A Mowtown experience
– By Debbie Ioanna
To become famous is every girls dream. To walk down the red carpet making men drool because you look astonishing. To be called to star in movies without having to audition. That’s what I want. My one ambition in life is to act professionally, on stage and on television, and eventually, on the big screen. Thinking it was simple I just said to my mum, “Mum I’m going to be an actress.” She told me that its fine but I need to go to a drama school where I not only act, but I have to sing and dance too. I soon changed my mind but whenever I watched a movie, I saw a girl my age with the lead role and thought “I could do that.”
One of my friends at school, Vikki, told me that she went to a theatre school on Saturdays that took place at our very school. It was run by a company called ‘Theatre Train’ and cost £13 per session. I didn’t know whether it was expensive or not as I didn’t know the average prices for drama schools. My mum sure did though. She did think it was rather expensive, but she had my interests at heart so decided to check it out.
It took place from ten in the morning till one in the afternoon. One hour of dance, one hour of singing and, last but not least, one hour of drama. The first time I went was free because there was no point in paying if I ended up not enjoying it and not going back.
Well, I did enjoy it. We were told about a show coming up in June. ‘Mowtown’ it was called. A singing, dancing and acting show on stage at Manchester Palace. I couldn’t wait.
* * * * *
“Where is everyone?” I asked as I approached the entrance of Queensbury School. It was the day of the show which was to be performed at 7:30 pm at Manchester Palace that Sunday night. As me and my mum walked up to the entrance we saw my friend Carrie. She is 15 like me and goes to Rhodesway School. Also stood by the door was the dance coach Pip, the music coach Emily, a few of the intermediates and a few of the juniors. Carrie and I were the only seniors to be there.
“They’re not here yet.” Carrie said, in reply to my question. “Although the coach should be here soon.”
The coach was to be there at 10:15 so we could set off at 10:30. With it only being 10am we had a lot of time.
I was carrying my Ellesse gym bag. The weight of the bag was unbearable. I had to put it on the floor so I wouldn’t do my arm an injury before the show. Inside my bag was four bottles of water, one bottle of sports lucozade, my lunch and tea which was four sandwiches and some crisps and fruit, my drama costume, and my makeup. My dance costume was to be given to me there as I was told to hand it in the previous day at rehearsals.
As I stood there, in the cold with my hair gelled tightly back into a pony tail, I couldn’t help but feel nervous and scared of what would happen in the hours to come. How would everything go? Would anything go wrong? Would I embarrass myself in front of all the people that were going to watch us? These questions were constantly running through my head but I was not able to answer them. It was my first show for Theatre Train and I wanted to remember it as exiting and brilliant, not embarrassing.
Gradually a few more people turned up. Other people had the right idea to sit in their cars rather than to stand in the cold like us! I wanted to get back in the car because there were two wasps that kept flying around us and I don’t like wasps.
“The coach,” my mum said as it drove past, “it’s just pulling in. You’d better get down there its twenty past ten now.”
Carrie and I looked at each other and smiled. It was time. In nine hours we would be on stage.
“Good luck,” my mum said to me as she hugged me “you will be fine. Remember to smile when you’re on stage and I’ll see you after.”
Carrie and I got a seat together behind Emily and Amy. We were told by Simon, our drama teacher, that it would take us about two hours to get there.
I was excited, restless and giddy. I couldn’t sit still and whenever I thought about performing there was an explosion in my stomach. It was like someone was drumming on the inside of my belly. It was very uncomfortable, and I was struggling to relax. It happened whenever we passed a large building that might have resembled a theatre. Why was I so nervous? I had been looking forward to this day for weeks now. I had been telling everyone how much I adore the stage and would love to perform on stage for a living. Would I still love it after this show if something was to go wrong? We drove through Halifax and then I didn’t know where we were so I turned to Carrie.
“Aren’t you nervous?” I asked Carrie as she sat there calmly listening to music.
“No. Why should I be?” she replied. She was totally cool about it and I couldn’t understand why. It was her first show for Theatre Train as well as she joined only four weeks after I did. “Are you?” she asked me.
