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Actor's Diary: Chemistry, Learning Lessons and Maj_Ho_Bants

Regular GMT performer Andi Denny has been treading the boards with us since 2011’s West Side Story. Despite joking his way through his first audition, Andi secured a place in the cast and has successfully auditioned for every GMT show since, although his run comes to an end this week with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But with the show and his unique task--a short warm-up act to put the audience at their ease--looming, Andi’s not so sure cracking wise is all it’s cracked up to be.

A priest goes to his doctor and says “Doctor, doctor! I can’t seem to ever express my feelings unless I’m in my robes!”

The doctor scribbles down: “Emotion all in vestment.”

If the above joke is any indication of success, I’m currently working at a level somewhere between “<bad joke reaction groan>” and “%&$£ you for making me hear that!”

It’s 1am on a Friday morning and I’m doing what any red-blooded 20-something would do: writing jokes. I’ve been alone for a couple of hours by this point, and it’s starting to show. The flat is roasting hot, so my hair is matted. I’m wearing a hoody that perfectly matches the vest underneath it. [For more on Andi's relationship with vests, click here - Ed.]I’m starting to see the aura of light around the monitor screen, and in twenty minutes I’ll be able to see the backs of my eyes. The laptop itself is precariously off-centre so the lacklustre fan doesn’t give my thighs Toasted Skin Syndrome. It won’t be long until the thought crosses my mind to pull an all-nighter, go to the gym while it’s reasonably empty, catch up on my Netflix fix, eat icing sugar straight from the box with no one to judge... Only two of those things will happen, and I will go to bed at 4am, wondering if Orange really is the new Black, and just that little bit closer to diabetes.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas opens four days from now, and for once, it feels like it. Twelve weeks ago this all seemed so easy: have fun, learn lines, work hard in rehearsals, play hard in the pub, dress up in ridiculous clothes you secretly plan to integrate into your own wardrobe, then go on stage and get the attention you need to fill that void your binge-eating hasn’t made a dent in… yet. It may sound like a dramatic cliche, but the reality of staging this show has come with its challenges, and we each have our own moving into show week.

For me, that continued challenge is coming in the form of terrible jokes, as I attempt to write the ‘banter’ I’ll have with the audience before the show begins. It feels a little like comedy hosting, which I’m no stranger to, but the concept of delivering these jokes live (and shaking like milk in a 1950s diner) is more daunting than any other element of the show for me. Ideally, if I could write the jokes and then watch Tina Fey and Amy Poehler perform them, my veins wouldn’t feel so much like vomiting. I’m terrified.

Thankfully, even if my stand-up results in some genuine Wild West tumbleweed, it comes before two-plus hours of some of the best acting I’ve seen on the amateur stage in quite some time. If anything can captivate the audience, it’ll be Kerry Burley and David McCurrach - our Miss Mona (which auto-correct is appropriately trying to change to ‘Miss Money’) and Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. It’s hard to believe GMT has never had them perform together before now. Every time we run the show, while the others run around fiddling with their best bad, early-70s, respectable Texan prostitute evening dresses (and the girls do something similar), I just sit and watch those two characters come to life. She’s the open, maternal, playful prostitute, and he’s a good-natured, grumpy old man with a temper as short as his stride. They’re somehow soulmates, but there are unspoken barriers that keep them from expressing it. Watching them is electric. There’s a quietness about it that fits their deep, awkward connection. He lets his guard down and tells a joke, she laughs lightly and puts a hand to her chest. It’s startlingly realistic, and it’s one of those rare moments when you realise you’ve been smiling the entire time. It’s subtle, and it’s memorable, and I could watch that lovely, tragic dynamic for hours. If you don’t come for the beautifully performed music, for the comedy or drama or energetic dance numbers, come for this. It’s showstopping, and that’s coming from a guy who just saved his newly-written ‘banter’ monologue as Maj_Ho_Bants.doc.

In fact, this is a very different show to what our regular audiences have seen before. In the cast of twenty, only ten had performed with GMT before this current season. Of the others, at least two are in their first speaking roles on the stage, anywhere, ever. This is the first show without and of the founding Artistic Directors on the Production Team. It’s our first country musical, our first risque comedy, our first non-Sondheim studio show in three years. It somehow feels like the first chance the girls have had to really, really rule the stage, and boy do they ever. Kelly Johnston doesn’t even sing in this! The world’s gone topsy-turvy!

Each time auditions swing around, I do what a lot of us do and have an argument with myself about whether or not I want to audition or take a show off. If you want to know how that usually goes, Whorehouse is my 12th GMT production in a row since West Side Story, and my friends’ reaction to “I might not audition” has become the world’s loudest eye-roll. We hit the ground running on GMT in Concert 2015--my directorial debut with the company--just as soon as this closes so I had never been so set on taking a break as I was with Whorehouse. I’m so glad I didn’t.

It hasn’t been a seamless ride, and it would be both silly and unrealistic to pretend it ever could be: putting together a show like this in such a short space of time is no mean feat. It’s hard with every production not to run the gamut of frustration, joy, pride, defeat, stress, camaraderie, and poorly-timed nosebleeds. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from staying this side of the footlights, it’s that pressure and high expectations can be your friend. In the end, if you let the laughs and gritted teeth happen when they have to, you’ll have an enjoyable experience with lessons, both good and bad, that will make you and your work stronger. That’s evolution. And I should know: I gave up writing jokes to play Pokemon about four paragraphs ago.

So do come see us this week: stunning dynamics, vintage frills, a nervous comedian, and all. Let this group of whores and whore aficionados share their hard work with you, and if it isn’t the most fun night you have all spring, I’ll eat my stetson, which is luckily made of icing sugar.

Whorehouse show week, here we come. Lord have mercy on our souls!

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas runs from 5th-9th May 2015 at Websters Theatre, Glasgow. Show information can be found here, or buy your tickets now here.

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