Rain, rain, go away … the trials of outdoor Shakespeare

The Australian Shakespeare Company performs The Comedy of Errors. Top (L-R) Josephine Bloom (Luciana), Glenn Ferguson (understudy for Antipholus Brothers) and Chloe Connolly (Courtesan). Front (L-R) Steve Rodowsky (headsman), Phil Lambert (officer) and Sally McLean (Dowsabel)
The Australian Shakespeare Company performs The Comedy of Errors. Top (L-R) Josephine Bloom (Luciana), Glenn Ferguson (understudy for Antipholus Brothers) and Chloe Connolly (Courtesan). Front (L-R) Steve Rodowsky (headsman), Phil Lambert (officer) and Sally McLean (Dowsabel)

Originally published at The Shakespeare Shoppe, January 12th, 2011

Well, I think we can be sure that the drought has broken on the South East of Australia.  Floods in Queensland and New South Wales and more water than we know what to do with here in Melbourne.  Which is great and welcome (in Melbourne – not up North, where it’s a nightmare), but could we limit it to just raining between the hours of midnight and 6pm?

Comedy of Errors at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens continues to be performed, despite the rain, although we did have to cancel last night as the downpour that occurred would have made it impossible for the audience to see us through the sheets of water that were falling, let alone the issues we would have faced with electrics and general safety on stage.  Although, as pointed out in an article in today’s Age, we do have a good ticketing policy when cancellations happen and the show will go on unless it’s torrential (as happened yesterday).

Speaking of publicity, an article appeared this week in one of the local Melbourne papers, which included an interview with yours truly.  It was a very nice article and generally I was quoted correctly – apart from the bit about audiences yelling out.  That comment was actually to do with Elizabethan audiences calling out during original Shakespeare productions of every variety, which they did – not modern audiences, and certainly not audiences at the current production of Comedy of Errors (although, a couple of kids have yelled out during the show, but they’re kids so that’s allowed).   I don’t recommend yelling out during our show – mainly because if you do, you’ll miss the dialogue and lose track of the story and it probably won’t go over well with other audience members, but I digress …

I know the trials we face doing outdoor Shakespeare are not new – in the Elizabethan era theatre companies would take to the road and tour their productions, performing outside and in the courtyards of inns when the London theatres were closed (which happened a few times due to plague and the vagaries of attitude from the Master of the Revels – kind of like a Morality Policeman of the time), and doing outdoor theatre in England at any time of the year presents similar challenges to what we’re facing in modern times in Melbourne (well, at any time in Melbourne, really).

And it’s not limited to just outdoor Shakespeare – every outdoor production in town is having the same problem, from kids’ shows to art installations – but audiences seem to be prepared, bringing raincoats and waterproof blankets and umbrellas with them each night.  And really, there’s nothing like the feeling when (as happened on Saturday night) you are performing between rain showers, determined to keep going because the audience is there and you’re there and what’s a little rain?  And sure, you might have to stop the show for five minutes to sweep the stage of water, but then you’re back and the audience is calling “Bravo!” (so they do yell out sometimes, when appropriate, as it happens) which makes you even more determined to get through the show for them.

But sometimes Mother Nature has the last word and you just have to send out one of the actors in the middle of a scene (as happened on Saturday night) and admit defeat to the audience (who by then are huddled under those aforementioned umbrellas and raincoats).  The audience on Saturday were wonderful in this situation – calling “Bravo!” again (bless them, some yelling out is truly appreciated) and then collecting their possessions and filing out via the box office in a genial, orderly manner – collecting their complimentary tickets for another show and promising to return when the weather improves.

For the cast, it’s basically a sense of performance-interruptus – a feeling of non-completion and slight unfulfillment.  And disappointment that we couldn’t keep going for an audience who was being so supportive.   But really, we have to keep in mind that in a modern performance we have lights and microphones and other safety issues to consider – for both us and the audience – and that it would be remiss of us to not take the sensible route and make sure everyone is protected and kept safe from harm when the weather starts to severely misbehave.

Today’s weather is unsettled, but better than yesterday.  The sun has just decided to show it’s face through the clouds, so I expect we’ll be going on tonight, which is welcome.  Sure, it was great to have a night off (I tidied the house and dismantled the Christmas tree and did some preliminary packing for our impending house move), but still, it felt strange not being on stage when I would usually be and I felt like something was out of whack as a result.

To be honest, even with the weather behaving badly (at least from our perspective as an outdoor production), by being either too hot or too wet, this season of Comedy of Errors is still a joy to be a part of.  We have a fabulous cast, great crew and wonderful audiences and as an actor I am truly grateful to be doing what I love – telling a story on stage and making people laugh.

So, if you’re planning on coming along to the show in the next few days, come prepared for all weathers, but still come.  We promise we’ll do our absolute best to get through the performance if Mother Nature decides to put on a rival show of her own – and who knows?  Sometimes the most magical of theatrical experiences can occur in the face of things beyond our control.

Until next time … may the rain fall where it’s needed and the sun shine on you and yours.

Sally

For tickets to Comedy of Errors, you can either book Via the Australian Shakespeare Company website:http://www.australianshakespearecompany.com.au/index.php/theatre-productions/shakespeare-under-the-stars/comedy-of-errors or phone Ticketmaster on 136 100.

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