September 10, 2012
Cameron Mackintosh has totally refurbished the Noel Coward and Wyndham's theatres. He is to be congratulated. He can afford it, but so can a lot of other people and they aint doing it.
I worked at the Wyndham's in an infamous production of As You Like It. And the dressing rooms were pretty rubbish. I decided to cover every inch of wall with posters. We were there for nearly four months, and by the time I left, the room was absolutely covered!
I shared a room with two gay actors and so there was a rule that we could not just have pictures of Tyra Banks in a bikini. It had to be interesting and sexy. Not my sexy. Our sexy. So there were semi nude men and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and quotations from Shakespeare plays and pre-Raphaelite prints and Rothko. It was quite a sight.
I loved being in that dressing room, because I was privileged to share with two men who I probably otherwise would never have met, who were charming and kind and witty. The room was shared. We swapped tips on everything from verse speaking to the best place to buy underwear. Heaven.
I tell this story because it illustrates the politics and diplomacy and luck that all goes into a happy dressing room. I am sharing with Mark Theodore and Ricky Fearon. God help me.
Occasionally, in a large cast, it is not possible for everyone to have their own room. We have to share. There is a politics to the rooms. In general, actors of the same level of experience are put together. Even if they have a different level of parts.
I used to wonder at older actors who were still performing in relatively small parts. I used to think 'why the hell are you sharing a room with me? Surely you don't still need the money? Shouldn't you be at home watching tv?' But I understand it now. It's addictive this stuff. The comraderie, the arguments, the laughter, the tears and tantrums. The love. 'If you want to be an actor', I used to say to my students, 'don't bother. But if you need to be...' It is in your blood, and once it gets hold of you it is devilishly hard to kick.
My current room mates are lovely. I have just realised that we basically always sit in the same order no matter what room we are in (we have been in three so far). Humans are creatures of habit.
A good dressing room needs a healthy mix of understanding, humour and good air conditioning. Am not sure what I would do if I was told that I would have to stay with someone else. Ricky and Mark are my friends now. I know their rhythms and they know mine. They hid my phone charger yesterday. What larks! They know how much I hate to lose things and we have been so tired recently that I figured I had just misplaced it. I suspect their prank backfired once they saw me on the floor crying and pleading with God as to why he had done this to me! I only exaggerate slightly.
Most dressing rooms are a bit of a mess. A mixture of comfort and practicality and take away food and costume. Messy is overstating it. Let's say extremely comfortable.
There are bottles of champagne from press night that are yet to be consumed and dying flowers. Newspaper articles that are hanging around begging to be read and recycled. Never enough place to sleep. There used to be beds when I worked at The Globe. Much fun. Perhaps too much, because I heard they got rid of them.
Anyway, I guess in these old theatres there is not enough space so you can often find actors curling up sleeping in the most surprising places. Even in Stratford a lovely new theatre, I used to sleep under the tables, with a towel as a pillow.
So, I love dressing rooms. They help remind me of where I've been and where I'm going. A permanent place to stay. For a little while.
by Andrew French
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