Friday, 28 June 2013

Crying On The Tube

Do you ever see people crying on the tube?

I do. Lots.

And I always try and catch their eye and offer some kind of encouraging smile. Because I know how it feels.

I mean, we’ve all done it, haven’t we?

Well, I know I have. Twice.

The first time was when I was about twenty three and had just been rather unceremoniously dumped by my first proper boyfriend, Conor. He had broken the news pretty brusquely to me in his attic bedroom in Fulham Broadway. Ever the stage manager, I decided that the best option was just to try and deal with the issue as efficiently and quickly as possible. So whilst he loitered in the middle of the room, mumbling about ‘not being ready for commitment’ and ‘needing to enjoy his early twenties as a single guy’, I purposefully strode around grabbing any books I had lent him and shoving them into my bag along with my toothbrush and toiletries, whilst desperately trying to maintain my composure.

‘Do you want me to walk you to the tube?’ he rather helplessly offered.

‘No.’ I snapped. ‘I fucking don’t.’

And with that I stormed out of his house, slamming the front door behind me. My face was vibrant with shame and indignation and rage, but the tears of pain and hurt and confusion hadn’t come yet. I can only deal with several emotions at a time and my fury and unfeasibly short temper were currently holding court as I comprehended the situation.

It was late afternoon on a gloriously sunny day and we had just witnessed England win a football match in the World Cup. Or the Euro Cup.

Or something.

The people of London were all spilling out of pubs and bars. And the general atmosphere was one of jubilation. Every single one of those Londoners taking some sort of responsibility for our football team’s victory and celebrating with beer, post match debates and excitedly making plans about watching the next match.

I think we lost the next match. Yeah, we did. We lost the next match.

At that moment in time I must have been the only person in West London, who was in a Full Blown Strop mode. I marched along the pavement feeling every bang of my overnight bag as it slammed rhythmically against my bare leg. The bag which had been lightly packed by a girl ready to spend a sex-filled and cloudless weekend with her boyfriend was now over-stuffed and uncomfortably burdensome. The provocative lingerie and vibrating cock-ring was buried, forgotten, towards the bottom. And the whole lot was being being carried by a confused and emotionally bruised single girl who was starting to stress that she might have left her hairdryer there.

Yes. I had. I had left my fucking hairdryer there.

I pushed through the intoxicated crowds who were still enjoying the early evening heat and got to Fulham Broadway tube. The platform was thankfully empty so I made my way down to the end and hovered near the breezy mouth of the tunnel.

Keep it together, Jess. Just breathe. And keep it together.

I waited there for several moments. Breathing in and breathing out. Resolutely and stoically Keeping It Together.

And then, with no warning, I threw up.

To this day I’m not entirely sure why. I have never reacted to a personal event in that way before or since and I was definitely not hungover or ill.

But yeah.

I threw up. Badly. Lots. And loudly.

There was a group of middle aged women a bit further down the platform from me who did very little to suppress their utter disgust and horror. They obviously assumed that I was a football supporter who had got a little carried away with the day’s festivities and their wrongly formed opinion of me made me feel utterly dreadful. As did their lamenting tuts and condescending sighs and bloody horrid Radley handbags.

‘Oh will you piss OFF!!’ I wanted to scream, ‘I’m NOT a drunken, yobbish twat! I’ve just been dumped by my first, proper BOYFRIEND. Don’t you remember what that was LIKE??!! So go tut and moan about something else!! And why have you all got handbags with fucking DOGS ON THEM??!!’

I didn’t shout those things though. I just stared despondently at the little pool of outrageously orange spew and wondered what to do next. Luckily, the train blasted into the station and I guiltily boarded it, making sure I got a carriage away from the mutters and glares and brightly coloured leather scotty dogs. I wiped the vomit from my chin and placed my bag on the floor and slumped down in a seat near the door.

And that was when I cried.

I sat on the District Line and I cried from Fulham Broadway to Victoria.

