An appropriate metaphor, considering my position at the moment, and one to which I fully subscribe. I have come to be a believer in fate and can’t help but think of the things that have happened in recent years to be more than coincidence: things seem to happen in a way that feels they have been set out for me. Both good and bad, that is.
Characters have their entrances and exits. I am at times in a tragedy, at times in a comedy. Coincidences happen, the plot twists and my character learns and adapts.
I have begun to feel this all the more since the very day after my last blog. Enter stage right, Mr Peter Capaldi.
I was travelling to work for the matinee show and arrived at Oxford Circus tube station as usual. I stood on the escalator, allowing it to carry me up to street level, when who should pass me on the right, ascending the stairs two at a time? Our leading man! The coincidence of this is just so bizarre! I mean, how many people travel through that station every minute of every day? Anyway, shocked, I said hello and thankfully he recognised me. We passed through the barriers together, established we both used the same exit and it immediately dawned on me that we would be walking together all the way to work! A journey of around 1 mile, through Soho.
He was lovely and was happy to chat to me. He walked fast, so I had to scamper a little to keep up, but we talked the whole way about work, the play, accents, eating habits and the filming he was doing during the day (series 2 of the BBC show ‘The Hour’ – he said he was happy to do it as it was being shot not far from where he lives!) It was utterly surreal, walking and talking with a celebrity like that, as if it were completely natural!
And from there, things have become even more surreal. That very night, who should I spot in the audience but my friend and old English teacher! She didn’t know about any of my life and career changes, so it was something of a shock for her to see me there, but it was great catching up! In the same week one or two other old friends also got in touch out of the blue. And finally, we get onto the biggest development of all...
A couple of weeks ago, I finally summoned the courage to ask my manager about the possibility of training to do stage door cover ie be the stage door keeper when the normal guys are away. My manager agreed and I began my training the following week.
On that first evening, I mainly had to listen whilst Phil went through everything with me. The job at its basic is a mixture of receptionist and bouncer; responsibilities include answering phone calls, taking deliveries, signing people in and out of the building and preventing anyone getting in who shouldn’t and giving out keys. At the end of the night I also do the final checks of the backstage areas and dressing rooms and put the final lock on the stage door, setting the security alarm.
The first night involved taking an awful lot of information on board, but it was good. Basically, there is little active stuff to do, but reacting to events when they do happen is vital. Thus, Phil talked me through various eventualities and I watched him do the outgoing. He also gave me a tour of the backstage area which was thrilling! I’ve always been fascinated by it, but never had the chance to look around rear of house here. He showed me the dressing rooms, sub-stage, the LX department, the wardrobe department and the fly room at the very top of the building. I met a lot of people who work rear of house I’d never met before and had to move quietly in certain areas as we were actually beneath the stage whilst the show was on. Finally, I went around with Phil into the dressing rooms (once the actors had left, of course!) to check everything was switched off and shut down.
On a slight side note, Peter had had a programme on TV on the preceding Sunday evening which I’d really enjoyed, and wanted to tell him so. On the day following my first training shift, I turned up in the evening as usual and Phil asked me to cover him for 2 minutes whilst he went to the toilet. Cue another random coincidence, as just as I’d sat down in the box, Peter appeared. Myles was there too and he struck up a conversation with Peter about ‘The Cricklewood Greats’ as I was fumbling about looking for his dressing room key. Myles, somewhat embarrassingly, informed Peter that I’d been ‘telling everybody to watch’ it: he told me that was very sweet. He talked about it at quite some length – it was obviously his little baby as he’d written, directed and presented it. It was nice to give him feedback!
In my second training evening, Phil let me sit in ‘the box’ as we call it and essentially do the shift myself, with him within shouting distance. It was good. A little stressful when about 3 or 4 different actors all had guests in who arrived at the same time five minutes after the curtain had come down, but good. When guests arrive I have to ask them who they are, sign them into the book and call down to the actor’s dressing room to obtain permission to let them through. It is bizarre, casually phoning up someone like Peter Capaldi or Ben Miller! They are all so lovely though.
I observed an outgoing another night that week after my shift on bar, in which Armando Iannucci dropped by. My first real shift then was on the Friday afternoon/evening (last Friday).
