Thursday, 31 December 2015

Cold Turkey and all the trimmings

As a college Principal I invariably at some point early on in my students' training programme attempt to encourage them to get to know themselves.  When we first hit college most of us (or maybe it was just me) are consumed with knowledge and self belief, usually taught to us by our responsible parents, wanting their children to grow up to be lovely adults no doubt. However there are some things I think that we should truly discover for ourselves (not just learn as a hand me down or inherit like some family heirloom).  I would put politics and religion in this bracket for example.  It's so easy to go along with your parent's political beliefs...but what are you even have any? The amount of times a student has told me who they 'support', yet when I ask them what that party actually stands for, they actually don't know a single thing.  So finding ourselves and discovering who and indeed what we are, is, in my opinion, an essential part of an all round college education.

I worked out quite quickly at college that I had a bit of an addictive personality. Freedom to just 'be' made me realise that my 'off' button didn't really work like some other people.  At first I put it down to regular student high jinks, I mean it's a rite of passage to get so inebriated that you're not permitted on a coach (full of really inebriated passengers) right?  If there was a drink that I didn't like..I would persevere until I really liked it. I mean I was dedicated to the cause.

Fortunately other than a few missed lectures, and infamously falling asleep in a rather important rehearsal, I sort of got away with it....after all it was the 80's, I went to a Poly (look it up), so all was good with the world. Never radical...I had my tiny moments, whilst looking enviously on at the 'cool group' that were trying everything!

I was sort of desperate to experiment with drugs....but somehow I just knew that I would get addicted. I was the only person that I knew at the time, that watched Trainspotting and walked away thinking that heroine seemed like a really good idea?  For whatever reason, common sense (or was it just that I was boring?) prevailed and I never actually did any Class A drugs.  I swore that by my 40th birthday I would do a line of coke...indeed I even looked forward to it. It was going to be my very well publicised treat on the big day. Yet come the big moment...I just knew that I'd enjoy it too much and would get addicted so opted out of the 'gift'. Even more awkward was the fact that I had named this 'gift' to nearly everyone at the time, so every card seemed to have a drug reference in it. I remember my dad reading them and me feeling more and more uncomfortable, as I couldn't even begin to explain why practically all my friends and students were referring to the infamous 'line' (not as bad as the cards that I received on my 30th when I'd been convinced that I would be dead...but that's another story).

Anyway...all of the above can be skipped...and summed up as I've always remained dull and on the whole sober (with a few very notable exceptions which have convinced me that my decisions have been correct).  So why then do I currently find myself in the middle of quite a serious drug withdrawal programme?  You see the cold turkey in the title, isn't quite what you fact ...if only!

Since I hit 17/18 years of age  I've suffered from migraines. Work colleagues (especially DSM's covering for me and band members who have watched me play night after night in agony with the anecdotal bucket at my side) and close friends know that the migraines have got really the point that for over 30 years I can't remember waking up without a migraine.  The first thing that I do when I wake up, is take a cocktail of drugs that will hopefully make that particular migraine manageable for that day. Sometimes I manage it...sometimes the migraine wins.  I'm so proud of the fact that I've never missed a show because of one (although quite a few second halves have gone up late as I've composed myself ready to start again). However as we all know Dr Theatre is the ultimate healer. It's been so bad that I've had cars literally outside stage door waiting for me to run into between the matinee and the evening show, so that I could just sleep and 'be quiet' for just an hour or two, so that my cast (especially if they were my students), didn't realise quite how bad things were.

I have medics in my family....hell, I'm even married to one. After many discussion(AKA nagging) I'm very familiar with the concept of the rebound headache.  After years of self medicating thanks to the local pharmacists, off I reluctantly trotted to the Drs to discuss the possibility that I've made the problem worse- I leave the Drs with new wonder drug from the family of triptans which has no rebound properties (and incidentally cures the migraine instantly). Of course sometimes there's a break through pain of the migraine, but now I have prescribed codeine to help me to manage that. The world is looking brighter...I am functioning better. I can legitimately keep popping the triptans, and take a bit of codeine to take the edge off the pain, and I can survive again.Then comes the report that you can have rebound headaches from triptans!!  I cannot believe my bad luck...somehow, with a Dr looking after me, and with me being completely honest about my own practice, I am now on 2 types of medication that create rebound headaches, plus I'm getting migraines like they're going out of fashion. Typical story of I'd taken so many drugs (all prescribed)..none of the bloody things worked.

