In more standard theatre venues what you do before entering a scene is wait. In the wings or the dressing room typically. Maybe the corridor you’ve strolled through to get to the wings. You wait with your fellow cast members and try to keep quiet.
When it comes to outdoor theatre, you end up in some odd places waiting. These can range from car parks to antique chests, behind trees to dirty great holes in the ground. Sometimes with your colleagues, often not. The only company you can have for a while are your own thoughts or maybe an animal or two. In the dark on your own, if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow try not to be alarmed.
What happens when you inevitably meet a member of the public? That person who isn’t part of the show but who’s day and environment you’ve just made a little bit odd?
These encounters are usually brief and to the point;
“What’s all this about then?”
You learn to distill the entire plot. You become adept at directing people to websites to try and sell that last remaining ticket.
Not all encounters are like that. Some will stay back and just watch you. You’re bordering on an installation. Carrying out a mundane task for you becomes a fascination. What is a man dressed like that doing with a bunch of sticks with fairly lights on? Occasionally I feel a bit like this:
Who knows what those who have a nice distance shot are thinking? Others will want a photograph, so a quick pose and off they go.
A man was in the middle of a phone call once whilst I was waiting. Within his conversation he said to whomever was on the other end – “There’s a bloke in trainers and wings just… standing.” No enquiry as to why I was standing there. He moved on a minute before 40 people dressed in red ran up a big hill. He would have had a lovely view, and his quizzical look would have been partially answered. Oh well! I often wonder what the other person said.
Then we move onto the more involved micro-interactions. I once gave a couple of gentlemen a mini-lecture on George Merryweather whilst being George Merryweather. One of them furiously jotted down notes. All this whilst stood on a lovely little bridge in Watchet, from which I was dangling an enamel cup attached to string over a steam and within that cup was a liquorice slug. That didn’t interest them in the slightest.
A couple of women stopped me once to say how much they loved my odd socks. I was arresting poets at the time, so asked if they saw any would they help me? They laughed and cheerily pronounced they would aid and abet their crime! Good day madams!
During my last tour, I have a task where I ask my group to gather sticks. A small moment in the grand scheme. After the show I’m wrestling with a barrier to the let a car out of the venue. I’m still in costume. A young woman darts across the road towards me, who I recognise from the show that evening. Reaching me she hands me a stick. I give the appropriate character response “That’s a nice stick”. Away she goes without saying a word. The performance was resurrected one last time a few hours after it ended.
Does all this mean anything? Well I like to think I’m doing my bit for Kayfabe! Also it reinforces that particularly once in costume, any number of things can happen. Even though we’re still trying to control as much as possible, this type of performance is open to the elements. As we know the elements will shape whatever it comes in contact with. I wasn’t trained for that as I was taught in the very controlled environment of rehearsal rooms and theaters. We briefly puncture each others realities – that person going for a stroll and me waiting for the show.
A very select audience get a bespoke interaction. Unplanned, very rarely unwelcome and can be great fun.