Theatres are funny places. They seem to absorb a little bit of everyone that spends time in them. No matter how many times I’m in a theatre, or how welcome they make me feel, I always feel a little like I don’t belong. Like there is a long list of people far more deserving who have been there, who have done it far better. I think it might be because I don’t actually consider myself all that theatrical. Lots of people really nail the theatrics. My dressing room mates this week for example. I’ve just done a week’s run of my play Pramkicker in London. It was fun but shattering and to be honest I feel like I could sleep for a week.
The show after ours was a piece of glossy fun called Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. A musical. Every day, after we had finished the play and were collecting our stuff together to head out to the bar, they would knock at the door and ask if we were decent. Not that it would have mattered if we weren’t. They were all I’m sure at least 2000% interested in the opposite sex. We could have had our naked breasts out on platters and our derrières covered in melted chocolate and they wouldn’t have even glanced in our direction.
Once we’d said a cheery “come in”, in they would clatter with their bright bags full of even brighter costumes, make-up at least half-done and sequins and gemstones stuck around their faces. They were instantly at least ten times more interesting than us. They were like exotic birds swooping in to land in the trees, feathers outstretched, squawking shrilly. And they had jokes. Everything they said came with a pithy actor’s phrase or a double-entendre or a camp retort. A couple of them had that matryred suffering air of the actor in transit; as though their Art was a burden to which they were shackled til death. Art, dahling. Exquisite suffering. Their voices sang with expression, their bodies were beautiful and packaged in Fun. They were theatrical. They were Theatre. The most theatrical thing I’d done, other than rock up to do the play in the first place of course, was neck a Red Bull before the show, burp out loud, and do two nervous wees while deep-breathing. Most of the time I didn’t even bother with lipstick. They out-theatred me just by existing.
I felt like a dull little sparrow compared to their rainbow cockatoos. But I’d watch them taking it all in, absorbing their funny ways and smiling. Then when I’d finished packing up my rather ordinary costume I would leave the dressing room, with a cheery wave and the traditional “Break a leg!” To which they would sing queeny farewells that were worthy of a own show all of their own. I passed back through the theatre and over the empty stage, lights unlit, absolutely convinced that they would spank the show out of the ceiling and through the skies of London. They would give it all they had, and then some. With sequins on.
As I trudged out into the bar, weary and in desperate need of a long cool drink, I would find my friends, chat to the audience members who had stayed to say well done, and find a corner to stow my stuff in til hometime, my bags of play-making oddments done for the day. Despite having only just been offstage for fifteen minutes, despite having cried and shouted and danced and joked about in front of an audience, I fell quiet. I reset myself to neutral, untheatrical, feeling like a cuckoo in the cockatoo’s nest, quiet and unconfident until the next show. Theatre is a strange friend, never fully to be trusted.