The migraines got so bad (even sadder that we put it down to age and 'that time'), I was put onto a controlled drug, but  eventually I had to stamp my feet loud enough to get a referral to a  pain clinic, as I was trying to run the college, do the writing/arrangements etc . with the constant daily background of chronic pain.   For the first time I began to feel like I couldn't even do a show (I mean, of course I did.....but it was really bloody painful. You try leading a band with a migraine..every nod is like a hammer blow, and every sound is like a knife...or maybe I'm just hiring the wrong musos).

Referral forward a few months and I meet with my specialist, who of course tells me everything I know (& before you ask it's not red wine or chocolate...these are 100% created by stress) ie half of my symptoms are rebound symptoms, but she took time to explain which ones were which. The only way out of this vicious cycle was.................. to go cold turkey (or taper off.  Basically my body is completely addicted to codeine and to the triptans.  For those that know me well, tapering off was never an option especially as I never wanted to be the addict in the first place...I mean what was the point of all that will power at the various parties as I'd still ended up an addict).  I Still have the triptan detox to go (but the word on the virtual street AKA Google  is that the withdrawal from the triptan is nothing compared to the codeine).

The specialist strongly suggested not trying any withdrawal until I had a 'space of time' in which to try it, she prepped me as much as she could, even injecting my head with a nerve block to help me through the process, and prescribed yet another prophylactic drug, which again, could help my detox. So I waited until the end of term..then went cold turkey, rather aptly in time for Christmas, as our term finished late..and I was working up until 19th Dec.   Except that this cold turkey lasts considerably longer than the more traditional type. You can't serve it up with a pain is pain whichever way you look at it!   I've been off codeine now for 10 days as I write this blog..which I know is nothing in the scheme of things, (plus I also know that I have another detox to go after this one). The plus side is that I had my first 'adult' Christmas minus a migraine - a huge plus indeed with a toddler.  However next time you watch a documentary about people coming off opiates, remember that they're a very close knit family. Heroine and codeine are derived from the same source - and you can just buy codeine over the counter.  Of course there is no comparison to the grown up 'cold turkey' that we read about in books, or see on the TV....but if this minor one is anything to go by I salute everyone that has come off heroine....whilst at the same time question why you would ever go through this again.

So to sum up...I left home and practised what I preached...I attempted to know myself...and felt like I did it enough to keep myself safe (whilst never too dull...I hope).  However the world of medicine became my nemesis as the Drs didn't have time to listen to the full picture.  I should quickly add that I blame no-one but myself for my current predicament as I should have shouted louder sooner...but of course with a migraine, that's actually quite difficult.

As I leave you now to continue the excessive sweating. shivers,  and the stomach cramps would transpire that I was with the 'cool' set after all. I just joined them 30 years too late.

I have a difficult few months ahead of me (obviously I'm thrilled about it)...however, living without a daily migraine has put the other pain into perspective.  Much to the amusement of my family the strangest (but recognised) side effect is the most bizarre sneeze. Words could not do it justice, but I would say book to see my next show in case it makes an  appearance as it's definitely worth it. ;-)

Monday, 28 December 2015

'Our Imelda'...(nothing to do with shoes)

I've loved Musical Theatre for as long as I can remember.  Who cares why I fell in love with it (certainly not with some of the poor versions of shows I have in my memory bank anyway) - but love it I have and do.  Like most performers, musical theatre has become my short hand, it's become my life soundtrack.  Feeling  happy? On goes the Herman as I sing, dance (AKA March) around the room.  Wanting to let off steam....on goes either an angst song, guaranteed to make me sit and blub or the Book of Mormon telling me to 'get over myself...and quickly'.  And so it continues. Basically I've found that Musical Theatre creates a coherent soundtrack for my life.  If there's a gap, then my own 'trade' means that I end up writing my own.

