Singing Librarian flashback: Trying to make an entrance


In most shows, every performer will make at least one entrance, unless they are on stage when the lights go up and remain there until they are no longer required, which would be a sad state of affairs.  It may be as part of a group, or as an individual.  It may be unobtrusive or it may be spectacular.  It may be from the wings or it may be from above or below the stage.  Sometimes, and perhaps trickiest of all, it can be from the auditorium itself.

It can be a strange feeling as an audience member when your safe, comfortable area on the other side of the footlights is invaded by a show’s characters.  It can be just as strange for the performers, entering into a strange limbo area that both is and is not part of the world you inhabit on stage.  For me, this has been part of the routine in four shows (that I remember, anyway): Grease, Kiss Me, Kate, Rodgers With an H and most recently West Side Story.  In Grease, the two gangs made their first entrance zooming down through the school hall’s central aisle and singing the rude version of Rydell High’s school song.  In Rodgers With an H, logistics meant that occasional entrances and exits had to be through the auditorium to avoid colliding with other performers, though this was a very short distance, so didn’t really matter all that much.  Kiss Me, Kate involved slightly longer in the auditorium, as I appeared there at the beginning of ‘Cantiamo D’amore’, singing rather high notes very loudly in a ridiculous costume before joining the rest of the chorus on stage. All three presented their own challenges of various kinds, but it is the most recent example, West Side Story, that is the most interesting.

Regular readers may recall that I played, somewhat improbably, both Officer Krupke and Doc in a production of the show in August.  In addition to the joys of changing costume and make-up (as well as voice, stance and so forth) between characters, the staging of the show presented fun and games in the second act.  At this point in the plot, the main characters have been scattered following the disastrous rumble which kills off two of the key players in the tragedy.  A-rab and Baby John, members of the Jets, encounter one another in the streets and share some of their anxieties before they are rudely interrupted by the arrival of rubbish policeman Officer Krupke, who wants to see them ‘hauled down to the station house’.  This entrance was made by crashing through one of the sets of auditorium doors about 20 rows back from the stage.  A blow on Krupke’s trusty police whistle and a yell, and I then had to lumber down to the stage ready for a brief scene threatening the boys.  Before long, they turn the tables, cause him to tumble and scarper.  A little bit of comic peering around, and I then had to repeat my entrance in reverse, lumbering back up through the auditorium and out through the doors.  Then I had to race down through the foyer and bar, punch in an access code to the dressing rooms, race along the corridor to my own and change into Doc as quickly as a jolly quick thing, but that’s another story. 

By now, you may be wondering what the point of this tale is, anyway.  Other than the possibility of falling down the steps in the dark, or treading on an usher, which I very nearly did, what challenges could this entrance possibly present?  It is worth noting that this is one of my favourite ever entrances due to its high impact value, but it was actually the moments before the entrance which caused difficulty, and largely due to factors beyond my control.

The trickiest thing about making an entrance through the auditorium is timing, as it would spoil the illusion to betray your presence too soon.  And timing depends on being able to hear the action on stage, which is not always easy through a thick door.  Noise on your side of the door is therefore not particularly helpful.  Distant sounds of activity from the box office can be screened out, but other interventions are harder to deal with.  And other interventions there were, from someone who should have known better and from a member of the paying public.

The first was from the person who should have known better.  As I approached the door to the auditorium for one performance, it opened and out came an usher, who began to speak into her mobile phone before the door had fully closed behind her, organising her shopping trip for the next day.  She didn’t move very far from the doorway, and seemed utterly unconcerned about the presence of a young chap in a hot and heavy police uniform complete with truncheon and whistle.  Even after drawing the curtains around the door area which prevent light from leaking in, it was still a struggle to hear the Jet boys over the travails of her socioeconomic life.  I don’t know how long it took her to work out which shop was the best meeting place, and whether they should have a coffee first, but these important decisions must have been made at some point between my dramatic entrance and dramatic exit.  Now, never having been employed as an usher, I can’t be sure of these things, but…  Surely…  Surely, a job which requires you to be present in the auditorium at a live performance is a job where your mobile really ought to be switched off?

A couple of performances later in the run, and another effort was made to sabotage the entrance, but this time from a member of the paying public, who can be granted some leeway for having been kind enough to part with some hard-earned cash to watch the show.  On this particular occasion, I was in position a little earlier than normal.  As I waited for the action on stage to approach my entrance point, a gentleman appeared from the foyer area, having evidently felt the need to spend a penny or two.  He stopped in mild confusion when he saw me and asked whether I was about to go on.  Why, yes, I was.  I did have to wonder what else he thought I’d be doing in the corridor.  Was I listening, he asked.  Yes, I was.  He kindly volunteered to wait until my entrance to regain his seat, and I duly thanked him as I pressed my ear to the door, knowing that my cue was coming up, grasping my truncheon and positioning my whistle in my mouth.  There was a brief period of silence in the corridor, as the dialogue approached the crucial juncture, then he spoke again with astonishing insight, though a definite lack of good timing.  “It must be very difficult standing out here trying to hear what they’re saying.  Do you have to –”  Sadly, I don’t know what it was I may have had to do, as A-rab gave my cue line just as my new friend made his own speech.  Do I have to deal with many people talking when I’m trying to listen to something else?  Do I have to struggle to get into character when surrounded by heavy blue curtains?  Do I have to train hard to look quite so ridiculous in a uniform?  Tempting though it may have been to answer whatever question he wanted to pose, there was only one course of action that I really could follow.  As ever, I burst through the door, whistle blowing, and entered the scene.  However, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how easily everything could have been disrailed.  A loss of focus, concentration and character could so easily have followed, and certainly would have done if the lovely man had succeeded in drawing me into conversation.

Sometimes, making an entrance can be complicated by the most unexpected things – people.  But what would an actor do without them?

  1. August 28th, 2009
  2. March 26th, 2010

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