today in class. Just moving my arms around and stepping here and there. One of my friends looked at me kind of strangely and asked “Lawrence...Why are you doing a box-step?” Yes, I was standing there and unknowingly, but very blatantly, recreating the choreography for the Toys section of the show. It seems that shaking this whole Dr Ferret experience may take a bit longer than planned...

 

Just to fill you in, Dr Ferret has been and gone. His cart is off to some other town, offering to cure the next Henry Kings and Matildas. If you missed it all, maybe read the 4 star review a national newspaper gave it to get you up to speed? (I was wondering how long it would take me to bring that up...I lasted longer than expected...)
Saturday and Sunday were kind of biggies. The self induced ‘Dr Ferret bubble’ we had been in for the past 5 or so months was to be broken, as people from the outside world were going to watch us perform. People who paid good money to see us. In a world premiere. Eating string. (Well, that was just me, but it felt like a group effort).
In the changing rooms (which will forever have the aroma of deodorant after the amount the boys used in between shows), we would hear over the in-house radio the 5 minute call. Of course, we were already nervous beforehand, but this made it sound all official. We’d wait by the stage entrance and all take part in the ritualistic stepping-in-rosin-powder-so-that-we-don’t-fall-on-our-faces-on-stage, then head on into the wings. We could hear the murmur of the audience and the twings and twangs of the warming-up orchestra. Some of us were so nervous we couldn’t stop talking (out of the earshot of the audience, of course) and some of us were so nervous that we rested our heads on the cart/nearest available wall and quietly rehearsed parts of the show/waited for that horrible feeling of nausea to pass (incidentally, my stomach didn’t stop doing somersaults until the end of the first number). But just standing there in the wings, with a group of people I’ve spent roughly 27 years of my life with (perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it certainly feels like it) and knowing we had the potential to put on a blinder of a show, I couldn’t help but be excited. It also cemented, for me, that yes, this is definitely what I want to do with the rest of my life, so that’s a bonus. (Performing, I mean. Not standing in dimly lit spaces, leaning on a wooden cart, feeling ill and rambling on about ferrets. That doesn’t sound like much fun.)

 

It would be pointless for me to write about the performances themselves considering I can’t really remember them. That came out wrong. What I mean is that the shows themselves were such a blur. Before we knew where we were after the cart rolled on for the first time, it was time for applause. I can only assume it was what an out of body experience must be like (but with more stage lights and better orchestration). Something that did stick out, however, was that thanks to the audience, we remembered bits of the show that we had just accepted as given. We had gotten so lost in hitting our marks, singing the right words, the right notes, being in clumps rather than uniformed lines, wearing the costumes, projecting our voices, having clear diction etc that we forgot that a boy eating string is actually kind of funny. The reactions the audience had at the end of ‘George’ after the house had fallen down; when Jim’s head popped out of the lion; when we sang the last line... all incredible. I couldn’t help but feel jealous of the people who got to watch this weird story unfold: they had no clue what was going to happen next or which part of the cart was going to come flying off or what grizzly moral was going to be reached at the expense of an unfortunate child. It was with these moments that it would hit me just how lucky those of us involved in Dr Ferret were. We were singing in an actual theatre. There was a top class orchestra. Posters for the shows were popping up all over Glasgow. Friends and family were sitting in the audience, not only willing us on, but also flat out enjoying themselves. Countless people behind the scenes were spending their precious hours to make sure things went well for us all. It was a world premiere. We were, in our own special way, Scottish Opera singers. Of course, these moments were fleeting, as before we knew it, the music had rocketed off into the next story, so the awesomeness (and I use that word with all seriousness, not in the overused clichéd sense) of it all would only come later - when walking back home from the theatre, when talking to audience members who came to see it, when seeing your face accompanying a praising review of the show.

 

There is plenty more to say about the Dr Ferret Connect experience. With all the opportunities we’ve had, how couldn’t I go on and on? On a personal level, I have made some incredible friends and have met some great people whilst having a brilliant time (how many more adjectives could that sentence have??). So, I may as well use my remaining words and time to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone involved in making the weekend’s performances possible. Without you all, we’d just be a bunch of teenagers who annoy those around us by harmonising popular songs. With you, we became the Scottish Opera Connect Company.
 

 

Before I forget! Though it hardly bears thinking- what happened to the cart?! A question for another day perhaps...

