Theatre in London

I’ve been here just over a month, and have probably seen around a dozen shows already, both with and without my class. Living in London trying to mold into the culture has really shown me just how integral theatre is in everyone’s lives. New shows are opening left and right with advertisements everywhere, and people are always talking about them. I can speak to pretty much anyone on the street or in a shop or restaurant and discuss theatre with them: what they’ve seen, what they liked, what’s coming out soon, etc. The other day I was walking down the road and two guys passed by me, one asking the other, “is Wicked at Victoria right now?” In California it can be really expensive to see good theatre, or at least the theatre that people hear about, which are touring broadway musicals; most people don’t go and don’t care because they don’t know how incredible it can be. Or worse, they have no idea there is a differentiation between plays and musicals. The number one question I’m asked as an actress when someone finds out is “Oh! So do you sing?” What they are really asking is can I sing, but when I tell them I don’t sing or dance most people look very confused, as if wondering how I could possibly be an actress if I don’t do either of those things. In London, when people find out, their faces light up and they reply, “Oh, that’s wonderful! I hope I’ll see you in something one day!” The first is not an insult to me because people simply don’t know, but it has always made me sad that more members of my community haven’t experienced the joy, anger or heartbreak of a great live play. Reading one doesn’t count; plays are meant to be seen. It’s been heart-warming surrounded by people who see the possibility of me becoming what I’ve always dreamed of.

Seeing so many shows on various days of the week, I can honestly say there is no difference between crowds. Theaters are just as full on Tuesday night as they are on Saturday, and people generally arrive an hour before to sit in the theater’s cafe and socialize; when the show is about to begin, everyone orders drinks and snacks and goes to sit down. No one ever comes in late, and if you leave during the performance there is no re-admittance. The food and drink surprised me because that is typically only allowed in movie theaters in the U.S., but no one is ever loud or obnoxious with their food, and the theater is the same level of cleanliness as a non-food theater in California. People are respectful of the artists before them and the atmosphere is a wonderful one to be a part of. At intermission, the traditional snack to get is a mini tub of ice cream; at my second or third show when I kept seeing vendors with the same brand of something, I asked what it was and the lady looked surprised I didn’t know it was ice cream. “Do you not buy ice cream at the interval in the States?” She asked. No. No we don’t. I’d get kicked out if I brought ice cream in a theater. The level of sophisticated attire varies according to where the venue is located, but no one is ever sloppily dressed, like I witnessed in New York when we saw Aladdin. It was horrendous.

At the end of each show, people only stand if they feel the performance deserved it, and copies of the play (especially ones that just premiered) can be purchased at a kiosk. Only the big touring broadway shows will have T-shirts to purchase; if you’d like a souvenir, you can either buy the play or the program (which are not free like they are in the U.S.). After all of this, people can head to the Stage Door outside the building to wait for the actors to come out, and all the ones I’ve met have been so incredibly kind and humble, and willing to sign my tickets! Starring in a show is a different kind of famous than being in a blockbuster movie; the actors actually get to lead normal lives in London because people respect their time and their privacy, yet they still have their moments with fans after every show. If I were ever to be “famous,” I’d want it to be from that. All I want as an actress is to make a consistent living doing what I love, and if people appreciate my work, all the better.

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