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After 11 weeks with only 1 week to go, an Autumn tour complete, half way point of The Nutcracker, one essay handed in, many technical schedules and cast sheets later as well as a HUGE amount of lessons learnt, my time on placement with Birmingham Royal Ballet is nearly up! In this post, I will attempt to summarise my intern experience with the company, on tour, during The Nutcracker and in preparations for the Spring 2014 season.

In order to help me reflect I nostalgically re-read my previous posts. Looking back to those first few weeks I have learnt an INCREDIBLE amount. Including the pronunciation of the dancers’ surnames, my attempts started as some sort of comedy sketch in Salford and some of which did take me a while. I’m also about 80% of the way there with their first names. Not only that, I can now put the majority of these names to faces, studying their profiles on BRB’s website after rehearsals and performances definitely paid off. As well as this, many logistical challenges were faced along the way, majority of those involved a photocopier/printer. However,  armed with universal photocopier lessons I feel I could now take on the most complicated of their kind, although I shouldn’t speak too soon! It’s safe to say the result of my photocopying is at least better than the 11 blank pages I first produced!

Aside from these, I’ve learnt the importance of detail through child performance licence applications at a variety of different local authorities across England, China Visa applications (‘passport’ photos have a variety of different dimensions!) and all things technical e.g. schedules and crew calls. Gmail has become very familiar, I’ve learnt and experienced the usefulness and necessity of folders and ‘Bcc’! Leading on from this – organisation is key, particularly in the sense of time management and combined with a tidy desktop, both on the computer and physically.

Such lessons I can take anywhere with me and practice throughout my career – my confidence, eye for detail, stamina, work ethic and most importantly knowledge about the industry have all been massively developed.

On top of this, this placement has provided me with countless opportunities I wouldn’t have received anywhere else, I am incredibly grateful and thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I’ve been able to watch a variety of dance, from traditional ballets (Sleeping Beauty/The Nutcracker) to contemporary pieces (E=mc²), whilst also being allowed a real insight into the everyday life of an extremely prestigious company, witnessing the workings of Wardrobe, Technical and Administration. As well as travelling to and spending time within many different theatres around the UK. All of which cannot be described as work for me, particularly those Department for Learning Family Fun day’s!

As I begin to attempt to summarise all what I have learnt and experienced in a portfolio and evaluation I leave BRB extremely grateful to every member of the company, in particular, my mentors Paul Grist (Company Manager) and Paul Grace (Technical Director) who have both been so fabulous!  I gained exactly what I wished to and more from my placement. I can’t thank you enough.

Arriving in Birmingham I was looking forward to the next couple of weeks at base. Not only would I get to witness a week in the eyes of all the departments I hadn’t had much interaction with yet (Learning, PR, Hippodrome Front of House, Orchestra, Notators etc.) but I would also get to watch the much anticipated Triple Bill. Including the award winning production funded by the Director’s Appeal, E=mc². Then in contrast, the classical  ballet Tombeaux. Finishing with a show I am particularly familiar with (even more so now!) after studying this work for my A-level Dance course, the “unforgettable” (The Sunday Times) Penguin Café.

Monday morning began with the setting up of my office, judging how I was going to use my space as well as noting in my diary ‘to-do’s’ for later in the week. This was when my office phone rang for the first time, it was also the moment I realised just how northern my accent sounded in the Midlands – working within such a prestigious company maybe I needed to brush up on my Queen’s English.

Later there was a Full Call rehearsal, including children.  I met Eva and Arabella who were to play the Rainforest Child in Now Nothing during Penguin Café. I also got to meet the famous chaperone Barbara who I had heard plenty of good things about as well as carry out duties such as provide her with the girls upcoming schedules.

The sound of my lecturer’s voice filled Tuesday morning. A late start in the office gave me the opportunity to further clue myself up on the Organisational Analysis Module, in particular performance measurement analysis. Once inside the realms of Birmingham Royal Ballet I had a quick catch up with Paul Grist. His morning post had consisted of more contracts for the Sleeping Beauty Actors which meant I had less to chase (less practice of my Queens English on the phone!). As well as the Actors I gathered more information from the Nutcracker children, collating more shoe sizes. I would soon be able to send a completed spreadsheet to Shoe Supervisor, Michael Clifford.

The day continued with exciting technical meetings about future projects and concluded with the Piano Rehearsal. I was granted the privilege of observing the rehearsal and the many masters at work, Artistic and Technical Staff. Sitting behind the production desk in the Circle of the Hippodrome combined with my recent viewing experience from the wings of The Lowry Lyric stage, provided evidence of the expert craft, time, effort and talent that produces artistic excellence such as this Triple Bill.

The satisfaction provided from crossing things off a list was part of my Wednesday morning as I sent a completed Shoe Size spreadsheet for Nutcracker 2013 to Michael. The satisfaction continued in the form of organisation when paperwork for the Nutcracker Children was filed to prepare for their application of licenses and information regarding the Actor’s was gathered ready to go in the touring flight case safe for London, Sunderland and Plymouth. Liaison with Richard Cross, Sadler’s Wells Programming Coordinator, continued as all the logistics were confirmed (Risk Assessments, Dressing Rooms lists, Sign In Sheets, Running Times etc.).