“I’m petrified.” I told her, being as honest I could. She kept reassuring me, telling me everything would be fine and that I had nothing to be worried about. I couldn’t understand why she was so calm but I was also relieved. If she was as nervous as I was then I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. I was just so glad she was there to keep me cool. I just couldn’t help being so nervous. The day before, while rehearsing, I finally knew the two dances we were to perform without forgetting one bit, but they had just slipped out of my mind. I had forgotten them again.
We passed many buildings. My stomach continued to explode and Carrie was still as cool as a cucumber.
The time passed surprisingly quickly. Too quick for me. I was still as nervous as I was when we set off.
“We will be there in about five minutes.” Shouted Simon in answer to someone’s question of how long till we were there.
There was another explosion in my stomach which resembled the thunder that greeted me this morning as I awoke. The time went so quick. All we did was chat and sing to the songs that were on the CD player. I didn’t realise 2 hours had passed.
“Oh my god, Carrie look!” I said excitedly looking out of the window. “Look at that sign,” I said “it’s us!”
I was right. There was a sign hanging on a lamppost saying “Mowtown. At Manchester Palace.” It was decorated in sixties/seventies style with a man doing the ‘night fever’ dance.
By seeing the sign I knew only one thing. My stomach said it all. We were there! Simon stood up.
“Ok can I have your attention please? Are you listening? Could everyone remain seated please?” Simon called as we pulled up. “Now, as the coach door is facing the middle of the road we will get out of the emergency exit for safety reasons. When you get out please stand on the path and next to the wall so you do not block any passers by. Manchester is a very busy place, even on a Sunday.”
Carrie and I were first off. Our huge bags were difficult to get out the tiny fire escape door. We struggled but got to the wall eventually and saw another group of theatre train students in front of us. We saw another coach arrive. It was another centre. They parked behind us. Their door was in the road also but they didn’t get out of the fire escape. Their centre leader made them get out in the middle of the busy road.
“Do we just stand here?” Carrie asked
“Yea, we stay till they let us in.” Amy answered. She had done a couple of shows so she knew what to expect unlike us.
I was still nervous. I was counting down the hours till we were on stage. I was thinking what it would be like to have 2000 faces on you when you stood out on the stage in the spotlight. All this thinking was not making me feel any better. Well, not till me, Carrie, Amy and Emily got a surprise.
She approached me first did the little girl. Izzie she was called. She was one of the juniors. She had a singing solo. Her song was “Postman.” We heard her in rehearsals the day before. Her voice was as cute as she.
“Debbie,” she said, “You four don’t need to wear makeup ‘cause you’re already pretty.”
“Awe.” Carrie and I said together.
We fell in love with her instantly. Carrie and I gave her the biggest hug and we told the other two what she had said. They fell in love with her too!
Eventually two more coaches arrived. Carrie and I eagerly awaited the Huddersfield group to arrive because there was a lad in that group who we both thought was very, very cute! We couldn’t remember his name which was sad but we definitely remembered his face.
We waited but there was no sign of their coach. They would arrive soon.
“Alright everybody.” A woman suddenly said holding five large signs in her hand. “Could the centre leaders please come and collect your centre signs and then you may go up to your dressing rooms. Ok, are Queensbury here?” she asked holding out our sign.
The sign was a piece of luminous laminated card on a huge stick with the names of each centre on. It was so if you were lost in the dark behind the stage, you would be able to see where you were meant to be stood because it was a ‘glow in the dark’ card.
Queensbury, which was us, was the first to enter. We were led up some steep stairs. They went on forever. We eventually stopped, when we were all shattered, and were led down a corridor. We were all divided up. The senior and intermediate girls were in one room, the senior and intermediate boys were in another, and all the juniors were separated into two others.
