Saturday saw the end of yet another term in the ever revolving carousel that is The MTA intensive 2 year programme. Of course one of our unique features is the fact that we produce a public performance at the end of every term… so Saturday also saw the end of this year’s production of Something Old, Something New, our annual Musical Theatre Revue. Over the past 6 years I’d say that SOSN has become one of our flagship shows. For the students it’s an all consuming show for so many reasons, for our 2nd years it’s the first time that they are officially ‘offered out’ to agents, for the 1st years it’s their first musical production with us (having already performed in a straight play in their first term), for the college as a whole it’s a huge bonding experience, as we all come together to create one musical smorgasbord, and for me personally it’s a chance to flex my ‘arranging muscles’ as I get to play with over 30 songs for a cast of 38 and a 6 piece band.
This year saw me pondering an old fashioned value though – should the show go on regardless of what else is going on in somebody’s life? It’s an idea that most ‘old school’ professionals (like myself) hold dear. We believe that Dr Theatre will sort out everything, from illness, through grieving to just life’s foibles. The industry motto of ‘the show must go on’ has been a mantra for decades. Hell back in the golden age of Hollywood musical films, there were countless ‘musicals’ written around that very mantra. A small town had lost everything…but the ‘show must go on’ (usually with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in a barn as it happens…but there are many other examples).
A few years ago I sadly lost my mum while in the middle of working on 2 shows, and while both companies were extremely accommodating in letting me have time off, I still had to arrange the funeral around the opening of the shows (delaying it because it’s logistically easier to delay a funeral than it is a theatrical production) Fortunately I have a really supportive immediate family that ‘get it’…and so there were no arguments, the funeral was arranged around the shows and we all plodded on. On a more frivolous note I’ve been dumped rather unceremoniously in the middle of working on shows all about ‘love’ and ‘happy ever after’, yet still I’d go to work everyday and ‘put on the show’ as is nothing else mattered. However it’s a point that I constantly struggle with.
Running a vocational drama college, I operate it under the same rules as the industry. So my lot are expected to come in regardless… none of this taking a day off here and there because you’ve got a cold (you can still sit and learn even if you’re on voice rest). Just have a lemsip and get on with it. That’s what my staff do and therefore this ‘ideal’ is modelled for the students from the beginning. After the first year of opening the college I stopped taking a morning register as there was no need. We have 100% attendance pretty much all of the time, we certainly don’t have any unauthorised absences. We make an exception if it’s something contagious (as obviously I don’t want the entire college to go down with something) but other than that you turn up and just get on with it (sitting out of anything and just observing if there’s any risk at all that your injury or illness could escalate and cause long term damage). If anything these days I have a problem when I attempt to send students home ill. Most end up sleeping on one of the sofas in our Green Room, in the hope that they feel better for the next class (of course this also means that we’re not sending them home to empty houses and we can keep a check on how they’re doing so it’s a win/win teaching young professionals away from home for the first time).
Then this week for the first time in my professional life, in the middle of our dress run a professional that we’d hired to come in to work for us, informed me that they were too ill to continue and therefore they’d have to go home. Now allegedly this particular person knew that there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with them, as they’d been checked out, however they did have a raging temperature and no doubt all the horrific symptoms that go with that, but (according to them) they just knew that they were ‘very ill’, or more specifically ‘too ill to continue’. And off they went – leaving every other professional in the building with mouths’ aghast at what had just happened. It’s like our theatrical world had suddenly turned into ‘the normal world’ – where people did sickies. It was a sickening juxtaposition of the two worlds (pun intended)
Obviously as an employer I can’t stop someone walking out – what if they were really ill and couldn’t continue? How could I know? I’m not a Dr? We live in a free society, of course any of us can just walk off a job at any time.
I won’t lie I’m still grappling with all of these issues over a week later. It’s immaterial who the person was, or indeed what rôle they had within our production, and the point of the blog is to ponder the mantra, not condemn/judge the particular person. However it’s a strange one. It’s strange that as an industry all the ‘old school’ people felt the same as me, that this was sacrilege. You just don’t do that? Yet in one sense it was a completely ‘normal’ thing to do… if you didn’t work in our industry that is.
We muddled through and opening night happened (their departure did have an impact, but one that was able to be ‘covered’…not ideal, but…’the show went on’). There was no time to sort out a replacement, the dress would come down at 5.30pm and the show opened 2 hours later, and the show was too important to the students for there to be a risk of someone new coming in and muddling through without rehearsal. Then the next day I was struck down with the mother of all migraines. I’ve often had to do shows with migraines over the years, but this one was particularly vicious (no doubt helped on its way by the various stresses of the day before). I was able to rearrange all of my daytime appointments, but at no time did it even cross my mind to miss the show. To be honest I felt bad enough missing notes, but I had to keep it real, and there was a lot of vomiting involved…so I was constantly working on a timeframe (if you know what I mean). All necessary precautions were discussed (involving where/if the emergency bucket should go), and ‘the show went on’. I scuttled off home as soon as it came down feeling like death, but satisfied that I had done my job, and pleased that I had modelled this kamikaze attitude for my students (don’t talk the talk unless you can walk the walk etc).
Should ‘the show go on’ regardless? Are we still right to hold onto that belief? Is it just an out dated notion now, and should the theatrical world join the rest of the working population? Who’s to say what is too sick to work? We all have a different threshold for illness…and so my deliberations continue. However I keep coming back to the same conclusion, I love the fact that theatre just continues and ‘the show goes on’…as it provides all of us with a constant in this very crazy profession that we exist in. Who knows what illnesses/life traumas I have in front of me – but sometimes, just sometimes, theatre can provide us with the safety net of a normality and so Dr Theatre will help me through them all…but only if ‘the show goes on’.
Photo: William Bawley