Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The greasepaint, the theatre, darling

First Night tonight – Gala Night, in fact which means that the mayor and other (are there any other?) local dignitaries are coming. The idea is that they come backstage afterwards for a glass of wine and a sarnie, apparently, but think the cast might be a bit thin on the ground as most of us have to either a) rush hyperactive son/daughter back to bed or b) go to work ourselves the next day. However, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Last night’s technical dress rehearsal with makeup went well although I had to keep my glasses on (not very Victorian). However, as I can’t see without them and am liable to fall arse over tit on the stage, it’s probably best to keep them on. I did consider a lorgnette, but it wouldn’t look right for the pub scenes, and I wouldn’t be able to dance with one either, so that’s out.

Last night went surprisingly well – admittedly the smoke alarm went off – repeatedly – when the smoke machine went into overdrive, which was in most of the scenes. Still, that apart it looks very atmospheric. It was our first night with the orchestra who are a little unsteady on their feet – or backsides – but that’s to be expected as they’ve never played with us before. And there was the small matter of several parents removing most of the cast of children at 8.30 (the show finishes at 10.30). But apart from that, all went well which makes me rather nervous – a bad dress rehearsal and all that.

I can see why this acting lark is so seductive. Not, I hasten to add, that I would like to have a Major Role – or certainly not at the moment. I’m quite happy being part of the chorus.

But the excitement starts in the dressing room, where 28 women are crammed into a tiny room, leaning over to grab makeup, transform faces into Victorian wenches/posh women/drunken harridans. Then it’s the costumes. In a few minutes, jeans are discarded, sweatshirts thrown on the floor and long dresses, blousy tops and mob caps change us modern women into well known flights of fantasy that, for this week, are all too real.

We step outside and meet Bill Sykes, square faced and taciturn, no longer joking dad of young Millie but a brutal murderer. Standing next to him is Fagin, with a grey wig and trailing red coat, muttering Jewish swear words. Not the kind hearted Jim who has a joke with everyone.

There’s something about standing in the wings, waiting to go on, while stage hands hurry to change scenery with muttered expletives in the dark, then on come the lights and the music starts up and I get goosebumps everywhere. When you step on stage, you’re hit by a glare of heat and light and the knowledge that out there is an Audience. That is quite a heady experience. They have come to watch us. That is even headier.

It’s also very much about doing something together. I’ve never been one to join groups of things – at least, I have, but I don’t have a group mentality, so I’ve always left choirs in the past. But this is something different. Apart from the staggering amount of hard work invested by all those involved in producing and directing the show, to say nothing of backstage help, costumes, makeup and props, there is the sense that we have made this show come together. Like a child, we have seen it grow from its faltering first steps through the lumbering adolescent period and now, like a debutante, it has its first Outing.

We are the parents and the deb all at once, nervous and shy, eager and terrified. We all want the show to do well, to have a good time, and, like a huge wave, we are all swept along with it. That is a feeling I’ve never experienced before, and it’s a worthwhile one to have. One of comeraderie, of sharing an experience that’s very special.

I dread to think what we’ll all feel like next week – flat and depressed, overtired and overwrought. And that’s just the children. The two playing Nancy and Bill Sykes are heading straight into rehearsals for another production, and you can understand why. Once you’ve been bitten, you don’t want it to stop.


lyndylou said...

Brilliant Flowerpot ! hopefully I will speak tomorrow. Good luck ! Have a super time ! It sounds like you are doing just that !!! Love Lyn xxx

Lesley Cookman said...

You've put it all so well. (I've read backwards from Monday, which is why the comment is here.) I'm an hand, but the thrill never goes, although I no longer go straight from one production to another - haven't got the stamina - but I'm producing and directing panto at our local theatre this year.

I was told "no theatrical backgrounds", too, but I've slipped a couple under the net now! Keep going.