Celebrating the RSC's unsung heroes

Whisper #84

Hello Ladies and Gents,

Here is your final blog from me and from the Swan Company of the 2018 summer season. The Duchess of Malfi and Miss Littlewood closed last weekend and now the machine continues with the impending opening of Tamburlaine, to be followed by Tartuffe and Timon of Athens. Exciting times. I’m especially excited about Tartuffe as it’s set in Birmingham, close to my neck of the woods.  Good luck with those accents if you aren’t a native!

I thought I would use this blog to say thank you to some of the unsung heroes at the RSC. When we had our induction back in December, we were told there was something like 900+ employees attached to the RSC. And that's just the regular contracted staff, so not including the actors, freelance teachers, wardrobe covers and more. It is quite the machine.

Backstage is a particularly well-oiled part of this machine. Run by the stage managers, they were all so cool and made sure both shows ran without a hitch. There was a lot to take care of. In Malfi, BLOOD BLOOD AND BLOOD! Then you had a cast of over 20 people in Mrs Rich, with extremely lavish period costumes and a couple of dogs to boot. Plus, Miss Littlewood, an all-singing, all-dancing cast with props and set constantly moving. Each respective play had its headaches, as well as dealing with us actors (we are a precious wee bunch on occasion) and maintaining the integrity and vision of the director’s work. Additionally, the sound team had to make sure we always sounded beautiful – which isn’t easy considering some of the singers we had! Heeey ohhhhh!

The cast and creatives of The Duchess of Malfi covered in blood.
The cast and creatives of The Duchess of Malfi.

Behind that team comes the aesthetics of Costumes, Wigs and Stage Crew. Not always easy to deal with people trying to pin pegs or bits of tape to other people’s costumes! They were also nice in letting me constantly use their iron whilst in my show shirt and boxers. On a few occasions, I encountered theatre tours in this attire – they should’ve been charged extra for that cheeky treat!

The Wigs team were always there helping us out, making sure we actually had them on and that they looked decent on your head. Particularly true for me as a follically-challenged actor who’s forgotten what it’s like to have hair! You should see the work these ladies do. They have like a really intricate little netting that is the shape of the recipient’s head. The squares are so small, like super mini fishing net, and they will sit and individually pull each strand through. Individually. Then on top of that, the wig may need highlights, different colours, hair growing in different directions. It takes around 5 days (7 hours per day) to make an individual wig. Think of the number of hours involved in making the wigs for Mrs Rich alone!

The stage crew deserve mad credit, too, especially when we went from a Malfi matinee to a Mrs Rich or Littlewood evening show. They essentially had two and a bit hours to clean up all the blood, pull down the scaffolding, re-fit a new floor and clean everything backstage so the beautiful dresses and white costumes wouldn’t get blood on them. That is real hard work and pressure.

Graeme Brookes in a wig from Mrs Rich.
Graeme in a wig from The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich.

We also had Artist Forums where the head producer and other senior RSC figures would listen to all topics raised by actors, ranging from understudy frustrations, rehearsal and warm up issues, food in the Green Room, being a parent, environmental concerns and so much more. Even the big cheese Greg Doran made himself available, putting up a schedule to let people drop in for a visit. It was a bit like visiting the Pope! I spoke to Greg (and I also had a meeting with Hannah from Casting, which she didn't have to do) and one of the things we spoke about was being a working-class actor and how that is represented within the company. This is obviously a link to the important work of diversity at the RSC and both were clearly receptive of everything I said. I think it must be acknowledged that the theatre, and perhaps especially the RSC, used to have a reputation of using a particular type of actor, with people from other walks of life often struggling. However, I think that is a very old viewpoint and not reflective at this stage. Things have changed significantly and it will only continue, with the RSC most definitely leading the charge. Just take a look at their programming and casting across 2018. It’s as obvious as there is a nose on my face - so credit must go to the casting team, Greg and Erica.  

As for representing the working class, I don’t necessarily know how you do that. I don’t know how you quantify ‘working class’ for starters. I don’t know how without me showing the area I was from, the school where I was educated, and the salary bracket I was raised in. I know you can’t reflect class in a regional accent, that’s for sure. I think that’s a very tricky one but I know it’s something the RSC is actively working on and will continue to change in. I am confident that actors of my background and others will continue to go from strength to strength with the RSC.

On that note, I am going now as I need to find a job! Thanks for reading all my blogs, thanks for the time, thanks for the donations for the Marathon back in April and thanks for the feedback about the mental health blog. Good luck to all those people who reached out to me after it.

Hopefully I will be back one day soon. We can but see.

Take care,
G. x

So a massive thanks to Paul, Pip, Jess, Polly, Gabs, Lorna, Niamh, Jen, Claire, Sarah, Andy, Jake, Becks, Mikey, Rose, Laura, Rach, Debs, LuLu, Charlie, Matt, Julian, Shelley, Craig, Ben, Dan, Sarah - and if I forgot anyone, I am so sorry. I know I speak on behalf of the company - You're all amazing and your work was so appreciated.


Graeme Brookes

Graeme Brookes

Graeme Brookes has been an actor for 13 years. He is a native of the Black Country, supports Walsall FC, likes Vimto and Pick & Mix. Follow Graeme on Twitter @Mr_Brookes04

Read Graeme's biog

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