Hell is other people. Hell is other people in tech. Tech is hell. Our play is set in hell.
Some actors love tech. Some actors lose their shit like me. It must be something to do with feeling powerless. At first it's incredibly exciting. The dressing rooms, setting out all your stuff under the mirrors. Those mirrors that never loose their thrill. We all get into our costumes and look incredible. They have our names, character, 'Dr Faustus' and 'RSC' on a printed label stitched into them. Even the socks. The theatre is breathtaking. All that wood. (I think the Swan is the most beautiful theatre I have had pleasure of standing on. Speaking on. Do I sound like a thesp at the RSC yet?! Yesssssss!)
On the first day of tech we sit and watch wide eyed at the scenes of the play we're not in and at the people at the top of their game plotting light and sound and music and projections and we all take selfies and think about how proud our Mum's will be when they are sat in the stalls.
Then it's the second day. The second day when the adrenalin has worn off and we're a little bit groggy from the day of adrenalin and the evening in the Dirty Duck celebrating our day of adrenalin. The second day when we are repeating the same four costume quick-changes over and over and over again. FOR NINE HOURS.
The first quick-change for me is from scholarly spectacles, tie and top hat into a slinky number for Lucifer which I winch myself into with the help of Laura, my dresser. A new wig is artfully plonked onto my head as I apply bright red lips and then leg it to the other side of the wings where I shove my sweaty feet into my patent high heels and shakily do up the buckles. I take a moment to compose myself and step onto stage after a huge drum roll. It all takes under three minutes. I have been doing everything I can in the last few weeks to avoid being intimidated by my own entrance. Perhaps not having enough time to think about it will help?
The second quick-change is out of my slinky number into a pious, billowing, 'Friar' costume which Laura has waiting for me to step into. It has a face covering so we look terrifying but it makes seeing a little more difficult. I join the line of Friars and enter stage left just in time.
My third quick-change is from 'Friar' into 'Soldier'. I'm really sweating by this time. Laura and I do a complicated dance where I somehow transform into a fascist, knee-high booted, faceless killer and run round the back of the stage again squinting through my black balaclava hoping I haven't missed my downstage right queue light.
Then I'm back to demonic scholarly demands and this change can go at less of a lick. We're talking 5 minutes. Dripping with sweat I get back into my first costume and enjoy being able to expose my face to the air conditioning backstage. I put on my original wig, top hat and glasses, grab a beer bottle and am ready to party Faustus into his own demise.
This happened over and over again in various combinations for the next three days in tech and I didn't cope well. Internally. I made sure I was polite and did everything I was told with apparent ease but inside I felt nuts. My emotions ranged from hysterical joy as I pissed about with everyone backstage, to mild irritation at the heat and repetition, to being on the verge of exhausted, hot tears inside my balaclava. I think I ended up somewhere close to murderous rage at everyone around me as we were told to reset, and reset, and reset.
This week has been the week when all the months of planning and organising and making and ordering and meetings and discussions have been brought to brilliant fruition by the creative and technical team. The show is looking and sounding more fabulous than I could have ever expected and backstage is like a well run obstacle course. None of it is thanks to my impatience or inner turmoil.
Now there's a different kind of turmoil. We put it all- together in the dress rehearsal today, and now we have no choice but to show the public what we have been working towards for twelve weeks, TONIGHT. It is my dinner break as I am writing this, and I am currently trying to keep myself calm in whatever way possible. I have decided to sit in Starbucks and have a skinny flat white and a tuna panini. I'm not entirely sure why I'm here, doing this. I think it's because right now I could be anywhere in the world. In this Starbucks I can pretend I'm in Islington, or Gatwick airport or San Francisco. Somewhere else where I don't have to deal with the immediate reality that it is my first opening night at the RSC. A huge part of me would gladly put a balaclava back on and sit in the dark and the heat backstage for another nine hours right now, instead of taking a trembling, patent-healed step onto that stage in front of an audience.
Granny, this one's for you. She was a go-er. I'll think of her when I hear that drumroll. She was the first person to take me to the theatre and she would have loved to have seen her granddaughter perform a satanic dominatrix number as Lucifer on the Swan stage tonight. I think I might love it too.