6 essentials for life upon the wicked stage

Now that I’ve got a few months before I start rehearsals for any stage performances again (though there are a sprinkling of concerts over the coming months), I thought I’d share some things which are invaluable when messing around on stage.

A good anti-perspirant deodorant.  The level of sweating that goes on under those lights on stage is truly astonishing, and can have many adverse effects.  You can shine inappropriately, you can feel (and eventually smell) unpleasant, you can find things sticking to you when you’re trying to do a quick change, and sweat can affect microphone packs.  I find that most deodorants simply can’t cope with the demands of the theatre, which combines physical exertion with hot conditions and acute anxiety.  Hurrah for the Mitchum brand, which I have found to be very reliable indeed.

Five minutes.  Just a few moments to yourself to think about what you have to do, where you have to be, and what order things happen in.  Whether checking through a written list, or walking the show through in your head, it helps with relaxation and concentration.  It also ensures that all necessary props, costume items and the like are in the right place, as you check each one as you come to it on the list.  A clear head and the ability to concentrate can get you through untold disasters as the show goes on.

ProFACE “No Sweat”.  A wonderful product, which is probably very bad for the skin and therefore has to be used sparingly.  It’s used under make-up to prevent facial sweating that can cause things to run and smear.  I always have it with me, but I wait until the first full run-through to see if it’s really needed, as it makes the skin feel oddly tight.  It works, though, and I know how ridiculous it can look when sweat interferes with theatrical make-up.  I got mine from 3K Make-up – it’s not the sort of thing you find on the High Street.

A lack of embarrassment.  This applies not only to the actual performance, which may require shedding some inhibitions here and there, but to many other aspects of amateur dramatics.  You have to accept that most of the cast will see you in various states of undress backstage, with the likelihood of this increasing with the number of costume changes and decreasing with the number of dressing rooms.  It also applies to peculiar requests in shops as the show approaches.  I have grown accustomed to asking shop assistants for the oddest things, particularly in the haberdashery line, but also regarding make-up and costume accessories.

Unpleasant black sweets.  At some point during the run of any show, the throat starts to complain about the strain it’s being subjected to, and demands some form of attention.  Vocalzone pastilles are a marvel.  They taste disgusting, but they soothe the throat in a way which doesn’t affect vocal production – most other throat sweets have a negative effect on the voice.  Nigroids are also a joy for this purpose, and are smaller so can be consumed more quickly.

A sense of humour.  Things will go wrong.  You will get stressed.  You will make mistakes.  People will do stupid things.  A button or two will come undone three seconds before making an entrance on stage.  The Thursday night audience will be unresponsive.  Your waistcoat will get stuck to a hook backstage.  You’ll get the urge to sneeze in the most moving scene.  The local newspaper will hate the show.  Someone will turn up late.  The band will get out of time at some point.  But you just have to keep going, pretend there’s not a problem and then laugh about it back in the dressing room.  Emotions run high during performances, and it’s so much better to laugh than it is to cry.

As an idea of other potential essentials, though these things change from show to show, my Sound of Gershwin bag contained the following: dinner jacket, black trousers, white shirt, black shoes, black bow tie (the rest of the costume items were supplied by the wardrobe department), No Sweat, deodorant, headache tablets, Nigroids, mouthwash (I went straight from work to the theatre), bottles of tap water, Bryclreem, gel spray, comb, cotton wool, eye make-up remover, eye-liner pencil, tissues, glasses case and mini sewing kit.  Time, lack of embarrassment and a sense of humour cannot be packed easily for transportation, but they (along with bucketloads of concentration) were more important than most of the other items. 

If you want to take part in life upon the wicked stage, be prepared for strange shopping trips, unexpected problems, hard work and an awful lot of fun.  There’s nothing like it, and if you can maintain your sense of humour, you’ll be hooked.

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