Whilst growing up this was not such a good thing.  I was supposed to like all the latest chart music....but to be honest I didn't even know who was in the charts...let alone what they were doing there.  Not such a great thing for the 14 year old girl from the local comp, who rather enjoyed practising the piano during a lunchtime instead of pushing boundaries, and hanging out with the cool people.  I then did the cardinal sin....I ended up going out with someone equally as 'dull'.  Of course in reality they weren't dull at all, they were really interesting (and have gone on to be a multi award nominated graphic designer working in the glamourous world of cutting edge TV special effects.) So two outsiders...both with teenage dull interests(a good lesson there if you've stumbled upon this blog during your 'cool age' - the people that you once considered dull and boring, might just have had their eye on a bigger prize.  Of course...they might also, just have been dull and boring ;-) )

Being Welsh I got a bit lucky at 16 when things got serious with the school Eisteddfod...which basically meant that my 'dull' hobby became my strength, I suddenly became much more acceptable, as the school was put into houses which had to provide a 'house choir, a house 'soloist' and so it went on. I literally went from loser to winner overnight.  I became truly 'useful', I was no longer the last person waiting to be picked for the team (a familiar picture for many a musician).

I shan't bore you with the rest of my history...suffice as to say that Musical Theatre has gone on to play a rather huge part in my life....some might say that it's even gone on to define who I am as a person. For the past 30 years I've managed to make a living out of it, and nowadays I even inflict my 'hobby' on groups of  students hoping that I can enthuse them to also follow their passion and make it work for them.

With that sort of legacy, it's quite hard work watching shows. Some are enjoyed and restore your belief that you were were right to devote so much time to the art form, others leave you frustrated at wasted opportunities...then once in that proverbial blue moon, one comes along that you just HAVE to see.

This year for me it was the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Gypsy staring our very own Imelda(let's face it, there's not a performer around that doesn't want to be her mate, we've all heard countless times that she's as lovely off stage as she is powerful on stage...therefore for that reason alone she's 'our very own').  Surely one of the most unassuming great actors of our generation?  From Vera Drake to Sweeney she just delivers...and then some.

I first saw her many moons ago when she was playing the Baker's Wife in the original West End production of Into the Woods.  I knew even then, as a fresh (ish) faced young twenty year old that her Moment in the Woods was better than was exquisite. The use of the head and chest voice was like a masterclass to the young singer watching (that was me by the way).  In fact to this day, I use the recording of that song as a reference to singers struggling with the concept of using the voice in different ways (apologies to the Estill people out there who will be explaining her nuances in a completely different way).

Too many shows in between to mention...but every time I saw her she was just brilliant. Then came the whisper that she'd be playing Mama Rose, not so quickly followed I should add, by the public announcement of a) the Chichester run and then b) the West End transfer.  In 2 and a half years of being a mum, myself and my long suffering OH and I have managed 1 afternoon off together to have a 'date'. however when this show went on sale, we bought our tickets knowing that we just had to have one more date to catch 'our Imelda' in the ultimate role of "Rose'.  We had the added bonus that Louise was going to be played by The MTA's Patron Lara Pulver we knew that the date would be rather special.  The final cast and creative team were announced, and it was just obvious that this wasn't just going to be a production of could very well be THE production of Gypsy for some of us.

There is always a pressure on a date....especially when you literally have one a year. So we'd gone out for a nice meal beforehand, but both of us were still in that parent trap of wondering if our child was OK, had we remembered everything...parents amongst you will know the sort of thing.

