A fire! But the Ugly Sisters saved the night.
If you’ve read some previous posts you’ll know I was an actor for many years, touring the UK, or working in repertory theatres around the country. I was also an actor here in Australia until necessity saw me give up what I’d loved doing for so long: a child, a husband who worked overseas, and no family as back up for babysitting. I’d get a call from my agent at 11 am saying I had to be in the city by 3 pm that afternoon to audition for a TV advert, and I had to wear a gardening hat and look young motherly-ish and be available for a two day shoot next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Em… “Can I take my 3 year old?”
Of course it didn’t work, so I retired from that time of my life and started a new adventure as a mum.
Anyhoo - I’ve recently been compiling all my memories of fun and unusual occurrences that happened to me while I was working in those theatres, along with traditions in the theatre and the joy (or pain) of rehearsing and putting on a play or a musical. I’m doing this for a book I’m going to write about an out of work actress and a ... well, I won't give it away just yet.
So here’s another memory for you
Apart from my ghostly experience at the Theatre Royal, Harrogate (click the link to read that one after you've read this one), there were many other marvellous things that happened at many theatres and on many tours. But this one took place at the Theatre Royal, Harrogate.
Cinderella, the pantomime
I was Dandini (Prince Charming's best friend) and my best mate, Karen B, was Cinderella. We shared a dressing room. (Karen B was also my bridesmaid when it came time to marry, as was Karen C another thespian best friend, and I dedicated The House at the End of the Street to both of them, as my heroine was a bridesmaid to her two best friends in that book.)
Back to the pantomime... While on stage in the middle of the ball - just before Cinders left her shoe lying around and the prince got all huffy and worried, and me, being his best friend, had to help him out (princes - why can’t they sort themselves out?) - suddenly, the Stage Manager walked on stage.
We kept going because that’s what actors do (the show must go on, and believe me, it must go on no matter what happens, it’s the first rule and we run with it whatever that takes). But behind our shock of thinking he’d lost the plot, and how would we get him off the stage, and who would be the first actor to start the ad lib routine that we’d all then join in, in order to get this lovely madman off the stage – the music stopped.
The audience gave a collective intake of breath.
We stopped acting.
The Ugly Sisters moved forward, ready for anything.
Our wonderful Stage Manger quietly and professionally announced to the audience that there was a fire backstage and that all persons should exit by the fire escape doors he then proceeded to point out.
It took a few seconds for people to start moving. Mainly because of our Stage Manager’s calmness.
We on stage? It took us even more seconds to realise this was actually happening. I don’t think any of us had experienced an interrupted performance ever.
We actors were filed out to the street via the fire escape doors backstage. Cinderella and I got together as soon as we were able to, because, you know, we were best mates and if there was anything going up in flames, we needed to be together. It was quite awkward getting her out to the street because of the voluminous ball gown she was wearing, but we managed. The Ugly Sisters even let her go first, and they were guys so their ball gowns were humongous! But chivalry prevailed.
We were on the street, in the lamplight (fortunately it wasn’t raining), for about half an hour or a little longer.
The Ugly Sisters entertained the audience who were on the street with us, at the back of the theatre, with exceptionally tall tales of what Cinders had been up to. They joked, they sang, they entertained and reassured the children, the parents, and the cast.
Just quietly, me and Cinderella were worried sick that we may have been the cause of the fire somehow, as our dressing room was choc-a-block with tinsel and Christmas decorations. Don’t forget, this dressing room was our home from home for four weeks, including Christmas Eve, so of course we dressed it up and made the most of it.
Fortunately – the fire was a false alarm – although I can’t remember why.
The audience returned to the auditorium, the actors straightened their princely uniforms, tilted their tricorn hats to a jaunty angle, adjusted the skirts of their gowns, and the ball took place. Cinders reclaimed her shoe and found her prince. As she did every night for four weeks and twice on Thursdays and Saturdays with the matinees.