Milan 2008

October 23, 2008 at 1:29 pm (Overseas Tour) (, , , , )

I arrived at Leeds/Bradford airport early as a couple of us had checked into the lounge and wanted to get airside to take advantage of the facilities, I’ve flown nearly eighty thousand miles in the last twelve months and I’m almost robotic in my actions at an airport these days. Once on the plane the iPod was on and I try and grab a brief snooze. Landing at Milan Bergamo some two hours later, we shuffle through immigration and baggage reclaim and onto a waiting coach to take us to the airport.
We arrive at the hotel and Steve Hughes our Company Manager, arranges for the crew to get checked in first as we’re expected at the venue in a little under an hour. A quick wash and brush up and we congregate in the foyer of the hotel and walk to the venue.I always have a slight feeling of trepidation when going to a foreign venue. In the UK I’ve been visiting most of the number one touring venues at least once a year for years, sometimes I’ve been back a few times in the same year. You know what to expect, you know the people and we have an understanding of each other. When you’re abroad, it’s not just the language that is a barrier, its people’s methods too. We all do things in different ways, and everything takes much longer to achieve then you would wish.

We got to the venue just as Jimmy Kirk our amazing driver had arrived from Leeds, having left late on Sunday evening, three days before. Jimmy is without exception the best driver it has been my pleasure to work with, a vital part of Northern Ballet Theatres Technical operation.

We were met by several of the Italian technicians, and the Stage Department struck gold straight away with Nico, the local carpenter. He was very helpful, spoke great English and enjoyed our feeble phrase book attempts at speaking his mother tongue.
In fact so good was Nico that we presented him with one of our ratchet spanners by way of a thank you for all his efforts.

It was as well Nico was a helpful fellow as the first problem was minutes away. As Jimmy reversed the trailer in, it became obvious that it was two big to fit through the gates to the theatre and so everything was unloaded and carried from the gates, round the side of the theatre to the loading doors. Not a good start.

The venue, built in the 30s and still with many original features was smaller then we are used to and was quite run down. The Stage Department set about laying the dance floor and checking out the stage masking, whilst the Electrics team began the process of explaining what they wanted to the Italian electricians.

With the floor down and Nico having prepared the masking prior to our arrival we on Stage found ourselves in quite good shape early on, Electrics however were coming up against numerous problems with the local power supply and state of the local equipment. (If you use that power for the stage, there won’t be any lights in the dressing rooms was my favourite of the evening)

We have stringent Health and Safety laws in the UK and it’s only when you see how dangerously other countries operate that you really take appreciate how safe the theatres at home are. With Electrics up against it the Stage Department all became electricians for the rest of the evening and it was a great sense of pride to me to see my team setting about the task so diligently.

With the time fast approaching 10pm and not really having stopped since we left home some 14 hours previously we did what all good theatre people do after work and went to the pub for a well earned pint. The Italians proved to be great hosts and we sat at a street side bar / café for a couple of hours soaking up the atmosphere of Milan and talking through the trials of the day.

Morning brought the sight of Sid Taylor my deputy managing to get through four plates of breakfast, croissants, full fry up, cold meat and cheese platter and then back for more croissants when he realised, there were custard ones as well as the plain ones he had as a starter three courses previously.

We were due in at 11am but made the decision to leave the hotel just after 9am and get in early. Electrics were well into the focus by the time we arrived and we set about dressing the stage and getting ready for class. The dancers arrived for class and we went next door into the adjoining design museum for a coffee. If there’s one thing the Italians know about its coffee. I also managed to get out during class to a local shop near the theatre and pick up some really nice olive oil, flour and semolina flour as I’m a keen cook and really wanted to get some authentic ingredients for my kitchen.

The rest of the day was filled with rehearsals, which we did in reverse order of the performance so that once finished we were set up for the start of the show. Northern Ballet’s rehearsal went well and we smoothed out a few problems, and then set up and rehearsed the other two acts. With about an hour to go we were ready for the show and managed to grab a Panini from the little van outside the theatre, which was good.

The show passed by pretty uneventfully for us, there were a couple of annoying technical hitches and a frantic interval change from Opera North’s piece which involved a band fully miked up onstage back to a clear stage ready for Northern Ballet in just over ten minutes. The dancers of the Company did what they do best and for me stole the show with room to spare. The dancers had had to suffer their fair share of problems during the show and had been treated quite rudely by several people whilst they were trying to keep limbered up for their 10pm performance.

With the show over and in quite a sombre mood we set about the get out and taking everything down and loading it back on the lorry…only no one had the key for the gate, the gate I mentioned earlier that the lorry wouldn’t fit through. So we couldn’t even carry the stuff round to the lorry. Another route had to be found and the shortest route available to us was up a flight of fire escape stairs through front of house out to our now repositioned lorry.

Everyone set about the get out like Trojans and in a little over an hour we were out of the theatre and loaded ready for Jimmy to return to the UK. After a long day like that we all needed a cool refreshing drink and pretty soon the jokes were flowing again and the humour that is a large part of our daily lives had returned.

The morning came and we checked out and wondered around the local area having some more beautiful coffee until it was time for the transport back to the airport.

It was a nice feeling to touch down at Leeds/Bradford airport and as we all departed for home thoughts turned to A Midsummer Night’s Dream fit up on Sunday at Bradford.

Steve Wilkins

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