On Acting and the Theatre

I’ve missed a week in the PostaWeek 2011, but I have a good excuse (and I’m doing two posts this week to make up for it). All of last week was spent on sorting out all the little jobs around the house I haven’t had time to do over the last few months during the day and operating the lights for a production of The Laramie Project in the evenings. I’ve been part of the Masquerade theatre group for the best part of 15 years now. In that time I’ve been a tooth fairy, a Nazi, a gambler, an incredibly well-endowed satyr and (in rehearsals anyway) more women than I care to mention.


When I first joined I was still a Graphics student and was more interested in learning about set designing than acting. As time went on I’d sit in the rehearsals, watching everyone learning their lines and their moves, enjoying the social side of the group as much as the craft. What became apparent was that because I sat through all of the rehearsals I was almost as familiar with the words and moves as the actors themselves so I was the perfect stand-in for when someone was missing, (hence all the female roles I’ve played. For some reason I always seemed to be standing in for the girls more often). Occasionally I would find myself thinking how I would deliver a line or a speech but it still took the director 10 years to get me properly on stage, and even then it wasn’t what you would call a serious role. I made my debut in Faeries II as Ogwurzel Nocturnilus, a narcoleptic tooth fairy who first appeared with a 6 foot high 10 pence piece and subsequently spent the rest of the performance lugging around an enormous tooth, chasing after a bunch of sex-crazed goblins intent on doing battle with a group of fairies in an odd fusion of Star Wars and Riverdance. After that we did a play based on the true account of a massacre carried out by the Nazis in a Tuscan village during their retreat through Italy towards the end of the second world war, The Massacre at Civitella. As this was about as far from the pantomime antics I’d got up to previously, I was not expecting a part but the director read out my name as one of the officers who orders and takes part in the killing. I wasn’t sure I could do it but it turned out that others had been convinced I could act since my early days of reading in for missing people. I seemed set to become at least a semi-regular on stage.

After that I played a cocky, poker-playing waiter in Dealer’s Choice, (which is where my love of the game started. Sadly, I’m yet to become as good as Frankie believed he was) and then there was a bit of a gap while I went to Australia and moved house several times before my final appearance on stage to date  when we converted one of the dry docks in Chatham Dockyard into an ancient Greek amphitheatre for The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus as one of the satyrs charged with finding Apollo’s bullocks, only to find they have been used to make a lyre by one of the other gods. Enchanted by its music they present it back to Apollo who promptly denies them any further contact with its heavenly sound and any other ‘high’ art.


Since then I’ve not been able to be in anything due to the amount of travelling I do for work but I generally get involved backstage, over the last few years I have been operating the sound, and for the first time last week, lights. But I get more nervous about working backstage than I ever did when I acted. Considering how adamant I was that I’d never end up front and centre this is a bit strange. I think it comes form the fact that if you are on stage and you miss a line, it’s usually only your fellow actors who notice and they’re there to help you out. If you get a sound or a light cue wrong it can be very, very obvious. If a doorbell goes off in a very tense prison cell scene everyone knows it wasn’t supposed to be there.

But I’m happy being backstage. If I get the chance to act again I will but I don’t feel the need to be the centre of attention like that. It’s nice to get recognised (and I did once, walking across a car park in my home town a woman I’d never met before came up to me and said “Were you in a play last night? It was very good”. One of the more random moments of my life) and being able to explore different parts of your personality are great. Saying and doing things that you would never normally do, there’s a freedom and confidence the mask of playing a role gives you that you can’t get away with when you’re doing anything else. But I get just as big a buzz when a performance finishes and the sound or lights have added to what’s going on on-stage, knowing that the timing was exactly right and it all looked how the director saw it in his head. I’ve still been a part of something that people have enjoyed and will think about afterwards. I have a lot of fun doing it and I’ve made a lot of friends doing it, I hope to carry on doing it for a long time.

I might not always get to take a bow but I’m always smiling when I hear the applause!

UPDATE: Laramie got reviewed here!


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