Behind the scenes and out front by Joy

This blog shows the joys and fears of being backstage and performing with Stopgap. 

Being Laura’s access worker means I have the honor of accompanying her and Stopgap wherever they go – even abroad! Over the past few months this means I have traveled to France, Spain and Germany – not bad going!
During the process of making Artificial Things, I was in the studio space with the company quite a lot of the time – this meant I got to know the piece well and as I was going to be in the wings during the performances anyway, I became involved in helping with the running of the show.

One of the roles which came my way was to be in charge of controlling our friendly Henry the hoover, not as easy as it may sound or look! There were many times during rehearsals where Henry drove into people or things and even toppled over. I was going to have to get my driving skills sorted out! With the added pressure of Henry not being able to reverse, it was and still is a tense time (for me) if Henry gets himself into a difficult position. Even now I can feel my heart pumping with anxiety.
The first pre-premiere of Artificial Things in France was performed on a stage where there was a huge drop off the end and into the audience. I now had the added pressure of making sure Henry did not fall off the stage into someone’s lap!  The dress-run went well however, so I had faith that I could get myself through the second section without drawing too much attention to myself.
It seems ridiculous that I felt as nervous as I did sitting in the wings waiting for Henry to make his entrance. Thankfully Henry (and I) made it through without too many problems and people seemed to like him.
After conquering my fears of ruining the whole show if I did something wrong with Henry, my next task was to tackle the different stages. As I learnt abroad not all stages have good wings – this became a bit of a problem if I couldn’t see the whole stage from my position as Henry does a loop following Chris around the outside of the space. There were a couple of moments in both Spain and Germany where I lost sight of Henry and had to almost step out from behind the wings – as I wear all black I thought if the audience see me for a split second I would rather that than dancers falling over Henry!

My other duty backstage is to help Chris with his costume change between the first and second sections. This involves getting a chair ready for him sit on, making sure his props are ready to go and having learnt through dress-runs, having a light on the side of stage, as putting on props in the dark is not ideal!

Chris has a hat, shoulder epaulets and leg gators that either pop on or velcro on. Richard our production manager is usually backstage on cans throughout the whole show, in case of any hiccups, so I got Richard to help me with Chris’ props as they are a little fiddly, especially when you only have a little light to see everything by. However, again when abroad you find you can’t always access both wings. So in Spain, I had to put Chris’ props on by myself, a tense few minutes, when you know you only have a certain amount of time and especially with shaking hands!

Overall the experience of being backstage, although tense at times, is very enjoyable.

While away in Spain, we also performed Tracking, an outdoor piece that was choreographed in 2009, which has been kept alive by being toured abroad. This time I was on stage rather than behind the scenes, as I took on the super hero role.

This was a fantastic experience, not only is it a lively, fun dance to be involved in, the performance area was beautiful. The tricky thing with performing outside is that you’re never quite sure what surface you will be performing on, especially abroad. This occasion happened to be on a hard dusty sand type floor! After getting to grips with the floor and spacing ourselves in the quite generously sized performance area, it then hit me that I was minutes away from performing. Having rehearsed a week before we came abroad and then focused on Artificial Things I’m not sure my brain had enough time to get as nervous as I thought I may have been. In fact, once in the dance I forgot about nerves all together and thoroughly enjoyed performing outside in the sun.

While I (now) enjoy being in charge of Henry on stage, performing in Tracking in some ways was a lot easier. I know how to move my own body and am in control of it, if I make a mistake I can correct it within seconds and I can definitely move in all directions.
It’s great to have the opportunity to join in and take on two contrasting roles of behind the scenes and on stage performance. Having done both roles I can now admit to myself that Henry is a much more taxing job, as there is only so much control I have over him!

Joy St Denis


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