I count myself among the many actors who should work backstage at least once but have never taken the opportunity. So when the chance arose to cover for a Follow Spot Operator at the last minute, I ran to the theatre and prepared for the worst.
I know what you’re going to say; “oh, it’s so easy, you’ll be fine.” To that I say “you clearly underestimate my ability to screw up the simplest of tasks.”
Nevertheless, I climbed those stairs, put on my headset, and jumped right in. Sometimes the Stage Manager’s directions weren’t always clear because there is a very specific language used up in that mythical booth, but it was easy enough to get a handle on who was who and how to handle the equipment. Afterwards, I felt less like a dork for being so excited to work on another show – in even in a small way.
The show itself was a very energetic one-act musical so as far as first times go, this was a good start. I got to listen to some really fun music and follow princesses and dragons around with a giant ball of light. I found myself amazed at the tiny moments that went wrong and were fixed without anyone visibly breaking a sweat. It sometimes astounds me, the people I get to work with. And suddenly any fear I had about my task was pushed aside in favor of observing, and admiring, and enjoying.
But I’m still the stressed out actor who wants everything to be perfect and therefore worries about following an actor with a spotlight. So as I sat up in the booth and tried not to watch the show, I went through a few different emotions.
Now I present to you:
Random Thoughts of the Overly-Anxious Actress with No Hand-Eye Coordination Running a Spotlight for the First Time
• Alright I'm super cool, I've got a headset and everything
• Wait, who is that?
• Don't be nervous, you'll shake
• Headsets are heavy
• Don't watch the show, don't watch the show
• Too high
• Why is everyone so calm, there is a prop on the stage!
• Stop moving, stop moving
• It's so hot in here. Why is it so hot?
• Damn this song is catchy
• Nope. Mustn't dance
• Oh, this is easy
• My legs are so stiff
• It’s over already?
In all honesty I did enjoy myself and I got to add another skill to my mental resume.
If anything, this only solidified my opinion that actors should work backstage in some capacity at least once in their career – preferably early on. You hear the damndest things and realize how much patience and problem-solving goes on behind the scenes.
I need to thank my stage manager more often. And my assistant stage managers. And my running crew. And my spot ops – just generally all the awesome people who work backstage. I have friends who will never let me forget that for the two hours I’m in rehearsal, they’re spending six making sure everything runs smoothly. But sometimes it does bear repeating.
Be kind, be smart, and maybe don’t worry so much when you’re thrust into an unknown situation. Worrying definitely makes it harder.