Brighton photographer Danny Fitzpatrick recently spent an entire day at Theatre Royal with his camera. He was given a free pass to prowl around backstage during a production of Footloose the Musical to document what goes on behind the scenes. His images show us the flipside to the glamorous action on stage, focussing instead on the little hidden scenes that audiences never see.
Here we find performers preparing, costumes being washed and the crew grabbing a bite to eat. You might argue this everyday stuff is the opposite of why people go to the theatre, yet the photos are artfully composed and strangely poignant. They also remind us of the huge team effort that goes into every show – and how lucky we are that places like the Theatre Royal have been able to survive the last few years.
Below, Danny Fitzpatrick explains why he embarked on the project.
As most of us know theatres have had a pretty rough time of it. They were closed for months on end, but even when they could finally open again shows still had to be cancelled as actors or crew tested positive for Covid. Now, as the country is returning to a kind of normality, so too are our theatres.
I spent a day at the theatre from the moment it first opened to long after the last member of the audience had left. It was quite an eye-opener for me. I have taken production images of many shows over the years, but I never considered just how much work goes into putting on a show each day.
I never thought about the washing machines and dryers constantly on the go, cleaning and turning around the costumes ready for the next performance. Or about how the touring crew and the resident crew would meet for the first time and have to work seamlessly together to build the set (which doesn’t always fit every stage) in a short amount of time ready for the first performance.
At over 200 years old Brighton’s Theatre Royal is one of England’s oldest theatres and one of the few that still uses the traditional hemp ropes to manually pull scenery, curtains and lighting rigs up and down above the stage.
All this was organised alongside the general running of the theatre which continued with cleaning, ticket sales, office duties and general maintenance of the building. It’s not surprising that, despite the crew working non-stop, everything was only readied moments before the curtain went up.
Before the performance, the actors relaxed in the dressing rooms, doing their hair and make-up, and chatting like they were one big family. Being backstage during a performance is incredibly special. I became aware of the eye contact and silent communication that exists between those on stage and those waiting in the wings. I saw actors laughing off mistakes that the audience would never know about and I was privy to the celebration afterwards when curtain finally went down to a standing ovation.
I was hugely impressed by the effort and devotion shown by every member of the cast, crew and theatre staff. The stresses that come from working to such a tight deadline might have sent any normal person over the edge, but there was no shouting or swearing. It was an incredibly friendly and welcoming atmosphere and it’s no wonder that people fall in love with being part of such a fascinating part of our culture. I’m so pleased to see our theatres back up and running again. Go support them.
Photos by Danny Fitzpatrick