Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Upstairs Downstairs

I am currently working in a theatre above a pub. It’s a very nice pub. A pub which sells reasonably priced drinks and has an outdoor area. This should, in theory, make me ecstatically happy and I should be able to, very easily, combine my two great loves: working in theatre and drinking excessively.

As the summer drew ever closer, I had daydreams of flicking off the theatre lights and then skipping down the stairs to be greeted by a toned and honey skinned Australian barman who would have a large glass of Merlot waiting on the bar for me. Then I would sashay out to the pub garden in a floral playsuit to greet my cast.

The reality is sadly very different. First of all, I don’t own a floral playsuit. I would like to but I have short legs and big boobs so playsuits make me look two foot shorter, about three foot wider and I resemble a paisley Jeanette Krankie.

The building which the pub and theatre both occupy, has three floors. On the ground floor is the pub (with the pub garden leading off from it), on the first floor is my theatre, and on the second floor is a flat which is owned by the pub landlord and occupied by some of the bar staff. We all share the same stairwell. And here is where the problem lies.

The pub has no staff room and so the bar workers who don’t live in the flat above use this stairwell to make phone calls, chat to each other and shriek. Loudly. I don’t know why they feel the need to shriek and I can never tell if it is with joy, surprise or anger, but throughout the day they gather in twos and threes to shriek in this small, echoey stairwell before returning downstairs to the pub.

I shouldn’t be bothered by shrieking bar staff. I really shouldn’t. But the wall which separates that stairwell from the theatre’s stage is a thin one and our current production is tense and undeniably dramatic. The actors deliver lines with a heartfelt intensity and the delicate subject matter means that at several points during a performance, an electric silence fills the stage. The only thing that is heard during these silences is the occasional intake of breath or stifled sob from an over-sensitive audience member.

It is at these moments that nobody, neither cast nor audience, wants to hear the screech of ‘WAYNE!! You KNOB!!!! You just touched my BOOB!!!!!!’

I have never been formally introduced to Wayne but he is infamous. His name is shouted on a regular basis and according to graffiti in the pub toilets, he likes to take girls ‘up the shitter’. His favourite T-Shirt is purple with ‘Forever Young’ written across the front in rhinestones. I hate to pass judgement but I don’t think we’d get on.

Another issue is that the pub downstairs, like most pubs, plays music. We have come to an arrangement that between the hours of 7.30pm and 8.45pm, the pub will respectfully turn their music down. But sometimes at about 8.05pm, they decide that they want to disrespectfully sneak it back up again. According to some people, Lady Gaga is not an appropriate underscore for monologues of woe and tragedy and some people, actors in particular, find it distracting.

So basically, my list of responsibilities for this production includes setting up props, looking after the stage and asking the entire Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to ‘please keep it down’.

During tonight’s performance, (in Scene 3, to be precise), I awaited backstage to perform a necessary stage cue when the sound of shrieking came from the stairwell. I swore silently and decided that once I had completed this cue, I would march to the stairwell and confront the culprit. I am, after all, from Up North and it was my duty, as a stage manager, to look after my company and do whatever was necessary to protect the integrity of my production. As I waited to complete the cue, I realised that there were, in fact, two voices shrieking. My confidence started to dip slightly. I didn’t fancy my chances if I was to be outnumbered and even when sporting a headset and bearing a clipboard, I’m not very threatening. As I wondered whether I should take on the Shriekers alone or wait for back up, I listened to their conversation but I couldn’t make out what they were saying (terrible diction). I could only sense the tone and it was definitely one of friction and anger.

 I recognised the voice of the first Shrieker and decided it was definitely the girl who Wayne had groped and who had interrupted our performances on previous occasions. She was bigger than me and loud but her disposition was actually a fairly sweet one. (I gave her a mint once and she was very polite) I decided that I could probably reason with her if I approached her in the right manner. Feeling slightly more confident about the situation, I  continued to listen to see if I could identify the second offender.

I identified them pretty quickly. Because it was one of my cast.

Over the headset, I relayed this information to my Deputy who voiced exactly what I was thinking.

‘Fucking hell.’

After a few more seconds the arguement ceased. I concluded that this was because the original Shrieker had retreated and not because somebody had been thrown down the stairs although I had my suspicions.

At the next available opportunity, I hurried around to the stairwell and was soon informed as to what had taken place during Scene 3. The Shrieker from the bar downstairs had been chatting on her mobile, loudly relaying the events of her life and the latest exploits of Wayne to a chum, when one of my cast, waiting in the dressing room, had decided to take matters into their own hands. Shrieker had not taken kindly to being asked to pipe down and quickly lost her sweet disposition. Within seconds she was shrieking words of anger and violence and using swear words which even my cast member refused to repeat. This was bad.

The play finished and I waved off my cast with reassuring words and made rash promises to ‘take care of it’. Once left alone I sat in the dressing room and wondered exactly how I was supposed to ‘take care of it’. We are at the start of a long run and starting some kind of mutiny with the people we shared a building with would only end in more disrupted performances. Wayne didn’t scare me but I was mistrustful of a man in his late twenties sporting any garment which bore rhinestones.

Our Front of House Manager came to find me to enquire about the evenings events so that he could fill out his report. He has worked here a lot longer than I have and has a good relationship with the pub staff but even his face drained of colour when I told him of the language used and the threats made.

‘Fucking hell.’


The two of us venture tentatively out onto the stairwell and peer over the banister. The music has now been turned back up to its full, throbbing volume and combined with the shouts and screams coming from the pub kitchen below, the din is horrendous. I had briefly thought that maybe I could go down there and attempt to reason with the staff about how we only needed them to be quiet for an hour a night and that I understood how annoying it was etc etc. But I am uncertain as to what frame of mind the Shriekers will now be in as, apparently, my cast member is also responsible for using some colourful language. I am terrible in confrontational situations and if people get a Bit Shouty I can lose all willpower and end up apologising for things I haven’t actually done. Maybe she has told her colleagues and they are now all down there, awaiting me with hostility, bared teeth and some sharpened kitchen utensils.

I tell my Front of House Manager to go down there.

He refuses and mutters something about it ‘not being his job’. I do little to hide my disappointment in him not only as a Manager but also as a bloke (I may have used the phrase ‘big girl’s blouse’, I’m not sure). But I am begrudgingly sympathetic that confronting irate bar staff of another venue is not listed in his job description. We carry on hovering in the stairwell and mutually come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to send the pub a Strongly Worded E mail.

My cast have departed for the evening but I slip into the pub garden for a solitary cigarette and a glass of wine. No Australian barman is awaiting me but neither is the Shrieker. Or Wayne, thank god.

In the pub garden I am aware that I am no longer just accompanied by the smokers who shivered and suffered out here during the colder months. The non-smokers have now also ventured outside to enjoy the evening air and as a result, the noise level, along with the temperature, has risen considerably.

It is only now dawning on me that keeping this lot quiet while we perform our 70 minute masterpiece upstairs will be a much bigger problem than getting the amorous Wayne and his loud companions to use places other than the stairwell to conduct their flirting and phone calls.

They never mentioned this at drama school.

Fucking hell.

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