Mad Madge: Changing Rooms: forget privacy, this isn’t your space…

“Do come in”, the promoter simpers, throwing the door open wide, “Make yourselves at home.”  Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally live in a store cupboard with a variety of playgroup toys, tressel tables and knackered chairs. However, more often than not, that’s the dressing room for the night.  For four of us, two cases of costumes, a box of props, two dinner suits, two silk ball gowns, four vast overdresses, and the occasional six foot long spear. We might get a clothes rail, but I’ve hung clothes off climbing frames, ladders, shelving stacked with catering supplies, fuse cupboards, medical screens, choir screens, and even, once in sheer desperation, a hoover.

Rural venues are remarkably well-used and well-loved places.  They are also very much owned by the local community; we are guests in their space, a space that they use all the time.   What they often forget is that a) we don’t, and b) we might like a bit of privacy whilst we change.

The problem is, storerooms do not lock from the inside.  We’ve tried every phrase in the book when people knock (which they do about 40% of the time, the rest just barge in.)  “Wait, please”, “Just a moment”, “We’re changing” and “No!” all mean, in every county in the UK, “Come in, have a good look, we’re down to our knickers and socks.”  I might add that sexual equality applies here; we sang for a group of senior ladies in the West Midlands, one of whom did the ‘knock and come on in regardless’ thing to find our pianist in just his underpants.  Having looked him up and down, despite my best efforts to shield him behind my ample frame, she said “Oh, you’re changing” (Doh!) and exited with a smile.  Now I’m not sure how they knew, but the millisecond the tenor was in the same state, in came her friend. Same routine, same line, same smile.  The cheque wasn’t that big…

After the show is the most dangerous time; chairs and tables need to be packed away before last orders, regardless.  Once we were performing in a marquee, and the tent chaps needed a pint, so they took down the tent pronto – with us still changing in the back of it.  With no lights, no roof and no walls, we escaped clutching clothing and props from a descending canvass, accompanied by the irate and remarkably Anglo-Saxon outpourings of our furious Australian soprano. They stopped demolishing the tent after that…

One Wiltshire village hall was so short of space, the organiser kindly screened off the side of the stage to act as a changing room.  Problem was, this was the only route to the gents, so before the show, chaps gaily tripped across the stage to the loo, past the open end of our screened area.  In a desperate search for space during Act 1, I dived into the gents to do a quick change.  Well, I didn’t know that men’s ‘standing areas’ flush automatically, so I and the dress got soaked.  Worst of all, the watery sound effects reverberated onto stage, so much so that during a particularly romantic episode from Der Rösenkavalier, it sounded as if Octavian was singing to Sophie on top of Niagara Falls.

By the end of the show, bruised from too much elbow and not enough room, we decided to change on stage, once the show had finished.  So, as the curtains swished shut for the last time, I proceeded to rescue a particularly gravity-orientated pair of tights that were descending to my ankles, just in time to hear the words, “Let’s thank them once again”. The curtains opened to find me with a Nora Batty look below and my skirt under my chin…

I have a new policy now, a sign that says in large letters, “KNOCK AND WAIT”, and just in case they can’t read without their glasses, the pianist’s foot firmly wedged against the door until we’re all safely enrobed….