That’s my real name, btw.
I’ve been working on this Cabaret at atyp, Tease and it’s been really fun. A bunch of really nice, fun, talented performers from Darwin and Sydney doing crazy acts and bits and things. There are all sorts of acts, but Tim and I are in it (as our ‘double act’: DoubleBooked) to do comedy, magic and fire. All kinds of fun.
Yesterday I walked into the theatre at call time and was stopped by the technical manager of atyp. He wanted to congratulate me on my professionalism and for saving the show. He said I was the embodiment of the skills they were trying to instill in their young actors learning at atyp. Well done me.
The cabaret is a series of acts strung together by an mc (oddly), while the audience and performers sit around the stage at cocktail tables (bar tables? cocktail tables? that’s a thing, yes? no? fine: sitting at tables.) and one of the acts is a comic called ‘Felix Barbosa’ – a rough, southern, hard-drinking, cowboy-esque rascal who does Star Wars puns. On Thursday night he was having some trouble with his mic stand and it was ruining the bit. He had his guitar and the mic in hand so there wasn’t a lot he could do about it so there was an awkward moment or two while we watched him struggle. Feeling his pain, I jumped up and helped him (and failed too, comically) and ended up just standing there, holding his mic to his face. I made sure not to pull focus and did my best to look like I was trying not to laugh at the jokes I had heard many times before as he finished his set. Success.
The show carried on and everything went fine until Tim and I got up to do our second act. If you haven’t seen the show (and looking at ticket sales, that’s a certainty) Tim and my second set is pretty good. It basically goes: Joke, Joke, Joke, I leave, Tim gets an audience member to choose a random word from a random page from a random book and then hands them an envelope with that word written in it, everybody claps, I burst in and proceed to do an incredibly dangerous fire breathing act, everybody claps, end.
On Thursday night everything was going fine (Joke, Joke, Joke) but then something went wrong with Tim’s magic trick. I won’t go into details (because magic) but basically a crucial part of the trick went wrong (“went wrong” is pretty much the only safe phrase to use here). Tim knew it and I knew it, but the audience didn’t realise and were still waiting for the big reveal. About 3 seconds of silent terror went by (for us, not the audience. for them: 3 seconds of misleading suspense) before I screamed out from backstage “Hey Tim! I’ve got a trick for you!” and then burst on stage early with the fire trick.
That’s it. That was my big saviour moment. I knew Tim was stuck and I knew I could help him, so I did.
My point is: (I feel bad that I keep having to write “My point is:” for these blog things. Surely good writers just make their points self-evident. Surely good writers don’t just tell interesting (?) stories and then shoe-horn a point in later. Surely good writers don’t cry themselves to sleep each night….
Don’t call me Shirley…)
But, my point is: those kinds of skills (skills? instincts? habits?) are not natural things. Actors learn or are taught by experience when to save a show or cover a mistake or rush for time or stretch to cover a change and so on and so on. I keep talking about what it means to be an ‘actor’ or even an ‘artist’ in our tiny industry and I think the real answer lies in these little details. A real ‘professional actor’ isn’t a person who gets paid to act (despite that being the literal meaning of ‘professional actor’) but someone who, no matter what, will serve the show.
That’s why “the show must go on” is such a catchy catch-cry – because a true professional knows that the show is the thing and the whole of the thing. Rehearsals, marketing, design, salary etc all exist to serve the show (and definitely not the other way around – a paid show is not a means to make money, a paid show is a means to do a show and not have to work your other job(s) at the same time).
A professional actor is forged in the fires of covering up fuck-ups on stage. Every time someone has to say: “But soft, what light from yonder window breaks… I hope… any minute now… aha! It is the east!” or “Alas, poor Yorrick! I knew him, Horatio… *phone rings* …even now I hear the bells of heaven ring!” or even “What is it, Mr Worthing? You look like you have something to say… perhaps about your name?” (I’ve got a thousand of these) – they learn that the theatre is magic and everyone in the building wants desperately for the play to keep going no matter what.
So, I guess the lesson is: if you want to be a good actor, don’t learn how to act, learn how to keep going if someone skips a scene, forgets a prop or accidentally breaks one of your ribs on stage. And then learn how to act – it’s actually kinda necessary.
ps. as a reward for reading, here is a picture of me doing fire in a heritage listed, wooden building.