Monthly Archives: August 2022

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 30

Doris rushed into the building to escape the rain. The weather forecasters had been threatening snow but for the moment what fell from the sky was wet rather than fluffy. She shook her coat and stamped her feet on the mat inside the door. It didn’t help much. Even the short run from the car had resulted in her being pretty soggy and that never made for a good start to the day.

Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she noticed that the box office door was ajar. For a moment she cursed whoever had been in the night before. They knew they were supposed to lock it.

Peering in, Doris was surprised to see Tracey sitting at the desk tapping on her laptop. She was concentrating hard and didn’t notice her arrival until she switched on the light.

Tracey leapt in the air with surprise. “Oh Doris, it’s you. You gave me the fright of my life.”

“I’m normally the first in. How come you are here so early?” Doris looked at the clock. She supposed that 10am wasn’t really that early for normal people, but when your business didn’t open until the evening, even the cleaners weren’t really needed before lunch.

Tracey settle back into her seat. “Sorry. I wanted to look at the ticket sales”.

“Again?” Doris raided an eyebrow, “You seem to be in every other day.”

Tracey looked glum. “Well, I’m just, you know…”

“Willing them to go up?”

“Sort of.”

Doris dumped her soggy coat on a hook and headed towards the kettle. “I’m not daft. When you’ve been here as long as I have, you get to remember what the numbers are from year to year.”

“Hmmm.” Tracey looked back at the screen on her laptop.

“I think they are a bit up. You’ve not done badly you know.”

The graph on the screen did look like it was heading in the right direction but that wasn’t the whole story. “They are better, but not good enough. We need to sell loads more if this place is going to hit the target we are supposed to be aiming for.”

Doris switched on the kettle and then looked over Tracey’s shoulder. Without her reading glasses on, she couldn’t make out the numbers properly. “Well, you can’t work miracles.”

“But miracles is what we need. Sorry Doris, I don’t know what more I can do.”

In the background the kettle burbled and then clicked. Doris started to drown a teabag in a mug. “Do you want a brew?” she asked.

Tracey smiled. “That’s the British thing to do isn’t it. Things are going badly, let’s have a cup of tea. “

“Maybe. But I want a cuppa ‘cos it’s pissing down out there and I need to warm up. Anything else can wait.” She smiled at Tracey, who relented and accepted the offer.  For a few minutes, they let the warmth of the mugs seep into their fingers. Eventually Doris felt drier and Tracey’s mood improved a little.

Sipping the hot liquid, Tracey looked back toward the screen. “Seriously Doris. I can’t make it any better. We’ve tried the lot. Radio, local newspapers, Facebook, Twitter.”

“Have you tried dragging them off the street?” chuckled Doris.

“Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. I’m not sure my boss would approve though. She’d just make jokes about me being on the pull.” They both laughed.

“Well what are we going to do then. I mean we are where we are. How bad are the numbers? “

Tracey spun the laptop around, but still without her glasses, Doris didn’t bother looking. “I’m not sure. If I’m honest, working out budgets isn’t one of the things I’m good at. My credit card is always a bit of a mystery to me. I’m sure it goes to the shops on it’s own.”

“Yeah. I reckon mine does the same sometimes. You think, I didn’t buy that, but then it’s in the back of the wardrobe and you hope your husband hasn’t spotted it.”

“Ha. Not that I have a husband, but I know what you mean. My parents were always moaning that I seemed to have more shoes than the shop. The spare bedroom in my flat is full of stuff and I don’t know where it all came from.”

“A girl’s got to have nice things though. I mean you can’t take it with you and if you are going to go out, you better do it in style.”

“Doris, you are speaking my language.”

Doris smiled, “Years of being in showbiz love. You don’t think I always dress like this do you?”

Tracey looked at Doris’s black top and sensible trousers the same colour. Thinking back, she couldn’t remember when the woman hadn’t been wearing something like this.

“You do don’t you! Well, let me tell you young lady, I can dress up with the best of them when I want to. I don’t wear the good stuff for work, you never know when you’re going to be cleaning up some kids sick or trying to make the dodgy plumbing in this place work before a bus-load of pensioners descends and all want to pay a visit.”

Tracey paused. “Sorry. I’d not really thought of it.

It was Doris’s turn to evaluate clothes. Tracey was sombrely dressed by her standards but she recognised the jumper from the Sunday paper as what they described as a Whistles multi-stripe and those maroon trousers probably came from Top Shop, the whole lot probably cost three times the price of her own outfit. Not something to wear when the ice machine behind the bar might want its innards jiggling. She smiled, “Don’t worry. I’m not offended. I wear this stuff for a reason. We’re here to blend in. The punters think we are part of the furniture most of the time.”

