Whispers from the Wings

The Carry On

November 15, 2012

Paul CopleyThere were many occasions when I got to stand in for the actors during the rehearsal period - during an evening or a weekend rehearsal perhaps or if an actor was absent. I always enjoyed this because it helped me get to know the play, the actor's process and the demands of the space – and see Tim from the point of view of the actor.

Tim announced then, on the final day of rehearsals that if there was an illness and an actor could not go on, then 'Caroline will go on with the book, and read the part'. There were essentially no understudies as it was a touring show. I giggled a bit at this and crossed my fingers that it would never happen.

Ohio, Friday 3 November. I was having a tour of the Ohio State University campus, and the phone rang. It was Ali, our company manager. She said she didn't want to alarm me but that one of the actors was sick and I might need to go on tonight. 'Nothing confirmed, but just think about it'.

The tour of campus continued and I was taken to see the Annie Liebowicz exhibition – and while the images were attracting attention I couldn't but think of the role I might have to play (Cordelia and Oswald) and what the actor playing her/him did.

Then a photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger's biceps took my attention and I was enjoying the exhibition again.

The phone rang again and Ali said coolly 'you're on'. I said 'OK' and a few other words to express my panic.

Of course this was the only day I had decided to leave the script at the hotel. I got a taxi back, and the taxi man waited as I trashed my room looking for script, something to wear, the plot I had made of Cordelia and Oswald (and never found until recently) and something to apply to my face for those dazzling lights.

I arrived at the theatre and I had an hour before the cast arrived to retrace the plot. The actors arrived, and we all looked at each other before I spoke. My voice was a little bit shaky, and I said 'so we've not had a rehearsal for this, but I think I know it, but it'll feel a bit unsafe tonight, and different'.

I turned to Paul, playing Lear, and I said 'I don't expect you to carry me on Paul at the end,' and he said stand up on that chair (in the dressing room) and I did. Everyone was around. And he said rest your head on my collarbone, and leave your arms limp and I'll hold you. And we tried – and he said 'I'll carry you. I want to.' And they all did, that night. They carried me – and we got through it as a team. It was an honor.

by Caroline Byrne  |  No comments yet


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Teaching Shakespeare