Arts Project (show 1 and 2)
So here we are, over 8 months of rehearsal and hundreds, nay, thousands of hours of work to get to this point. We set up the gear in the morning but, once again, only had time to practice fragments. The Project Instrumental string quartet was superb, of course. Their ‘leader’ was also there in a non-playing capacity. They expressed a real interest in performing the piece outside of prison. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?
I got back to the wing and shaved off the rest of my beard. What I was left with was a handlebar moustache, which curled at the ends with ’putty’. I look more Wyatt Earp than Terry Thomas. Everyone seemed to like it; I hate it! I’ll be taking it off straight after the final show.
The first show: we ended up going down with audience. I originally had over 60 guys booked to attend. Thanks to the re-allocation debacle, we only had 29 prisoners in the audience. Brilliant! However, there were a lot of outside, VIP guests and staff, which filled it up considerably.
As we hadn’t run through the entire set from start to finish before, this first show was also our first full dress rehearsal! We were really flying by the seat of our pants. Despite this, all the guys really gave it all they had. Yes, there were mistakes, forgotten lyrics and bum notes but the audience were so onside and won over by the energy and relentlessness of the piece.
I had a problem with my sound: I had next to no backline (purposely, so not to drown out the strings who were next to me) but I also had next to no guitar coming through my monitor. I played all my guitar parts ‘deaf’, as it were. That was really weird as I generally have my guitar pretty loud.
I also realised later that the reason I was making so many rookie mistakes was I had a multi-tasking nightmare going on in my head: playing guitar; planning ahead for the FX pedal changes; singing harmonies; prompting the performers when they forgot their words; cueing the band; cueing the strings; keeping one ear on the sound FX coming in at the right point; changing capo; changing guitar; detuning and retuning; and, being aware of where I am so I don’t knock over the string quartet’s music stands…phew! Plus, I had very little sleep the night before; not good for cognitive thought.
At the end of the show the stage hands put together a jigsaw picture of a house which was stuck onto the cubes. Unbeknownst to me, as I was behind the cube wall, they put it in the wrong order, much to the hilarity of the audience. It ended up this weird higgledy-piggledy house! Still, we got a standing ovation; I hope for the show and not the unintentionally comedic ending.
I was then engaged by a succession of the guests from outside. The reporter from Inside Time interviewed me (and some of the other guys) for their regular arts column. This may be published in their November edition. I also spoke with
representatives from the Koestler Trust, the Arts Council themselves, and a theatre group for ex-prisoners. Without exception, the praise was effusive and a little overwhelming. They were all so excited by what they had seen. There were comments from other parties that it was as good as anything they had seen outside and they would have paid good money to attend. Wow!
The evening show was in a similar vein empty seats due to the re-allocation; a slightly ragged performance (although, it felt more relaxed and playful); and, the house was screwed up, again (it was only after that I discovered the letter codes had not been replaced after pasting the picture on the cubes, duh!).
This show was recorded by a guy from DST (he’d taken photos at the first show). The plan was to use a professional company who would have, no doubt, set up several cameras and used a hand held to get in amongst the action; we got a camcorder on a tripod! Another disappointing result due to Security interference.
My guitar was turned up through the monitor, which energised my playing; however, I was later told that it was drowning out the strings. That’s what happens when we don’t have any time to sound check; we came with the audience, again.
It was a good day’s work, which left me really drained of energy; partly the manic performance of the character I was playing, partly the lack of sleep from the night before and partly the stress from the previous few days (and months). All that being said: it was the best day I have experienced in prison; that’s the best day in over 14 ½ years!
Be happy, be safe (I need to sleep…zzz)
Graham Coutts, 17th October 2017