Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Covid 19 How New Zealand and UK differ in June 2021

Living in New Zealand I have found the whole attitude to Covid 19 by the UK government unfathomable. It is as if our countries are dealing with two different pandemics. In one country hundreds of thousands of people have died unnecessarily and in the other, the citizens live a normal life with I think about 22 deaths which NZ feels were 22 too many.

The difference is that one country's government took Covid seriously from the first moment and still does and the other that this is a minor outbreak that will go away or the country will have to live with it and the misery that follows as its citizens and it seems ministers will not obey orders for the greater good.

Opening up the UK regardless of the fact that a new deadly variant is spreading fast seems to me folly but nowhere in the UK press except a small article by the leader of the opposition who suggests caution does anyone oppose this ridiculous statement.

If the world had done what NZ and later Australia did and shut down for a month the whole grisly pandemic with its millions of deaths would be over and yes we all could have done it. In wars, everyone does what they are told.

Instead, foolishly the wise politicians put the economy first, protecting sports, entertainment and holidays and still do. Is Wimbledon worth it? Is Formula One worth it? Not for the millions who have died unnecessarily or are left with the hell of Long Covid. It may be cheaper at first but it is expensive in the long run. Economies recover and live on the dead do not.

If the virus transmission is stopped early it has nowhere to go. It disappears and life goes on. If not, well you can see the result. I cannot believe that the UK Health Minister believes the UK has to live with this and is opening up on 19 July. is this wise? Dreadful. I despair for the country of my birth. No wonder the rest of the world is shutting the UK out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Shortcomings of Long Rehearsal Periods! UK Guardian

Seven Deadly Sins directed by Janette Miller

"Bard day’s work: what I learned from eavesdropping on RSC rehearsals

The Royal Shakespeare Company is letting the public watch the usually secret processes towards performance – from clapping games to verse sessions".  Michael Billinton, UK Guardian

This is a reply that I wrote in the UK Guardian on 13 June 2021 after reading the excellent article above. It was rather long and indulgent but after nearly 80 years of rehearsals, I think I am entitled to it. Sadly the Guardian rendered it almost unreadable because for me the paragraph spacing did not work. So here it is in a more readable form.  
( I have been very lax with blog entries this year! Must get going again. Oh dear, they have changed the editing format again, just like Prem Pro and Audition. Just get used to it and it is changed.)
I have been in theatre all my life from the age of 12. During this time I have been a ballet dancer with the Royal Ballet, an opera singer at Aldeburgh, a voice-over artist, a musical artist in London's west end and for the later part of my life a director and producer in theatre and TV. One has to be versatile to survive as fashions change. Most of my time was spent in the commercial theatre where life is very different to that of the subsidised theatre. I know about rehearsals. In the real world, rehearsals have to be short because until the event is produced there is no income for artists or management. 
Sometimes the cast does not get paid. In my time the huge pantos had just 10 days of rehearsal during which the cast went unpaid. It is only in the highly subsidised theatre that one has the luxury indulgence of long and extended rehearsal periods. Rehearsals in the real world are meant to be short and professional artists get the hang of it very fast. They have to otherwise they would not get employed. With six weeks of rehearsal which could be done in days, the problem is what does one do with all this time? Rehearsing a Shakespeare play is not like a ballet. The ballet knows how to rehearse because it is necessary for everyone to do the same thing and to stay fit. Dramatic works are not ballet and because most dramatic works have many interpretations, it is necessary to have a director who can firmly say "Follow me chaps" and a cast that will follow his dream. To obtain this short sharp rehearsals are the best to achieve this. The worst outcome is for every member of the cast to have a different idea of what is wanted and time and encouragement to play around. Spending hours on hours on how to deliver one line can lead to disaster. Also, it leads to a lax attitude to learning one's part. When I was starting out I was a stage manager unpaid, for a director who was rich and wanted to experiment with this type of long rehearsal for a Goldini play. We had 4 weeks and he hired some wonderful actors for £9 per week, most of which are household names today. I will refrain from naming them. 
The rehearsal period was lengthy, exercises with masks, long discussions of interpretation, long lunches in the pub and then production week in Welwyn Garden City. It became obvious to me that most of the cast had not learned their lines There were only two performances! As a stage manager, I was supposed to shout out the lines when the actors forgot as a cue but I thought as they had all been improvising for the whole of rehearsals and had been paid to do this, it was up to them to get on with it. The fuss when the curtain came down and they descended on an unpaid 18-year-old girl who had admittedly probably had as much professional experience as they had, having been a child in The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden where they did know how to rehearse!
 I stood my ground and pointed out that if I shouted out the lines the audience would know they had forgotten them and I was happy to resign at that moment as I was doing this for the experience. Lesson! I learned then was that a shorter rehearsal period and actors concentrating on learning their lines would have resulted in a better performance. You have to be good at learning lines and no rehearsals as I was to find out in future. In opera, you have to know the part before you start this is not necessary for drama, in fact, it is easier to learn lines as you go along but at some stage, you do have to learn them. 
I did have just one production with a long rehearsal period and by then I was experienced enough as a director to cope. I had a government work scheme and had to fill in about four weeks with a production of "The Seven Deadly Sins" by Kurt Weill. I had a small but tight opera ballet company who were used to working with each other in a rep situation. They knew each other well. My first attempt was a disaster, I got it wrong. This Weill was not Brecht and gloom but Hollywood and fun. My seven balletic Little Sins were most attractive and the real world the grimnosties.
 It had to be played like a souffle. The work gave every artist an opportunity to shine. I gave the cast seven wooden triangles and they came up with some brilliant ideas. We had fun! You can see a snatch of this on YouTube. But it was my dream, the cast understood this, they liked me and trusted me, this is important, and it worked. 
Artists are at their most vulnerable during rehearsals so the shorter the better for all concerned when they just have to get on with it. I am so glad I do not have to do this anymore. I am sure Shakespeare felt the same.


