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Notes from the Dressing Room

52 shows down, director Hannah Drake gives a glimpse into an unexpected experience working on the show....

Notes from the Dressing Room (contains spoilers)

It is a generally accepted rule that once a show opens the director leaves. You will usually pop in every now and then to watch a performance and offer notes to the company to help keep it in shape, but it is very rare for a director to be present backstage throughout the run.

Macbeth runs with a skeleton crew. We have a company of seven actors who all help each other with costume changes, prop setting and audience movement; not to mention running warm ups, fight calls and music calls. On top of that we have two dedicated stage managers who alternate operating the show (running the lights) and manning the cave entrance as first aiders and – essentially – House Managers, as well as setting up and locking up each day. We also have a rotating staff of dedicated and volunteer stewards: two per performance.

And that’s it; just eleven people working together to run each performance.

But when your actors are no longer able to do their costume or scene changes because of illness or injury, and the show can’t be cancelled…what else do you do than roll up your sleeves and sign on as dressers, stage hands and costume supervisors? In this capacity Justin (Producer) or I (Director) have basically been at every performance, and often we’re both there. While this makes offering fresh notes as a director more challenging (I alternate between lurking to watch the performance in the shadows and listening to it from my cave dressing room hiding place and offer small notes as and when it is appropriate), it does afford me a rare glimpse into what it means to perform a show 60 times.

My respect for my colleagues has never been greater.

It also gives me an insight into the hidden world of the wings of the theatre-cave. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Hearing Macduff learn of his family’s massacre and pledging to murder Macbeth, he then rushes off to be helped into his armour by none other than the actor playing Macbeth..​

  • Seeing actors dash offstage in the panic of the scene they’re leaving and immediately start boogying to the rhythm of the war drum being played inches away..

  • Creating my own routine for changing the main chamber from banqueting hall to war room now includes a mini cookery lesson from Ben (Macbeth) as he prepares the placement of his blood bags, sprinkling them with cave dirt and advising how long to leave them in the oven...

  • Company members lovingly miming along to whatever lines are being delivered onstage...

  • Witnessing Andy as the Porter ringing the 'alarum bell' and - miraculously - being able to hear his cue to cease despite it being deafening in the small space...

  • Watching Lady Macbeth transform into witch – making clicking and insect noises while removing jewelry and pulling silly faces at me...

  • Seeing Rebecca compose herself, waiting for the perfect moment to strike her tuning fork in order to snatch her note for the opening of the funeral song and not disrupt a very quiet moment onstage...

…the private moments I am party to are special and endless.

Just don't mention laundry.


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