Rankin Reveals The Theater’s Backstage Magicians: “The Audience Would Be Shocked!” | Theater

Jhe behind-the-scenes heroes of London’s West End have been documented by photographer Rankin in an exhibition of portraits celebrating the resilience and creative diversity of the theater industry. Managers, technicians, facade, costume designer, wigs, sound designer, puppeteers and stage porters are among those who feature in Performance, alongside stars, directors and producers.

“Everyone who works in theater has a story to tell about their experience over the past 18 months, inspiring stories of hardship, perseverance, patience, innovation, despair and joy,” Rankin said. The project, supported by the London Theater Society, aiming to “celebrate the jewel in the crown of our unprecedented cultural sector – embodied in those countless faces and voices that form the backbone of London’s theater community and will spearhead its post-Covid recovery”. Proceeds from the performance will go to Theater Artists Fund and charities for homeless young people in London.

Dario Cacioppo – dresser, Les Miserables

We get the costumes ready and help the actors get them in and out at ridiculous speeds, often in the dark with a headlamp. Some productions use lots of Velcro and snaps, but in Les Mis there are lots of buttons and corsets, and jiggers – like a male corset – in the backs of pants and vests.

You are a cog in a giant wheel. Everyone has to make sure everything is going well. And it gives you adrenaline and excitement – every night is a whole new experience and the audience will only see one performance. I wish the audience could see what’s going on behind the scenes, it’s like an entire show with its own storylines unto itself.

Ben Hart – magic consultant, Magic Goes Wrong

Ben Hart, magic consultant for Magic Goes Wrong at the Apollo Theater in London. Photography: Rankin

I started out as a performing magician, but I started inventing my own tricks. And in the world of magic, it doesn’t take long before the word gets out.

I develop the equipment, design the props, organize the construction of the props, coach the non-magic actors and take care of the technical requirements of integrating magic into the scenography and lighting design.

The average audience member would be shocked if they saw what a complicated machine is behind the scenes and what extreme precision it takes to run a show. I am sad that the public cannot see this magnificent ballet unfold both behind the scenes and on stage.

Alice Afflick-Mensah, Assistant Sound Manager for Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theater in London.
Alice Afflick-Mensah, Assistant Sound Manager for Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theater in London. Photography: Rankin

Alice Afflick-Mensah – Assistant Sound Manager, Hamilton

I studied music technology in college, but I didn’t know what to do. A friend who worked there told me to go see the theater world and get some work experience, and I haven’t looked back since.

We come a few hours before the casting to do a complete soundcheck. We ensure that all microphones, speakers and other equipment are working. During the show, we control how much music and how much cast you hear.

No one really notices until something goes wrong. And then they realize there’s a real sound person. Behind the scenes, we are a huge team. We all work to make the show happen.

Tinuke Craig, manager of Baylis at the Old Vicm, London.
Tinuke Craig, manager of Baylis at the Old Vic, London. Photography: Rankin

Tinuke Craig – director, the Old Vic

I’m the eldest of a lot of kids and used to put on shows for them, so I guess I started early. Now, there is no typical day. I could read plays or work with designers or mentor young people. Other times you’re in rehearsal – that’s the best, most creative time. I always forget how difficult a show was the second it ends.

The lockdown was really tough and we all panicked about how we were going to survive: 70% of our industry is independent. But the crazy treadmill is gone – which would have been liberating if we weren’t so worried about actually eating.

West End orchestral contractor Sylvia Addison.
West End orchestral contractor Sylvia Addison. Photography: Rankin

Sylvia Addison – conductor, Phantom of the Opera (also works on Mary Poppins and Les Mis)

My job is to book musicians for West End pit orchestras and then manage them on a day-to-day basis. Now we have to deal with all the administration related to Covid, which is a lot of extra work. The musicians do a lateral flow test daily and if someone is positive we have to bring someone else in.

A live orchestra is essential for a show. He is there to support the scene. Pit bands are made up of very good musicians, but they are different animals from actors. It’s about the music, not the fame.

Liz Flint, vocal coach for Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, London.
Liz Flint, vocal coach for Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, London. Photography: Rankin

Liz Flint – vocal coach, Matilda the Musical

Primarily, I take care of the voices of the children and adults in the cast, teaching them vocal techniques and how to maintain their vocal stamina. Audibility, articulation, clarity, projection, singing techniques. I teach them all about their voice because they run our show. Children are sponges, they assimilate information with remarkable speed, it’s so rewarding.

People think that children are magically able to speak on stage, to be heard and understood. But a lot is happening under these ducks swimming on this lake.

Pat Mitchell, stage porter for The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre, London.
Pat Mitchell, stage porter for The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre, London. Photography: Rankin

Pat Mitchell – stage gate keeper, The Mousetrap

I take care of the backstage, provide for the needs of the actors and part of the staff, manage the mail, keep the keys, ensure good harmony.

I try not to come to work in a bad mood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a clown face and I’m not acting. But once they walk through the door to the stage, no matter how stressful they’ve been under, they can be in the right frame of mind to get on with their work and enjoy it.

I worked in theater for a very long time – as a stagehand, and I did box office; I worked in the closet. I like working in the theater and I feel appreciated.

Brian L. Hartfield