But then things changed....we got to the Savoy (always a special theatre to me, as I'm a bit of a G&S bore too...I mean it really is no wonder my school friends and I had nothing in common)

Can there be any argument about the Gypsy overture summing up the best of a Broadway overture? As soon as that infamous overture started (and what a band I should add)....we were transported into the magical world of MT one more time. However this time it was like a vortex that dragged us in and just would't let us go.  As that brass section kicked in, all thoughts of my chil disappeared into the more rational brain compartment of 'well the babysitter will tell us if there's something wrong'.

The show was everything you would have hoped for and a million times more.  I've never, ever felt the need to give someone a standing ovation in the middle of a show before. However to be honest on this occasion I just didn't have a choice. Roses's Turn was painful, and heartfelt, and bitter, and angry...and....and.  I mean you name it 'our Imelda' went through it.  There can be little doubt that Imelda deserves every award going for that performance. However let's not forget (as a wise man once told me)...that for every 'star' they are elevated by the people around them. The 'Gimmick' girls, so brave with their choices, and so brilliant throughout. Peter Davidson supported 'our Imelda' as she kept rising above everyone, whilst maintaining a humour and humanity in Herbie,  which made it all the more powerful when he'd had enough. Then Lara Pulver as Louise was just simply stunning. So I have a disclaimer of knowing her (only insomuch as she's the college's Patron)...but I didn't recognise the person that I knew up on that stage at all.  As she transformed into the Diva that was Gypsy Rose hear the vocal quality change, the posture slowly evolve...just so inspiring.  I've said since I saw the show, that had she not been playing in the same show as 'our Imelda' then all the plaudits would be thrown at her.

Some date it turned OH and myself walked to Covent Garden without saying a word. Every time we went to say something on the tube we just let it g['p[o.  For once...the theatre had said it all.

I don't think that the West End has ever got it quite so right.  How brilliant then that the BBC opted to film it before it closed, and then broadcast it over the Christmas period.  The West End had hit social media...I didn't read one negative comment on twitter last night about the show, and I have never see that before.  People were shouting that it should have been on BBC 1 but what difference does it was ON...we could ALL watch it again.  Never have I been so proud of our industry - we really do celebrate excellence.

A week earlier we had a more mixed reception to the extraordinary feat of The Sound of Music Live...but again Musical Theatre was on the TV.  Our art form had returned to the masses....indeed from where it started way, way back!  Of course nowadays the masses have a bigger choice, but as long as a few people stepped outside of their comfort zone it was job done.

I was saddened by the instant twitter frenzy of 'what should we do next?" Those bloody polls started popping up, as if someone had a hotline to the BBC or ITV ready to say 'thanks..we've now chosen....' Personally (and indeed I did voice this on twitter) I felt that the night belonged to the cast of Gypsy (a bit like the week before actually...when it belonged to the SOM Live cast).  In the case of Gypsy, it wasn't filmed just to get a bit of MT onto our screens, it was filmed/archived because everyone knew that what was being created on that stage was a once in a lifetime performance.  I very much doubt that I will see a better Rose than 'our Imelda'...and you know I very much that I'll see a better supporting case, or band, or technical crew than that particular production.  For me, personally, it was a definitive, career defining performance....that's why it was filmed.  The world of theatre remains magical if we only see those performances every so often.  It doesn't mean that we have to rush to find the next one.

For days, weeks, even months later I honestly still think about that show. I still get goosebumps thinking of 'our Imelda' doing the 11 O'Clock number.  I can't wait to be able to watch it over and over when/if they bring out a DVD (notice how the teenage geek, grew up to be a 'what the hell..I'm a geek' geek) I'm not ready to search for the next show to be filmed...I hope that we don't rush, and I hope that we wait until the next definitive performance hits the boards...and then, and only then, should we film and archive it.  I know that most shows are unofficially archived but may the British theatre be quite to publicly archived for its excellence...not just for some TV ratings....and never for a twitter poll.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Theatre is let's look after our own shall we?

This time last year I wrote this: I felt sure that it would generate some interest...maybe even a couple of enquiries.  In reality not ONE college got in touch to find out what I've been going on about.

