Was it really six months ago that I embarked upon this amazing journey? Staying in motels, guest houses, self-catered student accommodation; sharing bedrooms, bathrooms and the occasional kitchen… the six travel companions in the Vamos van have spent a great deal of time together even when not working in a theatre. Four weeks of rehearsals led to traversing all across the country, as far north as South Shields; Canterbury in the east; the Haven known as Milford on the Welsh west coast, and ferrying south across the English Channel to the island of Jersey.
As the final performances at The Swan theatre in Worcester came ever closer it was becoming more of a reality that this life on the road was approaching its bittersweet end. Many unexpected adventures and humorous stories, some of which have been unofficially labelled: what happens on tour stays on tour; have made this experience a thousand times more memorable than I could have hoped for – so many more tales to journal.
Touring with Vamos Theatre’s Finding Joy 2014 production has been a wondrously enlightening experience. Before this tour I had mostly done acting work, so more than anything this opportunity has given me a far greater respect for any backstage team working on a show; the actor knows what is happening onstage but should be comfortably confident that things are working like clockwork offstage, while the stage manager has to know their production inside and out – keeping that clockwork running smoothly! Knowing how much work a stage crew have on their hands is something I now much more admire and appreciate when onstage acting or as a member of the audience.
The difference with this small (but perfectly formed) company is that the masked actors are also working their buttocks off behind the set whenever they are not on stage, with me there to help of course: manipulating scenery, changing costumes and masks, setting props, etcetera… and all to a precisely recorded original soundtrack, leaving no room to pause!
Before we knew it, the final week was in motion and The Swan theatre was welcoming Vamos back with open arms! Two sold out performances with delightful audiences; tears flowing and laughter resounding through the auditorium. Freshly ironed curtains and costumes (care of Sarah) adorned the set and the actors, and backstage was a mixture of adrenaline and emotion.
My first few weeks on the tour had me weeping offstage at the heart-rending story so beautifully brought to life by this talented company; over sixty shows later I had become more used to the emotive performances… until the last night. Rachael Savage (director) had kindly asked for me to join the actors onstage for a bow at the end of the final two performances – the hidden member of the team was to be revealed and celebrated, and it was the anticipation of those moments that really had me reflect back upon the past six months.
Epic car journeys on Great Britain’s motorways; visiting picturesque towns and interesting villages; exploring magnificent cities and driving through beautiful countryside, breathtaking mountain ranges and inviting seasides, all changing with the seasons as we went from winter through to summer. Any time there was a spare hour between the get-in and preset I went out on fascinating walks discovering the history of each new area, including stunning cathedrals, ancient city walls, cliff top vistas, quaint little lighthouses and beach combing… and always on the lookout for unusual picture opportunities for our regular “Where’s Joy” photo updates.
By nature I am a very cheerful and positive fellow; my aim to keep up the spirits of a sometimes flagging company after lengthy traveling. Within a couple of weeks on the road I had worked out the puzzle of packing the set into the van so that it fit perfectly, and continual goals were set in speeding up the time it took to do so. I was determined to complete the task under a certain amount of time, even if there were flights of stairs or a short trek to where the van was parked, everything would fit perfectly, taking less time and effort from everyone involved.
Touring as Vamos Theatre’s stage manager I have been blessed in meeting and working with some truly marvellous folk in an amazing eclectic variety of theatres and performance spaces; traveling to new and wonderful places all across the United Kingdom.
I was ever-heartened by the often warm welcome we received, sometimes even with plates of much-appreciated food after a long journey, and friendly technical teams and stage crews who did their very best to accommodate our Vamos set and lighting needs; often generously giving extra time and expertise!
The overall experience on the Finding Joy 2014 tour has been extraordinary, there and back again. The Fellowship of the Joy: Richard, Sarah, Nanou, James and Edmund; all making excellent companions, and with whom I hope to work again soon, on or offstage. A developing future with Vamos Theatre is an exciting venture. The journey doesn’t end here.