Although I’ve been appearing with amateur dramatic companies for many years now, few are amateurish. Indeed, while you get the odd ropey set and performance, many are separated from the pros only by the length and depth of rehearsal schedules. Professionals go full tilt into learning lines and discard the book with alacrity, where the compromise of working full time and doing a whole range of other things that constitute normal living somewhat restricts the amateur. At their best, amateurs can give a truly first rate performance, and it would be foolish to underrate companies merely by their amateur status.
That said, the degree of planning and budget available to pros enable them to do amazing things that amateur directors would gladly kill for. With the same resources, you could make audiences gasp with delight, but instead you have to plead and beg for time, skills, cash and all manner of ephemera that go to make up a production. I’ve blogged on this subject before and probably don’t need to repeat too much.
However, it is worth talking about disasters, these being the proverbial “acts of god” that could afflict anyone putting on any sort of live show. I once saw a light bulb descend out of the roof at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester, narrowly avoiding an actress at a tense moment of the play. Credit to her, she continued unabashed, though one suspects other performers might have been somewhat thrown!
Odd little moments like that occur in any production, though in many cases the audience remains blissfully unaware that anything has gone wrong. It might be a line out of place or a recalcitrant prop that throws things into chaos, allowing the cast and crew to laugh like drains behind the scenes, without affecting any other aspect of the audience experience.
One that cracked me up was when an actor was supposed to say “he would have to have dyed his hair and shaved his beard”, but the words actually came out as “he would have to have dyed his beard and shaved his hair.”
One minor disaster that occurred to me was in a dress rehearsal. I was supposed to be carving a notch on a gun with a penknife while conducting a conversation with an actress. On this occasion, I accidentally cut my finger and watched with appalled fascination as a plume of blood pulsed from my finger and all over the stage, invisible to all but my colleague on stage. They did ask later why I missed a line and hurriedly plunged my hand into the nearest pocket.
But some things are beyond the wit of man. This week I felt so sorry for the hard-working company that put on what was for the first 15 minutes an excellent production of The Government Inspector, only for a power cut to take out the whole street. They hung on for a while in the vain hope of recovering lights but the energy company took over half an hour to get a man out on the job, then several hours to fix the problem. Tempting though it was to complete the play by candlelight, the director had no choice but to bow to the inevitable and call off the show for that night. As an actor, I would find that terribly frustrating but nothing more you can do!
To that company I hope the rest of the production run went swimmingly well, though since lightening proverbially doesn’t strike twice I am pretty confident no such fate will afflict my forthcoming play. Being superstitious is not my style, but even so… I may just cross fingers!!
PS. Talking of disasters, the current production of Heatstroke seems to have gone on for ages. Postponed once because of my appendicitis and once because of asbestos found in the lighting booth, we are hoping for third time lucky in October!