“That sounds a bit rubbish. Don’t you ever want to get up on stage?”

“Like you did when you filled in for Julie a few weeks ago? Not a chance. I’m quite happy working behind the scenes. You watch them coming in and out and having a good time. Then we shut the doors and they are out in the rain while we’re in the dry. They might pay be paying the bills, but we’re the ones in charge.”

Mention of bills brought Tracey back to earth with a bump. Her face fell as she looked again at the laptop. “Hmmm. The trouble is, they aren’t paying enough bills. Or at least I don’t think they are.”

Doris rummaged in her back and pulled out some glasses. Pushing them up her nose, she stared into the screen. For a few moments she examined the figures. They were pretty much what she expected, hardly a surprise as she was in charge of the box office.

Tracey finished her tea and swilled the mug out in the sink. Suddenly there was an “Ah ha!” from Doris.

“You’ve found something?”

“Maybe. What happened last Wednesday? I’m sure we had more in than that.” She pulled a notepad out of a desk drawer and leafed through the pages. “Yes we did. You’ve missed the old folks matinee.”

Tracey blushed. “Sorry. I told you numbers weren’t really my thing.”

Doris looked up. “Don’t worry. We sometimes record things a bit weird here. Those tickets were sold differently and don’t go through the computer in the normal way. You need to be here a few more years before you know all the wrinkles.”

“Sounds like I need wrinkles before I know all the wrinkles.”

“Now now young lady. You just get yourself back in front of this computer of yours and we’ll go through all the days and let’s just see if this ancient crone can find a few more ticket sales for you.”

And hour later, every ticket sales had been checked and entered on Tracey’s spreadsheet. Two more cups of tea had been drunk and the stash of mince pies behind the bar raided – Doris said there was always some “wastage” so no-one would notice a couple missing.

Sitting back in the chair, Tracey pressed the button to make the computer draw a graph. It was better, but still didn’t climb as fast as she had hoped. “I’m afraid, things still aren’t great” she said wistfully.

“Hmmm. The trouble is that high-finance isn’t really my thing. Oh, I can check the sales, but I just do day-to-day.”

“Do you think we need to show Freddie? Maybe he can…”

“I don’t think so”, interrupted Doris, “Freddie’s a nice bloke, but we need someone who’s a bit of a whiz with numbers. What about your boss, Gareth.”

Tracey chuckled, “Not a chance. Again, nice bloke, but he’s no financial whiz-kid.”

“And his boss? What’s she called, Kate isn’t it?”

“Well. She’s a bit busy at the moment on erm”, Tracey’s voice tailed off.

“You mean you don’t want to ask her help. I guess she’s a bit of a dragon and you are hoping to make this all work on your own.”

Tracey nodded.

“Well then we need to find ourselves a magician then don’t we.”

“You mean Sparks? How’s that going to help? Is he going to make an audience appear from thin air?”

“No. Not that muppet. What we want is a financial magician. And you know what Tracey? I think I might know just the man for the job.”

“Some hot-shot accountant?”, Tracey beamed.

“You got it. Once of the councillors.”

“Oh.”, her face fell again, “I was hoping to keep it from them until we had some answers.”

Doris shook her head, “Don’t worry. They aren’t all useless. Most of them are, but not all. We need to get Councillor Dhaliwal involved. He’s a lot younger than the rest and seems to know his stuff. He’s asked how we are doing a few times in the past. I get the feeling that he doesn’t think his colleagues are up to much. Maybe if I send him and e-mail, he’ll be happy to drop in and have a look.”

“We could get him to come over to our office if you want to keep it quiet.”

“That’s a good idea. No need to let Freddie know what we are up to for the minute.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 29

Tracey was buzzing. As she walked out of the stage door, her body was pulsating with the adrenalin coursing through her bloodstream. Stepping out into the cold, dark night calmed her a little but she was wider awake than she had ever been. Streetlights seemed brighter, the aroma left by drunks relieving themselves in hidden corners at the back of the building, sharper, and the distant noise of cars passing down the nearby high street seemed calming.

On the far side of the car park, her Nissan glowed under the lights. She always parked where it would be properly illuminated, not for safety but because she liked the way the special yellow metallic paint made it stand out among a sea of silver Audis and mummy carriers. Pressing the button on the keyfob, it made a reassuring beep to say the doors were unlocked.

Just as she gripped the door handle, a voice said, “Hello Tracey. How did the performance go?”

