Blimey, if I thought it was stressful getting the girls to their technical rehearsal on Thursday night. I had no idea what was in store the following evening.
It was the first night of the show. Excitement was running at a fever pitch, there were girls of all heights and ages running around. The one common factor; they all had immaculate gelled buns. First pressure of the night. Would Nina’s gelled bun withstand the tests and rigours demanded of it. The amount of gel and hairspray slathered on it would have kept a medium-sized hairdressers going for a week. It was a nervous time.
Mrs Hampshore had given full and clear instructions on arrival times. We knew which mums would be helping in the dressing rooms, runners were organised too. Drinks and snacks had been provided and we were told to bring board games for the girls. I had managed to bring some cards. What could possibly go wrong?
Well for someone who is not a natural sewer, the pressure of having to sew torn costumes was intense. The girls were doing a routine to Run Rabbit Run and they had neon pink netting skirts complete with a white bob-tail fastened at the back, the aforementioned white leotard and a sequined neon pink bow tie.
You would be amazed and possibly quite disbelieving just how many bow ties could come unattached or how many bob-tails could split just as the girls were being called to the stage. One girl’s bow tie went on one side, and then two seconds before she went on stage the other side went. My mind went blank. I couldn’t even thread the needle in time. The eye of the needle had become microscopic and my fingers and threads had swelled to the size of a giant’s. My mind went blanker. Buddhists mediating for years couldn’t empty their mind anymore than mine was at that moment. Luckily one mum noticed and her rapid response quick thinking saved the day. She tied the elastic on to itself and on the girl went. It took until the interval for my knees to stop knocking.
If we thought the pressure was off once they came back down after the performance, we had to think again. How do you keep 20 odd girls, ages ranging from 3 to 7-year-old clean for over an hour in a dusty room? Especially when they are wearing white and have been given orange juice in squashy cartons to drink? We couldn’t have handled those cartons to the girls more delicately if they had been the most precious finely blown priceless glassware. The girls were under very strict orders not to squeeze the boxes. We all held our breath, and miraculously no orange juice spilled on the costumes. It doesn’t seem possible we were so lucky.
Then all we had to do was keep them occupied and relatively quiet for over an hour with extremely limited resources. We tried Chinese Whispers. That lasted maybe two rounds. The girls all wanted to start off the whispers themselves and couldn’t agree who should do it. Despite all our attempts at arbitration. We tried Grandma’s Footsteps. That was successful for about 30 seconds. We tried singing. That didn’t even get off the ground. By this time the little ones were really missing their mummies. ”I want my mummy”. ”I want my mummy”. “I WANT my mummy.” One little girl was insistent and was far too clever to be fobbed off with a cheery but vague. ”She will be here soon”. None of us adults were even sure who her mum was. This little darling dumpling of a girl was probably not much older than 3. Still with those adorable plump little toddler legs. It was well past her bedtime, of course she should want her mum.
Anxious looks went round the helpers. What are we doing to do? In the interval I searched for her mum in the audience but she wasn’t there. It was going to be long long Second Half.
With darling dumpling girl on one knee and her friend on the other we tried some more singing. The thought went through my mind… how did they keep children occupied in concentration camps. An extreme thought I know but then I heard one of the other mums saying as she balanced two more babies on her knees ” This is just like being in the war!”.
Every minute of the second Act meant we were closer to the finale and hometime. It couldn’t come quick enough. I had brought some pencils and crayons. We ripped up a cardboard box and I did a raid of The Friends of Guiseley Operatic Society flyers as they were blank on one side and the girls settled down to do some drawing. Peace (well apart from the squabbles over colours) reigned. We breathed a sigh of relief.
At last the girls were being called to the stage for the finale. We are on the home stretch. Things were going smoothly. Our only obstacle was to get girls to the loo in time. Getting the costumes off and back on again was tricky but manageable. Everything was looking good, everything was looking great until Nina, yes my daughter, locked the door of her loo and it stuck fast. Cue panic from Nina, she wouldn’t climb under the door. She couldn’t undo the lock. I couldn’t undo the lock with my thumb nail on my side. I despatched the other little girl with instructions to bring a mum with a penny! Which she duly did. I could hear the stage manager barking for the lines of girls to go up to the stage. Nina was getting quite hysterical behind the door. The penny was not opening the door. I was trying to stop the rising levels of panic that were building all around us. The mum with the penny tried again. Nothing. One last try, the lock opened. Nina was released straight into her line and up the stairs and onto the stage. Leaving two rather frazzled women in her wake.
Backstage has always held a certain fascination for me, seeing what really goes on to put on the show, being in the “know”, feeling part of something, a sense of community. I have to say though being a chaperone for those girls has made me rethink that a little. I realise now the pleasure and privilege of sitting front of house and letting the show entertain you.
And if I am chaperoning next year I will be coming with a Mary Poppins bag of tricks and reams and reams of paper, a dozen pre-threaded needles and strict instructions that no-one locks the loo!