As we entered the dressing room we could not believe it. It was like a movie star’s dressing room. There were dressing tables all round the sides of the room, with mirrors and draws and chairs and lights above the mirrors. In the centre of the room was a pole to hang stuff on. There was a room with three toilets in (which girls and boys both shared), and back in the changing room there was a speaker that was like an intercom. It was so we could be told when we were needed on stage or something like that. We loved it. I actually felt important and had my first taste of what it would be like to be a celebrity. Carrie and I shared a table. Amy and Emily shared one at the other end of the room. Izzie wanted to share with us but she couldn’t because she was a junior. She had to go to the room opposite us. We were told to eat what we could because we were soon to be marched back down those everlasting stairs to the stage where we would be talked to by the man directing the show. I ate one of my four sandwiches and a Maryland cookie biscuit. I had a few mouthfuls of water but preferred the lucozade. It had flavour and I thought, since it was meant to give you energy that it might prepare me for the show.
It wasn’t long before we were joined by Izzie again. I grabbed a chair and sat her on my knee. She told us all about her solo. She wasn’t nervous. She was the kind of girl that you just fell in love with. With her amazingly big blue eyes you didn’t need a reason. Although our reason was her earlier comment as we were stood outside. She had blonde hair and the biggest most adorable eyes.
“Ok, everyone please can I have your attention,” began Simon, “We are wanted downstairs in five minutes. Yes?” he asked in answer to Emily’s question. It was another Emily. It was the Emily that played ‘snitch’ in our play.
“Do we need to get changed?” she asked
“No, you’re just going to speak to the director then we can start our rehearsal.”
Our play. I had one of the lead roles. It starts with Emily Naylor singing ‘Grapevine’ and at the end of her solo it’s then Georgia and Nathan playing football (They are constantly looking around to check they are not being watched). They are then spotted by the snitch (the other Emily) and run off the stage. Then we all enter. There is an ‘in’ crowd and an ‘out’ crowd. Me, Carrie, Amy and Emily are all in the ‘in’ crowd. We wear our uniform as follows; black trousers, no tie and our shirts tied up to show our bellies! I am the big bully! The story is, Emily fancies Nathan and wants to go out with him but, secretly, Nathan is going out with Georgia, which explains the first scene. Amy and Emily find out and come to me and Carrie and tell us to beat up Georgia in order to get rid of her! We march over, me first, using our angry expressions and then proceed in pushing her about then a huge fight breaks out. The next scene is in a classroom. I sit at the back next to one of my ‘friends’ and when she asks the teacher if she can go to the toilet she gets tripped up by someone in the out crowd. She pushes her but runs to the middle of the class I march up and defend her and there is then another fight in the classroom which is stopped by the teacher. The next scene is back in the playground. I am stood with Amy and Emily flirting with Nathan. There is whisper going around about Nathan flirting with Emily when he is meant to be going out with Georgia so then he marches over and receives an almighty slap and then there is yet another fight! The following scene is in a cafeteria. The ‘in’ crowd at one table and the ‘out’ crowd at another. As Nathan and Georgia stare at each other, the people sat at the tables whisper. Then the snitch comes over and spreads yet more rumours to the ‘in’ crowd and we catch her out and send her off! We finally come to the last scene where we are all stood in two lines. We all shake hands to show no hard feelings and all get on. Then make an arch for the happy couple to walk through. Then we are all happy and friendly. Me, Carrie, Amy and Emily all end up giving piggy backs to four of the intermediates and when the music stops we take a bow and finally run off stage!
“Ok everyone let’s get a move on we are wanted downstairs now.” Simon told us “Let’s get moving.”
We all trotted down the never-ending stairs. One of each of mine and Carries hands was taken by Izzie. It did get rather difficult to walk down the narrow stairs so we had to walk in a single file. When we got to the bottom we passed the door to the stage. We saw the band preparing and there was a lot of backstage space. We then went through a really narrow door, just less than two feet wide, which then went through to the hall which you then went through another door and then you were in the bottom seating area of the Theatre. We were the first centre to get there so we got sat in the middle. Three more centres came in after us but the Huddersfield lot still weren’t here.
