Lights Camera English!

Take 58: Backstage

There is a theatre saying: “The show must go on”.

It means that no matter what happens, come hell or high water, finishing the show as best you can is of utmost importance.

And every actor believes this passionately. We aren’t told to believe it. We’re not even taught it. We just feel it. Automatically.

If someone fluffs a line or jumps a big part of the script, we find a way to fix it.

If the scenery falls over, we find a way to make it work inside the world of the play.

If a cauliflower rolls onto stage in the middle of a passionate kiss, we can’t ignore it, we must bring it into the story we are telling:

“Darling, I know you hate roses, so I got you a cauliflower.” 🙂

There is also a strange phenomenon that occurs when an actor hurts themselves. Perhaps she got a splinter from her chair. Or the bookcase fell on her foot. Perhaps there was a problem in the sword fight and she got stabbed or broke a bone! But no matter what accident happens or how bad it is, I guarantee you that the actor will have no idea that it has happened till about five minutes after she leaves stage. Maybe not till the end of the play. After all, the play must go on! (Adrenalin is a powerful thing. )

But this saying isn’t as frivolous as it might seem. If actors didn’t believe in the importance of telling the whole story, then they might not tell it when an audience needs it most.

Until the theatres were closed in 1944 by the Nazi regime, actors continued to tell stories, helping to boost the resistance of the Czech society. And why were they shut? Because theatre had a voice in the community. And it wasn’t afraid to use it. That’s why writers and artists are always the first to be imprisoned in times of oppression.

And not long after the war, theatres were subject to socialist realism. But even in these dangerous times, Czech comedy was an outlet for dissent. Plays contained coded references against Communism.

In the 1960s three absurdist plays written by Václav Havel were performed at Prague’s Theatre on the Balustrade, and Havel would later be banned from theatre, and would spend five and a half years in prison. But in 1989, he became the first President of Czechoslovakia by a unanimous vote.

So theatre is not just vintage Netflix. It is a powerful tool; educating and supporting its audiences, keeping hold of a culture and heritage under threat, and reminding us all of what it means to be human.

Theatre is important. Stories are important.

So… that’s why the show must go on.