I was setting up dressing rooms for the street theatre performers at Widcombe Rising last week. Some said they were happy to change in their vans, but what with the dodgy weather, I tried to find them places to change that wouldn’t be subject to sudden deluges.
Most groups are happy with a table in an office or kitchen, but over the last forty years the Natural Theatre Company has often been hard pressed to get even that. For example, when we performed on the Orient Express we had to change in the public toilets at the Gare Du Nord.
In a circus in Berlin the performing goat got into the dressing area and ate all our greasepaint.
On another occasion at an opening of a famous roof garden, our poor actors were given a corner of the staff canteen…with the staff in there having lunch. What shall we do, someone asked? Trousers off and go for it I said. So we did just that. Put them off their meat and two veg no end!
I’ve even had to don costume in a phone box, but at the other end of the spectrum, we once used the Queen of Holland’s office to change in. We found her private toilet hidden behind a hinged bookcase. So you could say we used the royal throne!
Possibly the worst dressing room was in a heavy rock club in Rotterdam. At one end was a fridge full of booze, guarded by a slavering Alsatian. Its chain was just short enough to stop it actually attacking us, but by golly it tried. Every time we entered, it went berserk, stretching the chain to the limit while we pressed ourselves up against the end wall. I’m sure the fear added an extra edge to our performance!
In Rome the organisers gave us our own little baroque palace in the grounds of a larger stately pile. It had delicate wrought iron spiral staircases, a domed ceiling painted with classical frescoes and even a tinkling fountain. As we relaxed on the velvet sofas and admired ourselves in the ormolu mirrors, we thought it the best dressing room ever. But all was not as it seemed. A year later we were still waiting to be paid!