We’d been to the big supermarket, scrubbed our hands, disinfected the shopping, and slumped on the sofa ready for the next 23 hours when I turned to my husband and asked: “What time do you want to rehearse today?”
It’s been one of the few bright spots in this whole crisis: the way theatre has refused to go dark and is adapting to the new normal. Many theatres have generously opened and uploaded their archives, but it isn’t just the already completed work that has been made available. Laptops and webcams have become producers, and our homes are playing the part of the auditorium.
In my case, I saw a tweet from my friend the actor and writer Barry McStay. He’d had the idea of remotely matching actors, writers and directors to create short monologues streamed live – replicating the adrenalin and excitement of an opening night over broadband.
Within a week, I’d received a new play written especially for me, which is a first. And I couldn’t wait to do it. I’ve never met the writer, Rachel Bellman, but her play Isolation Ragu is so funny and wise and touching that I couldn’t believe my luck. And since my husband Stephen is a director, we were able to rehearse in person rather than via FaceTime.
I was engaging in this most collective of activities in an empty room
That’s how, last Saturday night, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table with my laptop atop a pile of cookbooks, a desk lamp on one side of me and my bedside light on the other (and a torch in the fridge because the fridge light wasn’t bright enough to register on my face when the door opened at a crucial moment), ready to go live.
It is a very odd experience to be feeling press-night jitters in your own home – and alone. We found that if Stephen was in the room with me, there were echo and feedback issues, so he was shut away elsewhere with headphones. I was engaging in this most collective of activities in an empty room.
Naturally, showtime was 7.30pm, but the streaming site didn’t want to play. In the best ‘show must go on’ tradition, I was talked through how to send the stream live from my own laptop, and I did an excruciatingly poor attempt at news-anchor time-filling to what I thought was my audience… only it turned out they couldn’t see me. Barry handled the whole thing brilliantly, coolly switched me to another streaming site, and we were off.
It was lovely to be acting again: 14 minutes of concentrating on something other than droplets or bar charts. It turned out that even on the new stream there were some picture issues, so the next night I did it again, recorded this time, so there could be a clean upload.
Sitting in my kitchen, doing a play written for me by someone I don’t know, into a computer propped up by Nigella’s collected works, with an overworked internet glitching away… it was bliss. Absurd bliss. While we’re not getting to do it, it’s nice to be reminded why it is what we do.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room