The show is over. Last night the cast took their final bow, and bid farewell to the theatre.
I’ve written before about the horrors that immediately follow a run – not horrors in the sense of illness, more the sense of anticlimax. You’ve been building up to the main event for weeks. Learning lines, blocking, deciding on set, costumes, music. During dress rehearsal people panic thinking ‘Oh no, we’re not ready. What have we done?’ It becomes all consuming. You invest so much time and energy into giving the best you can.
Then the magic happens. You do the show, initially running on sheer adrenaline and nerves, until you settle into the rhythm of the run.
Then it is over. The temporary family you’ve built over the course of months disappears in a puff of smoke. Suddenly your Sundays are free. And you get that yearning to relive the experience.
So you plan to do it all again. Very soon.
That’s how it goes down when you are the performer or writer of a piece.
It’s not quite the same when you are the stage manager, which was my role during ‘The Lovers’ Guide to Losing your Mind’.
This is a difficult, and under-appreciated role. It’s tough. Like the actors, you need to be in the theatre on time. Instead of heart pounding nerves about your performance you are concentrating on making sure that all the fake stage beer is ready. That the cast is in place. That the emergency exits are open. That your backstage torch is working. That the props are present and in position at the right time. That the balloons for the party scene are suitably firm. That no foodstuff is present in the communal dressing room (very old building where food might attract rodents). That you give the nod to front of house when admittance to the theatre is permitted. To keep the cast updated as to why the show cannot start yet (usually an online booking that has not yet arrived, or a cheeky audience member who decides to go to the toilet just as you are about to begin.) To hold the curtain and open it when the actors need to enter or exit the stage. To change the set for the scene changes in an accurate and incredibly fast manner. To soothe the cast member who is concerned that the sofa was not positioned in just the right position for scene 4. To clear the stage at the end of the show and to set up for the next night.
It’s as stressful as actually performing – more so in fact. But it is silent. You know that you’ve been successful when you’ve barely been noticed.
In terms of accolades it’s pretty low on the list. The actors, writer and director deserve the credit of course. They are the ones who have created the magic. The stage hands, front of house, sound and light people facilitate its execution.
There’s no applause or congratulations at the end (although I did get a compliment about the manner in which I flounced about the stage during the scene changes). Just an overwhelming relief that you didn’t screw up.
It is tiring, but ultimately it is worthwhile and rewarding. You learn so much about the workings of a theatre when you are not panicking about your performance. How intricate and essential all the elements are in putting on a production.
It is not a role for a diva. But I guess having done the stage manager role on a few productions now, that it is an essential role for every actor to experience.
It was a fantastic adventure, with the added bonus that I don’t have the crushing comedown that the actor gets at the end of the run.
Onwards and upwards.