Life backstage really starts with no stage at all, just a few thin wooden battens taped to the floor of our rehearsal hall. We’re told that these represent the margins of the stage and the set. The gaps between the battens represent the entrances and exits. The batten along the front is supposed to be the edge of the stage and we mustn’t cross it. Hilarity strikes when we inevitably do just that, or inadvertently walk through an imaginary wall. It’s all a bit Harry Potterish in the initial stages of our rehearsals but we quickly get used to it.
But it all changes at dress rehearsals. Until then we’ve never seen the actual set, sometimes not even until the performance day. At this point it all becomes quite daunting because suddenly you are unable to see what is happening on-stage. You’re standing behind the set, in costume, in the dark, in silent mode, quietly mouthing your first lines over and over again whilst listening for your cue to come on stage. There’s nothing worse than appearing on stage and promptly forgetting what to say and, believe me, it’s so, so easy just to freeze and be totally unable to get started.
For the Long Christmas Dinner it’s pretty easy because nobody with a speaking part appears more than once. We just sit around chatting whilst eating imaginary food and awaiting our turn to grow old and die but knowing all the others backstage are quietly scoffing your favourite chocolate biscuits.
Usually though, backstage during performances is a nightmare of frantic, hectic chaos. Everybody silently scurrying around looking for props, revising lines, trying not to bump into things whilst attempting to give the actors and actresses a modicum of privacy when they are changing clothing. What was seen “out-front” in Calendar Girls was nothing to what wasn’t seen “out-back”. All this is carried out in darkness and totally unrehearsed.
Of course, all this chaotic scurrying like a family of blind mice ensures that the wheels on stage all move with co-ordinated, oiled precision in front of our audience.
Anon y Mous