Friday, January 1, 2021

New Year 2021 Janette Miller

Watercolour swatches 

Welcome, 2021! I think I can safely say that most of the world will be pleased to greet you. Your predecessor was a hell of a disappointment and life for many, including me will never be the same again. Covid-19 has changed many lives mine included and without it I should not be here today. 

I began this blog in 2010, eleven years ago and for a few years, I was very keen. Then I discovered Facebook and In the early days I loved it and I gave away my blog. FaceBook then was very different from the FB of today. It was fun, you met your friends who you hadn't seen in yonks and we chatted and it was delightful. Gradually as FB became monetised it has changed to what it is today which to me is a platform for unwanted advertising and political comment. The content of the latter grew and grew and my friends although they obviously read my comments hardly ever commented back except perhaps for the occasional like. With FB algorithms being as they are I expect many friends never saw my posts.

Corvid-19 was the final straw for me. Living in New Zealand which took a very tough line on the infection right from the start, Covid-19 is under control and life here is  almost normal. This has not occurred in many countries, although it has in the East. I find reading about the horrors of the USA. EU, UK, the country of my birth unbearable because it is absolutely obvious that if firmer leadership and self-restraint had been shown by both leaders and citizens the disaster now being experienced should never have happened. Regretfully many FB friends took a dim view of the fact that life for me was perfectly normal when life for them became increasingly inconvenient. I just did not know what to comment so I have decided to give FB a rest until Covid-19 is over.

But Covid-19 has altered my life too. I am elderly and I live entirely alone as my family lives on another Island. I have been alone for much of my life as my job as a performing artist meant that my life was constantly changing and it was hard to make long-lasting relationships under these circumstances but until NZ's first lockdown I had no idea of what "Alone" meant. I found out.

In NZ there was no notice about the lockdown. Our PM went on the TV and announced that it had begun. A few hours were given but for all over 65 the lockdown started at that moment. No dashing out to the shops for a few rolls of toilet paper and a bottle of milk. Somebody would have to go and buy it for you. Well, l I had the bog roll but no milk.

I had no idea at that moment how alone I was and how hard it would be to get a bottle of milk. I rang five of my neighbours and friends and to my horror and surprise not one them would go and buy me a bottle of milk and a few eggs. Each just said "NO"! Each of them could have gone as they were not in the forbidden age bracket and each of them knew I lived alone and had no family in Auckland but such was the panic not one of them would initially. It was a shock.

I was not alone in being alone, a very dear friend I met at croquet was in the same position. She lives alone too. She had no eggs. I had a very bad night. The next morning I rang my MP to find out if there was an organisation that could help people in my position. My MP was brilliant and gave me the link to an organisation of young volunteers who might help and if that failed he would buy the milk for me himself.  However this is election year in NZ and his opposition candidate was on the button and their candidate rang me, asked if I was OK and actually went and bought the bottle of milk for me himself and did this for a few days until I got fixed up with a delightful young helper.

My friends and neighbours on this occasion were useless but two felt guilty and eggs and milk arrived on my doorstep the next day but I can never forget their immediate rejection. When the chips are down I am on my own. There is no doubt at all I was not in their lifeboat. 

That was the beginning of months of isolation. No one entered my house for months except for two emergencies. All my shopping was done by a young stranger for whom I am extremely grateful I did not know but unlike my friends and neighbours helped me. She even emailed me to make sure I was alright but I never met her when she came to my house as we had to maintain social distance. When I tried to give her a gift she refused to take it. When this is truly over and even in NZ it isn't over yet I shall take her out to dinner at the best restaurant. 

I was not in anyone's bubble and I have learned to live with this and as the months went on it became easier and easier and now I like it, in fact I love it One can live alone. It is not necessary to be one of a crowd. I think I have always known this but I believed the myth. I still enjoy my firends and neighbours even if not one of them gives a thought about me. I do care about them. After 45 years of living next to four large families, I should like to be included sometimes say for Xmas or anniversaries but I am not and that is how it is. It is not their fault and in truth one cannot pick one's neighbours. I am not their responsibility but the good news is I have learned to live with it. I used to think people would help me because I was there but thanks to Covid-19 I don't any more. At 77 I have grown up, I have to be totally self-reliant. Help is there from outside if I ask for it and it is up to me to ask for it and it is my personal responsibility to look after myself.

Today most of us have to learn to live by ourselves if we are to remain safe. The vaccines may eventually halt the infection but until then some form of isolation is the only answer. Humans are adaptable creatures and when one door closes they soon find another. I found my watercolour paintbox and my garden. Both been a revelation and so far have not disapointed. 

But I do enjoy sharing my very strange life and believe me my life has been very strange! I have a special blog for my granddaughter for her to read in the future when she grows up and wonders about her eccentric grandmother. Janette Miller's Strange Life. This gives my history and I do have one or two projects that might be of interest. My world of live theatre and music has collapsed but something needs to replace it. The question is what?

Now I am off to enjoy my day, my garden and my watercolours. I wish everyone a Happy New Year, wash your hands, wear a mask and keep your distance till this has gone.  I might even begin blogging again. Janette