Part of our series of blogs about theatre in different communities. Actor Andrew French reflects on the good things he has seen in lockdown.
I'm reminded of the song ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ by Bing Crosby - I've never felt so busy not working! Don't know about anyone else, but the virus and Zoom really can drop into a deep dark pit as far as I'm concerned.
It is reassuring I suppose, that seeing people, talking face to face, human touch is still so important. I'll never take it for granted again. At least, not until the next catastrophe or audition comes along. Whichever comes first. But I'm over this now. So if we could just get a cure that maybe comes in the form of ice lollies? That'd be great, thanks. This feeling would be doubly true if it wasn't for the fact that my garden has never looked better and my youngest son has learned a very great deal about superheroes during this lockdown. So, you know, where a door closes...
The other bonus has been the students and enthusiasts I have met due to the RSC Education team. I'm bound to say that, aren't I? But hear me out: they reach more people through their education department than any other theatre in the country (probably) and that sometimes gets lost in all the hand wringing about the state of British theatre.
You meet some students like the ones I met for a Zoom Q&A for a Bradford group who ask such brilliant questions. All of a sudden, all that matters is passion and communication and empowerment and you think, 'that's a good thing to have done,' and feel a bit better because the world just got a bit smaller. Homework Help questions (thoughtful questions and too long answers, I'm afraid) on the RSC website and Summer School readings all help to remind me, 'There is a world elsewhere.'
We were just about to open The Winter's Tale when Covid swept in. So much work was just starting to boil and then...My bag with all my dressing room nicknacks is under my bed, still packed, waiting patiently in the dark. We were just about to go into tech and I love tech. This is the time when all the technical aspects of the show get looked at: lights, costume, set etc. A whole community of talent working to get a show on. But I'll tell you a secret: no one really looks at the actors. It's great. I had had what I personally felt we're a terrible couple of runs at the end of rehearsals. Real dog poo. And was looking forward to doing it better (I.e. faster and louder) during tech. And that's gone. For now.
My first encounter with Shakespeare was directly connected to the RSC. My mother, sadly gone now, knew of the RSC and took me for a day trip to Stratford to 'get some culture' in me. I didn't understand any of it. But I felt it. Something stuck and I've been in love with the verse ever since. Mum made me read whole speeches out loud, which I'd do in front of family members and at parties. Can you imagine?? Makes my toes curl in embarrassment now, but the pride she had in seeing me reading...well, not surprising I ended up doing this for a living.
I hope that we get the chance to give that same theatre experience I had all those years ago (I'm not telling how many!) to those who come to see us when we get back. That feeling of a shared experience. It's never been about understanding every single bit of Shakespeare. For me, it's always felt like he's reaching a hand all the way from the 16th century and tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Psst, I wrote this bit just for you." The wonderful company we have (and they are all pretty extraordinary) are desperate to show you what we've done. You really should come see us. We'll be a sight to see.