Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Getting to the Bottom of Politics

The theatre I am working at has asked me to stay on for the next show.
This hopefully means that they like me. And I think it also means that I have been forgiven for an unfortunate incident which occurred during Tech Week. This incident involved myself, the sound designer, the sound designer’s expensive leather shoes and an open tin of gloss paint. I won’t go into details about what happened but let’s just say that if in the future I decide to randomly start dancing to the sound check music again, I will first ensure that anything in my hands is stored safely away or at least has some kind of lid on it.
That’s the amazing thing about theatre. I just never stop learning.
I got to the theatre one afternoon and found Production Manager in the Green Room, stretching out his tape measure. I have a genuine theory that all Production Managers do absolutely nothing except spend their days on their I Phones, loitering in empty rooms. But when they hear someone approaching they swiftly whip out a tape measure and hold it against the nearest object. In this case a microwave.
Production Manager saw me and instantly his face coloured. He looked rather worried.
 ‘Erm....I think we need to talk about the pub downstairs.’
Oh. That again. We have an ongoing issue with the pub downstairs. We have to share a stairwell with them which goes directly past our stage so any noise made on this stairwell carries through and interrupts performances. (See ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ in the April file for more info). I generally spend most of my time either sending the Pub Manager, David, polite yet firm emailsor trying to calm my irate cast.
‘Well, I think the noise situation is getting better. On Saturday’s it’s still bad but....’
He interrupts me. ‘No, it’s something else. Erm... how do you think your relationship with the pub staff is?’
 ‘Well. It’s okay. I think. Why?’
Production Manager looks serious, ‘I only ask because.... some graffiti has appeared in the Gents toilets of the pub.  And it’s about you.’
 ‘I’m sorry honey. It’s not very nice.’
‘How do you know it’s about me?’
‘It mentions your name.’
‘Well so what? My name is pretty common. It could be about anybody.’
‘No it’s definitely about you.’
‘How can you be sure?’
‘Because it says ‘Jess from upstairs has a massive arse’.
I take a sharp intake of breathe, ‘I don’t believe this!!’
‘Do you want to see it?’ he offers helpfully ‘I took a photo on my I Phone.’
Production Manager looks sympathetic but still rather earnest. ‘I think you need to improve your relationship with the pub. Especially if you are going to work with us again. When Mike worked here...’
‘Yes I know.’ I snap,’ Mike had a great relationship with the pub staff. And if it wasn’t for the fact he turned up drunk he would probably still be the stage manager.’
‘Maybe.’ He sighs. ‘I’m sorry but you really need to sort this. We can’t have it as an ongoing issue. People from The Office are getting annoyed and if they know that you have fallen out with the pub....’
‘Okay. I’ll sort it.’
Production Manager sees my crestfallen face and puts an arm round my shoulder.
‘But so what if you have a massive arse? Nigella Lawson’s got a whopper and I still would.’
As something inside of me dies, Production Manager’s mobile rings and he leaves the Green Room. I call Shelley our Marketing Manager, and summon her outside for an emergency fag. After a few minutes and several puffs on a Marlboro Light I have relayed the awful story to her. She chooses her next words rather unwisely.
Yes. Bummer. Big fat massive bummer. In spite of myself, I have to laugh.
‘Oh, Shelley. What the fuck will I do?’
‘Don’t worry babe. Everyone here likes you. I mean they’ve asked you to stay haven’t they?’
‘Yeah. But just because I’ve been given the job, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Maybe they just gave it to me because the last person fucked it up so badly. Maybe I got it because I was the best of a bad bunch. Sometimes people get jobs and it’s very thrilling and exciting but it’s not long before they have fucked it up and everyone hates them.’
Shelley takes a drag and considers this. ‘Like Nick Clegg?’
Oh God. Maybe I’m the theatrical equivalent of Nick Clegg. With a massive arse.
But sometimes I reckon those politicians have got it easy compared to stage managers. But then, I always think that stage managers have the hardest job in the world compared to any other profession.
A couple of years ago after one particularly stressful Dress Rehearsal, I went home to my then boyfriend who Did Not Work In Theatre and who had a keen interest in Human Rights. I flopped on to the couch and instantly relayed to him details about my dreadful day and moaned about how exhausted and over-worked I was. I looked expectantly to him for sympathy and a cup of tea, but instead he picked up a newspaper and read an article to me about the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay.
I listened intently as he told me all about those poor captives in their orange jumpsuits and what they were subjected to. Apparently they would be locked in a dark, windowless room for up to fifteen hours a day. They were deprived of food and water and their captors would randomly flash bright lights on them and play odd sounds to completely disorientate them. After periods of bright lights they would then be plunged back into darkness. The prison guards would then scream in their faces and ask confusing questions over and over and over again. Eventually they would be let out to sleep for a few short hours but then they would be dragged back into the room and the hellish process would start again for another fifteen hours.
