I think a great test of whether or not you could truly love doing something as a job for the rest of your life is to do it for a really long time every day and see if you want to run away screaming. Unless it’s your life’s passion this will most likely be the case. I know from experience that weeks of four films a day in uncomfortable cinema seats, 12 hour shoots and 18 hour editing marathons as well as endless paperwork have not turned me away from my film-based dreams. Theatre, however, is a different story.
A lot of people seem to think theatre and film work must be similar environments. I mean I suppose both are entertainment mediums and involve actors so there are undeniably things in common. Personally, I feel the relationship is more like the one between the two very definitely opposite and differently formed sides of a coin.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really like theatre. The distinction I’m making here is that I don’t think I could dedicate my life to it (but then I’ve got such problems being consistent that I’m too scared to buy a plant in case I get bored of it – so this may change) For the last six months I’ve been surrounded by more theatre than I ever could have expected. Granted, a lot of this was because I was filming and editing live theatre performances (which, by the way I recommend as an experience to any aspiring director) It’s a strange task that puts you halfway between crew and spectator. You have a job to do but that job involves watching the performance and, if the performance is good, it’s relatively impossible not to end up enjoying it and being moved like any other audience member. In two months I had filmed seven different student plays ranging from the bizarrely provocative to the sublime and at least twice was brought to tears by what I was seeing. There were some truly amazing shows in there that I would otherwise never got an opportunity to watch.
During this time I’ve remembered or maybe rediscovered a lot of things that lay dormant since my amateur theatre days. Because yes, I too, had a time when I performed on a stage. I wasn’t a revelation, I was far more interested in the lighting box and bossing people around. Besides, my theatre group wasn’t exactly the Cambridge Footlights but I’ll be damned if we didn’t have fun. There’s a joy in the backstage that doesn’t exist in any other place. My first discovery was that if you have to ask “am I allowed to go there?” the answer is no. Within a professional working theatre me and the shooting team quickly found our boundaries. The auditorium? Free rein, even with a red rope across it. Stage manager’s box? Fine, so long as the stage manager’s in there. Offices and equipment store? Basically our terrain. Green Room? NO. Are you INSANE? The ARTISTES are in there. Enter at own risk or if invited specifically by a friendly company member.
My next foray into theatre land has been a little more prolonged, and I’ve had the pleasure of being witness to, if not entirely part of, a rehearsal team and residential from the very start of a theatre project. I’m working on the video-projection for a production and so I was invited to the residential to see the production come together. (If the director happens to be reading this, yes I am actively working on this, yes it is slow, I am more than aware). I was thrown in at the deep end to the world and habits of actors. I was once very in touch with this atmosphere and even good at the kinds of games and physical exercices that are used as warm-ups. Somewhere along the line, however, all of this became associated with the feeling of a very specific time and place and being younger. I was almost shocked to find that there are people to whom this is still normal, everyday life. It certainly resembles nothing I currently know.
This whole theatre immersion came to a head when I spent two consecutive nights at theatre events, the first of which was an introductory presentation of the most recent play from a famous French theatre director. It was an opportunity I couldn’t quite believe to be able to attend and I listened attentively to everything said, excited to be hearing it at all. The next night I went to see that old theatre group of mine (by my calculations I spent over 10 hours on trains that weekend – someone remind me why I thought moving was a practical long-term arrangement?), or at least what the next generation of them has become. They’re far better now than they were when I was there and I was moved to tears by a show for the third time in six months. The group is now directed by a friend I had while I was there. The play I’m working on in Paris also happens to be directed by a member of that same group. My experiences and impressions of backstage life are pretty inextricably linked to that little local theatre. While I’m very happy to see these plays or even be involved in as much as I can, this recent theatrical immersion has mainly served to inspire and point me back towards a cinema and a camera, equipped with new skills friends and ideas that I wouldn’t have got from anywhere else.