I am currently working on a show that involves a dinner party, during which the cast has to consume a fairly substantial quantity of, supposedly, Moroccan food. Before you turn the page, this is not another article about what a pain in the neck onstage food is. Although, it is and I reserve all rights to whinge about it at any opportunity.
There’s approximately £17 worth of Sainsbury’s best chickpeas, lentils, couscous, falafels and more – other supermarkets are available – on stage in any given performance. It’s a complex script in which the cast debates the morality of baby names and, as a result, they need their mouths free to speak and don’t have much time for houmous-ey goodness. Therefore, approximately £13.50 worth of Sainsbury’s canned goods comes back off stage again at the end of the night.
The food is fresh every show and therefore cannot be used in the next day’s performance. On two days we can salvage the majority and roll the matinee food into the evening, which is a small concession. An entire cucumber goes into every show, as well as carrots, half a packet of pitta and a packet of samosas along with all the tinned food.
During the technical and dress rehearsal process, me and my assistant stage manager would dolefully scrape the remnants into the bin so we could get the washing up done as quickly as possible, sign out at stage door and run home to snatch a few hours of sleep. We would mourn the waste of food and make half-hearted jokes about the show’s carbon footprint.
Once we got past the first couple of previews, we decided enough was enough. I could no longer, in good conscience, throw all that food away on a daily basis. One morning, before a working notes session started, we went to a pound shop and bought stacks of takeaway boxes.
We managed to fill four of these with the leftover food per show and, at the end of the night, made our way down the streets surrounding the theatre, looking in doorways and under sleeping bags. There are people sleeping rough who could eat this fresh food, which has a combination of vegetables, carbohydrates and protein and could make a difference as to whether or not they make it through the night.
Especially as we head into autumn, and inevitably from there, winter, and the temperature starts to drop, it is a small act of kindness that makes a huge difference.
Shows up and down the country waste a monumental amount of food every day. It is dreadful for the environment and a missed opportunity to help a stranger feel less alone. It costs us a couple of quid each a week to buy the takeaway boxes and we can liberate some cutlery from coffee shops and supermarkets for free. It costs us little and can mean a lot to someone. We work in theatre to make a difference to people’s lives. Why stop at the curtain call?
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson