If I was going to be a clever-clogs, and quote the play, I could say that the move from rehearsal to performance was the move “from thinking to feeling.” It makes sense, you lay all your plans in the rehearsal, you build your parachute, over weeks and weeks, and then, when it comes to the performance, you just have to strap it to your back and jump out of the plane. It’s frightening, but it’s a hundred times more thrilling than it is scary, because the performance is just so much better than anything you have ever achieved in rehearsals. Rehearsals are safe, there is no one there to see you mess up, so it seems counterintuitive that during a performance, in front of an audience, you should push things harder, but somehow, the adrenaline makes you do it. It doesn’t make sense at all. To me, it seems comparable to someone who won’t take their clothes off in the privacy of their own bedroom, but will do so with gusto in front of a bunch of strangers. I apologise for bringing nudity into the equation, but that’s how I feel when I perform; like I am revealing a hidden or vulnerable part of my self, or my thoughts.
I am a very nervous person, and like many, before a performance, I am ridiculously, horrendously worried. Everyone’s nerves manifest themselves differently, one member of the cast, who shall remain nameless, can only regain his composure by massaging his own earlobes, and as for me, my thumbs hurt like they’ve been set on fire from the inside. Tonight, much to my shame, when Jon gave us the call to take our starting positions, I burst into tears! To calm me down, Matt Stokoe, who plays Septimus, said to me, “You’ve done this a hundred times before; you know you can do it. Imagine it’s just me and you, like we’ve practiced it,” and then stuck his tongue out and grinned!
It is true; I have done it a hundred times before. Why should the fact that there are more people watching make any difference? Initially, I do have to pretend its just the two of us, and we’re about to do a line run in Rootes, but really I am only pretending to pretend, suspending my disbelief, like the audience will have to, tricking my conscious self to split into three. One part imagining its just me and Matt; another part feeling like Thomasina, reacting to what Septimus is saying, what has happened before, what I hope will happen; and a third, prickling with fire and adrenaline, gauging the audience’s reactions, feeling when more or less is needed, knowing that this is a performance. Let’s not bring the holy trinity into it, but I need all three parts. The audience is what adds the electricity to the action; I’m not sure whether it’s the fuel or the ignition but it’s certainly essential. It goes to the heart of why I think theatre works. The tension and the interaction between the actors and the audience has a sort of magical taste to it that you can’t get in a cinema. Grotowski calls theatre a “communion” between actor and spectator. I think this use of a religious word is important; it suggests an interaction beyond the mundane, or even the tangible, and whatever words you choose to describe a good performance, there is always a certain essence which has “beggar’d all description,” like Cleopatra’s performance in her barge; not a thought, a feeling.
Thomasin Bailey plays Thomasina Coverly