A game of two halves! The lights go up on stage and signals to the audience the beginning of their evening, and from the dim lights behind I see the silhouette of James, who plays Ryan, in position. The opening scene and we’re off!
For us as performers we straddle two worlds during the evening. The moment you enter the playing space: the ordered, rehearsed world of storytelling moment to moment and the absolute concentration, your whole body on alert listening to each other, making connections. And then the moment you step back into the darkness: the chaos of props, masks thrust onto sweaty faces, the joy of trying to pull on a pair of pantyhose onto perspiring legs (usually the wrong way) in said dimness, where the bagginess stretched from knees the night before now form what looks like a medical complaint.
At the same time, listening for your cue: the subtle placing of a prop on stage prompts a furtive frenzy of searching for shoes in the blackness. Shall I just run on without them? Will the audience think it strange that I, as an 80 year old respectable lady, have arrived in Asda to do my weekly shop bare foot? The mind splits into two… one half following the onstage scenario and one half contemplating what to do without shoes and a shopping basket. The heart beat increases, the perspiring legs are now a tributary!
I’m sure I set that prop. Did someone do the unthinkable and move it without me knowing? It’s a bit like the feeling you get when doing The Guardian crossword and seven across “a marine gastropod with a coloured shell” is surely a conch, but it doesn’t fit. They must’ve got it wrong. In the same way, it can’t be me, I definitely set that prop…You realise, yes, you did the other 49 times you did the show. But the more times you do it, the more that sense of ‘sliding doors’ grows.
I counted the number of costume changes I do in 90 minutes. Fifteen in all! I could give Madonna a run for her money in one of her spectacular concerts, changing for each number in a blink of an eye and not a strip of Velcro to be seen! I think that is the only thing I have in common with Madonna unfortunately, that and my middle name, Louise! You learn something new every day! The quick change becomes a piece of fine-tuned choreography, taking clothes off in such an order that they can be put back on at breakneck speed, and that the very arrangement of costume and props acts as a mnemonic. When you first begin, it helps to have these little reminders to jog your memory.
Sometimes the costume changes are so quick I I have the delight of having my pyjamas and dressing gown ripped off me by Rayo - for a lady of 50, being helped in this way by a rather handsome young man is considered a perk of the job. For those who may remember, I feel like Mr Ben in a revolving door of the fancy dress shop!
Other things happen when you’re in this strange, murky world behind, that no one sees. I’ve never considered myself sporty, but the moment you leave your mask on the other side of the stage when you are just about to go on suddenly invokes super powers. I manage to sprint without my feet touching the floor, as light as a bird, retrieve said mask, put it on the right way round, hope that the wig hasn’t flicked up or turned inside out and arrive on stage as if nothing has happened, and everything is about to happen.
My biggest fear is running on stage without a mask on at all. They become so familiar that the possibility becomes more and more likely. I have often wondered what I would do, and feel the only solution would be to do the whole scene under my jumper, or headless, or run off again and try to indicate to whoever was on stage...terribly sorry, major faux pas, cover me!
My other fear is the wrong mask, presenting a strange hybrid of 8-year-old child with a sergeant major head. Hmm, a “very interesting choice” The Guardian might say, "the actual manifestation of an old head on young shoulders. What a shame the motif was not carried through the rest of the play!"
Not being able to speak in the mask does have other complications. Once, I think I may have been late for a cue, but not realising it, was happily waving back to the other mask characters looming in the backstage darkness, thinking we were all commenting on what a lovely time we were having, and isn’t it all going terrible well! Only when someone physically pinched me and pushed me on did I have any idea at all!
When you’ve done a show a number of times the brain can do funny things. You can find yourself standing like a living statue, lights on and no one home, wondering where you are and how you got there. This is the time you have to be most vigilant!
Thankfully, unless you’re reading this blog, all you will witness on your visit to A Brace Face is a finely-tuned and sensitive performance about Ryan, a Veteran from Afganistan and his story.
Photo: Graeme Braidwood