Fame At Last

It would seem that my little theatre fire is a much bigger attracion than mere puppet shows. Nearly every day I find someone wandering round outside the theatre taking photographs, or posing for “selfies” with the theatre as a background. Sometimes I pop out and ask if they need any help. Usually they just say that they have heard about the fire and are so sorry etc.

What puzzles me is that they are people who have never been to the theatre, nor usually even heard of it. Just a few minutes ago there were a couple, late middle aged, wandering around outside the foyer, the man shooting off a series of photographs just through the widows of the foyer. There’s nothing to see except for piles of boxes and and cases which I’ve moved from backstage to store in the only clean area, the foyer, and then there’s a mass of cleaning equipment, a small stove, and me sat at my laptop – certainly nothing very photogenic and nothing suggesting a fire. In fact there is nothing at all of the fire damage which is visible from the outside.

After they’d been there a few minutes and him still clicking away I could not resist going out to have a word. They had seen the notice at the gate that shows were cancelled due to fire restoration work so they’d come to have a look round. Had they ever been to the theatre? No. Had they any interest in puppetry? No. Were they local to the area? No, they were on holiday from the Stoke. Did they come here regularly? No, this was their first time.

So I explained that I was sorry but there was nothing to see – that the fire damage had been inside the theatre itself, and nothing out here. During this exchange the man hung back, letting his wife do the talking, but when I said goodbye and returned inside he lingered taking several more photos through the plate glass windows of either the piles of boxes or perhaps me sitting at my laptop? Presumably these were to enhance his holiday memories of his visit to North Wales. Now mountains and seascapes I can understand but ……

 

 

Beginning to see the light? Well I’ve got a new window.

Work has actually begun. The first contractors came to the Harlequin Theatre today and did a fine job replacing the smashed plate glass window in the foyer.

Actually they are the only ones who can do anything, everyone else is waiting for the Insurance Company recommended Cleaners to do their work – and they are still working out whether all the theatre seats will be removed and sent away for cleaning while they work on the walls and ceiling, or whether they can work from scaffolding over the seats.  If the seats have to be removed for cleaning then the cleaner will need to have a rather large workshop. 118 seats take up quite a lot of room.

I must be patient. Luckily with old age I find procrastinating much less of a chore.

A Very Big Thank You

I would like to sincerely thank those 25 puppet and Punch friends who so very generously contributed to a crowd funding appeal kindly arranged by Tim Sykes, not initiated by me but gratefully accepted, which I understand raised more than £800 to help towards the losses resulting from the fire.

Thank you so very much to you all for your kindness and very practical support. The money is doubly welcome now that I am having to accept that it is now almost certain that I will not be able to reopen until after Christmas.

The Perils of Morning Email

In normal times I never read my emails before lunch. In fact I usually don’t switch on my computer until I’ve finished the morning chores and done at least some physical work. If the theatre is running then I usually re-set the show the day before, straight after the audience have left.  So then my morning usually starts by sweeping and mopping the auditorium, cleaning the toilets, emptying the waste bins and replenishing toilet rolls and paper towel dispensers. I then re-set for the magic tricks part of the show, and also re-set and check the cabaret puppets. I then check my answerphone for bookings and mark up the seating plan appropriately. This usually brings me to lunch time.

After lunch I will switch on the laptop, but only on battery, and check for any email bookings. I deliberately avoid getting involved with any other emails and switch off.  I then go backstage and check music and lights, change into stage clothes.

Normally it is only after the show that I switch on the computer to answer emails, update websites and so forth.

The reason I tell you this is because I know my addiction. Once I am on the computer I can happily waste the days away. There’s always someething to do, something to discover, something to experiment with. And once started I don’t stop, and nothing gets done in the real world – no cleaning, painting, re-stringing – nothing.

But now, since the fire, with all the waiting and frustration and uncertainty it is very difficult to settle to do anything. There’s so much to do that it isn’t possible to know where to start, so I start all sorts of things, find something more important, and nothing gets completed.

I have to switch on the computer in the morning because all correspondence with insurers and all the various contractors is all done via email, so I have to read and answer my emails, and then its much easier to stay on the computer all day rather than face the real world of soot and dirts and smells.

But I’ll be disciplined tomorrow – I won’t switch on the computer until I’ve done all the things I planned to do three days ago and didn’t.

Who am I kidding?

Enthusiasm Fired

Before the Harlequin theatre was built in 1958 Eric Bramall usually had a seaside booking for the whole of the Summer Season, but during the rest of the year travelled with his mother performing in Variety and touring the very many  Music & Arts Societies which were in most towns and villages throughout Britain.

I mention this because I was reminded of those early days by a phone call. It was from a retired amateur puppeteer, Mal Trott, living in the Midlands who had read in “The Stage” newspaper of the Fire at the theatre and he was ringing to express his sympathy. He had visited the theatre once, in the early 90s but his memories of Eric Bramall went back to 1955 when he was living in Scarborough. Eric had performed there for week in small hall. Mal’s father was custodian of this hall and thus Mal, twelve years old at the time, watched every show during the week. This fired his interest in puppets which became a consuming interest for the rest of his life.

 

For those who don’t know, Eric Bramall was my partner for 40 years.  It was Eric who built the theatre and encouraged, inspired and enthused me throughout our collaboration until his death in 1996. Any skill I have with marionettes came from watching Eric but I will never be his equal.

