When I was twelve I was taken to see Charley’s Aunt in the West End of London. After the show we went backstage.
The stage doorkeeper announced us as visitors. We had to cross the stage to get to the dressing room on the other side, and I had my first view of an auditorium from an actor’s point of view. All those seats upholstered in red velvet. They were empty now, but only ten minutes ago had been full of people laughing. How could I get from out there to up here?
It’s a question that has never left me.
The set was latticed windows and ivy on stone walls. But the walls were facades, braced on wooden struts, held by stage weights. We crossed into the dark of the wings, and I caught a whiff of that unique backstage aroma, the mix of size (that they used to use to seal the canvass), tea (this was England), and sweaty humanity. Then into the warm glow of a dressing room. The naked light bulbs around the mirror and good luck cards and flowers. There was a small towel on the counter and sticks of greasepaint laid out neatly upon it and all kinds of cosmetic equipment. The place went into soft focus, like some moment-of-destiny scene from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
I was introduced to the middle-aged actor that we had just seen running around at full tilt in the show, chasing Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, the lady from Brazil (where the nuts come from). He seemed calmer now, jolly and friendly. He shook my hand and uttered some powerful words, “So you want to be an actor?”
That washed over me like an electric tsunami. I flushed beetroot red. I couldn’t speak. I just nodded. But I knew that I had to find a way to involved.
I’m at Dramaworks at the moment playing Hector in The History Boys until January 3rd. It’s an excellent production with a fantastic company. In Tales From The Backstage it’s as if Hector breaks out!
If you’re around in West Palm Beach on Tuesday 29th December at 3pm and at a loose end, come on over to Dramaworks …