And then I sat on the Victoria Line and cried from Victoria to Brixton.

And then I got home and cried for a week.

And then I got over it.

Because that’s what you do.

And that was the first time I cried on the tube.

The second time was a few years after that.

I was stage managing a play. A Very Serious Play. All about politics and death and Traumatic Events. The male lead was a very well respected actor in his mid fifties and generally we had a good relationship. He was fun and flirty with a little twinkle, but most importantly of all he was faultlessly professional and not at all fussy or demanding. It was one of my first gigs as CSM and I had found the experience rather nerve wracking. Nobody had put as much pressure on me as I was trowelling upon myself. But after a couple of weeks of the run I started to grow a little in confidence and feel slightly more relaxed in the role.

But one fateful night, during the play, something had happened backstage which had called me away from my usual stage right position. I can’t entirely remember what it was. A sick cast member? An argument? A missing bit of costume?

I genuinely can’t recall what it was and when writing this bit of the post I originally thought ‘I will make something up’. But actually, the fact that I can’t remember what that emergency was is relevant. Because it was the consequence of it which is much more important and which has stuck in my mind ever since.

Well-Respected Male Lead (lets call him Paul) was due to step off the stage during a lightening quick scene change in order to have a hat placed upon his head and a teapot installed into his waiting hand. It was my responsibility to do both of these things. And out of all the complicated scene changes and pre-sets it was the part of the show I worried about the least.

I mean, honestly. A hat and a teapot. How hard could it be?

As I was dealing with whatever minor emergency was happening elsewhere I heard the cue coming up over the tannoy. And I began to run. But I ran in the futile way that one runs for a bus when you can see it pulling out of the stop and back out into the road. You know it’s probably a pointless effort but you run anyway, just in case. You run with hope and faith and, if nothing else, to show willing.

I got to the stage right wing about three seconds after I should have been there. And then it took me another three seconds to locate the hat and the teapot. Then it took me another three seconds to jam the hat onto his head and place the teapot in his hand.

Nine seconds in total. Which was just nine seconds too long. If we are talking in Theatre Time it was basically about forty five minutes.

The rest of the show continued without a hitch but I braced myself for what was almost certainly about to happen next.

And it did.

The uncontrolled rage. The terrorising fury. And even worse, the disappointment.

Paul was incandescent with wrath. When he had exited during that scene change he had spun in two full circles looking to see where I was. He could have gone on without the hat but the teapot?! The teapot!! How could he go on stage and offer tea to people without a sodding teapot?!

There is never any point in arguing. You can’t do anything in those situations except apologise and sympathise.

Apologise and sympathise.

I honestly think it must be pretty terrifying having to deal with problems and situations in front of several hundred people. And even though it almost always turns out that the audience are none the wiser, I guess it sure as hell doesn’t feel like that at the time. There is no way I would accuse Paul of ‘over-reacting’ as I guess it must have been a pretty shit moment for him. I also know that going on stage gives anyone a certain amount of adrenalin and if that turns negative, the adrenalin which usually gives you a high can very quickly curdle in your blood and turn into a temper.

Paul had been flustered and distracted for the rest of the play and that was my fault. Entirely my fault. No denying it. I had failed as a stage manager and, probably, as a human being as well. After being reprimanded for a good ten minutes and then listening to doors slamming and more swearing as he made his way back to his dressing room, I went to the office and started to cry.

Elsewhere on this planet, entire families were being made homeless. Millions of pounds were being lost due to a poor economic structure, loved ones were being lost to cancer and our brave troops were fighting in a war.

But I didn’t care about any of that. I didn’t give a shit about the war and destruction and hatred going on in other parts of the world. Because in a newly built building in a wealthy area of London, I had put a hat on a man’s head approximately nine seconds later than I should have done.

And as far as I was concerned, that was the worst thing in the world.

