I’ve talked before about how comforting I find certain places. How when I’m on stage, performing, I often feel like the optimum version of myself – a relaxed and confident version that it seems impossible to maintain for longer than however long a show needs to be. It’s nice to be able to flick through a mental rolodex of those places where I can feel contented enough to be in the moment. Across a table from my wife, ideally with a couple of cocktails between us. Breakfasts with buskers in cosy secret hideaways where the spoons are greasy. I add to the list as the years tick by, but I’m going to talk about one of the first ones.
I first experienced the heady warmth of a dressing room when my mum was part of an amateur dramatics company in the late 70’s. They used to work in a small local theatre, and there were only two dressing rooms – one for the men and one for the women. I’d be allowed to sit in the corner of the one my mum used, senses being tickled by the smell of hairspray and the sound of nervous line-recapping, all bathed in the sunshine yellow of the bulbs that edged the mirrors. Then I’d go outside, up to the circle, where I’d sit with my chin rested on the velvet covered rail, slowly gnawing my way through a little cardboard box of fruit gums as the show played out at the far end of the hall.
I have a lucky life in adulthood, and rarely do I feel luckier than when I’m in a dressing room before a cabaret show. The complicated cocktail of emotions they feed me used to, in my 20’s and 30’s, belong to busker breakfasts, but now it’s thicker and stronger, and it gets delivered by the backrooms of cabaret clubs. The tesla coil hum of catching up and nerves and gossip and excitement. Hugs, genuine affection, snacks, collaboration, sudden but casual deep conversations, genuine comradeship. I sit there, talking to friends reflected in mirrors, managing to not be obsessively worried about how I’m being perceived and overthinking every little moment. Happily lost in admiration for the people I’ll be sharing the show with. It’s a +10 stat boost. Everyone made equal by a shabby, damp, perfect sacred space. Happy cogs.
I’m not sure I know too many times in her life when my mum was demonstrably, obviously, outwardly happy, but when she was in her am-dram shows, I know she was. I know that she felt some of the things I feel. Maybe not as often as she would have liked, but occasionally, I know she felt them.
Which is why, last week, I took a trip back to the little local theatre she used to perform in. I hadn’t been there since I was a child. It’s a church hall now, all the red velvet seats have been removed, and you’re not allowed to go upstairs to the circle where I used to eat the fruit gums. The whole thing is scheduled for demolition at some point, because the church want to build a posh new hall. For now though, there’s still a stage, and if you lie to a vicar, which I did, they’ll leave you alone in there, unsupervised, which they did. So I stood on stage, staring out at what my mum saw when she was in her happy times. I hoofed out the timestep she taught me on the kitchen floor before she got hit by a truck and couldn’t tap any more. And I scattered her ashes under the stage.
Snappy dresser Mat Ricardo is a Mental Ideas Ambassador, Showman, Gentleman Juggler, Variety Artist, Writer and Podcaster. He’s a regular contributor to our Mental Ideas Podcast, launching on RTHK Radio 3 April 2, 2020 – talking about his experiences with depression, anxiety and OCD with raw honesty and humor.