I like the box. The shift starts at 3, so much of the afternoon is spent quietly, with nothing much happening except a few contractors and members of management coming and going. I took some phone calls, spoke to some people who had come by looking for jobs or work experience and filled my bladder without having the ability to empty it again. At just after 5pm, some foreign women turned up asking if this was the theatre Peter Capaldi would be at. They were autograph hunters, and decided to wait outside in the freezing cold despite me warning them he may not turn up for another hour.
Luckily for them, the man in question turned up just twenty minutes later and he signed their pictures. They were hardy souls though, and stayed out there for a further hour and a half until every last cast member had appeared! Ben Miller arrived last, joked with me that they were very friendly and was amazed to hear how long they’d been standing there! (it had snowed the previous day, to give an idea of the temperature).
Other highlights of the shift included somehow quoting lyrics to the hokey cokey with Peter Capaldi; having a conversation with Ben Miller about jacket potatoes and giving him advice on where to buy his dinner; having Marcia Warren intent on remembering my name; having a nice chat with Stephen Wight about life, the universe and everything; finally being relieved to go to the loo and doing so with James Fleet singing his warm-up outside and having Clive Rowe inform me that I am the ‘prettiest stage door keeper’ (not sure what Phil would think of that!!) All ran smoothly, and I did rather enjoy the power of going home with the key to the theatre!
The following day Ben Miller posted a comment on twitter about an audience member and I replied adding who I was. I got a friendly tweet back: ‘Rachel! Apologies for not knowing this was you...’ etc. How odd to get a message from a ‘celebrity’ speaking in such a familiar way! As follow up, on Valentine’s Day we found a novelty pair of dice (ahem) in the grand circle so I told Ben and James on twitter as I thought they’d find it amusing... we proceeded to have a conversation about them.
And here I am again in the box now, on my second shift. Unexpected this time, as Phil is ill today. When Ben Miller walked in his first words were ‘Hi Rachel! Tell me more about what you found the other night...!”
And so, such is life. In this latest scene, it seems I am a person who Knows Famous People. And when I am talking to them, it feels un-extraordinary if that were a word. It is only when I stop to reflect that I think how bizarre the situation is, really!
Tonight is a little different as it is not only Phil who is ill: two of our understudies are on as Clive and Stephen are sick. Although unfortunate for them, it means my friend Will is getting a go at playing Harry. He did it last night too, and I went in to watch him on my break. Funny to watch someone I was drinking and dancing with last week on stage playing a major part to a packed audience!
Just had the interval here. Peter popped up in full ‘Marcus’ to inform me his friends will be visiting at the end of the evening, and I had a chat with one of the electricians. Such is life. I’m so glad I volunteered to do this: I enjoy the extra responsibility, seeing a different side of things at the theatre and value the experience.
So, in other news, we had snow – twice. The first time a couple of Saturdays ago and it came down thick and fast during our evening shift. So thick and so fast in fact, that it took my bus three times longer than usual and some of my friends’ trains were cancelled and it took them hours to get home! Stephen Wight told me he ended up walking all the way back to South London and got in at 2am! Others, however, were somehow on breakfast TV the next morning looking none the worse for wear... (HOW?!)
It melted quite quickly on the whole, but remained freezing cold all week. I finally lost one of my gloves. I say finally as me and my gloves have had a ridiculous relationship: I lose or drop at least one of them frequently; it’s like a bad running joke in a sitcom. I seem to constantly have people chasing after me waving one at me. So it’s a miracle they both lasted as long as they did really. Have since bought new ones – black so I can wear them on the front door of the theatre.
Emily came up to visit at the weekend which was great! We shopped til we dropped and ate lots of food including a rather lovely delivered pizza in bed in front of the original film of ‘The Ladykillers’. I showed her the theatre, Portobello Road and Camden; she showed me the wonders of Primark Oxford Street(!)
Am on stage door again tomorrow morning, which shall be interesting in the sense I will be starting work at 9am (gulp) and dull in the sense that nothing much will happen in 8 hours as the shift will end way before anyone interesting who wants to chat to me will enter the building. After that though, I have a pleasant weekend planned: seeing friends and possibly even a roller disco on Saturday night! Plus I have a night off gigging on Tuesday and Ollie finally gets back from Singapore!