The pictures show The Eric Bramall Marionettes in Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay 1956 and on the bandstand of Vale Park, Wallasey 1949

Thanks for your concern, but not much to report.

There’s not a lot to report, I am still at the stage of trying to get surveys followed by estimates from all the various tradesmen. These are then submitted to the Loss Adjuster who then gives me the go-ahead to order the work done. We then have to agree dates when this can take place. At the moment I have the go ahead for the joiner, the glazier and the electrician but no dates have been set.

The major work of cleaning walls, ceilings, floors, seating and curtains has still to be worked out, three contractors being involved. The October opening looks less certain!

I have been very touched by those of you who have expressed distress, offered help, and sent donations. Mostly I have thanked you personally, and I am most grateful. I am so sorry about the children who have been deprived of their annual visit to the puppet theatre.

I would like to say a special word of thanks to the Wilkinson family. I received your card today and am very grateful. I do not have your address so cannot write personally, but if you do read this then here’s a big THANK YOU.

Asbestos and French Polishing

The company who surveyed the theatre with a view to cleaning it were worried that the decorative hardboard tiles at the back of the theatre were in fact asbestos. I assured them they were hardboard and showed them a broken section which clearly showed its layered construction. “Ah, but it still might contain asbestos – many things did in the 50s”

The result was that they went back to the Insurance company and asked for an asbestos survey. The testing company arrived today and planned to be all day doing a “full invasive survey” – which means taking small samples of everything = woodwork, floor tiles, curtains, plaster on the walls, everything in the auditorium, backstage, in the toilets and foyer. I did not like this and said so. After all this was for someone to clean the theatre, not pull it down.

After a number of phone calls between the two companies, and myself with the insurance, we finally settled on a non-invasive inspection which was largely visual with an element of presumption, For example that wood panelling looks like wood therefore I can assume that it is wood and isn’t concealing an underlayer of asbestos. I agreed that they could take a sample of the suspect tiles. This involved the guy donning full protective gear and sealing off the room while he removed a small sample and tested it.

It was hardboard.

Meanwhile I had another visitor, a French Polishing Company from Stafford. They had been sent to give an estimate for cleaning the seats. This chap was very informative, but gave me the distinct impression that my hopes for an October half term reopening were pretty unlikely.

He did mention some royalty and celebrity work he had been involved with. I thought I was being funny when I asked if he had worked for the Queen in her annus horribilis.  “You mean the Windsor fire?” he asked. “Oh yes, I did quite a lot of sub contract work for that.”

Sounds expensive to me!

 

Arachnophilia

I have no fear of spiders, but I do constantly battle with them since they do like decorating my theatre with their webs. I try to remove the visible ones in corners, on chandaliers etc. And before each season I have to get a brush on a very long pole to try and dislodge webs on the very high ceiling. Actually these are so high, and as the webs are flush with the ceiling, they are virtually invisible. A fire alters all that! The smoke deposits layers of carbon on the web changing the gossamer thin strands to quite thick strings which sag with the weight and cling together, then fall as shiny black oily hanks. Quite wondrous, but very smelly and dirty.

Back to the Smells.

Anyone who has suffered a fire will know one of the worst results is the long-lingering smell.  The only place I can work in at the theatre at the moment is the foyer, and even here the smell is pretty acrid, although after half an hour or so one doesn’t notice it quite so much.

I’ve been away for the weekend in Wolverhampton performing Punch & Judy so my return on Sunday night was greeted by a temporarilly forgotten pungency.

Last week was particularly busy with Punch work since it was the week of the two biggest Agricultural Shows in North Wales, The Denbigh and Flints Show and The Anglesey Show. Both are events I always enjoy, although I don’t enjoy the very early morning starts. At these big events one needs to travel to arrive in the early morning since you have to be fitted up and vehicle your off the site by 8 am. I usually set my alarm for 4 am on show mornings.

Things are still progressing depressingly slowly. Unfortunately the fire clean up and restoration has to be professionally done (well the insurers are paying) but that means I am at the mercy of already busy tradesmen who have other calls on their time and haven’t just been sitting around waiting for me to suffer a fire.

Things would be very different if it was something where I could call on well wishers and volunteers. I am so grateful to have had an abundance of offers of help both from fellow puppeteers but also from audience members, parents and grandparents who bring their children to the shows. I do thank you all for your kindness, but really there isn’t much anyone can do at this stage.

Slowly slowly

Still very little progress, still awaiting estimates. Electrical and joinery contractors have done their surveys, but not yet put anything on paper. The cleaning contractors are deciding whether to clean the seating in situ, or take it all away. If they decide the latter it will be up to me to find a firm to unbolt the seats for transporting, then re-install them when cleaned. Meanwhile everythiing is held up while I await an asbestos survey. If any is discovered then all sorts of delays can be anticipated. The electrician told me of a job he did recently where the local authority had to be given two weeks notice before asbestos removal commenced.

The opening for the October half term seems slightly in question!

Luckily I have been extremely busy with Punch & Judy shows this last week (three agricultural shows and a museum) so I have no time to brood.

Hope the Summer is going well for all you reading this. We’ve had some terrific weather in North Wales. Thursday was perfect. Brilliant sunshine all day with a slightly cooling breeze in the afternoon.