Have you ever wondered how an actor prepares themselves for a performance? Or what goes on behind the set when an actor steps off the stage, only to reappear a few seconds later dressed as a completely different character?
Hidden from the audience’s view, an actor’s movement behind the scenes is called a “backstage track.” Every actor’s backstage track is unique depending on the complexity of their costume, makeup and wig, and will vary slightly from performance to performance.
Kate Besworth, a member of this season’s Company, takes us on a journey from her arrival at the theatre, to her transformations between the two characters she plays (Solania and Beatrice) in The Merchant of Venice.
My Backstage Track (as experienced and written by Kate):
6:45pm – I arrive at the theatre by bike, unlock the back gate, and head into the greenroom tent, stopping by the fridge to throw a snack in for intermission.
I enter the women’s dressing room, say hi to the ladies, and get Solania’s black tank top on, so that I can do my hair and makeup and not mess it up by changing shirts afterwards. Foundation, eyebrows, mascara and red lips. Hair pulled back in a slick bun (which is tricky today because of the unrelenting humidity). Did I remember to bring my glasses? I wear my own in the show and have – once or twice – forgotten to bring them!
7pm – I pull a tarot card for the women’s dressing room to give a point of focus of the show. Tonight it’s the King of Pentacles, and our message from him is to keep our eyes open and don’t be lazy out there! I grab my bag and pull out whatever book I’m reading at the moment, and chat with the girls and flip through the pages until the 15 minute call.
7:15pm – Joanne (our Stage Manager) gives us the 15 minute call to the show, and I put on my very white pants, black heels, and fringed black jacket. I try not to sit for the next 15 minutes because the pants crease, so I wander around the greenroom saying hi to anyone I missed on my way in.
7:25pm – Joanne gives us the five minute call, so I pop in a Fisherman’s Friend (fresh breath; I kiss a lot of people in this show), and head backstage to get my Vogue magazine and pen for the top of show. We get the places call, and I meet Nadeem in the downstage left vom to watch the curtain speech. It’s Claire Sakaki today. She always has the best clothing.
7:40pm – First scene done, I head to the stage left quick-change booth where Melissa helps me out of Solania and into Beatrice (glasses off, add white top, pink skirt, white shoes, lipstick off, hair in top knot).
I high-five Kamyar and Chirag as they exit upstage left, and then Adele and I gab until our scene change.
7:45pm – Scene change done (do I have time to pee? Yes). I travel over to stage right to enter as Beatrice at the end of the second scene. I decide at this point how I will mispronounce “Morocco” in the show tonight. I decide on “Mor-cock-oh.”
7:48pm – Mor-cock-oh gets a good laugh. Olivia, Luisa and I giggle as we head back to the dressing room, where I pick up my book again.
7:55pm – I head to stage left to escort the Prince of Morocco (Nadeem) onstage for his scene with Portia. Very much in character, Nadeem manages to make me laugh as we enter almost every time. Today he tells me that I have “beady eyes, like a rabbit.” I laugh.
8:05pm – I exit the scene and run past Olivia and Nadeem to the women’s dressing room to change back into Solania. I do my lipstick without putting my glasses on and it is not a good job. I grab some Q-tips to fix it, and do my best to tame the extreme frizz of my hair back into a bun. Then I head to stage right, tip toeing in my heels because the wooden boards backstage make a lot of noise. I am growing quadriceps and calves of steel. Upstage right, I meet Chirag and I grab a bar stool for the next scene. We hear our music cue, and make the scene change.
8:10pm – I exit stage right, hand my empty shot glass to Jen, and very quietly jog back to the dressing room, where I get my Beatrice skirt and shoes on, grab a very heavy cloak, and don my mask. Luisa and I skulk like vampires to stage left. I pin my hood to my hair, hoping it doesn’t fall off.
8:12pm – I crashed my table in the scene change into the back wall. I feel like a doofus. Time to head to downstage right for the masque dance.
8:15pm – My hood has fallen off onstage, and I swear to myself as I head back to the dressing room. Out of cloak, mask, skirt and shoes, into Solania pants, heels, jacket and glasses. Another Fisherman’s Friend. Adele and I head to our next entrance together and laugh about everything I am failing at in this show. We prep our costume rack to enter upstage right, and Warren arrives just in time to mess up the clothing on the rack. Adele hits him, and we enter.
8:22pm – Almost done Act I!! I flop down on the couch in the greenroom to watch the scene between Aragon and Portia. When Chirag enters as the messenger, I go to my entrance, pick up my chair backstage, and follow Andrew on.
8:30pm – I head back to the dressing room and change back into Beatrice for the top of Act II. The women and I talk about how we think the audience is (good), and how we think the show’s going (maybe well?).
It’s time for a snack, and then the second Act!