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World Theatre Day, World Poetry Day and a Writers' Reading
Happy World Theatre Day!
Recently I had to make the difficult decision to postpone my next theatre show until a later date after several members of the cast and crew became unavailable for various reasons. The show of course must, and will, go on, but this will now be at a later date, which will allow us to put on something which is as good as we know it can be.
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This got me thinking about different rituals which exist in theatre which we do to ensure that shows go well and the habits theatre companies have that have literally been around for centuries.
Here are some of my favourites and some of the things I do before, during and after show runs:
The ghost light
The tradition of leaving a ghost light on in theatres seems to have fallen out of fashion; I certainly haven’t seen one during a get in (the delivery of your set, props and actors to the venue), but theatres these days have enough problems without throwing electricity into thin air, so maybe that’s why.
A ghost light is a single light which is left on when the theatre is empty. There are two theories behind the reasoning behind ghost lights: one dull and one fun.
Getting the dull one out of the way first, the ghost light is there for health and safety purposes. Anyone who has been in place on a dark stage knows that they are pitch black, and the lights on the stage before the lights go down shock your eyes so the darkness is felt even more. There’s therefore a rule that no one moves during a black out. Between performances the stage would be in this extreme level of darkness, so the ghost light is there to prevent anyone falling or otherwise hurting themselves. There’s another health and safety reason relating to the original gas lights used in theatres, and that keeping one lit prevents the gas valves overloading and blowing up. So the ghost light has two ways of keeping everyone in the theatre safe and sound.
The fun reason is that ghost lights exist for the theatre’s resident ghost to use when they are rehearsing out of hours. Even ghosts don’t want to rehearse in the dark after all, and it’s this superstition which inspired my short online play, Ghost Light, which was performed by Liverpool Network Theatre Group in May 2021.
Vocal warm up
All good theatre companies do a little vocal warm up together before a show, both to (obviously) warm up their voices and to bring everyone together as a cast.
Vocal warm ups can include everything from silly tongue twisters, serious and not so serious songs, and a variety of bending the voice in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.
At school, we always included a song with the lyrics Fe, Fi, Fo, Feesta, which was a call and response song, which looking for it now, seems to have been inspired by a real song but officially doesn’t really exist. To this day I always sing it on days I’m performing or directing, even though it’s no longer with the rest of the cast. I also always sing Non, je ne regrette rien, without fail, I think mostly to convince myself I still know the words and so can learn lines and I click my tongue while doing my stage make up after being told that if your lipstick is going to end up on your teeth, this is the way to make it happen backstage, so it can be fixed before showtime!
There are lots of contradictory stories about when and how flowers should be given in theatres.
The rules as I understand them are as follows:
Flowers should never be handed out before a performance as this could jinx the performance and create bad luck
The only member of a cast to receive flowers on stage should be the leading lady, and the bouquet should be passed to the leading man by the director to present
Flowers should not be scattered all over the stage as seen in silent movies - if flowers are to be thrown on the stage this should be done during monologue performances only with a single red rose to be thrown at the performer’s feet
All very strange and complicated. If you appreciate a performance I think it’s easier to show that with a standing ovation and, if you have the opportunity, buying the actors a drink in the bar afterwards!
Use and removal of props
My theatre company, Pique Niche, has had the same teaset on stage for every show we’ve done, so it has become a little bit of tradition to have it there and I’m not sure what I’ll do if my next show doesn’t require one - I may force one in for old time’s sake.
On the subject of props, I know more than one actor who is in the habit of keeping something as a souvenir. I, of course, have never done anything of the sort…
Costume cleaning and contact
This is one that can go both ways, but there are some that believe cleaning your costume during a run can cause bad luck. Others think that costumes should be cleaned as often as possible, drying time considered.
I’ve also seen people who can’t share items of costume for fear of jinxing luck, for example, during a production of Twelfth Night, our Viola wore one of Sebastian’s ties and we needed to get duplicates as the actors didn’t want to share the same one.
Make up brush cleaning
When I’m doing make up for a show, I obviously always use clean brushes and every actor has their own “set” to prevent cross contamination. I always wash my brushes after a show, and even though they’re clean, even if I’m only doing my own make up, I wash them before a show too.
It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to make up hygiene, so I keep my make up kit as clean as possible all the time. Traditionally though, you should always make sure that the make up you use for your dress rehearsal is the same make up you use on opening night as it’s bad luck to use new make up for the opening of a show.
The Scottish Play
Most people are familiar with the tradition of not saying Macbeth in a theatre for fear of bringing bad luck upon the production, cast and crew. Widely acknowledged, legend has it that the curse stems from Shakespeare using real incantations in his script and therefore being cursed by a coven for being disrespectful.
The play has always been unlucky, with the original Lady Macbeth apparently dying suddenly meaning William himself had to take on the role. Another reputed issue with the original play was stage weapons being inadvertently swapped for real ones meaning the actor playing King Duncan was really killed on stage.
