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The Green Room: What was your first theatrical experience?

Photo: Shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances

Charlotte Osmand is in her 30s and has worked as a stage manager on and off the book in venues across the UK, as well as in event management

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

Ros Clifford, 30, is currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

 

Peter Like most, my first was panto, which I saw in a small northern town. I remember the principal boy – very buxom, in tights, playing Robin Hood. It must have been Babes in the Wood.

Charlotte I’ve been told the story of when I said I wanted to be a stage manager – well, apparently I pointed to the deputy stage manager – but I don’t remember it. I was three years old.

Beryl The first theatrical experience I recall was waiting in the wings at infant school while they skipped our scene and we had to shuffle back downstairs. I was gutted – and quite concerned as to what Jonah would do without any tiny sea creatures doing their song and dance. Having had my measles jab, the material from my Angel costume stuck to the gel on my jab and puckered the material.

Ros My earliest theatrical memory was being taken to see Rod, Jane and Freddy at the theatre in Wimbledon – I think. I don’t know if that counts…

Beryl Definitely counts.

Ros My favourite early theatre memory though is my dad telling a panto dame to fuck off.

Jon Hahaha! That’s the pullquote.

Ros Dad isn’t into audience interaction…

Peter My mother was an amateur actress, so I saw her in things when quite young.

Charlotte My first proper memory is seeing The King and I at my local theatre. I remember sitting there with my box of juice and bag of sweets.

Vivian The nativity. Being a livid Baby Jesus sitting in a cardboard box, glaring at the cow and sheep because they had lines.

Ros My earliest memory of being on stage was when I sang Castle on a Cloud in my Year 6 leavers’ assembly.

Jon My parents were in the business and I went a lot as a kid. I remember the first time I had an opinion on what I saw. I used to get confused hearing my parents and sister discuss the show, as I didn’t know what was or wasn’t good. Then, when I was about 11, I saw Juliet Stevenson in something and thought: “Ah, now, this is definitely good acting.” It was such a relief.

Ros My first stage management experience was Return to the Forbidden Planet. I also had a cameo and had to speak in a French accent. I wasn’t very good. That was my last year at high school.

Jon In my experience, stage managers are divided into those who love getting a bit of dialogue and those who’d rather die. There’s no middle ground.

Ros I’d rather die. But, yes, there is no middle ground. In my first job out of drama school, I had to do onstage cues in costume. I hated it.

Charlotte I get a feeling of dread when the director turns to me and I can just see they are going to ask me to say something.

Jon Can you say no?

Charlotte You can, but as stage managers we are expected to say yes.

Ros Yep.

Vivian I’d hate to do that too. I’d never go up there if I didn’t have a character to hide behind.

Peter My first professional experience was when I was an acting assistant stage manager. I had to juggle setting props and doing calls with putting on make-up and costume.

Charlotte In my first job out of university, I was contracted as an ASM understudy. Luckily, they got proper understudies in, but I was dreading it.

Ros When I was still an ASM, at every show the director was like: “Maybe if we just put you in costume and…”

Beryl I remember realising that I was never going to be Mary in the nativity play. That was a life lesson.

Jon That’s interesting is that everyone’s early stories (even Vivian scowling in a box) have an element of ‘this is what I’m going to do’ about them.

Ros I wasn’t 100% sure it’s what I wanted to do until I saw Les Mis on my 10th birthday, but I had always been fascinated by theatre.

Peter I used to take my mother through her lines when I was eight.

Vivian Ah yes, I knew. I just didn’t know what it meant. Or what it was. Or how you did it.

Beryl I was an acting ASM to get my Equity card, painting boxes under the stage in Milford Haven. Ooh, the glamour of showbiz, I thought.

Peter I was given a present by an older actor. A prop she’d used in her first professional appearance. I then passed it on.

Beryl I remember playing the Artful Dodger and realising that I had the audience with me. Ooh, the power!

Vivian I was brought to the circus a lot more than the theatre as a kid. I distinctly remember one time when I just knew I was going to win the raffle. And I got up early to claim my prize when they called the number. I recall walking into the ring and feeling terrified, but really good. And not wanting to leave the ring. It turned out I was only two or three when it happened. I thought I was so much older.

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