‘Till closing night do us part … we are family …

Members of the Australian Shakespeare Company performing "The Comedy of Errors" as seen from the wings - L-R: Phil Lambert, Tony Rive, Shireen Morris & Adrian Dart. Photo by Sally McLean

Chatting with Hugh (Sexton) after the show tonight (fellow ASC cast member for “The Comedy of Errors”, playing “Antipholus of Syracuse”) before he headed off to attend the Opening Night of the Melbourne International Film Festival across the road at the Regent Theatre (Side note: Hugh actually appears in the film that opened MIFF this year – “The Wedding Party” – hence the attending of the Opening of the festival), the comment came up that one of the great things about this show and the ASC in general is the ensemble nature of the work produced.

Which got me thinking about the nature of working in theatre generally.  There are 16 of us in “The Comedy of Errors”, not a huge cast, but a fair number nonetheless.  And while the rehearsal process has been short (4 weeks or so) and the season even shorter, we still seem to have come together as a slightly odd, yet cohesive family unit of sorts.

As any actor will tell you, this phenomenon is not exclusive to this production.  It has happened on nearly every show I’ve ever worked on.  Such is the nature and lure of this profession.  My mother (who worked in the theatre in Canada) likens it to a shipboard romance – all of us thrown together for a period of time and becoming close just because we spend so much time practically in each others pockets while going through the stress and excitement of putting on a show together – which is kind of true.  It is probably why my closest friends (and partner) are all currently or have been in the industry as well – all of them are people I’ve initially worked with in some capacity – and in most cases continue to do so – which has caused some very deep bonds to form during, and thankfully last beyond, our time together as colleagues.

And I’m seeing this happen again with this show.  In the first week of rehearsals I felt a little like the new kid at school.  Couldn’t be helped, really.  This is only my second show with the Company, and the last one (which was the last time I was on a stage, as it happens) I was only there for the last month of the run, replacing another cast member who had left due to another commitment, so hadn’t really settled into a “role” with the group as such.  So there was a round of reacquainting myself with members of the cast I already knew and meeting others for the first time and then finding where I fitted in with the general rhythms of the group.  And it was a little nerve-wracking.  Fitting in with a large group of people usually is for me – be it professionally or socially.  As much as it may surprise many – most actors are quite shy, and I’m no exception.

But thinking about it tonight, I realised that I have become, essentially, part of another (rather crazy) family.  Everyone has their social role to play and all are included.  Conversations backstage cover politics, religion, cooking, sport, relationships, travel, pop culture and everything in-between.  Jokes are played, jibes are made and general good-natured ribbing abounds.  One of the things I’ve grown to love about working with this particular company on this show is that although there are definite lead roles in the production on stage – off-stage everyone is treated equally and on their own merit, no matter how large or small their role, which makes it a true ensemble production.  And this hopefully translates to the audience during performance – making it a cohesive, collaborative experience for everyone.

Once the show closes we may not see each other much.  There are more than a few from this cast that I will miss once the show is done and we go our separate ways, but such is the transitory nature of our business.  Actors are, ultimately, gypsies – travelling to the next stage or set once the last one has been struck and bumped out, either to work again with each other or with a new family of performers.  But we also know that should our paths cross again (and they are very likely to – our industry here is too small for them not to), we have already formed a bond that will make us instant family again – part of an eclectic tribe that had a unique shared experience under the glare of the spotlight and lived to tell the tale.

2 thoughts on “‘Till closing night do us part … we are family …

  1. This was something I experienced in the community theatre group I joined after High School. Although I have worked in a number of other community groups (generally fund-raising for one worthy cause or another) that lead to friendships, there is no denying that the theatre/film/performance experience is the most intense. Even working on raising money to fight AIDS back in the ’90s, as intense as the experience was, was not the same.

    I am reminded of a great episode of “Cybill” where Peter Coyote’s character talks about their affair during the filming of a movie, and how, typically, such intense feelings fade over time as people get away from “the magic shop”. Surely (“please don’t call me Shirley”) this often is a factor in the serial marriage pattern of many in ‘the business’.

  2. I think you’re right Brian. Many of my early relationships came out of theatre productions I did as a late teenager (and some lasted for a while afterwards, some didn’t) due to not only the intensity of the experience of working on stage together, but also because those people were my social group – and therefore my dating pool (if you will). I think this is why having a solid and happy life outside the industry is always the best option, plus a mature perspective. I’m sure I’m not alone in having experienced crushes on various people during a show, but that’s really the manifestation of an intense affection and respect for them as performers, which hopefully leads to a friendship within the industry long-term.

    I love the term “magic shop” – such an apt description of what the business is. Sometimes people get caught up in the illusion and the test then lies in whether that illusion can survive everyday reality. Sometimes it does, and sadly, sometimes it doesn’t – as any gossip mag will attest!

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