To start at the very we all know it's a very good place to start.  When I first started blogging for the then called Public Reviews site I wrote this blog: which was all about The MTA's approach to mental health.  It generated quite a bit of interest at the time.  People started to email me telling me their horror stories of colleges dealing (albeit with good intentions no doubt) so badly with mental health issues.  If I heard one more time 'if only I'd trained with you'... not because of our course....but because of our pioneering pastoral health policy.

I blogged for nearly 2 years for that site, and would regularly revisit the issue of Mental Health in colleges.  Someone pointed out to me that I was at risk of creating digital 'wallpaper' I was just going on about it too much.  Too much?  Too much? I hear a horror story at least once a month of how appalling the so called 'mental health' policies are at some places.  I've heard how one well meaning staff member did something potentially so damaging to a person we're lucky that they're still here fighting to get well.  I get regularly get emails from people that I don't know, but know that we 'bang on' about Mental Health Awareness and therefore maybe...just maybe we could point them in the right direction of where to turn, as they are in real crises, and sometimes in real danger.  Just this week a major production company got in touch with us, as they needed some assistance on the subject of mental health and even they didn't know who to ask...and again remember me banging on about it, so got in touch with us to find a route through their dilemma with a cast member (incidentally how great is it that a company was attempting to help a cast member in difficulty, as opposed to simply replacing them - bravo to them?)

Before everyone tells me the same argument...yes we know that Equity supports BAPAM, and we know that BAPAM is an amazing organisation (and I truly mean that, having used their service myself in the past), but we're still missing the basic fact that if you're in the middle of a mental health crises it is likely to be really hard to physically turn up or indeed phone a BAPAM office, whereas it's a little easier to turn up or call your college's Mental Health consultant, that you've seen hanging around college regularly...or have heard stories about them from your peers.  Which is the less daunting?  Even better than that...what if your faculty had some mental health awareness themselves and had spotted your difficulties creeping up sooner, meaning that you were instructed to get some help BEFORE you reached a crises point? This is not a Christmas miracle that we're talking's about every college having a mental health specialist at the heart of its faculty.  It's dead simple. At The MTA both staff, students and ambassadors (the name that we've given to our graduates) can freely access this person 24/7 365 days a year.  Our pioneering pastoral health policy puts the onus on us to spot the problem and to try and provide the solution.  As opposed to the more traditional book an appointment with the counsellor sort of approach that most institutions adhere too.

Now I'm not saying that we've got it right. Hell, I'm sure that we haven't...and I'm looking forward to the conference that we're hosting on March 15th to listen to other approaches to see what we can all gleen from each other and from different approaches.  However I would say, that at least we're really trying to get somewhere with the Mental Health epidemic that is in our industry.

I have got into so many online fights this year about this topic...why are you telling me that your college provides a mental health service...if you yourself don't know anything about it, and more importantly having spoken to a number of your students...neither do they? Why tell me that your college told you that they were there to help you when you reached a difficulty during your induction week, when you've already forgotten the procedure by the time you needed that service, and that service is just with a counsellor NOT a mental health professional.  Much more importantly WHY the hell aren't you asking yourself can I do anything else to help my opposed to taking the high road with what you think you're already providing.

I'm proud of the service that we provide, but I don't think that it's perfect... so I'm not saying 'hello we've got it right and everybody else is wrong' I'm shouting (and repeating myself) ' hello we're doing pastoral care a bit differently, it's bringing up surprising statistics....maybe this is an area that we ALL need to be looking at really can we improve what we're doing?'

I've been around a fair while, in 20 years I've been around most colleges in one capacity or another. I've worked in the entertainment industry for  26 years...I'm 'going on' about this as I can see the situation getting worse.  We are losing colleagues far too young, because we didn't 'catch' them soon enough.  One young loss is one too many...yet thanks to FB even I can see that the numbers are much higher than 'one'.

