15/04/17

On Stage

Denver Mangwiro

What a privilege it is to be an actor. To be doing what I love to do. Or so most of them say when accepting an award at a swanky dinner to which he or she was most probably dressed by the latest fashion protégé or long established fashion house.  Who are you wearing today? journalists ask. Oh, Versace, Tom Ford, Givenchy. The actors reel off the name one by one on the red carpet with glee having just been flicked at by hundreds of cameras and screamed at by adoring fans who will brave any weather for a few seconds’ glimpse of their hero.  All this after being chauffeured from an exclusive five star hotel. What a privilege indeed. A privilege that doesn’t come without hard work of course. I watch all of these awards shows late at night with fascination and excitement with my own idea of who should win and who shouldn’t even if I have to wake up early for my morning shift at the restaurant. 

This spoon is filthy, can I have another one please? You ordered the wrong dessert for the couple, please concentrate! Hey, can you please clean the candle holders when you have a sec? I almost always answer with a ‘sure’ and a ‘yes, of course’ because saying ‘no’ would be bad service or ‘uncooperative team work’ . So, I will play the compliant support role until the shift ends and I finally breathe the outside air and drink the cold beer I have in my hand to relax and calm….. wait, If I happen to have an audition the next day, I will just take some water home with me to avoid getting tipsy so the cold beer and it’s dizzying effect is a privilege that will have to wait for one more day at least. I need all my senses at their peak for the audition room just as much as I need them for the restaurant, memory of course being one of the most important. 

Acting is not about being someone different; it’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different then finding myself in there

- Meryl Streep
The classic French table setting
The classic French table setting

So, as Ms Streep correctly says, finding myself in this celebrity chef’s restaurant with an apron on, it’s easy for me to see and or imagine the theatre in it. I’m on stage every night, but it’s more improv - the text is not always the same. The radicchio? That’s a bitter Italian leaf sir. Sometimes my director at the restaurant will walk slowly past me to eavesdrop whilst I describe the menu to diners who have just sat down. Can you do that again with a little more emotion? just like the director in a rehearsal room. I perform for him every week for a wage to get by and as an actor to fulfil my dreams.

Watching me he has to make sure I’m still describing the menu correctly without too many words or too much of anything. (Actors have a tendency of jazzing it up sometimes.) And the performance is marathon, from when I clock in at four and leave at an unspecified time when the moon has risen and after all the cutlery; cups and tables have been cleaned.

The stage managers who double up as assistant directors make sure the blocking of the players is working. The forks and knives are scrubbed just right; the tables and chairs are clean enough; the sections are divided equally and according to ability of performance amongst other things. They oil the wheels of the show, keeping a fine balance of friendliness and bossiness amongst the players with endearing terms such as ‘babe’ and ‘love.’ Theatre, Film, TV would all fall apart without it’s audience as would the restaurant and it’s diners. The players and I do not just give them food to eat and mechanically pour wine into their cups. There is a an exciting theatre and elegance in pouring a vintage bottle of wine and placing a place of specifically cooked food just so for the audience to admire it before beginning to eat. Fanfare and flourish. I play the role with glee.

This is not the reason I went to drama school, but it is not a bad way to mark time till the big break.  These players, from all over the world are here to work hard and play hard. Double shifts a plenty. One shows me pictures on his phone Look, I’m building a big house in my city back home. After I finish studies, I’m off says another. And when the play is over, just like actors, we party. Smoking, alcohol and dancing almost every night in town is a must. And, just like them, conversations in the green room complaining about how slow the play is going tonight or that there aren’t any cool bars on this leg of the tour follow a set script which we will act out while we wait for the big role.

The writer in Mwana by Tawona Sithole at the Tron and Traverse Theatres Glasgow.
The writer in Mwana by Tawona Sithole at the Tron and Traverse Theatres Glasgow.