Ready to go on

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Final day in Bath

My mother was admitted to hospital last night. Only for tests. The hospital say there is nothing to worry about, but you still do.

This is one of the strange things about working in the theatre, of course, that you just carry on doing the shows despite what's going on in your private life. In many other jobs you would cancel appointments or take time off, but in acting it is rare for someone to miss a show. I'm sure she will be alright, but it is strange not to be able to visit her until tomorrow when I have a day off.

Apart from that, this week has been very good fun. At the start of the week we were slightly rocked by the seeming lack of enthusiasm from the audience. This is our fifth week and we had become confident in our ability to produce a show that worked. Suddenly it seemed as if we were mistaken. However, we have definitely got it back and move on to Edinburgh next week with renewed vigour and confidence.

Confidence is very important in acting. You can feign it, as you often need to, for example on first nights, but genuine belief in yourself and your performance makes the whole thing so much easier. You deliver funny lines with certainty and this encourages the audience to relax and, as a result, they react more warmly and laugh more easily. One thing feeds the other.

Also, when you're confident, your mind seems to work more quickly. You're not stultified by the thought that things might not work or indecisive about how to do them. This frees up the brain and you seem to have far more time for everything, even though, often, you are generating a performance with more pace. Your thought processes are always one step ahead of the audience and, especially in comedy, this gives you the upper hand. Not that it's a competition or a battle; but you do need to feel in control. You are manipulating an audience, despite the it being important that they never feel manipulated. They have to believe they have seen something that has a reality to it and has happened naturally. You don't want to reveal that comedy business has been meticulously rehearsed to the point where it is almost mechanical or even done by numbers. Some of the greatest comedy performers have a metronome going in their head that they 'time' (a strange verb, I know, but one that is used a lot in comedy) the funny lines to. 'Set up of gag, two, three, deliver the punchline, two, three, four, cap the gag with another one, and one, two three, sit for the button to demonstrate the action is complete; round of applause.' That does make it sound awful, doesn't it? And it's not really true, except for when you are just rehearsing how you are going to eventually do it. In reality it is a complicated, alive process that is constantly changing and adapting to the circumstances and each individual audience. Instinct and 'feel' (there's another one; what a luvvie!) play an important part. You can watch the great performers over and over again and try to mimic them, but it will never be as good. Yet, beneath all those layers, that metronome is still ticking.

Bill McCabe, our lead actor, is a fine example of an actor who works on both an instinctive, inspired level and a technical, rehearsed, 'thought out' level. He is consistent in his performance whilst always fine tuning it, some times in a way that he has thought about and talked through with the rest of the cast, sometimes instinctively, on the spot, either because he has had the thought at that moment or as a reaction to the audience, each one being different from the last.

Now you might be surprised that I feel the need to mention this? Surely all actors do that? Sadly, no. I once worked with an actor (no names, no pack drill) who, on the first day of rehearsal, showed us the comedy business that he was going to be doing on his first entrance, including double takes and the dropping of a tray, and he did that for the rest of the run. Exactly the same, every night. It always got a laugh and often got a round of applause so perhaps he was a much wiser man than I, but it seemed to me that he never explored the possibility that there may be something else equally as good or even better that he could do. I can't see Bill doing that. Like all good actors, he is able to be 'in the scene', as it's called (yes, I know this is turning in to a masterclass of "How to Talk Theatre, Darling"). Bill is also able to stand aside from the scene and analyse it, while it is happening, storing up that information to ruminate on before the next show.

Let's face it, he's good. If he keeps this up he'll be almost as good as me!

Why Bill feels he has to get the stage management to do this after every show I just don't know?!



  1. I imagine the first audience were a lot of season ticket holders who go to see the play whether they are fans or not. Just because they can. Roger x

  2. This is fascinating stuff for amdrammers like me. And I hope your mum is ok.