Regularly I get ambassadors coming back saying that so and so in their cast could just do with seeing 'Angie' (the name of our mental health specialist) they clearly needed some help.  Our students have such an awareness of mental health because we 'go on about it' all the time.  You know why? Because I don't want the next young loss to be one of mine!  I know that it might be, I'm not naive....but I want to know that I did EVERYTHING possible to prevent it.  At the very least we've removed the stigma and shame of people suffering with Mental Health difficulties at the college.

You have to be so robust to survive in our industry, daily rejection, weeks/months even years out of work. It's not like 'real life' is it? My first years just did as their first show Robin Soans' A State Affair, where they were forced to explore issues such as drug abuse, sex abuse and rape.  You don't really run the risk of your past coming back to haunt you in that way if you sit behind a desk all day (unless your office environment is particularly cutting edge). Water cooler discussions tend 'not to go there'...but lots of good theatre not only 'goes there' but expects to take you with them.  I think that you get my point.

We are in a strange but wonderful industry. It's the ride of a lifetime...but it shouldn't be your only ride.  Please spare a thought this Christmas for people suffering with mental health it's a time known to make things feel worse.  The world can be happy...yet you can be so low.
Catching a Mental Health illness early on means that potentially you could make a great difference to the rest of a life.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if theatre, with all our eccentricities led the way in this field?

So my Christmas wish this year is all of you that are out there suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders etc, all of you that have contacted me to confirm my belief that we haven't got this right yet...please just retweet this blog...and then ask your college pastoral team to come to our conference. We already have confirmation from Equity YMC, The Stage and Spotlight that they'll be coming, and the pastoral lead from one other Drama UK college will be in let's be getting the rest of you talking shall we?

If this is just 'digital wallpaper' then please print it off and use actually none of us know who will be next . . . and you know what. . . it might even be you!
Merry Christmas one and all and a happy and HEALTHY(job filled) 2016

Friday, 11 December 2015

I Believe in Once Upon A Time

On Wednesday, The MTA opened a new production of my version of Cinderella, as ever with my pantos with a book by Daniel O'Brien. Commissioned originally for the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, back in my pre-MTA days(2007), and then revived in 2010. In fact it was the first panto that The MTA ever produced (when we were doing our productions in the Drill Hall). Fast forward 5 years and with another year group with a rubbish gender balance, I've found myself revisiting the show for a 3rd time. 3 versions, all with very different directors (and companies I should say)...resulting in yet another adaptation of the original.  This year's director, the rather splendid Howard Samuels, who has directed The MTA panto for the last 3 years, agreed that we should revisit Cinders, much, I should say, to my relief at the time, as I just fancied a few months off writing (having written 5 pantos and 6 full length musicals in 6 years, I fancied a breather).  Of course that didn't happen as Howard always works hard to ensure that all of our MTA students get a good show (not just the Principles)...however in this instance that meant that I had to write an additional 7 songs. So not quite the breather that I was hoping for.  That said, as ever, he was right, and the show is all the better for the addition of that material.

My very first professional job out of college was a panto - The Wizard of Oz which played at the Roses theatre in Tewkesbury.  Back then I seriously thought that I'd hit the big time, as I'd graduated in the August and it was the first time that I would be receiving a salary for being a MD.  I then spent over a decade in panto wilderness, as I took over the musical reins of The Steam Industry and of course Christmas was the time that we were producing the infamous, and critically acclaimed BAC musicals.  In fact during that time I could often be heard saying that I was glad to be doing a Christmas show, but not a panto.

Then fast forward to 2005, and I found myself back in panto land, this time persuaded by a mate who was producing, directing and staring in his own panto down in Hounslow.  By the 2nd performance I had remembered what was so special about panto - the excitement on the children's faces, as the most simplest of theatrical tricks, enthralled them into the trap that is theatre.  A quick dip back into the ocean of the Christmas musical (curtesy of the UK tour of Annie), before I found myself in 2007 writing the music for my first panto.

