Backstage Brims With Fears – and Favorite Moments
By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T
February 9, 2014
“Have you had any nightmares?”
Rin Ehlers Sheldon, who is playing Lady Macduff, asks the question, and I think about it for a moment before answering.
“No,” I say. “Being a witch is actually not as scary as you might think.”
It’s the middle of Act One of “Macbeth,” and I am in the dressing room cleaning makeup brushes while Rin and I chat. Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti and I, aka “The Weird Sisters,” don’t reappear until the second act, so we have a little down time to tidy up from our onslaught of preshow makeup insanity.
Through our dressing room television monitor, we hear the voice of Danny Campbell as King Duncan, arriving with his entourage at the Macbeth residence onstage. Savvy laughs. She always gets a kick out of how gracious Duncan is in this scene, considering what is about to happen to him.
We are in the second week of our run, and things backstage have become somewhat routine. We know when to help others quick change, where to set our props and how to remove prosthetic face glue in a timely manner.
But these particular moments backstage are perhaps my favorite. Not because I especially enjoy cleaning makeup brushes in the dressing room, but because of these conversations. And also because of what’s about to happen next.
Wait for it, I think. 3 … 2 … 1 …
The dressing room door bursts open and Sandy Campbell, who is playing Lady Macbeth, runs into the room. I step out of her way as she makes a beeline for the sink, hands bloody from her recent assassination scene. As she scrubs, the sink turns a sickly shade of red. I can’t help but smile.
“Out, damned spot,” I say.
We all chuckle. It’s an old joke. If I don’t actually say it every night, I definitely think it in my head. Sandy finishes her ablutions and heads to the costume rack.
“Nightgown, nightgown, nightgown,” she mutters.
Again, I smile, and I remember why this is one of my favorite parts of the night. It’s because, in this moment, if I look at her frantic actions just right, I find myself caught up in the world of the play.
It is no longer Sandy rinsing red-dyed cornstarch from her hands and searching for her next costume. It is Lady Macbeth shedding her guilt. It is no longer Sandy worried about making her next entrance on time. It is Lady Macbeth, fraught with the darkness that will eventually overtake her. Every night, I am witness to this character going through the machinations of covering up her dark and evil deeds.
Maybe I spoke too soon about the nightmares.
As Sandy heads to the stage, I take a deep breath and head up to the sound booth. I have my own harrowing backstage moment to prepare for.
No, it’s not killing swine or filleting fenny snakes. It’s worse.
It’s positioning a chandelier. While standing on a see-through floor. Twenty feet in the air.
Once in a while, actors are called upon to do a bit of backstage work during scene transitions. However, when I said yes to this particular transition, I had no idea that it would involve heart palpitations and profuse armpit sweat.
Picture it. You are two stories in the air, standing on “the grid,” which is basically a layer of industrial-strength chicken wire positioned under the lights. This “floor” beneath you is not only see-through, but it actually bounces with each step you take. Every time you move, you expect to free-fall toward the stage far below you.
Have I mentioned my fear of heights?
I take my place next to crew members Cortney Cloud and Phillip Boudrias. Together, as the music changes, we unclamp the lights and pull up the chandelier cabling until it sits where it needs to be. I am amazed that, while my nightly pit stains are still evident and my hand muscles are sore, I now handle this task like a pro.
Plus, I’ve discovered a little perk. From this vantage point, I can watch one of the most intense fighting sequences of the play unfold directly below me. I linger on the grid as J. Tyler Jones, Francis Gercke, Jim Chovick, Brian Rickel and Christian Payne begin to duke it out onstage.
No, I think. Nightmares aren’t a problem. Between bearing witness to routine violence, conquering severe acrophobia and — oh yeah — performing nightly in a Shakespeare play, there is really nothing left to be afraid of.
The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 9, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.