By Robert Ferguson
“Fifteen minutes to curtain up”. The speaker in the corner of the ceiling always squawks and crackles, so that, if one didn’t know what it was saying, one couldn’t possibly guess its message. And that new ASM has such a ghastly Irish accent. That doesn’t help. And now the dresser is late. Fussing about with her own bits and pieces, and gossiping with her peers, no doubt. And last night’s tights haven’t been washed. They’ll have to do, still clammy from the perspiration that pours off me under the lights. And the nerves. Oh, if only I could overcome my nerves! How I shall get that first, barking entry on pitch, without myself squawking, goodness knows. Still, it’s gone all right in the first couple of performances.
Hum. That’d be the answer. Hum arpeggios up the range. Loosen the throat. Stretch the body and shoulders. Hum. Now some aah’s. That’s good. At least in this theatre the audience can’t hear the racket from the dressing-rooms, as everyone warms up, voices, instruments, especially the brass and the horrible woodwind squeaks as they damp down new reeds. What a joy for a singer not to have to carry a huge instrument everywhere. Well, at least few musicians are pole-vaulters, and there are only three double basses and one harpist in the orchestra. Singers just have to avoid coughs and colds, which, in the damp of this theatre, is easier said than done. Oh, for an electric fire, like the ones they gave us in Leeds, though they do dry the air most dreadfully. More aahs, more hums. Chin in for the tone! Head up to open the airway. You’d have thought that came naturally after so many years, but….oh, well, nobody’s perfect, I s’pose. Everyone has a weakness, or several, in my case, and that first leaping entry is mine, especially after climbing three flights of stairs to stage-level in the almost dark, and then the blackness of the wings, and the pain from the inevitable bruises on the shins, and holding one’s breath so as not to cry out…
Ten minutes to curtain”. Oh, do shut up! And this frilly shirt IS too small. Whatever size was my predecessor? At least this one is reasonably clean, but fastening this top button… Ugh! Will it never go? There it is, at last. Where is that dresser? I don’t often need her, but when I do, … and she’s never … “Oh, Bessie, at last! Am I glad to see you. Bessie, dear, at this stage, I really don’t care if the whole chorus-line has got itself pregnant. At least they’d stick out uniformly, and the fools in the audience would think it was symbolic of something. She may have a half-decent voice, but she won’t get far in this business if she can’t remember to take her pill every morning. Now, slack off the back of this doublet, if you please. No, I’m not putting on weight! On what they pay me here? You must be joking. Oh, and may I please have another pair of tights for tomorrow’s matinee? What do you mean, ‘wardrobe has got a shortage’? They’ve no right to have a shortage!. Of anything! They’re wardrobe, for goodness’ sake! It’s all those girls nicking them for their after-show parties and such. I know, and so does everyone else, but nobody does anything to stop them. Well, if the worst comes to the worst, could you buy me a pair on your way to the theatre? Yes, of course I’ll pay you for them. And the other pair, I’ll pay you for them together tomorrow. Now, come on. Get me into this coat. And give the buckle on that shoe a rub, if you will. Well I can’t bend down there done up like this, can I? No, I’m not putting on weight. Not an ounce. I’ve told you. We’ve less than ten minutes, you know, and make-up still… “Ah, Fiona, it’s all laid out, and I don’t need much, other than around the eyes. I’ve done the foundation, just touch me up, if you will, and then wig and powder. Oh, that wig is a mess. Do give it a brush and more powder, so it’s nice and white, especially round the curls at the bottom. And a good shake, please, dear, before it goes on, or I’ll end up as if I’ve got chickenpox or something. Lovely! Pop it on for me. Steady on the hair. The real hair, such as there is left of it.”
“Five minutes to curtain. Beginners to the wings, now, please!” I don’t know what that girl did to the IRA, but she puts the fear of the devil into me. Oh no, I thought…I hoped, tonight…. “Excuse me, la…” Thank goodness there’s a hand-basin off this dressing room. Wash away vomit. Yukky smell, but can’t be helped. “OK, Fiona, just stab at the foundation on the chin and beneath the nose, and powder again. And the lippie, I’m afraid. No, slightly darker, please, dear. The lights do take the colour, especially with my complexion. So sorry. Always happens, I’m afraid. OK, ladies, am I fit? Off we go, see you after the first act.”
“Three minutes to curtain. Quiet everywhere, please. Beginners to positions. OK, conductor on. Lights down. Curtain going up. Have a good evening, everyone, and enjoy.”