Spinning around Tracey looked to see who had spoken. For a moment, no one could be seen and then a figure emerged from the shadow cast by a people carrier.

Well? Did you have a good time?”

Even in her heightened state, it took Tracey a few seconds to recognise the face. Then the penny dropped. “Julie”.

Yes, it’s me.”

But I thought you’d gone away. Sparks said, well he mentioned, I mean he…” she struggled to remember exactly how he’d described Julie’s disappearance, “There, there was a note. He said you’d just left.”

Julie smiled. “Yes, I left a note. But I don’t suppose he really understood it.”

You left us in the lurch. He was worried.”

About his career. He would be worried how it would look if the great magician couldn’t perform.”

Well, we had a show to put on.”

We? Suddenly you have joined the profession have you daaaahhling” Julie drawled mockingly.

Tracey frowned. “Well someone had to stand in. This show matters if we are going to save the theatre.”

Oh you hero. How good of you to volunteer. I mean, it’s not something you’d ever wanted to do is it? I bet they had to drag you up onto the stage. Tracey the superstar. Tracey’s name in lights.”

No, I didn’t want to do it but everyone said I was the only one.”

Really? There aren’t any proper”, Julie snarled the word, “actresses out there? People who have learnt the craft. People who are desperate to make their mark in the business? None at all? The only person they could find is the girl from the office?”

For a moment, Tracey paused. This wasn’t the first time someone had questioned her right to the job. “Maybe I haven’t spent years at bloody drama school, but I’ve done my level best. It’s been hard work, but you are right about one thing – I am enjoying it. When everything goes right, it’s brilliant. At the end of the show, when we took our bows, I felt on top of the world. And so, miss can’t be bothered to stick around, yes, I loved it.”

Really? And you think you’ll still be loving it on a wet Wednesday when you’ve got a half-empty theatre and only bored pensioners to perform to? You’ve still got to give it your all for that miserable matinee, not just the opening night.”

Another pause. Julie was right, the show was due to run for a month and so far the eight shows each week had just been a number, but as her heart rate dropped, Tracey found herself realising what it meant. Every day she was going to have to turn up and perform. No taking a day off for a hangover or just because she felt like it. There might be harder taskmasters and Kate. She wasn’t going to be beaten though. “If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do” she replied defiantly.

Are you sure? We learn a lot at drama school and one of the things is stamina. It’s the difference between professionals and am-dram.”

Am-dram?” Tracey looked confused.

Amateur dramatics dear.” Julie laughed. “The difference between people who know what they are doing and people who are just playing.”

Playing? What the bloody hell do you think you do all day missy? Flouncing around in a posh frock isn’t rocket science you know.”

Really? Remembering your lines would be a start.”

What?” Tracey was confused “You mean you…”

Watched the show. Of course. I saw everything. Your fluffed lines, your missed cues, your swim in gunge, everything.”

Again, Tracey paused. Her mind spun. The two of them stared at each other under the light and she realised that she was still gripping the car door handle. Letting go, she looked at her fingers for a second and then a thought struck her. “Hold on. The gunge. How did that get in the stupid pot? It wasn’t in the rehearsal.”

Julie threw her head back and laughed. “You think all that stuff Sparks does is real magic? Do you think he does it all by himself? Any assistant knows how all the tricks are done. We have to do at least half the work, even if Mr Big Star takes all the credit.”

You mean…”

Of course. Making things appear in boxes is something we do all the time. After all, you were bobbing up and down on that stage lift weren’t you? It didn’t take much to fill the jar before you ‘appeared’ in it for the first time.”

Oh my God! I could have drowned you bitch!”

Yeah, right. It wasn’t that full, just enough to give you a surprise. That and ruin the Lady Mayors’ outfit for the evening.”

But why? I mean it’s not like you wanted the job. You left remember?”

Julie’s face became serious. “Of course I wanted the job.”

So why did you leave?”

I left you little idiot, because I didn’t just want the job, I wanted the man that goes with it.”

Shocked, Tracey asked, “You. And Sparks?”

That was the idea.”

But I thought you two were just…”

Just good friends? Just working together? Just a professional couple?”

Yeah. I mean, people hinted, but I thought they were just joking.”

Maybe they think they are. Maybe even he thinks it’s a joke.” Julie snarled.

But what does he think? Didn’t you tell him?”

Oh, he thinks lots. He liked the idea in hotel rooms between shows. Yes, travelling the country with someone is a great way to get to know them and yes, I won’t be the first assistant to fall for the man with the magic wand, but I can see through all the cool bravado. Underneath, he’s a really interesting guy.”

So did you tell him?”

I tried, but he wasn’t really listening. So I left.”

