One last thing… well, three. There are three thoughts I wanted to write down that sprung from the Lilia Litviak performances so here they are before I lose my notes…
First, actors tend to be superstitious, whether it’s avoiding mention of “The Scottish Play” or following a rigid personal routine before going on stage. I’m not at all superstitious but I can see how easily one could become so.
Just before the first performance of Lilia Litviak one of the actors gave everyone a polished stone each. Even though I didn’t believe this could help our luck or success through any mystical means it was still a lovely gesture and made everyone feel positive. So I put my pale green stone in the pocket of my brown NKVD boilersuit.
Later in the performance a couple of things went slightly wrong when I was playing Luftwaffe pilots — nothing cataclysmic, but still annoying. I realised afterwards that I’d forgotten to transfer the stone from brown to grey boilersuits! The next night I remembered to do so and everything went swimmingly. See! See how lucky I was! Even though the stone obviously had nothing to do with this (unless on a purely psychological confidence-building basis), it’s enough to make me think about having it with me whenever I perform “just in case”. But I won’t. I’m not mad. Yet.
Second thing: For a week or two before the performances there were times I was worried that it wouldn’t work, that the audience, including many friends, would find it all ludicrous. I was so aware of all the problems that I could no longer suspend my disbelief in what I saw. “That’s not a dogfight, that’s a bunch of women walking round in circles! How could anyone take this seriously.” Apparently it all worked out fine for the audience. It echoes something I wrote in my notes from David Mamet’s True and False: “We are all suggestible. We will accept something until given a reason to disbelieve it.” I must remember that and try to notice the things that are working as well as the little things that aren’t. This isn’t to say one can ignore problems because the audience will be blind to them, just to be more optimistic and recognise the good as well as the bad.
Finally, there was a lot about putting on the show that I enjoyed, quite aside from the acting. From the excitement of being backstage to sorting out last-minute problems, to helping people change costumes quickly, even to tidying up the mess everyone made backstage after the show. These were all lovely things that I got a kick out of.
This reminded me of when I was at university in the early 1990s and nearly gave up on my design and illustration degree to study stage management. I can’t remember why I was dissatisfied as I look back on most of my time in Bristol as being very happy (angst over lack of love life aside). But I was serious enough that I sent off for several drama school prospectuses and did work experience at the Colchester Mercury Theatre and Bristol Old Vic (which, like most work experience, wasn’t hugely helpful). I guess I remembered the excitement of being involved in school productions, but didn’t have the confidence to believe I could be an actor, and thought that being organised and helpful would make me a decent stage manager. Just as I can’t remember why I nearly changed career path back then I also can’t recall why I stuck with the degree and carried on. Very strange.