“Welcome everyone.” Shouted this man as the last lot of people entered. Huddersfield still weren’t here yet. “My name is Steve and I am the director for this show today!” He was a tallish man. He spoke in a London accent. Dressed in black and gelled black hair. Some of his gel was rolling down his face along with sweat. “Now, welcome to Manchester Palace Theatre. I don’t think everyone is here yet. Are we still waiting for a particular group?” he asked to a lady at the side with big earphones on with a microphone attached.
“Yes, we’re still waiting for Huddersfield. Their speaker isn’t working so we’ve had to send someone up. They’ll be here in five minutes.”
Carrie and I glanced at each other sharing a look of reassurance. Finally, we could relax knowing he was finally here. Relax? How could I say I could feel relaxed? I didn’t feel relaxed at all. We have to be on stage in a few hours in front of so many people. I felt it again. That thing was playing drums in my stomach again. I wish it would go away. It was making me nervous again.
“Ok everyone. Good afternoon to you all. Are you nervous?” Silence. “I shall take that silence as a yes you are! Who here is doing there first show today?”
About half the people here, including Carrie and myself, put our hands up.
“So, quite a few of you are going on stage for the first time?” he asked “You must be very nervous. Well, there’s no need to be nervous, because once you get on stage you forget about all your nerves and you work a lot harder and you just enjoy yourself. There will be many people in the audience watching but you won’t be able to see them because these lights up here will be on you the whole time. Honestly you will just have the time of your life.”
At that point, the Huddersfield group came through the door. Carrie and I looked at each other and giggled when we saw the nice lad come in. He looked the same as he did at rehearsals, which wasn’t surprising because it was only a couple of weeks back. He had black hair which was gelled and spiked. His cheeks were pink and his skin was tanned.
“Aha we are joined by our Huddersfield group. Welcome to you all and you can sit at this end over here.” He pointed to the right of the seating area. “Ok, to those who have just entered, my name is Steve. I am the director of the show and I was just saying that if you were nervous at all then there is no need to be, and I wish you all the best of luck. Ok, there is no need to go back upstairs to get changed into your costumes because you will get very sweaty and its best to keep the costumes clean and fresh for later. Ok we are going to go through the show, top to bottom, and I think we have Queensbury up first? Yes, we do, so could Queensbury please go to stage entrance right and everyone else, your centre leaders will know where to take you. Ok, off we go.”
We were led to the entrance on the right. Izzie had to go with the other juniors while we, the seniors with the intermediates, had to stand by the stage ready to go on. Emily was singing her solo so she had to go on stage first. Carrie, Amy and I wished her luck. The three of us looked at the small television. It was filming the whole stage. We heard her singing Grapevine. Her voice was amazing. I was so jealous. She sang her last line then came off back to us. Georgia and Nathan then went on to do their bit. I had to say that Nathan had improved since rehearsals the previous day. He did seem a bit slow. Finally, we all had to make our way on. It went terribly. This made me panic. What if it went like this later on? Things were not going right. The dances were disasters and whilst in the choir I was sweating so much I could have passed out. I was so dehydrated. At this point I was not looking forward to the performance at all. I wanted to go home.
It was five-thirty when we were sent back up to the changing rooms. The next time we were on stage was at seven thirty, the show. Carrie and I had a small bite to eat before we were joined again by Izzie and her friend Laura. By this point I knew what to expect so I wasn’t as nervous as it was a few hours ago. Two hours is a long time to wait though. I asked Carrie if we could go into the corridor to go through the dances. We went through them with out little audience of juniors.
Some people got changed into their school uniforms for the first act but there was an hour and a half to go, I wanted to chill for a bit. But I couldn’t. My nerves returned and I couldn’t just sit twiddling my thumbs. So Carrie and I got changed. I put some more gel on my hair to make sure it wouldn’t fall down in the middle of the fight. Amy did my lips for me. I did my eyeliner and I borrowed Carrie’s blusher. I looked so different!