 

So, for one last time, the unofficial Scottish Opera Connect/Dr Ferret 2010/2011 catchphrase: Go Go Glasgow!!!

 

 

Henry King
 

 

3 February

 

You’ll have to excuse the lack of Dr Ferret Blogs over the last wee while. You see, production’s stepped up quite a few gears for us Connecters. Last time I blogged (surely that’s a verb by now? I blog, you blog, we blog...this is starting to sound like a Dr Seuss story), we were still running around Elmbank Crescent, giddy with excitement -yes, ‘giddy’- but also drained from tiring rehearsals. Now we can add ‘terrified’ to the Connect lexicon.

 

Last week we had our first go at singing in the Citizens’ Theatre. We were called in for another go with the costumes, the first time we had seen each other as Dr Ferret’s minions, and for a sitzprobe (which sounds fairly painful), where we have a run through of the music on stage with the orchestra. First off, there were the usual ‘amazing, we’re actually performing in here!!’ reactions, then seeing the orchestra in place, with the ‘amazing, we’re actually performing with them!!’ reactions, then the singing with the ‘can anyone actually hear us?’ reactions. We found out, the hard way, that the rehearsal room we were used to singing in, spacious as it was, was no match for the Citizens’ Theatre. Acoustically, we were like the Whos to the audience’s Horton (another Dr Seuss reference that is actually pretty apt, believe me). Whilst we were trying- hard- to resemble a wall of sound, we just ended up sounding like we were on the wrong side. We were drowned out by the orchestra, any sound we were making was being lost in the hall and the words were, well, they didn’t sound like words. Quite a sobering session that served as a wake up call for the weekend’s rehearsals.

 

Saturday had us back in the Citz, this time doing the staging side of things, with music taking a back seat. Getting used to having the stage at a slight angle took a wee bit of getting used to, as did the fact that we were actually in a theatre. With lights. And seats. The theatre in which we’d be performing to real people. Real people sitting in the real seats. Yes, taking a little bit of getting used to. Sunday was back to Elmbank, though without any props or costumes…or my favourite cart. The small kinks here and there that were emphasised on the stage were then dealt with, along with the addition of some new moves.

 

Wednesday was then another run through, but mainly from a technical point of view, getting the lighting sorted etc. We have a Friday dress rehearsal and then curtains up!

 

I can’t really think of anything clever or funny to say. The very fact that we’ve rehearsed our bows is sort of surreal. In a few days, Dr Ferret will be over. The first rehearsal seems like an age away, yet here we are, our wee Dr Ferret bubble soon to burst, as people from the outside will get to see what we’ve been slaving away on for these past months.

 

 

Apologies for getting all schmaltzy, but whatever happens, Dr Ferret has definitely been quite an experience!

 

See you in the Citz! I’m the one who eats string....seriously, if that has you amused or perplexed, come watch…
 

 

21-23 January

 

So picture this: You’re having a relaxing get together with friends after a long day at school/uni/college. You start to head back home. You walk along Argyll Street in Glasgow. You notice something out the corner of your eye and BOOM- there, in all its 6 foot by 4 foot glory, is the Dr Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow promo poster! It’s at this point that you realise that what you’ve been doing for the past few months is actually kind of a big deal. It also shows your friends the reason you haven’t been able to see them at the weekends without mumbling away about carts, Matilda, balloons etc

 

You then see the same poster just round the corner from Buchanan Street a few days later. You’ve come prepared this time, so, naturally, you pose in front of it and get your photo taken...

 

The clock is indeed ticking down. With only 4 or 5 rehearsals left, it’s not long ‘til friends and family (and anyone interested in the posters!) will get to see the hard work of the Connect Company and all those involved. This weekend was another marathon rehearsal schedule for us. On Friday, we made a good start on the Matilda section of the Dr Ferret story. Again, the challenge of singing being mixed with more choreography proved quite hard for us to get our heads round. As always though, practice makes...well, not quite ‘perfect’, but not too far off. To help us with getting the moves cemented in our minds, footage from previous rehearsals was sent to us so we could brush up on it in the comfort of our own homes (needless to say, the videos will never be fit for public consumption!).

 

The mission statement for the weekend’s rehearsal was to be able to complete a full run through by the end of Sunday. Save for a few of the links between segments, it was mission success! Having the biggest audience yet (members of Scottish Opera staff, the composer, the librettist and a couple of kids- our target audience and therefore harshest critics!) definitely helped boost the performance. By doing the run through, the bits of the show we still aren’t totally sure about made themselves noticeable...again, the clock is ticking.

