Thursday, December 16, 2010

Working In Theatre- Part 2

I've decided it will be best to break these autobiographical musings into 'parts', as it will be easier to read if it's in installments. I'm saving them before they 'go live' as a lot of what I'm writing was around 40 years ago and I'm really stretching the powers of memory to put in all the little details I want to.

I mentioned in the first installments the basics of putting on a play, from the first read-through to First Night. Those technical rehearsals I remember could sometimes go on into the wee small hours of the following day, and the efforts we went to to get the lighting, sound cues and scene changes right were all part of stage management's job description. You had to be able to merely merge with the scenery in some instances, and be very efficient with the scene changes, moving around back-stage as if you weren't there. It was no good being clumsy and noisy as you moved around back-stage, so as not to distract the actors on stage, or to spoil the show for the audience.

In those days we were expected to not only fulfill our stage management duties, but to also do the occasional small part. Generally, in some productions, we would be merely used as 'extras' or 'walk-on's', somewhat in the same way as 'Walk-Ons' or 'Supporting Artistes' are used in television and film productions.  In theatre this is usually referred to as "Spear-Carrying" as you might be on stage in, say, a Shakespeare production literally carrying a spear in the background. I hadn't been at Cheltenham long before I had to appear on stage in the production which followed on from "Jane Eyre", a production of "A Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare. We had to fill up various scenes in the background as shepherds or something similar, and you soon learned to stand absolutely still in the background so as not to 'up-stage' the actors by fidgeting or scratching your nose at an inappropriate moment! 

Towards the end of the season, just before Christmas that year, they staged another Shakespere production, this time "Romeo and Juliet" and we were called upon to appear on stage during the opening scene, a street in Verona or somewhere or other, and had to fight with staves during the feuding between the Montagues and the Capulets. We were rehearsed with a fight arranger and assimilated into the action, but it was quite a feat not to get your hands hit by the guy I was supposed to be fighting with using the staves! There was another production I was in, called "They Don't Grow On Trees." Myself and the other A.S.M. were cast as 'men from the lunatic asylum'  (to perhaps be a little more politically correct these days 'mental health unit.') The concept of the play was that this couple was advertising for a nanny or au pair to look after their children, and the actress at the centre of the action (played by Vivienne Ross) played about a dozen different characters, including this character who had escaped from a mental health institution. We were supposed to rush in and 'arrest' her and cart her off in an ambulance to the hospital. I actually had lines, but unfortunately the audience laughed so much I wasn't ever heard! The character jumps out of the window to make her entrance, and I think we had to follow! At one point during the action she had to go off stage to make a costume change, so another member of stage management was dressed in identical costume and hid behind the sofa so as to make the exit. I don't know whether the audience guessed that there was a double involved in all this!

I'm really trying to remember exactly what plays were in the season when I was at the Everyman. I have mentioned four plays, "Jane Eyre", "A Winter's Tale", "Romeo and Juliet" and "They Don't Grow On Trees." Others included "Spring and Port Wine", "Hedda Gabler", "A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg," "The Circle",   "Salad Days" (which replaced "The Country Wife" as it was going to cost to much to stage, due to wigs and costumes.) and "The Lady Of The Camellias." There was a World Premiere, of a play by a playwright called John Peacock, "The Children Of The Wolf."

I left Cheltenham when my contract ran out just before the pantomime went into production
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