If you accidentally say the name of the play in the theatre, there’s an elaborate dance to do before you knock on the theatre door to regain admittance, however, there are also rumours that the curse was entirely invented by the Bard in an attempt to sell tickets for a show utilising the fear of witchcraft during a time when Matthew Hopkins and company were super active in their rooting out and unwarranted executions of
many women and some menwitches.
Avoidance of performances
Many directors ask their actors to watch previous productions of shows as part of preparation for performance, but it’s something I personally steadfastly avoid. I’m very conscious of accidentally impersonating someone, particularly someone famous, so don’t watch anything that’s being performed previously while I am rehearsing.
Last year, when I performed It’s a Wonderful Life with Formby Little Theatre was the first Christmas I didn’t watch the James Stewart film in as long as I can remember, though knowing that film as well as I do, it probably didn’t affect anything anyway.
Break a leg
Another well known one, you should never wish an actor “good luck” but say “break a leg”.
This comes from the curtain line ie the boundary between backstage and onstage being known as the leg line, so breaking a leg was getting onto the stage. Stemming from traditional theatres where variety performers could be onstage all night if they were good enough, this was a way of saying to a performer you hoped they made it onto the stage that night and, consequently, got paid.
Anyone not breaking the leg line was going to have a hungry evening.
Bowing three times
How many times you’re supposed to bow is something that’s argued about a lot, but I love the tradition of bowing three times. Once for the words (the writer), once for the Bard and once for the crew.
I hope you’ve had a lovely day thinking about theatre and celebrating one of our oldest and greatest art forms.
I was so very humbled after taking part in Debbi Voisey’s Writers’ Reading this month. Thank you so much to everyone who came and sent such lovely feedback and comments.
World Poetry Day
Last week saw World Poetry Day and I shared this poem exploring labels.
Of course, April is fast approaching, and I’ll once again be taking part in NaPoWriMo, so lots more poetry will be shared very soon.
Seventy years of books
Seventy years of books is back after my festive break and continuing with the Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola. I’ve got some great 1952 films coming up over the next few weeks.
Over on Sea Invisible, my newsletter about living with invisible disability, I’ve been reflecting on The Possibility of Colour, a fantastic show I reviewed last year, and also contemplating my experience of PE at school.
Meow. I was very sad to hear that Paul Newman, the Liverpool South Parkway Cat, had passed over the Rainbow Bridge. My old home was close to the station so I knew Paul in passing, though as neither of us liked other cats very much, we were not friends. We did however share a mutual dislike of dogs and we both knew what it was like to live with being ridiculously beautiful. He will be very much missed by felines and humans alike. Purr.
What I’m reading
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Things that have caught my eye
JMW Turner with Lamin Fofana: Dark Waters and The Turner Prize 2022 I went to see the Turner/Fofana exhibition at Tate Liverpool. I love Turner’s work, especially his seascapes which give a sense of the incredible way he was able to capture light and the movement of water in so many different ways. The soundtrack by Fofana was a great feature as well and really enhanced the feel of the pieces, particularly in the second room of the exhibition which explored disasters on the water. While we were there we of course took the opportunity to visit the 2022 Turner Prize exhibition, which is of course named after JMW himself. There were some great pieces here to, and I particularly enjoyed Sin Wai Kin’s explorations of boyband culture.
Viking Pagan Gods in Britain This was a great talk exploring the impact of Viking Gods on Britain both during the settlement and the last effect on our lives today. It was so interesting it went very quickly and I couldn’t believe it when it was over!
Brodsky Quartet: Celebrating 50 Years – St George’s Hall, Liverpool A very special fiftieth anniversary performance by the Brodsky Quartet which I reviewed for North West End UK. A beautiful concert in a beautiful venue.
Margaret Atwood at Liverpool Philharmonic This was a great event and I was very lucky to get tickets as there were only about five left when I bought them! Really looking forward to reading the new book and the interview was so interesting and gave me an idea to revitalise one of my old rejected stories!
Liverpool Wind Collective: Close Up Concert – Liverpool Philharmonic Another North West End review, this was a lovely concert with some very interesting twists.
Cosmic – Liverpool’s Royal Court I was out reviewing nearly every night last week, and this was a very funny play which turned into a proper little date night for us, with a lovely tea at Ask Italian before the show.
Explorations – Royal Liverpool Philharmonic I was very lucky to review this world premiere of a harpsichord concerto. It was a fantastic experience.
Stone on Stone – Epstein Theatre My final review of last week, this was a really interesting play about Charlie Chaplin and James Larkin. A great cast and little known story made this a very thought provoking drama.
Super cute Easter bunny! I don’t usually decorate the house for Easter, but I couldn’t resist this cute bunny succulent plant from Lidl over the weekend. He has pride of place on our mantelpiece and is officially in charge of spreading Easter cheer.
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