Sunday, 7 October 2007

Actors


It is an uncomfortable truth that most stage managers and assistant directors do not like actors. This is because a) they spend a lot of time with them and b) they are human opposites. SMs and ADs are efficient, hard working, well adjusted individuals who look around a room/set, see what needs to be done and get on with it. They don't get any glory, I don't believe there are any SM/AD award ceremonies, they get responsibility and a pint of lager.
It is not that all actors are hazy, lazy and crazy, exactly, more that they have to live in a slightly parallel world. During the rehearsal period for a play, a stage management team organises everything from call times and coffee to the buying of props and the building of rehearsal sets. Actors will spend a lot of time having cups of tea and cigarettes/herbal lozenges. They will discuss the merits of various agents/producers/casting directors at length. They will lose their scripts/reading glasses/plastic bag with a banana in it. They will leave the rehearsal room at the end of the day without a thought about all the detritus that will magically disappear by the morning. This is because they are going home to not learn their lines and then to worry about not learning their lines. In the morning they will have to miss the bus/train/plane or have their car stolen or broken into. They will have a mysterious back injury or throat complaint. They will be depressed/anxious/neurotic/paranoid. Some of them will already be sleeping with each other. After lunch they will run through the whole play and it will be like having a kindergarten class perform 'Les Sylphides' on ice. People will crash into each other, fall over, appear in scenes they were never in, fail to appear in scenes they were always part of. The director will cry. On the inside. On the outside they will smile and say either "That was a great start but we have a way to go." Or "That was shit. I hate you all." depending on their temperament. The actor will cry. On the inside. On the outside they will say, "I'm going to the pub".
Last year I took a production of a play to New York. I co-produced with one of the other actors and although we had done the show before, in Glasgow, it was a different production that required a whole new rehearsal period, set and costumes. The original cast of 7 was re-assembled and we had to ship the entire thing to Manhattan. As a producer with my own money as the budget, I was part of the stage management team, getting the coffee, putting out the set in the morning, booking flights, hiring costumes, renting containers. I saw the actors from the other side of the sticky green tape that marks out the set on the floor. I still loved them but for the first time I saw how sometimes, they might not be that lovable. Not that I was any great shakes, bossing everyone around, freaking out about visas and still not remembering my lines even though I knew the play backwards.
The play opened well in New York, we got good reviews, good bookings and after the nervous breakdown of the first week, things settled down. Happy days. The World Cup had started and we could watch matches in the afternoon and get in to the theatre for the evening show. The closest call was the day of the England-Portugal Quarter Final, but it seemed that even with extra time we could still squeak into the dressing rooms if we watched the match in the Italian restaurant opposite the theatre, which was playing it all on a big screen behind the bar.
And that was where the American stage manager found me, 10 minutes before the curtain was due to go up, make-up in my lap, feverishly glued to the penalty shoot out. I don't care about football. I was producing my first play. In New York. I had worked on the show flat out for 6 months of my life and given up a TV series to do it. I had learned how to put a contract together, how to set up a non-profit company, what fire permits I needed for the set fabric and what the royalties were for an author's estate. But at that moment, I looked at the stage manager's face and knew on which side of the green marking tape I stood. I had forgotten everything. And I was in the pub.

4 comments:

  1. Actors are by and large a rare and mysterious species, indeed, and not always the cream of humanity, as Sophie so adroitly pointed out! But still they possess the undeniable ability to transform a two-dimensional account into a living breathing thing. To those of us who can’t act to save our lives, they are creatures of wonder. Producing a play with everything that is involved seems like a huge undertaking. Sophie, what made you decide to push yourself in this direction? I may produce my own work this summer and for me it is about growing weary of waiting for the green light from someone else. Looking back on it, what was the most rewarding thing about producing?

    Hope you are well.

    P.s. this post has all the makings of a wonderful short story.

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  2. Yes, there is definitely an element of wanting to get on with it and sometimes the knowledge that if you don't it may very well never get done. So, I guess the most enjoyable element of producing was being responsible for putting it all together and seeing it through from beginning to end. If you have also written the piece then I imagine the sense of fulfillment must be even greater. Oh, but it is a steep learning curve.

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  3. Sophie, it must be quite amazing to be an actress and a producer at the same time; lots of different emotions I guess!!
    Jan August, good luck with your work!!
    Niki

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  4. Sophie--thanks for the heads up with regards to producing. Right now it is an idea that needs a bit more consideration. But ever since, I do catch myself thinking when I am writing or rewriting, 'How much will this cost?' And 'Can we get by without it?' In the end it might come down to 2 actors, 2 chairs, a black backdrop and creative lighting. This is the sticky green tape.

    Niki--thanks for your kind words of encouragement. They mean more than you can ever imagine.

    Best to both of you,

    Jan

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