Doctor Theatre

I’m sat at home waiting for the show report.

And it feels really weird. Because I’m the one who sends out the show report. I mean obviously I’m not in a theatre EVERY night. I do have a day off each week. And when I’m in rehearsal I mostly have evenings free – but my show IS happening tonight and I’m not there.

I’m not there because this morning I had a wisdom tooth removed from somewhere inside the depths of my head. If I’d listened to my dentist I’d have had it out years ago. But I’m a bit crap at that stuff so I put it off for as long as possible, inevitably making it all far worse for myself and meaning that they had to throw in a root canal in the tooth next to it to boot.

Now I don’t wish to exaggerate, but I have googled the topic of impacted wisdom teeth quite extensively, and I can tell you that there are several ladies on netmums, who have stated that they would definitely choose labour over what I’ve been going through recently. And I’m not saying that child birth doesn’t look absolutely dreadful because it absolutely does – but it doesn’t happen in the middle of your FACE does it? Anyway it reached the point where I was in such relentless face clutching pain that I was either going to have to rip my own head off – or I was going to have to get cover.

And if I was going to get cover it was going to have to happen RIGHT NOW because next week I start a new job – and my current one goes on for another two. So I need to be in top condition capable of full concentration and ultimate focus in rehearsal from 10am until 6pm, before flying across London at rush hour to call the show somewhere else, six days a week for the next fortnight.

I called Phil. Phil is my extremely brilliant, extremely expensive dentist. I’ve known Phil since I flew over the handlebars of my bike aged eight, landing mainly on my face and dragging my front teeth along the pavement. He always greets me with hugs and kisses and no one else will be allowed near my teeth ever. 

Phil suggested a general anaesthetic – nope! No time for that! I can get one show covered – two max. Okay yes – he could fit me in. Phil suggested sedation – excellent. Oh – no – the sedation nurse is having a baby and if you want it done by Thursday there’s no time to find another. Right – no time to waste – jab me with a local and just go for it. 

I won’t go into to detail except to say that the tooth in question had yet to make an appearance in my mouth so there was a fair amount of cutting and yanking and me hyperventilating before Phil was able to bring it into the world. It took four hours and it was horrible. There was one moment where I was absolutely certain that if he applied a single ounce of pressure more my entire face would shatter and cave in Ren and Stimpy style. And I currently look and feel quite a lot like Phil just spent those four hours punching me repeatedly in the face.

It was MASSIVE. And there was a chunk of me still stuck to it. Isn’t it fascinating?! I can think of a number of words that I’d land on before reaching fascinating. I did quite want to keep it. But I’m not sure the tooth fairy bothers with you when you’re thirty six so I didn’t ask.

I’ve never missed a show. From what I’ve seen people very rarely really get sick in the theatre unless there are understudies and swings. Or we do get sick – but we just crack on anyway. Sure I’ve cancelled a few shows, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve set buckets alongside props tables for actors to vom into – or worse. I’ve seen DSMs chuck between cues, and I know a fairy who went on stage with the very real risk of one of her ends exploding unexpectedly. And three Christmas eves ago a dwarf was sick in the dressing room in the middle of the matinee. But even she bucked up in time for her next entrance – and she was only about nine.

Doctor Theatre they call it. Also known as there’s no other option so get over it and get out there. Because whether you’re nine or not, there are hundreds of people watching, and Snow White and the six dwarfs just isn’t going to cut it.

I worked with one amazing actor who discovered he had cancer, underwent treatment and beat it, all within a nine week job. And an actress, who, on waking up in the wings after passing out cold on stage mid speech, demanded to go straight back on. (I didn’t let her.)

On smaller shows there’s just not the money to have covers ready to take over at the drop of a hat. There’s a certain amount you can do – for instance maybe that person doesn’t have to fall off the wardrobe tonight if they’re feeling faint. And maybe we’ll alter the blocking a bit so we don’t throw you up in the air in act two if there’s a possibility you might be sick on everyone.

 I’m lucky on this occasion to have a brilliant ASM who can step into call the show tonight and someone who can cover her track. It might all sound a bit crazy. And when you have a three show day ahead and you feel like death you can ask yourself why you gave up your comfortable reasonably well paid desk job. But I can’t really imagine doing anything else now. And I’ll be dragging this aching swollen face up the M3 tomorrow to get back at it.

I mean how many other jobs are there out there where you can shout sentences like I WANT YOU TO FUCK ME UP THE ARSE HARD! THANK YOU! whilst maintaining complete professionalism, and without anyone batting an eyelid?

 (Well a few probably. And I expect they pay quite a lot more than mine. But I still choose this one.)

I’m a STAGE MANAGER

I’ve found myself relighting on tour more than once. And I can tell you it’s not something that I am built for. In my – admittedly limited – experience, it’s extremely stressful, and it’s also pretty damn boring. Not to be rude – it’s just not my bag – if I was into lighting I’d probably love it – but I’m not. I’m a stage manager.

The second time I did it I knew what I was in for and I was ready. The first time was a surprise. I had been interviewed for the role of CSM on a small tour. Note ‘C’ – not ‘T’. As is often the way I knew I’d be driving the van (which turned out to be considerably older than I was), doing the fit up with the help of the actors, washing and ironing the costumes, possibly operating sound and/or LX, and then getting everything out and packed up, and depositing everybody at whatever hotel we were staying in that night – and then doing it all again the next day and the next day and the next day…for a fairly hellish sounding fortnight before a much sweeter five weeks in the West End. I knew it was going to be tough. But I was new – and if not you’re lucky, it can be fucking tough when you’re new.