I constantly preach to my students that there is never any need to be unemployed at Christmas time, there are just so many shows going on up and down the country.  Of course some are better than others, but whether you're appearing in a huge QDOS spectacular, or touring the local care homes delivering your panto...Christmas is the time where there is potentially work for everyone. I've been a professional musician since 1989...and have worked every single Christmas (much to my partner's annoyance some time)

Sadly though there is still a snobbery about panto in this country, even though it is an English institution.  Performers who will do anything rather than having to do a panto.  I have strong memories of one, rather famous celebrity, telling me, on a daily basis that they were too good for panto, and indeed too good for that particular town, and really, they should be in the West End for Christmas.  I remember thinking at the time, that with that attitude they didn't deserve to be in the West End full stop!

Actors moan about the schedule. Performers are like owls...we come into our own in the dark.  9 or 10am shows are a killer.  Then there's the fact that instead of working for our regular 3 hour day, come panto time, we might have to do a 9 hour day.  Let's ignore the fact that there are plenty of people that would kill to do a 9 hour day...but performers are a funny breed, they moan when they're working and they moan when they're not.

When I opened The MTA, I was adamant that my graduates would not only be taught how to perform in the panto tradition, but also that they would appreciate...ideally even revere panto and all that it stood for.  The dream was always to build up the number of performances so that they would have a little insight into the gruelling schedule that most modern production company demand from their performers at Christmas.  This year I'm thrilled to say that we're up to 19 performances.  As I write this my 2nd years have just done their first 3 show day...with another 2 lined up.  So 9 performances in 3 days just like....panto!  They will learn how to land the lines for a school audience, then change the show and its nuances for the adult audiences later on in the day. They've already learnt that feeling of the show coming down and arriving back into the dressing room to hear their DSM call the half.

Before every MTA panto season starts I literally preach to the students the responsibility they have, to ensure that every child (and every child within each adult), leaves that auditorium feeling some Christmas magic.  We have the potential to make a 'dream come true'.  Whether the theatre is filled to the brim with just over 200 screaming school children, or whether there are 10 brave souls that have opted to give us their money in their search for entertainment we have a professional obligation to deliver the goods.

After each show they can chose to keep the magic alive a bit longer by their characters meeting the children.  As with all of my MTA was based on a bad experience - this one was based around the well known performer who was headlining a panto that I was involved in, who turned down a young girl's request to have her photo taken with the 'star'.  In that instant a dream could have come true...but instead the performer turned around to the family and told them that it was their 'down time' and they preferred not to be interrupted.

We don't really do hard work in theatre...I'm sorry but we don't.  Speak to manual labourers, breaking their backs for hours on end for peanuts, or speak to the professionals saving lives hour after hour. We just sing, dance and act a bit for a limited number of hours per day.  We do this (mostly) because we love it.  That's not hard work people...that's a bloody privilege. I used to see my parents coming home from work (both of whom had hard, working class jobs)...both knackered from the rigours of their day.  They never moaned, they just got on with it, as they needed to pay the bills, and they chose to pay for my brothers and myself to have a certain sort of life.  Part of that life for me, was to take me to the see the annual Swansea panto (which back then played from November through to March).  My mum very often would have put in overtime to have saved up to take me to see this 'magical world'.

Every time I see the audience arriving in a theatre I wonder what sacrifices have been made to enable that particular bum to go on that particular seat. Sure there are people that can just afford it, but not all.  The MTA's panto does a pay what you can rate for every local school child, to ensure that every child in our area at least has the opportunity to see 'the magic'.

So I attempt to teach my graduates to appreciate the art form, to stay true to the magic, as children are so precious, what an amazing gift to give them, and finally regardless of how many people are sat in that give them 150% because you don't know what sacrifices they've made to get themselves there.  I guess in other words, I'm attempting to put out a generation of performers that will change the lives of the next generation of theatre goers.

We have no fancy sets, no amazing tricks, we have talent and we have imagination, and judging by the children's faces when they eventually get to actually meet our cast at the end of the show, that is still as magical today as it was 40 years ago when I was growing up.  As a trainer of professional performers, I have an obligation to remind them of their responsibility.  At Christmas, more than any other time, we can all make magic, so let's revel in that and not moan or belittle that gift eh?