Now it was Tracey’s turn to snort with laughter. “That didn’t seem to work very well did it?”

Julie looked crestfallen. “No. I didn’t realise how quickly I’d be replaced did I?”

Only on stage. I’m not filling in for you in the bedroom.”

Ha. Hasn’t he tried it on with you yet?”

No, actually he hasn’t. I think he’s too worried about the show.”

The old ‘show must go on’ bollocks. I guess his career matters more than anything. He’s got big plans you know.”

I know. And those don’t include me, or at least as far as I know they don’t.”

Julie perked up. “You’re sure?”

Oh come on. As you said, I’m not that good at all this. I mean I love the applause and it’s better than being stuck in the office, but traipsing around the country after some bloke? That’s not my style daaaahhling.”

So you don’t want to do this?”

I wouldn’t say that. I’d like to do a bit more, but you’re right, I’m not cut out for a life on the stage. Perhaps film or TV would be more my thing.”

So I could come back?”

Don’t see why not. The rest of the cast miss you. I’m sure Sparks will get over himself, especially if you tell him the truth.”

Oh”, Julie looked at her feet, “You think it would work?”

Don’t see why not. How about we talk about it tomorrow? I want to get in my car, it’s bloody freezing out here.”

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 28

Sitting in her dressing room, Tracey relaxed. The second half had been pretty much incident free. She didn’t have so much to do and her big finale, killing the baddie had gone well. Best of all, when the cast have come on to stage for their final bow, the audience went wild as she walked on. As a main character, she processed down the steps in an amazing gown that looked like it should be in a cake shop. All the applause was for her. It was possibly the most wonderful moment of her life.

All the learning, all the work, it was worthwhile. Would the thrill still be there after a month of performances? It didn’t matter. For the moment there was a bottle of chilled champagne and a dozen roses sat beside the mirror. There wasn’t a name on the card, and she knew they were probably from that soppy old sod Gareth, but it didn’t matter. This was the treatment stars got and she wanted to revel in it.

Freddie stuck his head into the room. “Well done Tracey. You played a blinder. Who’d have thought you’d never done this before.”

A few minutes later, the dame wandered in and said the same. “Darling, you are a trooper. We didn’t think you’d do it, but you only did.” He gulped down a cup of the bubbly, “Listen, a few of us are going for a drink later. Fancy it?”

She paused. Normally a drink after work would be just right, but she was tired. On the other hand, how often is a girl asked out by a man in that much makeup? Not in the sort of bars she frequented of course.

Oh, go on then”, she replied, “Are you going to get changed back into your normal clothes first?”

Darling, you don’t think I’m going out like this do you? Gotta keep the magic in the theatre. It’ll be too exciting for civilians to see me in full regalia.”

She laughed, “Anyway, you might get asked again if you are a transvestite.”

OMG. That little kid earlier. We drag them up on stage for a little time in the limelight, just so the moms and dads can Instagram a picture you know, and the little bugger asks that! He said his auntie had told him to say it too! What a bitch!”

It made the audience laugh though.”

Oh yeah. They love it when stuff goes wrong. Look how they laughed when Ali opened the shop door and the whole front fell backwards.”

Tracey looked puzzled. “I didn’t see that. What happened?”

You were probably doing a costume change. Yeah. Ali Baba opens the shop door and the bloody set only goes and collapses.” The Dame fluttered her hand about to demonstrate.

Aren’t these things tied to something?”

Should be. Looks like one of the crew didn’t do their knots properly. I mean it’s only a canvas painting, but it still looks a bit rubbish.”

And the pyrotechnics almost blew up the camel.”

The Dame laughed. “Poor guys got a dose of exploding stars up the jacksie. Enough to give them the right hump!”

Tracey frowned, “Quite a lot seemed to go wrong then really. I’m glad it wasn’t just me.”

You? Oh no, you were fine. Look luv, we all fluff the odd line. It doesn’t matter so much for me as I can just mess around with the script anyway.”

Doesn’t the director mind?”

That old queen? Nah. Anyway, I’d soon give him a slap. Scripts are just for guidance in panto. We do something different every night.”

Oh, I’ve been learning it by heart.”

And very good you are too. You stick to the writer’s words and leave the ad-libbing to me and the others for the moment. We’re old pros. It takes years of practice, and that’s just for applying the makeup. “

With that, he swept out of the room leaving Tracey to her thoughts. Maybe she was OK. All the cast had been lovely and she had got most of her lines right. Give it another few performances and perhaps she’d feel more confident. One thing she did know, Tracey Dunn-Jones had found something she was good at.

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