 

But as challenges go, it’s actually quite fun: this is an amazing opportunity and a great piece that could be really impressive and it’s up to us to make sure we do it justice.
 

 

 

7-9 January

 

Another weekend, another 17 hours of Dr Ferret.

 

The mission statement for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday was to cover the stories of Jim, George and Toys (three large chunks of the overall Dr Ferret story) and despite having absences here and there (along with the dread of returning to school/university/college) we managed it, not that it wasn’t hard work.
 

 

Friday’s session was in the Elmbank Crescent building in a room downstairs from the main rehearsal room we’ve been in previously, begging the question –how did they transport the Dr Ferret cart (now on my birthday list rather than Christmas) down the stairs and through the small doorways? I’m sure there’s a perfectly obvious answer like ‘they took it apart and reassembled it downstairs’ but I’m clinging on to the hope that there’s a secret trapdoor somewhere. We got cracking with setting the scene for George and his dangerously combustible balloon (if that sentence strikes you as odd, or intriguing, come along to the Citizens Theatre on Saturday the 5th and Sunday the 6th of February to find out more!!!...yes, a plug, and a shameless one at that).

 

We started off with doing a quick revision of the music, as it had been a wee while since we all sang together. It isn’t the easiest music in the world, with unexpected rhythms and notes sneaking in here and there, so we had to get on top of them before moving onto staging. Not to spoil bits of the show, but the cart becomes very ‘interactive’ during the George section, so there’s that to consider while also trying to get the words across. As our choreographer joined us on the Saturday, we were given more complex movements that fit in with the style of the piece - the first time I’ve been told to watch My Fair Lady as homework!

 

Once we got George sorted, we moved on to Jim (again, a sentence that makes more sense when you’ve seen the show). Unfortunately, the Connect member playing Jim was absent, resulting in us ‘acting’ with thin air most of the time. Come show time, however, and we should be well versed. If George has a My Fair Lady influence, then Jim has shades of Chariots Of Fire/Bay Watch, with lots of slow motion running/shocked faces. If I haven’t sold the show to you by now, then clearly I’ve done something wrong...how can you resist a mix between Hepburn and Hasslehoff?

 

The Toys section hit us with its fast and tricky choreography. It has a military feel, as if we were in Opera Bootcamp, though I’d be worried if the Army does some of the moves we were creating. 
 

 

So slowly but surely, Dr Ferret is coming together. There are only a few ‘story chunks’ left to do, which we’ll learn in no time if we continue at the pace we’re going at in picking up the new directions.

 

And now I’m wondering how they’re going to transport the cart from Elmbank Crescent to the Citizens Theatre. My ‘trapdoor theory’ doesn’t seem to quite cover it this time...
 

 

3-5 December:

 

'So Christmas is coming up. As per usual, the grandparents are asking me what I’m wanting (so that they avoid disappointment and don’t send me and my brother matching knitted jumpers). I guess there are some DVDs I’m after? Maybe some music...some vouchers? Just before it’s too late and I phone up my Gran, pleading “can’t my jumper at least be a different colour from his?”, Connect comes along and solves my Christmas dilemma. What I really want this year: Dr Ferret’s cart.

 

Honestly, it’s like a house on wheels (though, technically I guess that’s what a caravan is). But it’s so much more! It basically stores all our sets and props while being a part of the story at the same time. It’s been so well built, incorporating bits of story for the Matilda, George and Jim scenes (and more). Wouldn’t really be surprised if it could fly as well!

 

This weekend, Dr Ferret really started to come together. We’ve had the music for a wee while now, but with these last sessions, we’ve started to do staging as well. Along with a dedicated (i.e patient) group of pros guiding us, the Connect group has increased in size thanks to some new singers. With a good mix of boys and girls, we’re starting to resemble a rag tag bunch of Dr Ferret disciples. Adding to the aesthetic, we’ve started costume fittings- a mix between Oliver Twist and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

As we were Connect-ing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (dismissing any stereotypical teenager behaviour of sleeping all day), we managed to get through a fair chunk of the show. We’ve staged about a third of it and gone through the music of the rest. Sure, there’s plenty more to do, but with 9 or so more rehearsals, I’ve no doubt we’ll pull it off.

 

I just went on the Scottish Opera website and checked out the Events Calendar: there we are on the 5th and 6th of February...it’s the moments like these when you remember that this is real. People are coming to see this - people who aren’t just my gran.

