Working in theatre is fun.
I got into this industry under the impression that I would never need to rise from my bed before midday and could skip into a theatre, do some cues for a couple of hours and then fall into a pub to spend my easily earned cash on whole boxes of Merlot and sugar bowls over-flowing with cocaine.
Of course, the reality is very different. Admittedly, throughout the early stage of my career (The ASM Years), I did generally stay in bed till noon.
Well, okay. Three forty five
I would then rise, reach for the Nurofen and trot into my venue at about six pm. The next hour would then involve swanning about and placing the props in (approximately) the right place before spending the performance reading ‘Heat’, deciding which of the cast I most wanted to sleep with and counting down the minutes until I could fling myself down the stairs of the Phoenix to kill off several hundred brain cells and lose a few more ounces of dignity.
Ten years on and things are pretty different. And there are days when theatre is no longer ‘fun’.
It’s like a family game of Monopoly. It all begins with smiles and giggles but then an hour in and your dad puts a hotel on Mayfair and suddenly the fun and games are over. It’s dull and depressing and you realise how much the game actually resembles your own pitiful financial situation; skint and owing a lot to your parents.
You get into the theatrical world because it looks fun and enticing but the further down the career path you get, the more you realise it is a lot more serious than you originally thought.
For instance, I sat down to watch ‘Pleasantville’ recently (stay with me) and for the first five minutes I enjoyed Tobey Maguires geeky performance and Reese Witherspoon’s smart-ass, slutty character. The two of them get sucked into the TV and are transported from the 90’s back to the 50’s. I had seen the trailers and assumed that the film would be about Tobey and Reese going through a series of hilarious japes in their attempts to get back to modern day. A bit like ‘Back to the Future’ (arguably the best film of our time) but without the weird incesty bit.
But be warned. It’s not like ‘Back to the Future’ at all. It turns out that ‘Pleasantville’ is NOT a hilarious time-travel comedy and is actually a really serious film about prejudice and racism and repressed desire and all kinds of other issues. I expected 'Back to the Future' but got 'To Kill A Mocking Bird.' And don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it just wasn’t what I expected. And I had an overwhelming desire to watch 'The Goonies' immediately after.
So in conclusion, I am saying that working in theatre is very similar to watching the film ‘Pleasantville.’ (Not my best analogy I know).
It’s great but I sometimes wonder if it’s what I signed up for.
When thinking about this, the incident which springs to mind is something which occurred recently. I was working on a show as CSM and was backstage during a matinee, assisting an actress with a quick change when my Deputy suddenly said my name over the headsets. I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was serious.
‘What?’ I quickly responded.
‘An actor has fallen through the stage.’
I honestly believe that when I am on my death bed and various points of my life flash before my eyes, that moment will definitely be one which I revisit. (That and the moment Freddie Flintoff hugged me in the Press Club). I felt the Pret A Manger Chicken and Pesto sandwich I had consumed two hours before regurgitate itself in my throat as I conversed with various departments about what to do whilst trying to remain calm.
It turns out that a section of the stage had a slight structural issue (unknown to us all) and that when the actor had stepped on to it, his foot/ankle/leg had gone through. The actor managed to extract his leg from the hole and continue with his speech without barely pausing for breath. Although the stage was still left with a gaping hole in it.
We had about ten minutes of the performance left and as the rest of the play was to take place on a section of the stage away from the hole, we decided that it was not a Show Stop Situation and that we would continue. Although obviously there would be a huge aftermath to deal with.
What then occurred was a flurry of phone calls and e mails as I tried to arrange for the issue to be solved before the evening’s show.
I always remember a Post Show notes session I attended after a particularly disastrous preview of another production. The acting had been bad, the scene changes had been bad and we had several major technical issues. All in all, it was a disaster. The director stood in front of us all and solemnly announced,
‘That was so bad that I closed my eyes and wished I wasn’t in this theatre.’
I remember thinking that not only was that a pretty wanky and over dramatic thing to say, it was also a fairly odd way to deal with a terrible situation. I thanked myself that I had never been compelled to do something similar. But on the day that The Actor Fell Through The Stage, I did actually choose that director’s method of dealing with a shit situation.
I closed my eyes and wished that I was Cheryl Cole.
It didn’t work. Obviously. So instead, I decided that the far better and more mature way to deal with the situation was to pretend that I was actually in my very own episode of C.S.I.
I roped off the area of the incident and took many pictures of the hole in the stage. I spoke to everyone involved using a very grave and serious tone and then instructed my Deputy with very short, rapid fire sentences.
It seemed to work although even I admit that wearing the shades was a step too far.
The stage was eventually fixed and the evening performance passed without incident. The actor was made a fuss of and accident books were filled out. I finally left the theatre having sent out many reports and photos and making sure that everything was well documented.
At 11.00pm I flopped into a tube carriage with my earphones jammed into my ears and tried to block out the Saturday night London life which was going on around me. I was tired and grumpy and not in the mood for shrieking, pissed up revellers. But at the same time I didn’t fancy going back to the boat for a cup of Horlicks and some hummus. As the train pulled into Tottenham Court Road station I made an impulsive decision to jump off. And within minutes I was inside the Phoenix.
The barman recognised me instantly.
‘Not seen you in here for a while?’ he grinned.
‘Yeah, I’ve been busy. Merlot please.’
Just as I pulled out my wallet to pay, I felt my Blackberry buzz for the millionth time that night within my pocket. I pulled it out and read an e mail from somebody very senior from The Office. Instead of a rant about the poor quality of the stage, it contained praise for myself and my team, complimenting us on how we dealt with the tough situation. The sick feeling which had sat within my stomach for most of the evening was replaced with something a bit warmer and altogether more satisfying.
I admit that the days of long lie-ins, no responsibility and late call times are definitely over. Sometimes I do still miss the simple and joyous period of ‘The ASM Years’. But as I have got older and accepted more responsibility, I have to admit that the amount of job satisfaction I get is more valuable to me than an incredible night out.
The large glass of dark red liquid appeared on the bar in front of me, just as I heard my name called from the other side of the room. I turned to try and locate who was yelling out my name and soon saw an actor I had worked with a few years ago weave his way towards me. We caught up with each other and once our glasses were drained we ordered another bottle of wine and launched into a full on drinking session. It was Saturday after all and I didn’t need to be anywhere the following day.
I told him about the traumas of the evening and he looked suitably horrified.
‘Christ!’ he exclaimed. ‘Sounds like fun!’
Naturally, he was being sarcastic. The events of the evening had been anything but fun. But the e mail that I had been sent reassured me that I had helped to make a truly dreadful situation okay again.
I am still having fun. It’s just a more serious kind of fun.
Just like 'Pleasantville'.
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