He proudly laid down his paper and looked at me with a smug grin. ‘So,’ he said triumphantly, ‘What do you think about that?’
I said it sounded like a pretty average tech week.
I didn’t get my cup of tea and was single soon after.
‘Why do you think the pub staff hate you so much?’ asked Shelley.
‘I don’t know. My e mails are always really polite.  I put up laminated signs about being quiet on the stairs but I made sure they were very friendly.’
‘So you’ve never spoken to them?’ Shelley was incredulous.
‘Of course I bloody haven’t. They’re fuckwits, I avoid them like the plague.’
Shelley fixed me with a knowing look.
So, just before the show, I ventured into the pub and asked to speak to David, the Pub Manager who I had exchanged such regular correspondence with but never actually met. The surly bar maid said that he was in the office and she would ring him for me. She picked up the receiver from a wall mounted phone and dialled a number.
‘There’s someone to see you’. (Pause) ‘It’s Jess.’ (Pause) ‘From upstairs?’ I almost leant in and shouted ‘With the massive arse!’
She eventually hung up and told me that he was on his way. A few short moments later, David appeared. He was younger than I imagined, probably only my age and he had a kind face but it darkened slightly when he saw me. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin and I noticed a small scar on his left cheek. It almost looked like a dimple.
‘Yes. Hi.’
He considered me for a second and then gestured to the sunny pub garden.
‘Step into my office?’
Outside, we sat opposite each other at a table. He ran his hands through his hair, rested his elbows on the table and spoke first.
‘This isn’t working is it?’ The expression on his face was so pained and sorrowful that I half expected him to tell me that he had met somebody else and then ask for the spare keys to his flat back. I took a breathe and recited my carefully thought out speech.
‘I think it can work. Really. And I’m sorry if my cast and I are being a pain. It’s just, we really care about the play and want it to be the best it can. It really distracts the actors when they hear all the noise from the stairs. They get so easily distracted.’ David considers this for a moment and lights a fag.
‘Well it would help if you and your precious cast said hello to us once in a while.’
This completely and utterly throws me. He carries on, obviously quite keen on this topic.
‘I mean, we see you on the stairs but you never speak to us. We just see all these different people from all these different casts in mad clothes and carrying weird shit and you never say hello. Maybe if we even knew what we were being quiet for it would be different.’
‘You mean..... you’d like to see our play?’
‘You think because I run a pub I have no interest in theatre?’
I don’t know what to say to this so I do what I always do in these situations. I light a fag. Then it comes to me.
‘Well... we will be starting rehearsals for our next play soon. Maybe you could be guests at our dress rehearsal or something.’
David looks away from me and into the pub where the rest of the staff have huddled behind the bar and are looking out at us. He slowly turns back and begins to smile.
‘I think we’d really like that.’
After a couple more fags, a pint of (free) Diet Coke and some tapping on my Blackberry, I have arranged for the pub staff to attend the dress rehearsal of our next show with free programmes thrown in. David shakes my hand as I leave and some of the pub staff even offer a tentative yet wary wave as I walk out the door.
That night’s show goes smoothly and while I hover next to my Sliding Doors, I listen out for any stair noise. But there’s nothing.
‘Problem solved!’ smiles Leah, as she types up the Show Report (with a comment of how undisturbed it was) and e mails it off.
But I struggle to share her celebratory mood, as despite solving the issue, there is something still upsetting me. I go downstairs to the pub and see the staff behind the bar, busy trying to serve the evening rush. They haven’t spotted me enter and nobody notices as I slip to the Toilets and veer towards the Gents. I take a breathe, push open the door and seeing that it’s completely empty, I gingerly step inside.
Sure enough, there it is. Scrawled crudely with thick black marker above the urinals;
Jess from upstairs has a massive arse.
I swallow hard.  Hearing about it was bad enough but being faced with it is tougher. The staff may be quieter now but I can’t deny the writing on the yellow tiled wall. Just as I am making a solemn vow to myself to only eat when the lightheadedness gets too much, I notice something else. With much neater handwriting and a red marker, somebody has crossed out ‘massive’ and written above it ‘quite nice’.

Jess from upstairs has a quite nice arse.

My Blackberry beeps with an email from Production Manager in response to the Show Report.
‘Well done honey. Great work.’
I flush with pride and duck quickly out of the Gents, making a beeline through the revellers to the door and smiling at the thought of the negotiations which took place out in that pub garden.
As I sashay out of the pub I consider the possibility that maybe I’m not like Nick Clegg after all. Maybe I’m a bit more like Winston Churchill.
But with a ‘quite nice’ arse.

(Follow me on twitter @agirlinthedark)

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