By: Sam Tucker, TRP Blogger
“The llama is in costume and standing by” I whisper into my headset mic.
I’m thrilled to be backstage at TRP again and one of my roles tonight is to help the Llama with her first entrance onto the stage. It’s party time as we’re celebrating 10 years of Funky Llama, a platform for disabled adults to be involved in creating and delivering professional inclusive arts events and activities.
Tonight it’s the Community Cabaret and the audience, seated at tables in The Drum, are in for a wonderful evening of poetry, dance, singing and magic. A theme running through the evening is that of family, togetherness, joy and fun. Funky Llama aims to “develop well-being, promote multiple social networking opportunities, reduce isolation and enhance life skills” and tonight’s ‘Community Cabaret’ is an absolutely fabulous showcase of this.
Earlier today we had the technical rehearsal which is where the technical elements (lighting, sound, projections) are added to the show and marked onto the script by the Stage Manager. Directors know how/where they want things to be/look and the Stage Manager’s job is to make notes ready to cue these actions to happen in the performance. They communicate via headsets to the backstage and technical teams, so that the show runs as rehearsed. This involves Sound and Light Designers and Technicians as well as Assistant Stage Managers (ASM). This is where I come in!
You never know what you might be doing when you’re an ASM. That’s one of the things that makes the job so exciting for me. Today we were a fairly large team of 6, but some scene changes (setting 3 chairs and 2 microphones) need most of us at once. The other jobs were shared out and one of mine was to open the door hidden at the back of the stage for the Funky Llama’s first entrance. I let Janette Owen, our Production and Stage Manager, know that the llama is in costume and standing by, so she knows we’re ready for the next scene. Janette is front of stage and can see the show… but not the llama!
Another of my jobs is to accompany resident MC Spike Brooks up to the balcony for his surprise entrance. I wait in the pitch black behind the door until Spike has finished speaking and now it’s back down the near-vertical steps. I shine my torch and take the mic and notes so that Spike can safely climb backwards down the steel ladder/steps. Part of why I love being backstage is for the privilege to be in the heart of the theatre and to know that some small action you’ve done off-stage contributes to something fabulous on-stage.
Being backstage is dark and quietly busy. There’s something so magical about watching a show on screens in the darkness with your team. It’s definitely a different way of enjoying theatre although unfortunately you never get to really see the whole show.
However, what I did see today was fantastic. The clowning at the top of the show was so funny and the audience loved it. A highlight for me was ‘The Circus of Life’. This was a stunning combination of dance and aerial skills by Charlotte Evans in a duet with dancer Charlie Eaton, set to a poem read by Cally Cowburn and Brandon Moore, featuring photography by Dom Moore. Fortunately, I could see this clearly from my hidden spot backstage as the aerial hoop was set opposite me. The way the dancers interacted together highlighted the joyful inclusivity and potential of dance and was so moving and heartfelt. This was a collaboration between Connecting Communities, Charlotte Evans, Charlie Eaton, Far Flung and Aerial Allsorts, as well as TRP and Extraordinary Bodies. In the programme Charlotte thanks Aerial Allsorts “for giving the gift of flight and family” and Far Flung Dance Theatre “for opening my eyes to a future career as a Disabled Artist”.
As we approach the conclusion of the evening, MC Spike says how the world has changed so much in ten years, but for Funky Llama there is still more they want to do and say. Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is the ideal song choice to reflect this with a group performance using Makaton and then Sam Underhill continues the party by performing another Queen classic ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’ in the finale with Spike (now safely down the steps) accompanying on air guitar!
This is our cue and as we weave through the backstage corridors for the last time, all six Assistant Stage Managers appear quietly and magically on the balcony ready for my cue. I listen to the song, possibly the most intensely I ever have – ‘magic, magic, magic, MAGIC!’ Boom – I give the signal and we release our streamers and golden confetti down onto the audience who look to have really loved this sold-out show.
Twenty minutes later the backstage team, arms full of brooms, dustpans and Ghostbuster style hoovers, are clearing up and re-setting ready for tomorrow’s show.
Here’s to the next show and here’s to the next 10 years of Funky Llama!