PUTTING A FOOT WRONG ON STAGE
An actor’s mind on stage is a strange animal. Well at least mine is. On stage I can have at least three trains of thought bumping in and out. Primarily I will be trying to concentrate on what I am saying and what I am doing as the character I’m playing. So I will reach for a drink as Martha, offer a cup of tea as the Chickabiddy and shuffle sadly as poor old Hetty. I’m the type of actress who loses herself for most of the time I am on stage but not entirely. There’s a corner of my mind that needs to be aware of the audience whether it for is timing a laugh or speaking a little louder to rise above coughs, splutters or the tinny tones of a mobile phone. The worst kerfuffle that I recently experienced was when Wayne Rooney inconsiderately scored a goal during my big moment-type speech. When you are describing your child’s death cheers and whoops are not what you expect to hear. I wouldn’t have minded enough if the lad had scored a second!
Funnily enough when a phone goes off it doesn’t phase me because I know what it is. What threatens my concentration is other members of the audience berating the culprit, hissing and tutting and muttering about the youth of today. (It turned out not to be a youth, by the way, but a reviewer from a local newspaper.)
There is third corner though of the brain that can actually have a discussion with the second. When the lines are embedded an actor can trip through a scene automatically. It’s really unnerving, like when driving home and not being able to recollect going through a couple of sets of lights and a seven exit roundabout.
Anyway once, whilst nattering away as a poison pen letter writer, that third corner of my brain had to talk to the second one in order to make a decision, as described in a piece below that I wrote a few years ago.
Probably due to all those “out-take” programmes on tv, I have often been asked “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on stage?”
I suppose it has to be what happened during a Saturday matinee halfway through a longish run of “Talking Heads” – a one woman monologue performed as part of a triple bill.
The performance had gone fabulously well up until the final scene. I was totally immersed in my character only slightly aware that the audience were listening intently and chuckling where appropriate. I was even moved to tears myself at points.
The final scene saw my character in a lighter mood, relaxed and even happy despite – or rather because of – imprisonment; at last she’d made some friends. It was a quick change and the director had the brilliant idea that I should commence the scene lolling on my cell bed putting on a pair of casual trainers as I describe my new environment.
Can you imagine the horror I felt when, having velcro-ed and tied the laces on the first shoe and commencing the second, I realised that I’d put the left trainer to my right foot?
Somehow the dialogue continued as I inwardly wondered what to do. Should I remove the first one and re-shod myself, asked corner one or brain? “Nah,” corner two advised, “just carry on and complete the fastening of the second trainer? No one will notice.”
Still nattering out loud, I realised that there was not enough time to re-dress my feet and that there was no reason why I could not do the rest of the scene on the bed, tucking my stupid feet beneath my buttocks. I carried on regardless hoping that Alan Bennett’s wonderful writing would speak for itself; which, I am assured, it did.
Of course the curtain call then presented its own problem. Should I kick off both trainers and bow bare-foot or would it be bette to just stay on the bed and hope the lighting guy would realise my predicament?
Would I trip over the loose lace on left foot if I moved down stage centre as directed? Was the director in?
I went with instinct. I decided to hold my head high and pretend all was normal and hobbled as confidently as I could to the front of the stage to acknowledge the applause.
The director was in the audience. She said it really made no difference and that I coped magnificently.
She was being kind.
Oh the joys of live performance.