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The Green Room: How do you keep a show fresh during a long run?

A scene from The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre: the show has been running for more than 65 years. Photo: Helen Maybanks

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

Velma Lee is a 32-year-old actor, comic and improvisor

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film

Eoghan Barry is 30. He has worked professionally as an actor on fringe projects and work for young people and more recently as a writer

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

 

Velma It is difficult to keep things fresh.  A lot depends on the feeling among the cast for the show and each other.

Beryl Keep digging deeper. And provide treats on matinee days.

Albert Fish and chips after the Wednesday matinee.

Eoghan I agree with Beryl. I’m always looking for new things to find – tiny details can make such a difference. Suddenly noticing a detail on a prop or costume or bit of set can provide a level of excitement for the next show.

Beryl To be serious, having done a few long runs, the thing you always come back to is listening. We stop listening after a while.

Velma Corny – but I like to focus on the audience too. Imagining a single audience member sitting out in the stalls seeing the show for the first time.

Albert Though routine is helpful, break it – arrive at different times. Challenge your- self to change the inflection of one line each night. Wear different underwear… or no underwear!

Eoghan Having a common space or green room where you can be together as a cast and crew to share and chat about things is great. I’m a big fan of board games in the green room.

Velma Games are great.

Jon Games are great as long as they don’t take over completely. I did a long run in which a large group of the company set up a poker school that they became a little obsessed with. It wasn’t ideal if you weren’t keen on poker.

John This is naughty, but finding amusing things to do on and off stage – never at the expense of the show of course.

Velma Helps me!

Jon Yes, I should probably not say this anywhere a director can see, but I think a bit of discreet corpsing of other people can keep the energy up.

Eoghan Keeping playful, on and off stage is the main survival technique I personally rely on.

Beryl We need to remind ourselves we are responding to other things.

Eoghan Yes. It’s the old idea of eye contact – ‘yes–anding’ your scene partner.

Jon I love the range of answers here. From listening, ‘yes–anding’ and audience focus, to food treats and trying to make each other laugh!

John This isn’t meant to sound cruel, but making sure you find time away from your company.

Velma Definitely – especially if you’re on tour.

John It’s very easy to spend all day every day with the company. Come back to the place with something else to talk about.

Jon And having people to talk about anything but theatre with, too.

Eoghan That’s absolutely right. Having stuff to talk about that isn’t the job is great.

Velma It’s important to remember you need time to be human, not just an actor.

Beryl Agreed.

Albert Freshen up a Wednesday night – put your understudy on with very little notice. It’ll certainly be helpful to the rest of the cast.

Beryl On a similar note, use the Mike Alfreds approach of hearing things afresh each time. Give yourself points of concentration to play through.

Eoghan Yes, it’s always worth doing a little bit of basic scene work again – ‘why am I here, what’s my objective’ – for a couple of minutes.

John Hiding props always helps to liven up a show. I tease of course.

Beryl If on tour, go explore Darlington…

Albert If in Darlington, stay in Durham!

Eoghan I am also a big fan of seeing your cast in a non-work setting. Go bowling, paintballing, climbing or to the cinema.

Jon That reminds me of my golden rule for cast meals, which is that they should all be at Nando’s restaurants, or any other establishment where you have to pay first.

John That’s an excellent point.

Beryl Do day trips, not meals.

Albert And don’t forget ice skating, horse riding, contact sports and mountaineering – especially when in Darlington.

Beryl Skateboarding.

John Skydiving.

Albert Doing a telly in London and missing the train back!

Eoghan Russian Roulette in the green room.

Jon Albert – I know someone who booked a train ticket to Dartington instead of Darlington. It was a slip of the keyboard and the company wouldn’t refund him.

Albert Ha – but Dartington does have a lovely college, at least.

Jon We’ve honed in on touring a bit – are there any tips for a long run at home?

Beryl Stay creative at home. Do other stuff like drawing and writing.

Albert Build a conservatory

Beryl Be normal – washing and shopping. Stay grounded too.

John It’s very easy to get into a mindset of ‘I’m very lucky to be here’, but maybe just think of it as a job.

Beryl It is a job!

Velma Do the boring stuff you won’t want to do when there’s no show at the end of the day.

John Your tax return… but what lunatic does that any other day than the end of January?

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