Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bold Choices

My play has finished. It’s all over. The cast and I have said our drunken and tearful goodbyes, the dressing rooms have been cleared of discarded Press Night cards and my Sliding Doors have been dismantled. Well, I say dismantled. They have been yanked off their frames using brute force and ignorance by a second year LAMDA student who is being paid with beer (just the one) and a promise from Production Manager that they will ‘definitely get some paid work soon’.
I am now into Week Two of a four week rehearsal period for the next project and my days are spent sourcing props and furniture, making to do lists and attending to the needs of my cast and director.
I was in the Green Room this morning, reading my Rehearsal Notes when Rebecca, our intern, came in and put the kettle on.
Rebecca is with us on a three month internship programme which basically means that she earns absolutely no money. None at all. However, if you ask her to photocopy something she will automatically make you a spare and neatly lay it on your desk with a Post-It on top saying what it is. Whenever she goes to the Green Room, she calls out to see if anybody would like a cup of tea while she’s there and she knows off by heart who has sugar and how milky people like it. At the weekend she bakes delicious cakes and brings them in to work for everybody to eat during the Monday meeting. Her enthusiasm for theatre knows no bounds and she sees about three different productions a week. When people talk to her about her internship she tells them how lucky she is to work within such a creative building and that, even though the work is unpaid, she just adores every single moment.
We all despise her. But nobody is really sure why.
‘Cup of tea?’ she asks.
‘Er... yeah.’
‘White, no sugar?’
‘Yes. Thanks.’
‘Anything in today’s Rehearsal Notes?’
I scan the Notes in my hand and at first, everything seems pretty self-explanatory. Someone needs a handbag. The chair for Scene Three will be stood on and needs reinforcing. And Lead Actor is going to smoke a cigarette in Scene Five. I don’t take too much notice of that last one. I have discovered that during Week Two of rehearsals, a lot of actors make what we in the industry call Bold Choices.
Bold Choices usually mean trouble for stage management.
Lead Actor has made the Bold Choice that his character is a smoker. Lead Actor is a smoker himself and I can’t help but suspect that smoking during the scene is not so much a Bold Choice but more of a Personal Choice. As soon as a tea break is called he is the first out of the room and down in the yard quicker than you can say Ryan Giggs.
Anyway, what usually happens is that in Week Four, the actor gets presented with cigarettes, a cigarette case, a lighter and an ashtray. The ashtray is, unpleasantly, filled with KY Jelly to ensure that the cigarette is extinguished the second it leaves the actors fingers. Once presented with all of the fiddly yet necessary apparatus, the actor will suddenly find the scene intensely complex and he will struggle to organize the various paraphernalia which now occupies his costume.
The simple task of taking out a cigarette, lighting it, smoking it and then putting it out is made much more convoluted when you throw in the tedious chore of having to simultaneously act. Some actors will persevere stubbornly and accept the rod that they have made for their own back and if that is the case, then I too will surrender myself to weeks of having to deal with leaking, antique Zippo lighters. I will also cheerfully tolerate cleaning out ashtrays which are filled with a peculiar and slimy substance and it's the only kind of substance you can get if you mix half a tube of KY Jelly with cheap, half-smoked, lipstick stained cigarettes.
But sometimes I am fortunate enough to be saved from those dull and arduous tasks by an actor who is willing to admit defeat. Although of course, he will be quite cunning in how he admits that he has lost and will do it by making yet another Bold Choice. After another rehearsal spent hovering around the very specifically placed ashtray, waiting for a cigarette to be short enough to logically extinguish, an actor will usually sigh and wave a little white flag. Metaphorically speaking.
‘You know, I’ve been thinking about this. A lot. And actually, I don’t think my character does smoke.’
So there it is on my Rehearsal Notes. Lead Actor has made the Bold Choice that his character is a smoker.
I look up at Rebecca and smile.
‘No. Nothing of any interest.’
‘How are you getting on with the company?’
‘Erm... I haven’t been in the rehearsal room that much Rebecca so I don’t really know what to think of them.’
This is, of course, a total and utter lie. I have made snap judgements on every single one of them. But I’m not going to relay that information to Rebecca, who looks disappointed. But she perseveres regardless.
‘Lead Actor seems nice.’
I nod my head in a non-committal manner, but actually I don’t know how I feel about Lead Actor.  There may be people who read this blog who believe that all stage managers have an instant disliking for all actors and this is just not true. I have worked with gifted actors whose thought-provoking, heart-wrenching performances have touched my heart. I have worked with astute actors whose words of wisdom and considered advice have touched my life. And, let’s be honest, I’ve worked with some pretty yummy actors who have just plain touched me. On the boobs and stuff.
But at this moment I am unsure as to my feelings about Lead Actor. And this is due to an incident which took place on the second day of rehearsals. I had come in to the Rehearsal Room at the end of the day and was talking through the following days call with Leah. I had a pen in my hand (a nice gel one from Paperchase) and also a notebook. Lead Actor was still in the room and was on his mobile phone chatting to someone who I can only believe was his agent.
Halfway through me making notes about the schedule for the following day, Leah remembered she had something very important to tell me about her opinion on Cheryl Cole’s hair. As we discussed hair extensions and whether having big hair made you thinner, Lead Actor got closer to us, still on his phone.
‘Yep... Yep.... Monday?  Yeah I don’t think I’m called. So where am I going? Okay... hold on... I need to write this down.’
Lead Actor did the classic I’m On The Phone And I Need A Pen Quickly Dance, where you turn in a full circle one way and then immediately turn another full circle in the opposite direction, darting your head around like a pigeon and rapidly groping around in mid-air with your free hand. If people are near you, you carry on talking to the person on the other end of the line but perform a frenzied charade of somebody writing in the direction of anyone else in the vicinity.