An hour to go. I was ready and had hands that would not stop shaking. Emily was going over her solo with Amy and Izzie and Laura were dragging me and Carrie to their changing room where Steve was sat, eating his lunch and entertaining the juniors. All the juniors, as well as everybody else, wanted their nails done. So they were all pestering Carrie to do them as she was brilliant!
I made my way to my changing room. I grabbed my phone out of my bag and started to text my mum. She and Diane would be in Manchester now. My mum bought two tickets but my dad couldn’t make it because of work. I was upset because neither he nor mum had seen me act or dance before. It was my chance to prove to them that I could do it. But as he could not come, I asked my mum to invite Diane instead. I love Diane. She’s great. Nothing to do with the fact that she has a very famous daughter!
“Hi mum. One hour to go. Where are u??” I said in my text.
Two minutes later I got a reply.
“We’re in a café having a coffee. Are you ok?”
“I’m jus so nervous! Order me a hot chocolate.” I replied
“Ok! We’re going in now. See you soon xxx”
That was it! They were going in. Forty-five minutes to go. I sat down to chat to Carrie, but she was being pestered by all the juniors and intermediates to paint their nails.
Half an hour until we were to make our way downstairs. Carrie and I were stood in the toilets checking we looked ok. My hands were shaking. My stomach had not calmed down. I couldn’t eat. I thought I would throw up.
“Ok everyone!” Simon shouted “could you all come here please? Ok, are you all ok? Good. Ok we are going to do a warm up to get you in the mood. Ok everyone open your mouths really wide and stretch your faces.” He stretched his face and we all followed. “Now all of you close your face up tight” he screwed his face up as most others did but a few of the girls didn’t as we didn’t want to ruin our makeup.
We did a few more exercises and then made our way to the stairs. The hard stone steps were hurting my feet as I only had my dance shoes on. We made it backstage. Silence. All we could hear was the muttering of the audience. 7:25. Five minutes. Emily was nervous about her singing. My hands were out of control! Shaking non-stop. All the intermediates found this amusing and entertaining. My heart was pounding. The curtains went up. The music started and Emily made her way out. She was sensational. She sang better than she did in rehearsals. Then all of a sudden there was a roar of applause. Emily came off shaking and we were all congratulating her as Nathan and Georgia went on stage. I just knew the ball was going to be kicked off stage. Miraculously, it wasn’t. Now, we had to go on. I walked onto the stage and I knew my mum’s eyes were on me, and I knew she was smiling. I kept my face straight. We did the first scene. It went perfect. As I walked over to start a fight with Georgia, I felt everyone’s eyes on me. Thankfully Georgia was not pushed off stage, and she didn’t fall over like in rehearsals the day before. Scene two. Again, everything went perfect. Scene three, brilliant and for the rest of the play I was satisfied. The applause was buzzing. We all looked into the audience with smiles on our faces then ran off stage. We were all hyper and giddy. Emily and Simon congratulated us as we made our way to the other end of the stage.
We had to wait a while until we were back on stage. All the other centres were doing their dramas. Finally, we were led on to sing “ABC” originally by Michael Jackson but tonight, we owned it. It was the highlight of the night for me. The applause and the laughter were brilliant.
Only after this were we allowed back up to the changing rooms for the intermission. There I text my dad and told him what we had done so far and his reply was “Very good. I’m proud of you.” I loved that message. It made me feel good inside, and I knew he was proud.
“Ok everyone; please get your dance costumes on now. We are on first.” shouted Emily, the singing coach, as we were all screaming with delight. I was no longer nervous or shaking but eager to get back on stage.
We all got changed and were going through our dances. I felt comfortable as I knew what they were.
Once again, we were led down those stairs and Carrie and I were chatting all the way down until we were told to be quiet.
We had to wait a while until it was us up next. When we were next up, the dances had gone out of my head. I began to panic once more. The music began to ‘Tears of a Clown.’ We ran on stage and, like an instinct, I knew what to do. If anything, I danced better than I had anywhere else. Applause! We bowed and ran off stage.
We were congratulated and led to the back where we could sit for a while.