Nobody had mentioned it, or thought to ask whether it might be something I knew how to do, but it started to dawn on me during the second week of rehearsal that I was actually the only person going on tour with the three actors…and that alarmingly I was going to be the only person who was going to have the faintest clue about how the show should be lit. Oh yes. Sorry. They’d omitted to mention that.

SHIT.

I got a lot of love for the lighting designer, but I got no love for his handover technique. This mainly consisted of him looking upwards, occasionally scratching his beard, and even more occasionally saying “hmm” – with me looking on in what I can only describe as absolute blind panic, whilst attempting to appear calm for everybody’s sake. I hadn’t the first idea about what I needed to know and spent the day rummaging around inside his head for answers to questions that I didn’t know needed asking. It wasn’t great.

That tour was one hell of a baptism of fire I can tell you. I’ve blocked most of it out I think. Like childbirth. Probably the clearest memory of that first day out on the road is of sitting in a Premier Inn, eating the crap salad I’d bought for lunch fifteen hours previously from a garage somewhere on the M4, at half past two in the morning, with a hotel room teaspoon.

It was a good show, and a lovely lovely team, and despite it being one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done I wouldn’t undo it. And I got the hang of it all…another string to my bow and all that bollocks. And it’s all good stuff to know – the Ion and I are now pretty good friends, and knowing how to rig and focus and programme has definitely come in handy since. But it’s not a string I plan on plucking often.

Because I’m a STAGE MANAGER.

And I don’t think I’ll ever ever forget that really very low moment, one night somewhere in the darkest depths of god knows where, when poor Oscar Wilde was forced to deliver a particularly moving speech in almost complete darkness. And I don’t suppose he will either.

 

a rat ate my props

It’s difficult to explain to friends who aren’t in this industry exactly what it is that we do. Partly because the requirements of one job tend to be so crazy bonkers different from another, and partly because if you don’t do it you just don’t get it.

For starters you have to miss things. I’ve missed more than one wedding – and i can tell you that sending a photo of  yourself next to the word CONGRATULATIONS written in the sand on a blustery beach in Aberystwyth, taken between shows, goes no way towards actually being part of the event with your friends in Pennsylvania, and after totally forgetting another friend’s offspring’s 1st birthday whilst on a particularly gruelling tour – at the end of which I barely knew my own name – despite having bought and addressed the card in advance in an attempt to be prepared – I was told you had time to brush your teeth you had time to call me… Now I’m aware that that sounds like an entirely valid point – but I didn’t. I’m serious. It sounds mad, but I didn’t. I didn’t have time to know I had teeth.

It’s hard to explain just how freaking BUSY it can all be.

I’ve had to move digs five nights in a row because actors aren’t happy and must be moved at once, I’ve had actors call me on a Sunday wondering if I can lend them a ladder (?!), actors call me at 3am because they’ve just thought of something, actors inform me at the quarter that they took a vital piece of costume home (WHY?) and they’ve just realised that they left it there, actors who hate each other’s guts, an actor who discovered he had cancer two weeks into rehearsal, actors who have passed out face first on stage mid show, an actor who wondered if I could buy her son a Glastonbury ticket, a phone call from a cast member at midnight because another cast member has fallen down the stairs – at which point I changed out of my pyjamas, called an ambulance and caught a cab to the hospital, where I sat white faced and shell-shocked until 5am, trying to contact her family members and the producers, after being hit with the news that she had suffered a stroke and might never wake up. I’ve had to tackle complicated calls from the director at 6pm on Sunday evening when I’m in a bar somewhere in Covent Garden and I’m two bottles of prosecco down because actually it’s MY ONLY DAY OFF, and I’ve chased him four times for this since Friday and have already sent out three apologetic emails to cast and fielded numerous messages because despite this they are certain I’ve forgotten them. I’ve had a fucking rat eat my props.

These people drive me crazy daily. A mad mix of personalities, eccentricities, egos, pride, nerves and insecurities all crashing about. But the majority of them are fucking great. And I couldn’t do what they do. And most of the time, despite all the drama, I sort of love them for it.

I’ve had staff from the office, in immaculate make up and high heels, on a regular lunch break, ask me how it’s all going in the run up to press night – oh you know! Fine! In reality I’ve probably got at least four fingers stuck out symbolising items that cast have literally just been handed and immediately misplaced, some sort of terrible wound and a host of bruises, a vital list of crucially important things to be done by 6pm which will probably take until next week – which has vanished because the director can’t be arsed to sit through the press call and has swanned off for coffee with it accidentally hijacked in her handbag, and I’m wondering how I’m going to stay conscious long enough to shower when I get in.

But I fucking. Love. It. I’ve never been so hugged and kissed in my life. And although I hugely regret that lots of  things have had to happen without me and that there are a whole lot of photos and memories that I’m not in, I’ve been to places I wouldn’t otherwise have known existed, and I’ve met people who will be my friends for life. And despite the wrench of missing some things that I know are really important, I think it’s all worth it. I hope I’m right.