Wednesday closed with the Director’s Appeal Audience observing the Orchestra Rehearsal. I had an interesting conversation with Paul Grace, Technical Director and Kaisa Kraus, Community and Schools Engagement Officer (maternity cover). We discussed the definition of a performances “success”, can it be judged on ticket sales or would this be the “success” of the Marketing and Press departments? Is the artistic excellence of the performance its “success”? If the performance had an impact on the audience e.g. applause, standing ovation, emotion, was it a “success”? All of which was reflecting my research for my Organisational Analysis assignment regarding the measurement of performance in Not for Profit Organisations. Artistic Director, David Bintley, made a speech to the Director’s Appeal audience about the upcoming Prince of the Pagodas performance, a production he originally revived with the National Ballet of Japan.

Thursday began with a personal triumph as I used Social Media, extensive Facebook ‘groups’ and contacts developed through attending a Performing Arts Institute to find an actor for Sleeping Beauty in London. I also added all the necessary Crew Calls to the Nutcracker Technical Schedules, discovering the wonders of disobedient formatting on excel and liaising with Vanda Hewston, Deputy Head of Wardrobe, on how many dressers were needed.

Tonight was opening night of the Triple Bill providing us with a Cast Sheet to be double checked against the Casting Bible, an exercise that accidentally taught me the use of ‘STET’ – “let it stand” used as an instruction on a printed proof to indicate that a correction or alteration should be ignored – I copied the markings of the red pen perfectly from the casting bible thinking “STET” was the latest addition to the company! As there was a show tonight it meant another night of suiting up. The 1/4 hour call arrived, Paul and myself made an appearance at Front of House before the 5 minute call where we waited by the side of the stage. As the curtain went up we made our way back to FOH in the case of any latecomers.

Friday began with emails, exciting conversations, phone calls, more Actor contracts and Nutcracker children paperwork, cast sheet checking and printing and preparation for the arrival of the Nutcracker children for their costume and shoe fitting and first rehearsal.

As the matinee performance began so did the usual procedure. Paul kept his radio close by but changed out of the suit to go and meet the Nutcracker children and parents. I collected more paperwork and Birth Certificates and filed them appropriately before returning them back to the parents, along with the children. During the Company Manager’s duties for that evening the cast sheets were surprisingly popular and 300 more were printed and delivered to FOH ready for the next interval.

During Saturday’s administrative tasks I familiarised myself further with the BRB building, visiting the Publications Office to edit the cast sheets and mobile friendly file with Paul and then find Diana’s (Senior Stage Manager) office to present her with two amended printed cast sheets before flying solo (near enough) for the Matinee Performance. I suited and booted and hoped for the best as I made my way to FOH for the 1/4 hour call.

The day before opening night, after settling into the company office Paul Grist explained what was planned to happen throughout the day, he also explained that these were his famous last words!

The first job was to liaise with the Salford Actors who were arriving at 10.30am, meet them at stage door, show them to their dressing room and collect their proof of right to work as well as provide them with acknowledgement letters stating the BBC would be filming parts of Wednesday evening’s performance for their documentary (I mentioned in my last post). This allowed me to explore the backstage area further as I made myself familiar with the dressing rooms.

Cast sheets were up next. These are checked against the casting bibles and printed every day, they are then provided online as well as in a smartphone format (e.g. white on black), 2 of which go to Stage Management. Vicky (Publications) arranges the printing of these locally in each venue. All the while morning class was taking place in the studios, which in turn provided us with lost dancers who needed direction.

As well as staying on top of cast lists, stage calls etc. rehearsal times can always be altered and then all the relevant people need to be informed. For example, the actors’ stage call was brought forward half an hour and it was no longer necessary for them to be in costume, they would be in full costume later in the day for the General Rehearsal.

Over the next 3 months I will mainly be working on the Nutcracker performances and particularly concentrating on the involvement of the 18 children; Elmhurst Year 7’s, Elmhurst Associates and Royal Ballet Junior Associates. I was starting to make myself familiar with the relevant documents e.g. master spread sheet, rehearsal and technical schedules etc.

As the day continued there were many scenes that could have been suitable for comedy sketches. Paul and myself checking the cast sheets against the bible; considering there are 16 nationalities in the company the pronunciation of a lot of the names were a guessing game on my part. Although I did find this exercise helpful in terms of learning the dancers! The Lowry’s photocopier put up a bit of a fight and I potentially used a third of BRB’s allowance in attempts. Every time Marion used a ballet term (which was often!) whilst reciting her rehearsal notes for Paul to transcribe resulted in a French spelling lesson. We spoke about the rules of presenting flowers for debut performances, the use of radios and where they live backstage, this is where I was introduced to flight cases Vic and Bob who hold all things electrical, Vic is also the home of an important first aid kit.

As I mentioned before, we visited Front of House and discussed programmes, merchandise, special effects, latecomers and upcoming events such as the attendance of BRB Friends at tomorrow’s stage rehearsal, students watching company class on Thursday morning and how many people would be attending the Family Fun Day that had been organised by BRB’s Director for Learning; Pearl Chesterman that was set to take place on Saturday.

Plenty of information to take in but I then had to go to the airport to say goodbye to my brother who was going to Australia for 7 months! No envy, I much preferred being in Salford surrounded with the wonders of ballet!

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s website

Birmingham Royal Ballet on twitter