It’s 1.30am. I am the kind of tired that defies all tiredness and yet here I am, cause when you’ve got to blog, you’ve got to blog.
It’s the night before closing night. Not as momentous as the night before opening night, but still a time for thought and a time for reflection. It’s been, to coin Laura’s line in the play ‘oh god, a hell of a week’. This may be the most rewarding and most challenging piece I have ever worked on, and I am tremendously proud of what our company have put together and yet still remain intimidated by the play every night. ‘Down Came the Rain’ is like driving on a motorway: once you’re on it, that’s it. Once those lights come up, you’d better hope your engine is properly revved, becasue once it gets going, it’s impossible to stop it, the momentum of the piece takes over. A bit like in Brighton, when we disappeared into the world of the festival and the world of the play, this week has had the title ‘play week’, and everything I have done has revolved around the one hour we’re on stage every night. It’s a routine I have come to love and it is done by artists everywhere when they are performing or producing. Get to the theatre at this time, having picked up coffee from this shop and remembering to buy water from this other shop on the way. Put bag here, shoes there, read paper til then, warm up til then, brush teeth at this sink, wipe hands on these jeans – having never managed to remember a towel- wait for applause for show before, go up to foyer, get into space, set these props, check that pocket for that prop, pinch some of that hairspray – having never remembered to buy some- leave that bag in theatre, get bag from Amy at last minute, dig in bag for lipstick, hug Amy, hi-five Craig, do superstitious mantra, hear cue, do that show. Pub, train, vow not to go to pub the following night, bed. Brilliant.
Unfortunately I have not been as organised as Laura and Ben and did not book any time off work this week to rest in the daytime or have a lie in. I have been at work everyday from 9.30-7, then to the theatre, and there have been times when I could have slept on a chicken’s lip. Chickens don’t even have lips, that’s how easily I could have slept! Adrenaline has got me through, and knowing that my great and supportive friends and collleagues were there and coming along to the show has kept me nervous and motivated. Earlier in the run I chastised us for booking a long run of seven nights, but tonight I felt glad of it. The first few nights were less about nerves and more about intense stage terror; not trusting that the lines would come or that I would know what to do in a play I’ve rehearsed a hundred times and already performed only a few months ago. The last few nights have seen that fear ebb and now, as I said to Laura before tonight’s run, I feel less nervous, but filled with the ‘go- go tingles’, the excitement and energy of wanting to go out there and be on the ice with my friends, telling the story we painstakingly wrote all those months ago.
Opening night was terrifying and brilliant. We were very pacy and filled with adrenaline. New space, new audience on home turf. In the middle of an argument scene, Ben reached out and inexplicably swatted at my hair. ‘What the hell? We never rehearsed that?!’ Later I found out that Ben had spotted an enormous insect crawling up the side of face and knew that if he didn’t get rid of it, I would notice it and panic. Poor old Ben had to watch this unwelcome creature dangle about on my hair while trying to still engage with the scene (Ben, not the insect - although I do hope it was in character at the time, whatever it was, and knew it was on stage. Maybe it was involved in a performance of its own!) My lovely boss came along on the same night and brought his father, who had brought with him the gift of a marrow from his allotment. The play is set on an allotment so it was both generous and fitting. I had said that if he really did bring a marrow, we’d put it in the set and there it was, for one night only, a fresh green marrow peeking out from one of the boxes on stage. I was up til 2am making soup out of that bugger last night (the marrow, not my boss’ dad!) I dropped a rather large clanger as director and forgot to re-rehearse the curtain call since Brighton, and so the poor first night audience didn’t know what was happening as we stumbled about and tipped our heads (and the prop bottles!) to signify the end of proceedings.
Laura and I have only now confessed to each other that we think the blackcurrant squash we use as wine in the play is horrible and makes us a bit burpy. Tonight I mis-set a bottle so when Laura turned to grab her booze she was faced with a bit of empty space and me feebly ad-libbing ‘oh it’s over here’. Sorry Laura.
Tonight in the pub Ben and I chatted over what our favourite bits of the play were. I love knowing what’s coming when the audience doesn’t. I love thinking ‘just you wait, Ben’s about to do something really cool that took ages to rehearse and you’re going to love it.’ We’ve all been suprised at some of the audience’s reactions. One night in particular, we had a muttering, gasping audience and it was wonderful. When certain lines were said, we could hear sharp intakes of breath or when a certain someone makes an entrance there was a gasp. Brilliant. We’ve also been suprised at the laughter. This play is not a comedy and yet some audiences came wanting to laugh and so they found the comedy and enjoyed it, often much to our besmusement:
Jade: I thought so.
[Audience laughs] Strange bunch that night!!
Sitting over a drink with members of the audience afterwards has been both suprisinging and fascinating. People were picking up on themes I had never considered and each person I spoke to took something different away from it. It’s been invaluable to have that feedback and it reminds me that no matter how hard you work to put something across, your audience may take from it something completely different. This has been wonderfully enlightening. One lady sat and told us what she thought the play was about and accurately repeated to us all the themes we had discussed in rehearsal. It was amazing, as though the play was hers. She had taken everything we had hoped to put across and fed it back to us. Conversations like that,- and the more obscurre ones- are what makes sticking around for a drink with your audience, no matter how tired and how early your call is for the next day, essential and invaluable. You can’t put yourself in a bubble and wait for the reviewers’ opinions because then you miss out on the really wonderful business of listening to your audience fresh from the show, when they’re opinions and reactions are immediate. For any practicioner, listening to your audience’s feedback is vital.
We’ve got one show left for this run, who knows what the future for Down Came the Rain will be. We’ve been advised to develop it and perhaps even make it into a full length play. Heavens! An interval? How will we manage?!
At Rose Bruford, Laura and I were trained to view closing night as just another show. As practitioners, we both value consistency – telling the same story in the same way to each audience. Tomorrow night will be just another show, and we’ll go at it with the same venom and energy as we have all week. I am still only human, and a very nostalgoc one, so I confess that while my performance will be the same, my mind will be thinking ‘oh, that’s the last time I’ll be saying these lines for a while.’
For those who have made it along to see it, thank you isn’t enough. To those who gave their support (from as far away as Texas, Boston and Melbourne), thank you isn’t enough. To Fruition Arts, all the gold bars and treasure in the world isn’t enough. Raven remains completely lost without Fruition, as mentioned in an earlier blog, without Amy and Craig; Laura, Ben and I would just be three people in a room saying some words. Ben Hale has become as much a part of the Raven Theatre Company as the Raven himself and he will always receive first refusal of any part in any play we write (with our fingers firmly crossed that he will accept!) I am gushing, I am prone to this, but you must forgive me, I am tired and grateful and nostalgic.
Next week we’ll all be looking towards our next projects. Laura is Italy bound and I am off to Rose Bruford to my new September term of teaching acting. Do try and catch Ben in ‘Project X’ in London, it’s a great interactive adventure of a show.
It’s the night before closing night. Tomorrow we sweep the stage and bugger off. Pub?