Thursday, 3 March 2011
Gut Girls - Opening night
As I walk through the door it immediately feels different. Row upon row of chairs fill the hall's empty floor space, facing expectantly towards the stage. People are moving around, checking the lights, placing the props, setting up the bar; each of them quiet but purposeful.
It's different backstage as well; costumes hang neatly on a rail, grouped together for each character; hats are piled up on a table and a huge box of gaudy jewellery is tucked away just beneath it. Next to the hats, individually addressed envelopes are laid out, each with a rose carefully placed across it; cards and good luck messages, one for each member of the cast from our director Lonnie. She's back with us tonight. Each arm in plaster and a sling - not one, but two broken wrists from the previous night's fall. Ignoring any pain or discomfort, she carefully steps around us, quietly reassuring, giving out a few reminders.
The space behind the stage doubles up as the storage room for the village playgroup, so there's not much room for manoeuvre, but the same sense of quiet purpose pervades. Each of us slowly adjusting to the mood of our colleagues, offering to tie an apron ribbon, do up a hard-to-reach dress hook, or help locate a mis-placed boot. Others sit quietly, feeling the need to silently mouth their lines just one more time.
All too soon it's time for us to take our places on stage. We're moving around the gutting sheds, in character, as the audience take their seats, but I'm too nervous to look out, see how many of the rows are filled. Once they're all sitting the lights go down. When they come back up we begin.
"Stand yerself up girl, and whatever you do, don't take no deep breaths, that won't do yer no good in here"
My first line in the play is spoken to a timid new member of the gut girls on her first day in the sheds; but I almost feel as if I'm saying it to myself, willing my nerves back under control, telling myself I'll be ok. And it works; suddenly I've switched into character, the lines are coming at the right times, I've remembered what I'm supposed to do.
It makes such a difference to have an audience out there, reacting to what we're saying and doing. It's not always the reaction we'd expected and certainly not always at the right time, but nonetheless it makes it all seem more alive. Backstage there are speakers, so we can hear what's being said out front. By now we all know the sections where we've struggled to get it right, we stand there listening, holding our breaths, willing the characters to get the words out; we breathe a collective sigh of relief when they do and the audience responds.
As scene after scene passes without mishap and we near the end of the first half we start to relax, we begin to exchange smiles, someone's even brave enough to whisper what we've all started to think.
"It's going alright, isn't it?"
And then, almost before I know it, we've said our last words and we're lining up for our curtain call. Our first performance is over, the audience is clapping loudly, and their applause continues as we make our way off stage.
Of course Lonnie still has notes for us; things she's already asked us to do dozens of times that we keep on forgetting, things that we promise we'll remember for tomorrow. She points out the odd late entrance, the occasions when we weren't quite standing in the right place for the lights. We know ourselves where we mixed up our words, stumbled into the end of someone else's speech. All of this will keep us on edge, make sure we try just as hard again tomorrow. Nevertheless, tonight we leave with smiles on our faces, we did ok.