I wonder how many people out there in the blogsphere, or even in the world, celebrated their 18th birthday by lugging heavy bits of scenery out of a van.
Probably not that many of them had joined a Youth Training scheme hoping to study photography, only to be given a place at a local Theatre on the grounds that “there’s lighting in theatre, and there’s lighting in photography” (I’m not making this up: that’s actually what my placement supervisor told me)
The scenery, mostly massive pipes and lighting rigs, was bloody heavy and came in large chunks ready to be bolted together. It was one of those affairs where everything arrived at 2pm and had to be set up for the first show at 7pm – so we were all busy: climbing through the rafters, defying Health and Safety regulations by standing on the edge of the 2nd floor boxes and leaning out to adjust lights (probably where my fear of heights originates) and generally making sure that we didn’t stand still for too long in case the carpenters painted over us (a common problem: if we left anything on the stage they would not move it, but just keep designing over and around it as required)
The play was a touring production of Godspell: featuring former 70’s rocker and Born-Again-Christian Albert Starbright as Jesus (the name has been mildly changed in a clever ruse to avoid being sued – no doubt Argent and The Watercats will see through my cunning plan…). All I can say about his Born-Again status is that it must have been painful for his mum, cos he was a big bugger!
It was just the latest in a series of touring plays and productions which had included the abysmal The Asylum (most exciting moment: part two where I got to wake up the audience towards the end with a loud sound effect – in fact we were asked to turn it down after a few performances) which starred a former movie star who used to drink her own urine, a production of the Elephant Man which, in a classic case of bad set design, had most of the important action (IE the nudity) happening where no member of the audience could possibly see it no matter how they craned their necks and a version of Wuthering Heights which appeared to star one of the Monty Python Gumby Men as Heathcliffe.
Once the show was set up I was assigned the all-important role of Follow-spot operator: the purpose of which is to stand next to a boiling hot light on a rotating stand and turn and focus it on whatever one is directed to point it at. This was great fun, aside from the fact that I didn’t own any black trousers at the time (you had to wear black from head to toe to cut down on visibility) and had to borrow some from the props department – meaning that I got lots of comments from the audience about my wearing my pyjamas.
Backstage Albert was a right royal pain in the arse, as one might expect from a Born Again Fading Rock Star. It turned out that he and the man playing Judas, rather ironically, had a long-standing feud about Judas’s sexuality (IE: he was gay)
One day I was sitting quietly in the Green Room (what they call the refreshments room for the actors and staff regardless of its actual colour) when Albert burst in, shouting abuse at Judas, calling him dirty, evil and against God (this may partially explain my feelings about religion), leaving the poor actor in tears.
For me the highlight of the show was the final few moments: with Jesus, or Albert, on the cross (OK his few hits were pretty bad, but not actually bad enough to justify crucifixion – although it’s a close call). My role was to hold an extremely narrow spotlight on his face whilst all around descended into darkness and he delivered his dying eulogy.
At the time I had yet to pass my driving test and did not possess a car. I say this because the play always ended with just a few seconds for me to dash around the corner and catch the last bus of the day…except that the death scene kept getting longer every night.
‘Oh…………..God…..’ Albert would warble.
The follow spot would begin to wobble by now, heavy as it was. The only focussing mechanism was a piece of cable by the side that one had to adjust between shows and ensure was still pointing you in the direction. You couldn’t afford to lock off the stand in case of unexpected movement and a small spot was very difficult to hold still… ‘I’m dy-i-ing’
There would be a dramatic pause. Everything was silence apart from the occasional grinding of my teeth as I willed him to get on with it
Long pause during which several new planets were discovered,
By now the tremours in the hand holding the follow spot would be getting more obvious and I would be forced to put the whole of my strength into holding the damn thing still
Come on, come on you bastard and die!
Cue followspot cue 49 – slam off to black and quickly shove the aperture back up to full for the final bows.
Cue actors leaving the stage
Cue one bloody annoyed follow-spot operator legging it to the bus stop