Thursday: My first day of staging Ages Ago, which we’ll perform 4 days from now! Luckily, Stephen Godward and Joan Self are great colleagues—they keep on track and move forward quickly. We get about 2/3 of the show blocked in a marathon session. NYGASP people start to appear by evening, having journeyed up from Malvern (it doesn’t HAVE to take 10 ½ hours I guess!). And I start to see wonderful New York friends, supporters and Board members, such as the lovely Liebermans. How great to have built-in NYGASP fans in the vicinity!. Dinner with Stephen and Joan, and then it’s back for our one and only musical rehearsal of Trial by Jury, to be performed on the triple-bill with Ages Ago. We meet our delightful judge, Graham Weston, a true sweetheart of a man, and some of the rather shy young folk who are performing roles in Trying A Dramatist, the middle part of Monday’s triptych. And then, off to bed!
Friday: This is our LAST day to stage Ages Ago! We meet at the Village Hall in Dacre, the size of a small apartment. One can tell that we are all getting nervous now—the next time we are all together it will be the day of the show as Nick and Sarah have other engagements! We try a run-thru, but it takes 4 hours (for this 80 minutes show)! Instead of a second run-thru, I suggest simply running our lines, which are giving everyone trouble. Agreed! We adjourn to Harrogate for dinner, making each other hysterical with laughter. And then, off to bed (not together)! I check my email. Uh-oh. I had forgotten that I had volunteered for a pot luck performance of the score of Ruddigore at the after-show cabaret. So, I get out of bed, get dressed, and drag myself to the Utopia Pavilion, where NYGASP proceeds, at 10:30PM, to give a lesson in how to knock an audience dead with no rehearsal. The opening chorus alone—those ladies’ voices! All the principals are in top form. David Auxier and I share Despard and have fun doing so, changing many an “I” into “We”. The cabaret audience, noisy on other nights, is rapt and responsive. It’s midnight, and we have triumphed! NOW then, off to bed!
Saturday: Right back to the Utopia Pavilion to meet the “witnesses” in Trying a Dramatist, which is Gilbert at his very best (it’s about a trial of a playwright whose offense is writing a “dull and tedious play”). I slip into the matinee of Pirates NYGASP’s Harrogate debut! A smallish audience (a problem at all matinees at the Festival), but they are with the company and loving it all the way. I leave feeling immensely proud. Dinner with Stephen and Joan (we are now inseparable), and I poke my head in to see NYGASP really come alive in the evening Pirates. Large audience, rapturous reception. I push myself to sing one number at the cabaret. The talent (all NYGASP) is amazing. Stunning is the only word. My contribution is “Vilja” again. Tonight, with my friends and a warm audience right in view, I sing my heart out. It’s what a condcuctor friend of mine calls “Richard’s Judy Garland moment”, where I give it all. And the kind audience responds! David Wannen even gets a second round of applause for me—thanks Dave! I listen, awestruck, to the rest of the concert from the back of the hall. NYGASP has had a good day.
Singing “Villia” at the Utopia Pavillion
Sunday: Yeomen matinee and evening! Many of us are not quite over Saturday yet, but we pour our hearts into the beloved show. Now we can really let go in the evening show! And we do. Just as with Pirates, the evening audience is larger and with us every step of the way. Midway through Act II, the prop gunshot goes off, and I run onstage, followed by the crowd. Wannen and Quint start singing “Like a ghost his vigil keeping”..and we hear the noise of an alarm. How they keep on singing, I don’t know. Suddenly a voice tells us all to quietly and quickly evacuate the theatre! We do so, and find a fire truck already waiting outside. But there is no fire—the darned alarm has gone off again! So back we go onstage. We’ll resume from the gunshot, and I am inwardly beaming, because I know what’s about to happen. Applause as the curtain rises once more, a gunshot, and I get to walk straight downstage and in my best American sing, “Hark, what was THAT sir!” The audience cheers. My next line is even more fitting, “Strange, and at such an hour!” and they go bonkers. For the capper, Auxier, as instructed by Al, comes on singing, “Who pulled that alarm?” and stares down the audience. But now, we must settle down to the fates of Jack Point, and Elsie and Fairfax, and we do, in a heartfelt performance. You can feel the love from the audience. Wiped out, but very happy, we leave. I beg off the cabaret tonight, since I have an even more taxing day tomorrow, but NYGASP’s younger members put on, what I hear was, a great show.
The beautiful Royal Hall in Harrogate.
Monday: Last day in Harrogate, but a killer. Orchestra rehearsal for Ages Ago at 10AM—oy! It goes very well. Then into the theatre to see the set. It is our first view of the famous portraits, made from our photographs. They are simply wonderful, life-size renderings which really look like paintings. We start our final dress rehearsal—the first time we have ever gone through the pieces non-stop. It is a triumph of will over fatigue. I actually relax a bit—my convoluted lines come out pretty easily—hours and hours of home practice works! Then on to Trying a Dramatist—Stephen Godward and I simply make up our blocking, since it has never been staged. Stephen has a genius for the pompous British barrister, and I do a good variation on it. Short pause, and we are on to Trial by Jury, again with all of us bringing our own staging. Louis Dall’Ava and Amy Maude Helfer, bless their hearts, join us to beef up the chorus. We get about 10 minutes from the end, and time is up—the orchestra will not stay a moment longer, and we will have to guess our way through the final minutes tonight. Terror sets in. But I can’t allow it to show.
Ages Ago set being constructed on stage
We have a quite good-sized audience for the show! And they are wonderfully responsive! The surprise of the evening, perhaps, is Trying a Dramatist, which nobody in the audience knows, but which gets the biggest laughs of the evening! Thrilled, we move on to Trial, hoping that we all still have voices after 12 hours. No problem! The evening ends joyously. We would all like another go at it, but we are all so happy it went well. We adjourn to the Utopia Pavilion for drinks. Most of the NYGASP crowd is there, but nobody wants to leave. The trip has been a big success for the company, collectively and individually, and none of us want to call it a day.
Tuesday, August 12: Au revoir, Harrogate! The bus to Heathrow is quiet—we are all pretty much destroyed. The trip goes quickly, and before we know it, we are saying goodbye at the airport. Some are going to London, to Amsterdam. I envy them, but I had my vacay in London in July and it’s time to get back to work in New York. Will we ever forget the past ten days. I can safely say none of us will!
My portrait from Ages Ago
- Richard Holmes