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It’s taken me a surprisingly long time to become aware of the kind of image you see here on the right. I mean, now that I know, I’m finding that the Internet is a-swarm with them – especially Pinterest, where I spend far more time than is good for me…  You type “backstage” or “theatre” or anything remotely related, and up they crop by the dozen.

So far, I’ve discovered to kinds of them: the peacock preening in front of a colourful background, for actors’ problems, quirk, and general lore; a badger against a black and gray background is for the backstage crew. Fitting, isn’t it?*

And yesterday, while looking for something else entirely, I stumbled across this particular badger – and had to laugh out aloud, because it is so, so, so true! I may or may not have mentioned that I do some lighting design for the Squirrels – and often find myself at the light-board, usually to “call”, and once in a blue moon to operate the board myself.

I’ve loved it from the first time – although it gives me more jitters than, say, walking on the stage or prompting from the wings… but what I found truly surprising for the first few times, was that, once the curtain is down, I have no idea how the play went on the whole.

The fact is, when you are at the board you simply don’t have the leisure to watch what goes on on the stage – except as a succession of discrete segments and moments, each defined by cues, and light and sound changes. You vividly notice when the blocking goes astray, and your heart sinks when that particular actor steps out of his light – no matter how many times you explained things to him, and you breathe in triumphant relief when the hitherto incorrigible kid does not, for once, speak his line over (or under) the thunder effect…

And these are the snapshots you will remember afterwards. Not the play as a whole.

For some reason, it’s difficult to explain to actors. “How did it go?” they keep asking. “How did I do with this and that line?” and “What did the pomegranate scene look like?”

I’ve rather given up trying to tell them that I have no idea, really, and that pomegranates and lines just fly over my head… Around Easter, we did a small Medieval thing in a local church. I was calling the lights for our electrician at the board, and there was this young trainee actress, who had no part but was eager to help, and kept asking, couldn’t she really, really do anything?

“Yes,” I told her, “sit by me, and watch the play, and take note of what works, and what doesn’t – so we know what to tell them when they ask afterwards.”

Elisa gave me a stare: I was there myself, wasn’t I? Why did I need her to tell me what the play looked like?

“Yes – but I won’t be watching the play,” I said – and Elisa stared some more.

Ah well, I guess I’ll send her the badger up there – and maybe have her “call” herself sometimes… perhaps it’s the only way to really “see” a play the way the person at the light-board does?


* And I say this after spending time both onstage and backstage…