Making theatre

I’m wearing two different hats. Actor and Stage Manager. (Any stage managers that knew me of old will find that jarring. Yes, I’m looking at you.)

Today I’ve been building the space for actor Al to roam free. Jack and I are just … getting stuck in, as always. Many hands make light work. We know this show, and the director can’t be on site because he is busy at The Donmar. Creative acting stuff is harder to detail without him. No real point rehearsing. So mostly Jack and I are creating a space for the show and working out the tricks and world changes and practicalities and dressing. We are laying the foundations for ourselves to play the show. We’re world building.

We have our first show tomorrow. The set looks brilliant. We have an amazing small team. Three of us at the core – a new show runner but I haven’t her permission and I won’t blog her without.

Last year’s snags are covered though. There’s heating in the venue so no audience members will be moaning about the temperature. The electricity isn’t going to be a problem. No dogshit from nocturnal guard dogs. No portaloos or exploding water tanks. We have sightlines. I’m not worried about it.

But it’s unusual for the leading actor to be wiring hazers the day before opening night, and thinking about sightlines and all that. Traditionally I should be burrowing up my own asshole.

I slipped into my assistant director mode today to call the tech. Someone had to temporarily do basic talking and run the room. “Is everyone ready” “so we are going from X line” etc. In theatre I’ve never really liked the separation of people into closed jobs. Of course I’m happy to work in a job where I’m closed off as an actor – I understand that dynamic and it means I get to go home really early in rehearsal, and get lots of clapping when it’s open. But theatre is group storytelling. It’s a team thing.

Skills take time to learn. Training helps of course. But everyone gets protective of their “area”. I trained as an actor. While watching actors I have to monitor myself when I see people who aren’t taking care of what I think of as “the basics.” I often shout at people who are lying on cheap TV. But why should “the basics” cost three years of time and money? You can learn not to be a twat on the job (which is “the basics”) even if you’re beautiful – as long as your mind is open and you can let go of your own shit when necessary.

I’m learning stage management on the job as best I can. I have been by osmosis for decades. I’m always curious. We are making theatre. That’s a passion. Theatre is many skills, many people, much passion, no money. Yeah, sometimes you can hit a zeitgeist and make something huge. But Jerusalem is rare despite all of us pilgrimaging to it. Mostly we just tell the truth in a corner and hope there’s someone listening. Why? Because we are a beautiful bunch of geeks. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m a lead character actor. But I have a growing hat collection.

The first time I was “acting ASM” was maybe a decade ago. It was a tour. We had to build a load of flats and repoint the lights in different venues and work around whatever we had to work around. It was an eye opener. I’ll never forget the moment where an actress who is still a respected close friend walked in and immediately complained about a door that was clipping on a rake. (A rake is when a stage slopes towards the audience. Some old theatres are raked like ski slopes. Richmond Yorkshire. Margate. It makes the actors look like giants, if they are “upstage”. But it’s a bugger for doors.)

We had taken that door off three times and planed as much as was rational so it could open at all before the company came in  She arrived and behaved like we hadn’t noticed because it scuffed a tiny bit. It was the deepest rake we had built on, the deepest we were going to build on. Any more off and we’d have a gap under the door for every other venue. We had weighted the flat as well, to raise it. I learnt a lot about being an actor from observing my friend as she said “Come on, you just need to take the door off and plane it down.”

… I’m being technical. The point is, if you’re making theatre you’re probably not there to be famous or rich. You might pull  that off But at heart you’re there to make theatre. And theatre is multidisciplinary. Much more interesting to understand the lot, so when the machine is turning you know exactly what your cog has to do.

I’m going to have a ball this month, and probably write lots more stuff like this. But my head is in my craft again, and I like it being there. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.20181129_142211

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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