Expat Stage Rat
It’s a frosty morning, and I have just crossed into the warmth of the linoleum-lined lobby. I shake off November’s first snow from my hood as I talk about my week-end with John, the building security guard. The moment is peaceful, mundane; the exchange could be taking place in any of the surrounding cement buildings of London’s downtown. And yet - there’s an energy rising across the building as I make my way to the staircase, and suddenly I can’t help but feel enmeshed in a pseudo-Disney opening number. I’ve barely wiped one arm of its snow coating before the entire Props department comes barrelling through with a feast of silicone oysters, foam turkeys and plastic fruit, the Technical Directing team descends from the elevator deep in talk of next week’s strike, and two cast members in canvas skirts run past me, each with costume skates and scripts in hand. It’s 9AM and the entire building is abuzz.
Today marks the start of my fourth week at London’s Grand Theatre. My official title is Production Intern, but really, I’ve preferred to scurry around this building known as the ever-present, ever-nosey Intern. With this simplified title, I become the building’s official Stage Rat, sneaking my way into all nooks and crannies possible for my short time here. I can start my morning helping finalize the lighting paperwork for an upcoming load-in. By the end of the day, I am part of the rigging team troubleshooting the automated spotline from its 70-foot-high position above the stage. At times I scamper across the wide carpentry shop. At others, I weasel my way amidst rollerblading cast members across a busy rehearsal hall. And then, there are the special moments when, after contorting my legs through a small doorframe, I am suddenly standing over the original 1901 wooden arch of the Spriet stage. It’s in these moments of sawdust and darkness that I understand the term Stage Rat: I am this small, frenetic, curious and voracious critter. I'm just masquerading in flannel and steel toes.
Surrounding me I see many similar snouts to mine, busily sniffing their way into always new and innovative projects, systems and stories. I hope not to offend any of the truly special colleagues and friends that I have come to admire here at the Grand, when I say that together this group forms an energetic mischief of Stage Rats - please know that, to me, a theatre’s rodent is the highest praise I can give. And yes, the collective noun for rats is mischief (you can look it up, as I just have). And what a serendipitous word, mischief! The work in this large regional theatre is just that: playful but rebellious, clever and engaging. The mischief at play here can only be done through the efforts, reigned collectively, of its managers, designers, marketers, directors, volunteers, facilitators, movers, shakers and painters. Just as a group of critters will scurry in unison along a path, so too does a large-scale regional theatre’s team move of one accord. A designer will come with an idea, which then ripples through every wall of this building to be fully achieved.
Sharing, pushing and pulling are always a part of a collaborative process, and are markers of what first drew me to theatre. What a wonderful way of life: to work amongst others and know that your finite skills become infinite when combined. I’ve marvelled in this for some time, yet it is finally in these few weeks that I see the choreography of collaboration on the large scale. Always having preferred the intimate, small-group dynamics of indie theatres, I’ve grown through this internship to appreciate what a regional theatre can bring - yes, its scale can benefit larger audiences, but I look specifically behind the scenes (as a Stage Manager tends to do) and I think of their daily dynamism, and the fluid swarm of this theatre’s stage, shop, lobby and offices. It is now 12PM at the theatre. The team has gone to lunch. The scurrying of this morning subsides. And yet…
-Claire Bourdin (Production Design and Technical Arts 3rd year, Toronto)