The first year I joined the National Youth Theatre I was lucky enough to be in two productions in London. One was a play called FUZZ about student protest. The other was Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed at the Roundhouse – then a cool play to perform but largely still a huge engine shed with tiered seats and lighting. We had a fantastic set built from scaffolding, swords, great long lances, period costumes and the building itself which created a wonderful atmosphere – especially when the 7.33 express from Euston to Inverness was passing at full speed.
We had a young director who had been in the original youth theatre company and was now a well-known actor and had been in a couple of big films. One day in rehearsals he asked if anyone could play a brass instrument as he wanted a couple of live fanfares. I volunteered and explained to him that I had played in the school band and could do this. A “couple” turned into “rather a lot of” interruptions to the script at important moments. A lot of the final part of the play involves battles and my interventions became busier and busier.
All this was fine except that I wasn’t the best player in the world. I was fine. I could play but I just wasn’t used to the exposure of playing alone. But rehearsals proceeded and we reached the first night. In those days all the big newspapers would review the first night as they would now with the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a big deal and a lot of theatrical bigwigs were there. First night nerves were everywhere.
We were standing by in the dressing room when the stage manager rushed in and said I was needed.
It turned out that the taped special effects for the battle that followed the witches, was broken and unable to be used. Could I make something up to create the feel of a battle? So when the witches finished, I made my way under the scaffolding making long blasts and calls on my tenor horn. It all seemed to go by in a blur and the biggest problem was that I didn’t know when to stop. It seemed an age before I heard the first line, “What bloody man is that.” I survived and seemingly saved the day.
But the pressure of all those fanfares was endless. One night one of them was more of a rude noise than a fanfare. The guy playing Macbeth had a word with me about it. I was so embarrassed and of course, in life, whenever something goes wrong it makes you more fearful of it happening again.
So, what’s the lesson of all this? Be careful what you volunteer for, you might be in over your head before you know it. But I’m glad I did it – if nothing else it helped me know myself better and if you don’t take up a challenge you never know what you can do. Whether the audience agreed I couldn’t say.
Since 1992 Theatretrain students have been performing at venues such as the London Palladium, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Royal Albert Hall. Our theatre schools across the United Kingdom have been providing young people with top quality part-time performing arts classes at weekends for almost 30 years. Without the cost of attending an expensive full-time stage school, Theatretrain is an excellent place to start your career in the performing arts. For further information about our weekly lessons in acting, singing, and dancing visit www.theatretrain.co.uk