Monday, July 13, 2009

Stage struck

When I was a young man, I had two very close friends, both of whom left New Zealand for the bright lights of London - with intentions to go on the stage. Neither of them went on the stage; one of them eventually came back home after having an interestingly varied career in the usual sort of jobs NZers do when they go on the Big OE. The other got a lot closer to show business, at one time being part of the film promotion team for MGM. Which meant he got to see all the movies that were worth seeing, often before they went to the English public. I saw Last Tango in Paris in a tiny little private cinema as a result of this (not that I was greatly impressed with it), and also Pinocchio before it came out on a re-release. (Those were the days when you couldn't just go down to your local video store and hire a movie you liked - you had to wait until either the distribution company decided it was time to give it another go (which could be years after its original release) or until you caught it at some niche cinema where they managed to ferret out movies that weren't readily available.) I'm not sure if I saw Pinocchio as a child, but even as an adult it was a revelation in that small cinema; animation like you couldn't believe possible.

This same friend stayed in the UK until he died (much too young); he lived on the fringe of the show business world, flatting with a fellow Dunedinite who'd been big time in amateur theatre here and wound up on a daytime soap there. This actor had a tiny part in A Clockwork Orange, as a policeman. I think he's visible for all of a minute and a half.

I was reminded of this by reading an article in the Guardian today about young actors at the Royal Scottish Academy of Drama and Music in Glasgow, people who are still hopeful of getting in the business even in these tough times. Not that it's ever been easy to be an actor: two-thirds of them may be out of work at any one time, and reality TV certainly hasn't helped.

The curious thing is that when I joined my two friends in London, I hadn't had any plans to go on stage, but I certainly got a lot closer to it than either of them did. I went over to study as a repetiteur at the London Opera Centre, and wasn't only involved in the productions the Centre put on in-house (and the one that was presented at the Sadlers Wells Theatre), but also had free access to opera rehearsals at Covent Garden, which became almost as familiar to us as the Centre. I even played for auditions at the English Opera's theatre once. On the stage (a rather scary moment, actually). And on another occasion I played for a young singer in a competition, Abigail Ryan, at the Wigmore (pictured on right) - and she won. And went off to Germany to study as a result.

Well, that'll do for name-dropping, for the moment. Our mini-dramas at church have finished their 'run' - there were five in all, and I made it into four of them. (The second was on at the same time as When We Are Married.) Last Sunday's featured the four blokes who've appeared in the previous plays, and they were celebrating the loss of the All Blacks at home. One of them, who's become increasingly angry over the last couple of episodes, tries to explain his anger amidst the banter. It was a good little piece, and should have got a number of laughs, but the audience was surprisingly subdued, and it became hard work for the actors to keep up the momentum. Never mind, it made its point, I think. It had a second 'half' as it were: a return to the four soliloquies we'd started the series off with; this time the four actors (three of the guys and one of the two women who'd appeared in the plays) went in reverse order to the first play, and their speeches showed the progress they'd made. Different levels for each, but progress nevertheless.
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