A colleague of mine said to me recently that the most dedicated and professional you are as an actor is during your time at drama school. I can relate to that. I can clearly recall spending a whole day anticipating a performance, getting in early, showering, warming up both physically and vocally, brushing and re-brushing my teeth, muttering to myself in corridors, tingling with nerves and excitement before every show. In my first third-year productions I remember running up and down and up and down staircases in between scenes in an effort to exhaust myself into relaxing, or consulting my illegible scribblings from rehearsals for last minute help.

But presently I am employed in the world of commercial theatre, and as bizarre as it seems, acting is now my job. I’ve done over 200 performances of this show. I do eight shows a week. It would be impossible to treat every one with such awe and reverence as a two week run to your friends and teachers in which every ounce of you wants to prove yourself.

I don’t think I’ve become too cynical or jaded, but it’s amazing how quickly this dream profession can start to feel like any other job. You earn a weekly wage, you see the same faces every day, you clock in and clock out, and you whinge if you have to go in early for any reason.

So yes, it’s got to the stage in these last few weeks that after the exciting Monday start in a new town, the show settles in and so do we. By the end of the week, looking out into a mass of people, it could be any other theatre in any other town. I’ve sang the same songs in the same order over 200 times. I’ve worn the same two pairs of pants for four months. At 7:50 every night I have a little ten minute break in my dressing room, and by 10:05 I’m off into the night.

With this in mind, how amazing it is to have those moments on tour when you feel a surge of adrenalin and remember what we’re all doing this for. Whether it’s looking out across the auditorium and seeing a multitude of pensioners hop to their feet for the finale, or hearing an off key drone somewhere in the distance as someone in the balcony tries to join in with a song they haven’t heard for 50 years.

The tour has been full of such moments. Last night I looked out in the finale and saw a middle aged man wearing a Hooters T-shirt, bellowing along to ‘At the Hop’ (this surprised me as I was sure that the Venn Diagram of people who endorse Hooters and enjoy jukebox musical theatre had no intersections). The other day I met a couple who had come along dressed in authentic 60s clothes (petticoats and all – the guy even had a jacket with a tartan lining, just like mine!) to enjoy the nostalgia.

Like in any job, we all have our bad days, and I’ve learned a lot on this contract about how hard it is to keep things fresh and exciting on such a long run, and the compromises you have to make. I am also a firm believer that a true actor should be able to work in any genre. Sure pretentious fops like me may bury their heads in Russian novels and take themselves very seriously as professionals, but how helpful can it be to close yourself off from the vast array of other skills needed to perform in shows that mean just as much to thousands of other people?

I have learned this time around more than ever, that just as much as it is important to stay focused in resting periods – becoming complacent in a job is the real danger. Of course explore your surroundings, see the sights, but beware getting into that ‘go to work, go to the pub, sleep until midday’ cycle, or you soon find yourself doing very little other than the show you are contracted to do.

So learn an instrument, start a new fitness regime, record a new voice reel, or even just read some plays, but always keep an iron in the fire; these kind of activities keep your mind engaged and stimulated outside the realms of the show, and the sense of achievement when you come to the end of the job is incredibly valuable, as you have something else to show for your experience.

Setting my self goals and trying to improve my skill set has got me through this job; from time to time over the last few months and in between venues, I have also been able to squeeze in some auditions coaching, which I always enjoy. It was working on Shakespeare in this way, with such talented young actors, that reminded me of the passion I have for it, and it felt good. I was reminded of the limitless possibilities available to me as a young actor, the huge range of material out there left to tackle, new challenges to rise to, new friends to make. I resolved not to waste these last few weeks on tour clocking in and clocking out on the job – I’m determined to get everything out of this experience that I can. Then, after that, who knows?

Image by gnu2000