Expectations are a funny thing to have as an actor. Futile are the 5 year plans, few and far between the business outlines. It’s not that we can’t expect progress, not at all – more that our structure is purely what we make it; often a disjointed mess of excitement interspersed with the haunting realisation that change really is constant for us.
So, when a director I had worked with several years ago asked whether I would like to audition for her highly-lauded ‘Othello’, I was incredibly flattered.
The audition yielded one of those much sought-after feelings: I had genuinely given it my all, felt connected to the text and character, and was excited about the possibility of exploring ‘Emilia’ in this cleverly abbreviated version.
Long story short, the role was offered to me, we toured some regional spots and the incredible Rose bankside (an absolute privilege during this Shakespeare 400 year), and then to the last leg of the tour: New York.
Initially excited about this overseas adventure, I didn’t really know what to expect on the other side of the water. Arriving in the surprisingly peaceful Brooklyn during a 35 degree heatwave, I am disoriented but awestruck. People sit out on their front porches here. The streets are quiet, apart from the odd banterous exchange of water balloons between neighbours – there is a definite contentment, not the hustle and bustle I had imagined. I know nothing about this city. The subway harbours further surprises, a genuine guessing game as to which platform you must take and for how long you must linger.. and the first steps into the venue (alongside a gloriously icy stream of air conditioning) leave me reeling with joy.
This is a stunning white box space on West 36th street. We are across the road from the theatre Mike Leigh uses for his NY shows. The formidable lady in charge is an Italian New Yorker with more grace and style than I could possibly dream to conjure… Orietta talks with her hands and makes curt sardonic remarks with her bright red lips. I am delighted.
Then to tech.. but our director has missed her flight, having opened an opera the night before and slept right through her alarm. We do what we can – nothing can actually shake our excitement at being in central Manhattan with our fantastic little show.
The next day we tech again and go straight on to do our first performance. And then we breathe. We breathe in the hot New York air, and realise slowly where we are. We walk around the block and spot the empire state. We cruise into Times square. It’s a surreal thespian dream.
Happily, we discover that it is the New York fringe at the same time as our venture, and we catch some great shows and make new friends. Our exploration of the high line, cental Manhattan areas and the many many unbeatable bars of Brooklyn is thorough, with Brooklyn barge (overlooking Manhattan and the East river) being an all-time favourite.
5 of us live in a small apartment in Greenpoint. Aside from the England shows – we barely know each other, yet our camaraderie is unshakeable, and everyone chips in.
This, to me, is all part and parcel of being a good actor. A good touring actor in any case. There is literally no room for divas..and thank goodness that we have none to report. Tolerance, an appetite for adventure and good sinuses – these are the qualities that we should ask about on our audition slips.
Yes, our show is wonderful, the feedback is great, the venue seductive, and the location beyond superb – but it is the people you work with who are, and always will be the defining factor in the genuine enjoyment of a project. Success is subjective, and though we know for sure that our production was excellent, it is the team of artists that made it so for me.
Enough saccharine reportage.
All I will say now is that New York feels important. The network of artists that we connected with were buoyant with support. They wanted us to succeed.
I have my own theatre company back here in England too.. and never before had I such designs to travel it.
I’m going on the Stage One producer course next month, and by hook or by crook I will learn how to get us back out there. Because if we can’t put ourselves on an adventure (in whatever capacity), why should we expect others to?
I hope we’ll see you there.
Venetia is an actress, producer and writer. She toured Othello with Pamela Schermann’s “Time Zone Theatre”. Her own company “Theatrical Niche Ltd” is producing a daring new adaptation of ‘Dr. Faustus’ around England from September 24th onwards: www.theatricalniche.co.uk/performances.php