I sent out the Show Report along with the words ‘CSM error’ and made my way to the tube. I felt my Blackberry beep within the confines of my bag and once down underground I looked at the screen. It was an email from the director wanting to know exactly how it had come about that the teapot and the hat had not been where they should have been?  Why had Paul been late? How had I allowed this teapot-based travesty to take place? What kind of person was I?

I boarded the train and then I sat on the Central Line and I cried all the way to Bond Street.

And then I sat on the Jubilee Line and I cried all the way to Canary Wharf.

And then I got home and cried some more.

And then I got over it.

Because that’s what you do.

Paul, it turns out, got over it as well. The next day he was full of effusive apologies and hugs and warm smiles and we kissed and made up, mutually falling over ourselves to ask forgiveness and tell each other how we were both quite marvellous really. The conflict and war and pain and suffering which had happened elsewhere in the world the night before was still continuing. But we didn’t care. Because we were going to do our play to a few hundred people and I was going to give him his hat and his teapot and everything would be okay again.

That’s the great and magical thing about theatre. It’s like a Time Machine. You fuck something up one night and then you get a chance to go back and do it all again. But this time get it right. So we entered our own little Time Machine and the events happened just as they always did, complete with teapots and hats and standing ovations. Our own little Groundhog Day ran to plan with no interruption or confusion. Because, in theatre, if you do something wrong, you always get your chance to fix it.

(Unless of course you make a mistake on Press Night. And then you get shunned for the rest of the production. And the rest of your life. And they take your first born away from you.)

I know that there are worse things and more important things in the world than theatre. But I don’t think that means we aren’t allowed to cry about it. I think it just shows that we care. At the end of the day, all of those rigorous shout checks and show reports are basically put in place to create a No Tears Situation. So when stuff happens beyond our control and we feel like we have let an actor down it genuinely is dreadfully upsetting.

Crying at work is something which is generally frowned upon. A particularly brutal CSM I worked with once was pretty open about how she just had no time for it. ‘Crying? That’s not an emotion. That’s just people leaking water from their eyes.’


Personally I always feel dreadful if I see someone cry. And I do seem to see it a lot. I have seen an actress cry for a full twenty minutes after fluffing lines on Press Night. And I have seen a designer cry in the middle of a workshop when seeing a set which does not match the plans. And I have seen a stage manager weep uncontrollably because some blackcurrant jelly had failed to set in time for a matinee. Personally, I had the most sympathy for the Loose Jelly Situation.

That was a biggie.

And you know what? I have probably made someone cry in my time. Almost certainly. When feeling pressured or downtrodden it is easy to whirl on your black Vans and take it out on someone nearby. (Usually an usher. I’m so very sorry.)

Admittedly I have mostly witnessed women crying but I personally believe that men do it in a way as well. Maybe they don’t run to a toilet (that’s what the Front of House toilets are for, right?) but they have a pretty good way of retreating into their proverbial cave (usually behind an iPad or a Mac) in order to have a full blown Man Sulk.

Oh yes.

Men may not ‘leak water from their eyes’ but they have a pretty good way of oozing frustration and upset from each and every freckled pore.

And then they think about Kylie and get over it.

That wasn’t the last time I cried about theatre. I have done it since and probably will again. And I don’t think that is a bad thing. Although now I am older and (sort of) wiser, I am able to place whatever I am crying about in The Great Scheme Of Things and eventually feel okay about it.

At the end of the day, surely the whole point of theatre is not about the people onstage or the people backstage but the people sat on the uncomfortable folding seats who have parted with well-earned, cold hard cash in order to spend two uninterrupted little hours thinking about something else. A brief little 180 minute holiday away from their own lives and conflicts and whatever personal thing it is which maybe causes them to sometimes ‘leak water from their eyes.’

Isn’t that what is important?