Once he had completed the dance, he spotted the pen in my hand and lunged for it. No eye contact was made, no silently mouthing the word ‘pen’ at me. He just lunged. And snatched it from my hand.
Leah later said it was one of those times when everything goes into slow motion. Although for me it seemed to happen alarmingly fast. One moment the pen was in my hand, the next Lead Actor had it and was leaning on the desk, scribbling down the address of an audition he had to attend on Monday. He stopped to listen for a while and then casually, thoughtlessly, put the pen in his mouth and chewed the end. Leah audibly took an intake of breath.
Lead Actor finished his call and laid the pen on the desk.
‘Cheers for that. Laters.’
And then he left the room.
‘Oh my god,’ Leah murmured.
‘I know.’
‘He just...’
‘I know.’
‘And then he...’
‘I know!’
We didn’t say the word. But it hung in the air. Wanker.
This was a few days ago now but the rudeness of it has troubled me and I have found it difficult to forget the experience. But I don’t want to tell Rebecca about the drama of Pengate. She would think it silly and childish to dislike someone because they took your pen without asking and as I write this I think I may have over-reacted. But stage managers have strong feelings towards stationary and we like it to be treated with respect.
I realise that Rebecca is looking at me curiously so I indulge her slightly.
‘Yes. Lead Actor does seem nice.’
But if I’m honest,  I just don’t think we are going to get on.
At that moment, Leah comes into the Green Room. It’s eleven thirty. Tea break. She plonks herself on the sofa next to me and idly flicks through my magazine.
‘How was rehearsals?’ I ask her.
‘Yeah good. Oh, I’ll put it on Rehearsal Notes but just so you know, Lead Actor isn’t going to smoke anymore.’
‘Wow. That’s quick seeing as he only decided to smoke yesterday. Did he make another Bold Choice?’
‘No, actually. He said he realised that smoking in that scene was wanky and just gave him something to do with his hands. He also said that the only reason he decided to smoke originally is because he fancied a fag at the time and that he knew he was being a,’ Leah made the inverted commas sign with her hands,
‘”Dickhead Actor.”’
We both laugh.
Maybe Lead Actor and I will get on after all.

Follow me on Twitter @agirlinthedark or 'Like' my Facebook page 'Girl in the dark' for more posts.

No comments:

Post a Comment