I live in a small town. As far as opportunities go in small towns there aren’t very many of them; which is why when the director of Riarmato Productions came to the Youth Theatre looking for extras to be in an opera I was jumping at the chance. I adore being on stage, but since I am not home enough to be in an upcoming production, and a dislike to the university drama society, I am no longer there very often. The opera was Aida, set in ancient Egypt. Great. When we met at the front of the building I was ecstatic. But as plays go when you have very little time to practice, things get more stressful.
Most of us had never been in an opera, or seen one for that matter, and have never worked with an internationally renowned touring company before, which is why we were all so excited and nervous.
At first we had to sit in the auditorium and await instructions. There we watched and musicians tuned up and vocalists reached the high notes. Some actors also took to the stage and discussed things with the director. That was when we realised: they did not speak our language. That was when the nerves started to kick in. What if I couldn’t understand them? Luckily the director and most of the cast spoke good English, but it still set Min into a nervous wreck. Min, Vie, Myself and one other were called to be servants in act 1 scene 2. We were given brief instructions to stand in a certain position and stay like it, before being told to get into costume. We did not know what our costumes were.
“These look servanty!” Jules said pulling out a blue and brown number from the crate. I looked at the labelling to see what it said. I don’t know what it said, it was written in Russian. So instead we put them back down and asked for help. The director was very friendly and said he would sort it out closer to the time, but in the meantime we had to go in for another scene. It turns out they were the necessary costumes, just not for our first scene, so we were half correct. The first costume consisted of a red dress, to the floor, and a long veil that covered our faces. A lot of the announcements were made in Russian too.
“I speak Russian!” a girl called Em told me.
“Great, what did the intercom say?”
“Haven’t a clue.” Brilliant. She seems to have a tendency to make things up, so when she said it I then disbelieved her. I don’t know whether it’s true, or whether she meant it as a joke, but in those moments I didn’t have the patience for jokes. I also didn’t have the patience to deal with her putting a bright neon pink bow on her costume, or for her messing about with some of the younger members. When she was particularly noisy an announcement was made and we couldn’t hear her, which caused a mass panic between ten extras and an equal amount of ballet dancers.
The second costume consisted of black wigs and tatty clothing, and we were called for our fittings before the four servants had even been on stage. We really didn’t know what to do. When we came to wearing our wigs mine and Vies’ eyebrows completely showed through so we had to colour them in with black eyeshadow, that then didn’t wash off. We were then called to stage and had to stand with our arms held in the air for a total of ten minutes. Our limbs were straining to stay still, and the girl next to me was shaking, I could feel my fingers twitching and willed them to stay still. We were relieved when the scene was over, followed by rounds of ‘I don’t think I could stay much longer like that!”
As stressful as it could have been, however, things went rather well. Because the Youth Theatre teaches us how to hide mistakes we got away with a few minor blunders, and when we had a shortage of chains for the slaves we managed to improvise with our supplies. We even had minimal panic attacks, though the count was at two. It was just a good thing that one of them was made after the performance. It actually was a good night. The main cast weren’t divas and were very helpful in organising us and making sure we were in the right place. They were a good bunch of people. It was even intriguing to meet one woman who graduated from Cambridge seven years ago with a degree in Anglo-Saxon and Norse History and then joined the circus!
Unfortunately the whole thing was over as quickly as it had started, and so, after our triumphant march, we all headed back up to get dressed into our normal clothes and head home. Our Youth Theatre director met us all out at the door and was excited to hear how we got on (he was kicked out of the theatre alongside Lottie because they didn’t have tickets and were left to sit in the cold and get ice cream from the nearby Maccy D’s. It did feel odd for everyone having a different man signalling in the wings, but to see the excitement on everyone’s face afterwards was astounding. Although headaches and rushes and panics were caused amongst a series of organised chaos the evening, perhaps, couldn’t have gone any better.
It was just a shame we had to leave before it was all over.