by Alexandra Waite-Roberts
Let me set the scene. It’s twenty-six degrees, people are sunbathing all around me in a beautiful park on the banks of the river Seine in central Paris. Dog walkers pass by, along with keen joggers & cyclists on this balmy Saturday in the French capital. The plosive pop of champagne bottles opening can be heard, bursting frequently, breaking the sound of birdsong into bubbling laughter of those closest to the fizz we all know and love! (...well, most of us!)
It’s April! It’s unusually warm for this time of year, and I can’t quite believe I’m here to work. It’s springtime in Paris!
Working internationally had always been on my bucket list. And when an opportunity arose to appear in Guys and Dolls for six months at the Theatre Marigny, Paris; which is situated in between the Arc de Triomphe and the Concorde monument on the Champs Élysées, I jumped at the opportunity. What could be better?
Whilst working in Paris, the accommodation provided for us is situated in La Defense; the business district. Once settled in our apartments, the tech began. It throws up a big issue that you can never really prepare yourself for when working abroad... the language barrier! All the wardrobe department and dressers that will be working on the show, are, (surprise surprise), French. Who knew? You get surprisingly good at sign language within days when trying to explain how you would like your quick change to be set; that inter-dispersed with random French words you learnt at Primary school but haven’t used since. If you are successful in stringing three words together, you now class yourself as fluent and give yourself a pat on the back. So, although a tad stressful to begin with, it actually becomes highly amusing, and truth be told, their English is far better than your ‘fluent French.’
Another strange thing that I was unaware of before arrival, is how many people there are in each department in France, in relation to a relatively small cost. You quickly get used to someone else’s hand putting your mic pack in the back of your thong, along with a ‘protective plastic bag’ for it – it never gets less awkward. Along with some having to arrive a while before warm-up to have their hair prep done, and make up applied by a member of the wig department (boys included). Something that rarely happens in London or on tours unless you are Elphaba or Shrek or some other painted hero! Each department is hugely staffed in comparison to the UK!
The show itself is played in English and screens display the French translation, much like a UK captioned performance. Often laughs won’t happen until a few seconds after you’d expect, which takes some adapting to. The French find things amusing that the English wouldn’t, and vice versa, so it’s swings and roundabouts, and always interesting to see how each audience will react.
We only do seven shows a week with a matinee only on a Saturday, which all the ‘stageys’ out there will know, is a dreamy schedule. Sadly, most weeks we are only playing six shows, or sometimes even five. This is not due to small houses, but due to French protests, and rioters rebelling against President Macron and various rises in tax. I’m currently writing this on Easter Saturday, just days after the Notre Dame fire tragedy, and unfortunately today we should’ve had two shows. But that’s the way of the world. Again though, it is another experience of working in a foreign country. As soon as the sun rises on a Sunday, you’d be forgiven if you thought anything had ever happened in Paris the day before. Life resumes as normal. It really is bizarre.
Trying to plan day trips home to see your partner or make it to that next job audition can prove rather tricky. It is doable, takes careful planning, and is sometimes costly, but nothing beats the feel of climbing into your own bed – even if it is just for one night. This has proven even more difficult, when a journey on the Eurostar for a quick trip back to London, which normally takes a couple of hours ends up taking six hours due to French customs being on strike at the moment. (Something to do with Brexit). Oh the joys!
A few of us have endured the overnight bus which usually arrives into London Victoria at 6am, just in time to make that 10am dance call at Pineapple! Thank goodness there are showers there or else I’d feel very sorry for the auditionee standing next to me in the studio!
It is however, absolutely divine when your partner or friends and family manage to make it out to visit you. It is so enjoyable discovering quaint Parisian streets whilst devouring a crepe and then stopping off for a ‘café au lait’, and discussing where to go next. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed is not having to cram everything into two or three days as you would on a normal city break. It is wonderful to be able to do ‘one thing a day’, even if it’s just to check out that coffee shop you liked the look of for that caffeine pick-me-up just before the show. Having said this – time also flies by and there’s still so much I need to see and do.
It is easy to forget that you are actually away from home to work! But how can one believe this is work when you are in a beautiful city which has so many cultural, artistic and architectural delights! One thing I do know is that I am very lucky that my passion allows me to travel and visit places that I perhaps wouldn’t otherwise see. Well, not in their entirety or to the same extent. That, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that if you want to be true to French culture – it’s totally acceptable to drink a ‘vin rouge’ at 11 o’clock in the morning (Obviously not on a show day!)
The magic that you feel as you meander past street cafés alive and buzzing, late into the evening, long after the show has come down is electrifying. You can soak up the atmosphere on days off over an aperol spritz, whilst gazing at the Eiffel Tower sparkling, (it never gets old - trust me) and writing an article for ‘The Ensemblist.’ Who could ask for anything more?