Associate Artist Mahsa Hammat Bahary is one of the 2 actors in The Causeway, Damn Cheek’s summer production at Felling Gateshead. Here she writes about the show from the viewpoint of the actors.
It’s late afternoon and I’ve just this minute finished our very first public performance of The Causeway. I’m very tired, almost overwhelmed, coming down from what was a magical experience.
Performing for an audience – as opposed to preparing and rehearsing – always shifts something. Now it’s real.
And now, I’m able to look back at our preparations. We actors – myself and Ian Crowe – have had just under 10 days of rehearsal with our director Darren, alongside our amazing design and stage management crew and a host of local volunteers.
During that rehearsal time, the space itself – the cavernous Christ Church Felling – has been transformed. The church pews act as a ‘waiting room’ at the start of the play, later as a ‘boat’ to represent sea journeys. The main aisle is filled with over 100 cardboard boxes glued together to form the main performance area. And the depths of the church have been decorated for the show’s finale, where each day a different local choir – cunningly hidden among the audience during the show itself – suddenly and surprisingly bursts into a celebration song.
Also during our rehearsal time, the play – wonderfully written by Tony Earnshaw and based around the story of the Lindisfarne Gospels – has come to life. We actors have been challenged not just to learn our lines, but through those lines to also recreate historical events, facts, figures.
We play monks, bishops, emperors, Vikings. We act out battles, journeys and even the building of a cathedral! We also convey deep messages about personal and social legacy, so that the audience is both informed and inspired by what they experience.
And we do this while in constant flow moving round the space. Ian and I sing, dance, work with dozens of props. Our stage management team silently rearrange scenery around us, hang banners, throw balls and shift the atmosphere. Our volunteers gently guide the audience from space to space and mood to mood. All of it aiming to be the ‘well-oiled machine’ that director Darren wants of us.
I have to admit that a lot of the time it’s been a bit chaotic. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve faced disasters. We’ve made silly suggestions.
But then, we’ve woven those suggestions and disasters and mistakes right back into the play. Because that’s the natural development of the Damn Cheek artistic process. Stressful, sometimes. Creative, always.
And always joyful. Always playful. We’ve laughed every day – even if sometimes hysterically.
And every day we’ve supported each other through the difficult bits. For we all – not just Ian and I but also the crew, the volunteers and the wonderful people from Christ Church – have worked together, collaboratively, to bring us through to this first performance.
So when today, just 2 hours ago, we opened the doors to the Felling community, it was worth every moment of preparation. In came our audience. Small children who ‘ooed’ and ‘ahhed’ and sometimes dozed. Teenagers who tagged shyly along behind their parents but then were absolutely up for audience participation. Mums and dads, grandmas and grandpas who for an hour were able to forget the challenges of their lives and lose themselves in the fun.
Everyone ‘getting’ our serious and significant messages – about legacy and love and personal value – and visibly taking those messages to heart.
So when today, just a half hour ago, we reached the finale, our local choir began singing, and our audience – after their first gasp of surprise – all spontaneously joined in, it was truly magical.
Now, I have to stop writing and start building my energy for our evening performance. I can’t wait!