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Actor's Diary: Christina Craven on Churches, Country Music and Loveless Copulation

In the second of our Actor’s Diary series, GMT newcomer Christina Craven explores musical theatre as both a hobby and a lifestyle. An already accomplished singer who is currently studying Music at the University of Glasgow, Christina stepped into the role of Beatrice in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas just days after finishing up her last production with the Cecilian Society, University of Glasgow, and she tells us just how different things can be when you go from a cast of 80 to a cast of just 21.

In my nineteen years I have been lucky enough to sing in some of the most famous landmarks in the world. I am no stranger to performing, whether it be in a German theme park, Piazza San Marco in Venice, beneath the London Eye at sunset, or in Glasgow’s very own Royal Concert Hall. How many people can say they sang a choral version of O Mio Babbino Caro on the Ponte Vecchio when they were twelve? However, it dawned on me recently that for all the singing I’ve done in churches over the years, I have to say that not once have those hallowed halls ever been doubling as a whorehouse…

But come the first week in May, Websters Theatre (formerly known as the Lansdowne Church) will be doing just that. I’ve yet to step out of the rehearsal room and into the theatre, but that is always one of my favourite parts of the process of putting a show together, and there is a special place in my heart reserved for churches which have been repurposed – especially those with a fully functional bar, which Webster’s will have by the time we move in! I’m really looking forward to having the chance to see it for myself, and I’m sure the space will be more than fit for our twenty-one cast members.

That cast size is something which is requiring some readjustment on my part, since I had about three days between closing a production of Titanic with a cast of over eighty people and my first rehearsal for Whorehouse. This dynamic is quite new to me, as I’ve never been part of such an intimate production before, and that is one of the joys of theatre – you just never know what you’re going to be doing next! In the past seven months I’ve played a strict headmistress with a hidden past in a weekend production of Zombie Prom, stewardess Elizabeth Lavington aboard the Titanic, and now Beatrice Bodeen, a ‘lovely lady’ of the Chicken Ranch. That’s quite a variety in such a short space of time, and I’ve loved playing all of them in completely different ways.

In this production, the smaller cast number also means that we actually each get to play a host of different characters during the course of the show, which is both challenging and exciting. So far I’ve been one of Mona’s gals, a TV show backing singer, an old lady and a cheerleader, and we’re not even finished rehearsing Act 1 yet! Working on this show is proving to be a refreshing take on what musical theatre can be and what it means to me. I’m also enjoying the excuse to play Dolly Parton’s entire back catalogue on repeat – not that I needed one in the first place… Country music isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you say musical theatre, but in a way it’s started to make complete sense to me that the two should go hand in hand. The essence and heart of country music is the story each song tells, which is basically the essence of musical theatre.

It remains to be seen what Christina’s Beatrice costume will look like...

What I love most about it though is how, from an actor’s perspective, every production you’re a part of is an entirely new experience which changes you personally: you immerse yourself in a different world for months on end, only to be forced back into the real world after closing night, whether you like it or not. That’s probably the reason why I (and so many others) keep coming back to it – in a world where people work 9-5 jobs day in and day out for years on end, the chance to live two lives at once is priceless. I take my cowboy hat off to anyone taking the time out of their lives to work on a show; whether it’s a weekend or months on end, whether the cast is eight or eighty, whether the music is classical or country, it’s a life-changing experience for everyone involved. Even if the most lasting change seems to be that you can now do a passable Southern accent.

In the moment though it really can simply take over your life for a few months, except that you find that you don’t mind too much. I think a lot of theatrically-inclined people would agree with me when I say that rehearsals and shows are the highlights of any week! The weekly schedule of rehearsals, rehearsing for rehearsals, watching YouTube videos in preparation for rehearsing for rehearsals and possibly fitting in some other work or general household tasks around rehearsing for rehearsals (i.e. singing while you hoover) becomes ritualistic. Every tiny step is, after all, a step. Getting “the” and “your” the right way around is an accomplishment to be celebrated. Using “loveless copulation” in everyday life is a necessity. Every show is a different unique experience, but no matter the show the drink I have after rehearsals will always the same size. And getting to do all of the above with new friends makes the process just a little bit sweeter.

I’m always surprised by how quickly the rehearsal process flies by and Whorehouse is no exception. We’re just over a week away from a complete run of Act 1, which in this show is a heck of a lot heftier than the second half so we’re making excellent progress. Not to mention the fact that tickets are on sale to the general public this Friday; it’s all coming to realisation now and it’s so exciting to see everything being pieced together. This show is hilarious yet the story touches you (in more ways than one) and I can’t wait for everyone to experience it with us.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas will run from 5th-9th May 2015 at Webster’s Theatre in Glasgow - more information can be found here.

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