'Dear Players'...behind the scenes
In the fifth entry in our blog series, Dear Players, Stephen Atkins shares his view from both on and off-stage. Whether he's learning lines or building a set, he's helped create our productions since 2004. He even reveals how we made Brenda disappear* in Murder at the Music Hall! Welcome, Steve, to the Downsview Players' blog!
"I joined the Downsview Players mid-rehearsal and so, although I’m an actor by choice, my first experience was working backstage. I seem to remember giant wooden cacti being involved although I’m not entirely sure why...
"Unlike other companies that can have distinctly separate groups, in the Players everybody joins in with whatever needs to be done. So if you don’t get cast for a part in a play then you can have a go at set building and painting, props, costume and make-up, sound and lighting or (when you’ve got a couple of plays under your belt) stage management.
"We’re very fortunate to have a fixed stage, a large costume department, furniture and an impressive selection of stage flats complete with doors and windows. We can tackle most types of set from modern day garden to period property. Our new LED lighting rig has also meant we can do impressive effects that give an extra spark to our pantos and we have a modular staging system that allows us to set scenes front of curtain or even in the round.
"But my passion is acting and my first part with the Players was as Detective Rough in Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight – a massive part for a newbie which demanded a lot of trust from the director. Since then I’ve played everything from Jafar in Aladdin, to Alfieri in our acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (above). My last performance was as Jefferson Steel in Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s hilarious A Bunch of Amateurs which
necessitated me having a ridiculous wig and a fake tan that made Donald Trump look pale –
it was a blast!
"Having been an amateur/semi-pro actor for 40 years I can honestly say that the Players are the best group I’ve been part of, with people who are not only an impressive bunch of actors but who collectively have a range of talents that constantly surprise me."
"Take Vincent for example, a portrait artist by choice who can wield a big brush and produced a realistic image of The Tower of London for Dick Whittington. Or Amanda who, as well being seriously good at learning her lines, created gallery-quality paintings for the set of The Deep Blue Sea. And, of course, we mustn’t forget Simon Charles whose inventiveness has given us rotating sets, exploding vases and – his pièce de résistance – a snow machine for The Memory of Water. And even when acting I can still get stuck in backstage helping Simon to build a 'disappearing lady' trick for our Murder in the Music Hall murder mystery dinner which necessitated cutting a new trapdoor …oops, mustn’t give too much away!
"Whether acting, stage managing, directing or just wielding a paint brush, I’ve enjoyed every performance and can't wait until we're able to get planning again."
What has been your favourite set from the Downsview Players? Share with us on Facebook
* Brenda has been safely returned :)
Pictured top left to bottom right: Steve has played a great variety of roles with the Downsview Players since he joined in 2004, including: the lead Jefferson Steel in A Bunch of Amateurs, 2019; the waiter with the most perfect timing and poker face in Between Mouthfuls, Confusions, 2017; and Sir William Collyer, the jilted husband, in The Deep Blue Sea, 2018. Lastly, pictured helping fix parts of the set at Downsview Church Hall where we are based.
See more images in our gallery.