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Martin Challis
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september 2008

A Christmas Eve with Godot

The cast gathered on stage thirty minutes before the house opened. Warm ups and make-up all done. The four sat quietly. This was outside their usual pre-show preparation. Nothing had been organised but they sensed the need for some form of ritual. In a short time their audience would know them as Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky. For now they were four actors gathering back stage on the final night of a theatre production.  The four had come together to mount an unfunded season of the classic Becket production, Waiting for Godot. They had shared a bonding and transforming experience: an ensemble committed to a creative process inspired by a classic piece of literature.

Some months earlier they decided if they were to mount the production they would need a credentialed director and a theatre they could afford. A combination of synchronicity and good will helped them achieve this. The owners of the theatre had granted a very generous package based on a small up-front fee and a percentage of ticket sales. In addition a prominent theatre director and actor had agreed to come on-board at their first meeting. He was excited about the concept but had one proviso: he was only available for two weeks rehearsal. This had meant that the actors would have to learn their lines before rehearsal. This practice is not uncommon however it would be no mean feat with so many lines and short interactions between characters. Nevertheless all had agreed and the rehearsal process had successfully allowed them to be ready to open the show.

The four sat quietly. The old theatre built in 1889; its clay brick walls with rendered pilasters and cornice, timber architraves, and dado paneling holding their stillness. Moments passed before each one shook hands wishing each other well for their final performance.

I have a strong memory of that night.  Surprisingly it was a Christmas Eve. As we only had a short window to use the theatre we had opted to run the show on every possible night, which included the 24th of December. What was remarkable was that we had our largest audience. It seemed bizarre to us that any one would want to attend a Becket tragi-comedy on the night before Christmas. But so it was.  

I recall that during the performance as individuals and as an ensemble we experienced transcendence. Somehow the play took us all into another realm. After the performance it was hard to describe it to one another, yet each of us knew that something extraordinary had happened. Personally I experienced a lightness of being; I was somehow present within my role and at the same time discovering it as if for the first time. As I engaged with the other characters I saw them differently, there was a deeper understanding and empathy for each of these men. In the hour of difficulty all seemed endless and desperate for us as characters. Our pain and suffering only alleviated by the vain hope that Godot would somehow end the mystery. Only Lucky was void of expectation and as such so aptly named. Perhaps the deeper themes of this work had infused us and took us to a place of deep sensing. As actors we had connected and attuned to one another as never before. As characters perhaps we sensed that the purpose of our suffering was to end suffering.

Occasionally I bump into one of the other cast members of that production. Although it is years ago we inevitably get around to mentioning the night when “something” happened. I am still not sure how to describe it but I can say this: It is the mark of this experience against which I aspire. What ever it was, if it never occurs again I can say it happened once.  


©2008 Martin Challis
©2008 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Martin Challis is an actor and director in Australia. He's also the
director of the Studio For Actors and Ensemble Works and
a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives
Read his Blog


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