Whispers from the Wings

Understudying Boris

December 19, 2012

Youssef in a suit backstageSo the Boris Godunov understudy run happened and I'm alive to tell the tale. We had two days to fit it all in to place on stage. The backstage area was like a warzone as people frantically searched for bits of missing costume, entrances and general 'what's happening now' answers.

I cover Boris Godunov and literally had no idea where I would move to next and what I would wear at which point. My dresser was the lovely Linda Williams. I call her Michelle when I get tired. Don't know why. Just comes out. I was Michelling her left right and centre.

Air force pilots reach a point while they're flying where what they see out the window can't be used as a navigational tool. You can only fly the plane looking at the instruments and screens in front of you. That was Linda. 'Go on stage wearing this, then come straight back to me here and take a break for about 15 minutes.' Beautiful mania.

But it went very well. Our assistant director on Boris is Emily Kempson and she's the one who directed the understudy run. What a brilliant career she's going to have.

She managed to pull off an incredible task, rehearsing, tech-ing and putting on a brilliant run two days after the main show's press night. It takes a lot of trust in your actors and confidence in your abilities (as well as bucket loads of talent). She did a fantastic job.

When you understudy roles that are bigger than the one you actually play in the show, it can be a little hard. No one feels as though they have too little to offer, it's usually the other way around.

Understudy runs, while being the one time you get to practice the role you're covering, are also about letting those people express themselves artistically who have hitherto remained more silent than others. No assistant director is a career assistant. No one covering a bigger role is a career bit part actor. But everyone does what needs to be done in order to shine their light a little and the run is a beautiful and unique time for many people. The support from everyone at the RSC is very touching.

After the run they serve tea and cake in the canteen and we get to hear the feedback. A week from today we'll be repeating the experience with The Orphan of Zhao understudy run. As I bowed as Boris Godunov this afternoon, I began running my lines for next week. My head lowered as Boris and rose up 'I am Tuang Gu, head of the palace guard...'

It never stops...

PS: This is what they call the whirlwind.

by Youssef Kerkour  |  No comments yet


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