Anyway, my point is, when I see people crying on the tube I always wonder what it is they are crying about. Are they crying because of a lost love, a dying relative, an argument with a friend or the fact that they fucked up a scene change?  Or because their till was short of money in the cash up? Or because they sent that secret and important e mail to the wrong person? Or because their manager criticised their window display? Or because whilst waiting on tables they dropped hot food into the lap of a customer?

I sat on the tube and I cried about my Conor. The loss of my first love. And then several years later I cried because I failed to efficiently pass a teapot to a man in fancy dress. And I cried about both of these things because I really, deeply cared about both of them.

Silly, isn’t it?

In the future we are all going to make mistakes. Scene changes will go awry, show-stops will occur, lines will be missed and quick changes will take three times as long as they should. And people will get upset and shout and place blame.

That is a stone cold fact. I’m not saying whether it is wrong or right but it is the truth.

And as a result we will retreat to toilets or tubes and, however much we fight it, leak water from our eyes. Because we care and because we feel responsibility and because however much someone says ‘it’s only a play’, we will still give a big, massive, rectum stretching shit about it.

And then we’ll get over it.

Because that’s what we do.

Thank you for reading another installment of my drivel. If you enjoyed it you can click ‘share’ at the top of the page and put it on your Twitter or Facebook. You can also ‘follow’ me at @agirlinthedark or ‘like’ my Facebook page (Girl In The Dark).

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  1. The last time I smiled at someone crying on a tube, the girl shouted 'Fuck off, it's not funny' and stormed off. It won't stop me doing it again, though. And I certainly wasn't laughing =)

    Enjoyed this one.

    Because that's what I do =)

  2. I can't even remember how I found this article (Internet browsing, eh...) but far from being drivel I think it's wonderfully immediate and moving. The best blogpost I've read for ages.

  3. ....teapot - schmeepot.....just imagine how I weep and wail as an L.D. with 'hands to the forehead universe shattering horror when the board-(bored?) operator 'goes' slightly too early or minutely too late on an l.x. cue.....the pain I feel is painfully palpable. It of course makes no appreciable difference to the performance or audience and matters not a jot to anyone or anything.....but still.....if I were an water out of the eye-leaking type....I would flood a brace of least.

  4. Ok, so I'm a male, Mac-owning, CSM, and as I get older I find it a tiiiiny bit easier to cry (loss of first love did cause crying, and vomiting, but only after a lot of whiskey - caused by loss of first love, therefore entirely justified). But no, much as I love Kylie's work, Kylie doesn't do it for me.

    I do get over it. We all do. We are in the loving family called Theatre.

    I really do feel the pain of the missed teapot cue.

    j) the CSM should NEVER be handling the teapot cue, the CSM should be available to deal with the entirely unimportant and instantly forgettable emergency (it might be a real emergency).
    f) the actor should never not know where the effing teapot and woolly hat are, in fact s/he should not be given the luxury of assistance with them (though I recognise there is a scale-judgement required here).
    c) you are allowed to cry over fucking-up a cue. We do give a shit. All the time. Even when we are in the process of fucking up a cue.
    aaaa) no-one has the right to abuse you in your life, and certainly not in the workplace.
    Yes, yes, yes - the adrenalin, the panic, the pressure, the fluster, the audience - - - -
    NO! to ten minutes of harangue and slamming doors and making you feeling like you've failed as a human being.
    You missed a cue. Admittedly a HUGE DISASTER locally, and indeed a cause to cry.

    But, rather like the play and the audience, everyone moved on - except the someone who needed (and is too often allowed) to wield their small bit of power to make someone else cry. And text the apology later, of course, 'cos we're all in a loving family.
    g) I have a temper and regret when I lose it - but that doesn't justify the pain I cause when I lose it.

    Love your work. No - really.

    (Another Anonymous. Have to be Anonymous as I haven't set up a profile to hide behind)

  5. I am not sure how I originally found this blog post, but having just re-read it for the first time since last summer, it is still very moving. It reminded me how last year I was sitting next to someone crying on the tube, which I blogged about ( so thank you for the inspiration :)