Technical trepidation and ‘beginners to the stage’

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Actress Jo Mousley takes us behind the scenes of Arabian Nights

What a week we’ve had! It’s been tiring, technical, terrifying and finally thrilling to perform in front of an audience.

We started our technical rehearsals in The Quays Theatre last Tuesday, which seems like a lifetime ago now. I think everyone was ready to leave the rehearsal room behind and get into our theatre space. But I don’t think any of us expected the set to make such a difference to how we all felt.

Even though the model of the set had been ever present during rehearsals, you never quite know how it will feel on there until that first orientation. I was transported to a crumbling Middle Eastern palace, rich with colourful tiles, half standing pillars, and a wear and tear evocative of centuries of rulers, battles and royal dynasties.

Our designer Hayley and her team have done such an incredible job creating such stunning detail, making our job as storytellers that little bit easier because the moment you set foot in the space you are transported to another world completely. The set really is the tenth actor in the cast.

After the initial delight at seeing the set, technical rehearsals began. The days were long, as the nitty-gritty technical side of the play has to be finalised. Lighting states have to be programmed into a desk, along with the cues for when these states change. The same for the sound – cues and volume levels are all set. This is an important rehearsal for all our technical team and us actors have to stay patient and focused so we get everything spot on.

This was also an opportunity to practice quick changes – of which there are many! With our audience in-the-round this means the wings either side of the stage are very dark and to quote Jamie our Stage Manager “it has to be a silent Christmas!” backstage as there’s only a cloth between actors and our audience.

Until you get used to how fast the changes are it’s a bit of a blind panic in the dark. Urgent whispers of “What’s next?”…”Where’s my thief’s hat?!”…”That’s not MY cape!”…”I can’t find my dagger” give you an idea of some of the mayhem that went on in tech and the first dress runs. But we didn’t have to alter very much, just a few cues to come on, as the distance from wings to stage was a slightly longer journey. And a few costume tweaks.

A huge thank you has to go out to all our backstage team for being so calm and quick witted. They have to know the show as well as the actors.
Sometimes with the adrenalin of performing, we all occasionally run off and not know what’s next, but there will always be Lucy, Maria, Jamie, Dave or Stuart to guide us smoothly into a horse’s head, a bird costume or hold a curtain back for an eagle to enter!

The joy of the last week really has been spending so much time together and feeling strong, supported and incredibly in-tune with an ensemble of actors, designers, technicians and stage managers, who are all working so hard to make a piece of theatre as magical as possible.

The icing on this cake was to finally, after two dress rehearsals, perform to an audience. We were, of course, nervous, as during a dress rehearsal some things don’t go perfectly. But very excited too. Personally, as soon as I went out to sell my pots and pans in the ‘pre-show’ and got into a conversation with a group of girls about the possibility of a genie living in my magic lantern and how he might have got there (they decided he was very old with a long grey beard and was terribly lost and confused)… I knew it was all going to be ok.

And it was. We had so much fun telling our stories to an audience who gasped, giggled and gawped. It was magical.

Arabian Nights runs from Fri 30 Nov 2012 – Sat 12 Jan 2013. Tickets are available here or from The Lowry Box Office on 0843 208 6010.

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