“Oh my God!” I said, with a big grin on my face. “I can’t believe I did it I DID IT!”
Carrie was also smiling. Everyone was hot and sweaty from the stage lights, shining and focussing on you.
“Ok everyone,” the singing coach shouted while holding the ‘Queensbury’ sign, “that was excellent, well done. You can sit here and rest for 10 minutes. Just have a rest and get your breath back.”
The next dance was ‘Reach Out.” That was the easier dance. It was originally meant to be only the intermediates dance, as ‘Tears of a Clown’ was ours, but we made it for everyone. I liked this dance. We didn’t come on first. We had to wait till a particular line in the song.
“Can we go through it?” I asked Carrie. “I’ve forgotten it already.”
We stood up and got into our space and went through it. A few others joined in, including Emily and Amy. We were just about to go through it a second time when we were interrupted by “Ok everyone, c’mon, we need to go up now.”
The explosion was in my stomach again. We were stood queuing and waiting for a few minutes. Then our music started and the intermediates walked on stage and began to dance.
Then they stopped and ran off as we ran on. It went well but my top was bugging me. I was wearing a green skirt (I hate wearing skirts), some fishnet tights, some hot pants I’d borrowed off Emily, and a blue boob tube. It was a nice top but it kept rolling over and it was hard to dance when wearing it.
I remember Carrie forgetting a small part of the dance but she got it after about a second. We smiled at each other and managed to finish the dance.
We ran off and again got the “Well done.” Then we were told straight away to go back round the other side so we could be in the choir.
We were split in to two groups, red and blue, and stood at the appropriate places ready to get back on the stage. We were soon shoved on to these tiny, awkward steps with blinding lights shining in our faces. We were to stay here for the remaining forty-five minutes and sing the songs that came on. Since I was not the best singer, I didn’t really practice the songs, and hated rehearsing them. After weeks of lessons I knew most of them but mimed the ones that had the high notes. Like I said, I’m not the best singer in the world.
We did the final song that included everyone and were told to stay stood while this man with a sixties suit on and an afro wig came on and talked to the audience.
“Good Evening Manchester!” he shouted into the microphone “Have you enjoyed this evening? Let’s give everyone here another round of applause.” He began to clap and the audience followed and some people whistled. He then thanked the band and people applauded for them.
He then began to talk again but we couldn’t hear him because we were right at the back trapped by all the Huddersfield people. We thought he said “Queensbury” before there was another applause and some people walked off. He then mentioned all the other centre groups and then there was only Queensbury stood on stage.
He was still talking to the audience and we were confused. “What’s going on?” we asked each other. We then saw the singing coach and she was gesturing us to come off stage.
“I am so sorry. We didn’t know he was going to do that. I don’t think many people noticed!” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “Ah well, first on last off!”
We were soon laughing about it and were told to get go back up to the changing rooms and get changed and those who were meeting their parents were to make their way back down to the seating area and the people going back on the coach were to go back down to the entrance. Me, as well as Emily, Amy and Carrie, were meeting our families. I soon saw my mum and Diane and said good bye to the others and went and gave my mum the biggest hug ever!
“Well done!” she said with a big grin on her face.
“That was brilliant!” Diane said.
“Aw thank you!” I said. “I want to do it again.” They laughed. I was so awake and eager to get back on stage and do it again even better. But it was home time now. And I had to be up for school the next day.
We made our way back to the car. It was nearly eleven o’clock. It would take about an hour to get home, where I could see my dad and then sleep all night, until seven the next morning when I was to get up to go to school.
It didn’t take that long to get back. Or rather it took ages but I was talking the whole way back! I could not shut up, like I said, I was wide awake. I was buzzing. It was like I was on caffeine or something! We soon dropped Diane off then made our way back home.
We got in and dad was sat on the sofa. He had been asleep but awoke when he heard the door open. He smiled and asked how it went. I told him it was brilliant and that he should have come.
“I’ll come to the next show, I promise.” He told me.
The next show. I couldn’t wait!