Those of you that know me and my Mum know that we love to write a list. We also love a glass of prosecco or three and chatting until the early hours, swapping stories and laughing until our cheeks ache. Put these components together and the result is E challenging me to write a list about theatre secrets. I’ve been an actress for the last eight years, working in film, television and on stage, and feeling incredibly lucky to do what I do, so I felt well placed to accept the challenge.
From the middle of this often misunderstood business of mine, here are some secrets about a life in the theatre…
- Most actors/directors/stage managers are pretty superstitious. Maybe it’s the nature of what we do, using our overactive imaginations every day or the fact that we tend to work at night, or in the dark, but either way, most people who work in the theatrical industry support some form of superstition. Whether it’s a backstage ritual of passing the same actor each evening or getting your post show drink from the same bar each night, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t! I for one certainly never whistle in a theatre or speak the name of the “Scottish play”. I also get jittery if I don’t complete certain tasks by a set time, like getting my pin curls done before the warm up or finishing my dinner before certain members of the cast arrive at the theatre
- We all get nervous. Every so often, I’ll get chatting to someone who’ll congratulate me on my career, claiming: “oh I’d be too scared to go on stage each night.” Here’s the thing, we are scared. Not all the time but certainly if I’m feeling under-prepared or I haven’t had a good warm up backstage I am riddled with nerves – there’s that superstitious side of me again! Auditions are a big part of your life as an actor and they are like attending a super intense job interview after downing a cold brew coffee on an empty stomach. A job interview you have to attend numerous times a week, for a position that will only last a few months until you have to start the process again. Oh, the glamourous life!
- Getting to “stage kiss” a colleague is really not steamy in the slightest. Well, I suppose it could be if you’re both single and you fancy each other but nine times out of ten, this just isn’t the case. The art of choreographing a love scene is so technical, it stripes the smooch of any actual romance and after the thirteenth or fourteenth run through, the whole thing will feel as routine as a handshake. It is much the same on a film or television set except instead of sharing that intimate moment with an audience of 150, you get to share it with an entire crew instead. Mmm, sexy, right?
- We can see you! Yep, I myself have settled into my plush seat as an audience member and relaxed into that state of anonymity that a dark auditorium can bring, but I promise you, if you can see us, chances are that we on-stage folk can see you too, especially if you are seated in the front few rows. I’ve seen some bizarre behaviour in the audience over the years, my favourites being: drunk people who attempt to interact with the on-stage performers mid-scene; people falling asleep (although even I have done this on one occasion); and one memorable moment when a patron decided to order and then eat an entire pizza mid-show. Seriously, at least offer me a slice if I’m working so hard for you
- So many of the magical transformations you see on stage are done the old fashioned way. Quick changes in and out of costume are exactly that, a quick change. There is one change I had to make in Act One of the Phantom of the Opera for which I had 55 seconds. Six members of our hair and wardrobe department would silently gather in the wings, just off-stage, and use their many, super-talented hands to strip me of one set of costumes and wig and fasten me into another, while I tried to take quick sips of water before I was back onstage. All of this in near silence, in the darkness and with military precision. Everyone had an objective and would focus solely on completeing it. When I was appearing in the musical Cats, I was fortunate to play the role of Grizabella a number of times. Poor Griz had to effect a wig, costume and make up change all within the first thirty minutes of the show. This involved me slinking off stage (well, Grizabella is the glamour cat), then, once out of sight of the audience, running from the wings to my dressing room, taking parts of my costume off as I went. Once my wig was off, in a flurry of baby wipes, I had to clean my face and then reapply the character’s iconic bedraggled look. So long as I remained a cool cat, I always managed it.
God, I miss my job. Due to the pandemic it’s unlikely that my industry will be able to return to anything approaching normality before the New Year and even then, forgive the pun, I wonder about state of play. So many freelancers have been out of work for almost six months; our landscape has completely transformed. What I do know is that once we return, those first few weeks of performances are going to be a once in a lifetime experience. Keep your ghost lights burning and I
promise I will see you back in a theatre just as soon as we are permitted. ~L