Katie Jackson: A theatre ‘family’ can be a source of many happy memories
The end of a show run is never easy. Whether you’ve been working on a it for three years or three weeks, the final day, the dreaded parting, must come. Unless you’re the chair in a West End pit, nothing lasts forever.
Clichéd though it may be, a company is similar to a family, albeit a temporary one. You bond quickly, and sometimes permanently, over your dependence on one another.
Stage management need the actors just as much as they need us. And, like a family, there are often small rifts that can last a few hours, or sometimes a few days. But, eventually, you pull back together again because you have to. For the sake of the show, for the sake of the rest of the company, you make amends and move on.
But what happens when the show and the company aren’t there? The moving on becomes a little bit more permanent. There is a strange sense of mortality that hangs over the last performance of a run; everything you do and say to each other is permeated with the knowledge that you will never exist as a group again, in this time and in this place.
It is, statistically, highly improbable that you will all be in the same room together at the same time ever again. And if you somehow are, you won’t be the same and your relationships with each other won’t be either. You’ll have grown apart or grown up or grown closer, but the way you relate to each other will have evolved with your own life experiences.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a small window of possibility, a reality in which these kinds of connections can be made to last. Two years ago, I worked on a small show with five actors, the director and myself. It was a tough show. Many things that should have been easy went wrong and there was sometimes a feeling of forces working against us.
But rather than pushing against each other, we pulled together even more fiercely. We still meet up regularly as a group, see each others’ work when we can, and go for drinks around Christmas. We’ve only been able to get all seven of us together just the once but every meeting, no matter how many of us can be there and in whatever combination, is joyful and full of love.
At the end of a run, it’s easy to walk away, washing your hands of all of the good times but hanging on to the bad times and letting them make you feel bitter. In a way, that’s a defence mechanism. If you can trick yourself that, in retrospect, the whole experience was miserable and full of annoyances you’ll move on easier. You can’t miss something you’ve convinced yourself you never enjoyed. But, I would rather suffer the temporary feeling of sadness and be able to walk away with a pocket full of happy memories, which will last me much longer.