 

So, two months left ‘til curtain up. Plenty of time to learn what to do in the Matilda scenes, the G-G-G-George scenes, the finale; time to do more bonkers warm ups that are hilarious and at the same time beneficial (and just pray no one walks in while you’re doing them); time to go on a diet so that the poor guys who carry me off on a make shift stretcher in the ‘Henry King’ segment don’t pull a muscle; time to really cement in our heads which words go with which rhythm and where we are on the stage when we’re singing them; time to go up to each other and drop random lyrics into casual conversation; and of course, time to sneak in and steal the Dr Ferret cart while no one’s watching...

 

I say all this knowing that February is going to be here before we know it. Though this should be a scary thought, I actually can’t wait.'

 

November

 

Really? It’s Connect again already?

In what seems like no time at all, the members of ‘Scottish Opera Connect’ descended upon the Elmbank Crescent headquarters in Glasgow to start preparations for our next production (just reading that sentence back to myself, I kinda got chills. How many other people our age will get to use big and impressive words like these?...’Scottish Opera’...’headquarters’...’production’....heck, even ‘descended’ sounds good).

 

Perhaps rather than jumping in head first, I should try to explain some things for those of you who are new to this whole Connect malarkey. The flier for Connect promises the opportunity to get ‘up close and personal with opera’. It pretty much is a ‘does what it says on the tin’ explanation, actually. The programme is now in its third year. The introduction year, now called ‘Connect Gateway’, focuses on exploring lots of aspects of the opera world: the singing, the acting, the sets, the history, the costumes (which I may have enjoyed more than a boy should...). The latter years then put the knowledge they’ve been provided with into practice, in the form of a performance. Last year, the Connect production was Airheads: a slightly strange, cold, perhaps adult-themed tale of liberation from lives of monotony. This year? Not so much.

 

But before we dug into the new music, we all had a bit of showing off to do. Friday’s session, the first of the new Connect year, started off with us all doing solos. In front of each other. Like, right in front. Kinda nerve wracking. (‘But you’re all singers!! This is what you do!!’ I hear you cry...well, you have a go...). Adding to the general feeling of discomfort was the fact that this is, for all intents and purposes, a new Connect group. Last year there were those of us in the Airheads group and those in the ‘Gateway’. Now, those who are left have merged together to form a Connect Super group, united against the forces of evil!!(... And, well, music I guess). It’s great to mix the years and exciting to work with new people. So basically the main purpose of singing in front of each other, other than to elevate our blood pressures, was for us to get used to hearing new voices and break the ice, as it were.

 

The solo singing-ness took up the first half of the evening, understandable as there were 15 or so of us to get through. Then came the tea break- always welcomed after a few hours of work. The only downside is that the sofas are too comfy, so it’s pretty hard to summon the willpower to, well, stand up.

 

And then. After the tea break came our first introduction to the new show: Doctor Ferret’s Bad Medicine Roadshow. From the brief outline we were given, Dr Ferret (at this point I’m unsure of the validity of his Doctor title and whether or not he is in fact a ferret) has a special potion that can ‘turn bad kids good’. We then tell stories of some of his previous ‘patients’, including Henry King, who eats string and Matilda, a girl who cries wolf with flammable consequences. The music seems to be a mix between a circus and the score to a Tim Burton film: creepy but tuneful. The target audience are young primary school children (though it could be argued that it could be twisted to become perfect for older people). So far, it differs from Airheads in a few ways. As I say, it’s tuneful. There is a lot more interaction between the boys and the girls. The story seems more straightforward. It’s tuneful. It’s much longer, but seems quite manageable as it can be split into the separate stories e.g. Henry King, Matilda etc. It’s tuneful (this can’t be mentioned enough).

 

So on the Sunday session, we went through the whole piece, which is an achievement in itself. Obviously we’ve a lot more to do, but to know that we can get to the end at all is of great comfort. To know that we’ll performing this in the Citizens Theatre is really exciting as well. Connect went to the Citz to see Scottish Opera’s production of Carmen...come February time, that’ll be us!

 

By no means is the music of Dr Ferret simple. There are already some ‘danger areas’, with tricky rhythms and some unexpected harmonies. When you then think about the acting side of it all, and the costumes, and the sets, and- oh yeah- the audience, you come to realise we have a lot of work to do. But hey, that’s why we come to Connect.