The Play

I have no idea if other actors feel similarly to me about technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals. After weeks (or maybe months) of practising, those last two all-important rehearsals are vital (in my opinion) for injecting some kind of magic into the dramatic offering. The switching off of the lights in the venue and the lighting up of the stage, somehow bring the proceedings to life. Real life is plunged into darkness and the fantasy world of the play becomes a reality. Occasionally there may be a voice from the dark, usually the director’s and it really seems other-worldly. Without an audience, there’s a kind of surreality about these rehearsals. It almost makes the play seem more like real life; as if we’ve all just got together one evening to live different lives for a couple of hours. There’s no audience, so we’re not doing it for anyone, so we must be doing it for ourselves.
Then the curtain goes up on the first night. I don’t get nervous. I mean, I have felt nervous, but not very often. I was nervous when I played Lady Helen Walsingham in Half a Sixpence, but it was in The Dome and I worried about coming on from the wrong bit of the wings because the stage was so massive. I was in many a musical in The Dome, but usually as an all-singing, all-dancing member of the chorus so I had company if I screwed up. Also, I had problems with my radio mike, the transmitter of which was underneath layers of period skirt. Several times I left the stage, only to be accosted by the radio mike man en route to my dressing room, who thought it was ok to rummage around amongst the layers of satin to find my mike to fix it. When one has a jealous fiancé (which I did at the time) this type of scenario is one big headache. One of the other nerve-inducing experiences was when I used to compere Brighton Cares, a big charity show that was held annually at The Brighton Centre and this time I had a hand-held mike, the cable of which succeeded in tripping me up as I tried to wiggle sexily up the steps on the side of the stage. I actually slid across the stage on my front, laddering my tights in the process. Fortunately, this was at the dress rehearsal, but by the time the evening performance arrived, I was almost catatonic with fear. Compering is one of the most terrifying tasks I have ever undertaken. What I love about acting is the fact that I am playing a role, usually vastly different from my own persona. But when you compere, you are exposed as you. Just you. No wacky character to hide behind . . . Just your own personality in all its nakedness.
So anyway, apart from those occasions and some plays where maybe I haven’t felt entirely happy with my part or the play in general, I don’t suffer from nerves. I haven’t enjoyed the rare occasions when I have felt nervous, but I wonder if I’m missing out on an extra shot of adrenaline by not feeling those first night wobbles that my fellow thespians feel. I wonder if they have an extra edge to their performance . . . An extra sparkle . . . because they’re feeling a little fizzy.
But despite my lack of nerves, I had a ball. It was great to be back on stage after a break of two or three years; well, a platform next to the stage anyway, given that we weren’t really in the play, just providing some jolly war songs to both lengthen and lighten the performances of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills. It was a tough week at work – I’d put out a plea to my students to behave so I didn’t have to talk so much and I told them I wouldn’t be talking as much as usual, which would be a good thing because most teachers talk too much anyway. Obviously, this was in an attempt to preserve my singing voice but I really don’t think I talked any less to be honest. The play was well-received and I was pleased I did something a little different. It was supposed to be a one-off occurrence, as I have felt for some time now that I have moved on from the theatre . . . But tonight I found myself wandering back down to the village to audition for their next play: Blithe Spirit. I have long held a desire to be in a production of this dark-humoured play, so although I wonder if I can spare the time, I felt this was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss. Because actually, opportunities don’t get lost; someone else takes them. I have missed three opportunities to go to the Edinburgh Festival so I feel somewhat an expert on this matter.
Round two of the audition process takes place on Friday, so watch this space . . .

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