Messing around


In my post a few days ago about my experiences as a cast member of Die Fledermaus (goodness me, that sounds pretentious!), I mentioned the silliness which we got up to behind the scenes during Act One.  Silliness is often an important, or at least prominent, part of the rehearsal and performance process, but I don’t want to give the wrong impression on this.  There are definitely limits, and when it comes to these limits, I am a bit of an ogre.

Under no circumstances should you do anything to jeopardise any aspect of the show.

Never ever.  Not even a little bit.  Backstage pranks are good.  Enjoying yourself on stage is good.  You do need to do something to pass the time when you’re not on stage.  But this should never affect your performance or the performance of anyone else.  The audience has paid good money to see the show, and (unless it’s a pantomime), they don’t want to see people trying to make each other laugh, or inappropriate comedy props appearing on the stage.  ‘In jokes’ mean nothing to the paying punters and often aren’t even funny to those in the know.

Let me give you an example.  A real one.  When I did Cabaret, I had a solo called ‘Meeskite’, which is a sweet little story about an ugly boy falling in love with an ugly girl.  But it’s rather long.  So long, in fact, that we normally skipped most of it in rehearsal once everyone was sure I knew all the words.  We’d joke that the audience would fall asleep during the song and that I’d have to sing the last note *really* loudly to wake them up again.  So what happened on the first night that we performed the show?  The song is sung at the character’s engagement party, so the stage is full with most of the principals and all of the chorus.  And from immediately behind me, I could hear a chorus member gently ‘snoring’.  Oh, ha ha and hee hee.  It could have put me off, but it didn’t.  And more importantly, it could easily have been heard by people in the front rows of the audience, and for all I know, it was.  Not good.  Not good at all.  I made my feelings very plain to the culprit during the interval, as did the stage manager, who was not at all impressed. It was an amusing running joke during rehearsals, but it should not have been carried over into performance.

Backstage behaviour is also important.  Don’t get in the way of the crew, or of any cast members with quick exits, entrances or costume changes.  Don’t dance in the wings if you’re going to make the tabs (curtains) flap about.  Don’t touch anyone else’s costume or props.  If the dressing rooms are within earshot of the stage or auditorium then (to be a stereotypical librarian) for goodness sake, shhhhh!

On some of the Broadway message boards you see posts saying ‘Last night’s perf. of Wicked was soooo cool.  Actress X wuzz making Actor Y crack up so much.  It was like so hilarious.’  No.  It might have been hilarious to the poster (who has invariably seen the show dozens of times), but not for the first-time audience member.  It’s incredibly unprofessional if it’s done deliberately, and in my opinion, the audience would be perfectly justified if they asked for their money back after watching a show like that (which would seem to have been more for the performers’ benefit than theirs).  And just because amateurs aren’t being paid to perform, it doesn’t mean they have an excuse – they should behave just as professionally as the ‘professionals’.

In shows with a long run, there are things that the cast and crew can do to liven things up without spoiling things for the audience.  Sneaking anachronistic (but tiny) props on to the stage, wearing silly costumes in the wings or ‘on stage tag’, a game I don’t entirely grasp, but which seems to have ‘the audience must be unaware’ as one of its key rules.  Or just, you know, the thrill of live performance which is slightly different every night as it is?

There was a discussion about this on the amdram.co.uk forums earlier this year which mostly says the same things.  Have fun, but respect the audience.  Gosh, it feels good to have got that off my chest!  Theatre should be fun, but it should be fun for everyone, not just the cast!  Rant over…

  1. My husband fondly remembers stage-managing ‘Romeo and Juliet’. On the last night, they took to hiding plastic ducks (ooh, ducks!) inside boxes and behind props for the Nurse to find. She didn’t so much as twitch, but the hands were hiding back-stage with handfuls of their black teeshirts stuffed in their mouths…

    You know, I would really love to hear you sing. You sound so joyously enthusiastic about it.

  2. Now that’s the sort of messing around that I approve of! 🙂

    I certainly do love to sing, and I’m glad that comes through.

    • floatykatja
    • August 28th, 2006

    When we did The Mysteries at drama school, our director instructed us on the last night to fit in as many Beatles song titles/lyrics as we could without the audience noticing. Great fun.

  3. I don’t think I’d be able to work in anything more adventurous than ‘Help’ in that situation!

    • Chandler
    • January 22nd, 2015

    We do a prank rehearsal rather than a prank show and all pranks must be approved by our director

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