The big day

Finally, the big day arrives. The mood in the Hall makes clear how much we have missed happy / sad events like graduations or office leaving / birthday parties. There are heartfelt speeches and contact details are exchanged.

As always, the most nerve-racking period is waiting to start. Once we’re on the dance floor, nerves vanish. The benefit of the rehearsals is apparent. Dance moves are now muscle memory and performed, if not smoothly, at least with minimum errors. It is occasionally possible to catch the eye of an audience member and direct a move or a bellowed cry in their direction. It is exhilarating.

My main concern is stamina. Running three circuits of the line left me breathless and tonight calculate may have to do as many as nine. As always, reassurances are offered—no-one is obliged to do more than they feel able and a physiotherapist is on hand if needed. Actually, the need to queue before taking to the dance floor and a leisurely walk back along Deansgate afterwards gives me time to recover and manage seven circuits with no ill-effects.

Believe it or not, another concern is the heat. The weather is gorgeous—something one would not have anticipated for Manchester. MIF staff rush around liberally spraying sunscreen.

The presence of an audience is not a distraction. Remain, however, uncertain what they are getting out of the production. As it begins and ends with a countdown, there is a sense of time passing and key events in life—rebellion, hedonism, sex, death—are represented. But this article is not a review. It began as a report and has evolved into an appreciation, even a celebration.

Some questions were left unanswered during preparations: specifically, how the show would end. This seems to just evolve. After several circuits are completed, it becomes apparent no new dancers are being added to the line. Three hours have passed unnoticed. Those who have completed their dance follow the remaining dancers, cheering them on and joining in on the final countdown. It is appropriate that a participant rather than a professional gets to deliver the final count.

We gather at the end of the line and the final countdown turns into chants of ‘‘Boris! Boris! Boris!’’ and ‘‘MIF! MIF! MIF!’’. We are verbally marking our territory; ironically behaving just like the football fans who disrupted our earlier rehearsals. Well, why not? Central Government has shown scant concern for well-behaved arts enthusiasts during lockdown; perhaps Cultural Yobs will earn their respect.

Back in the Hall, the mood is bittersweet like the end of a holiday. Boris hands out roses and people linger trying to prolong the mood. But Sea Change is over; Deansgate is a road not a dance floor and tomorrow is a working day.

As someone who writes about but is not professionally involved in, and has never been trained about, theatre, taking part in Sea Change is invaluable. Watching the professionals at work clarifies the essential feature for actors is a lack of self-consciousness, an ability to lose themselves in the role. Even while involved in the project, there is always a part of my mind that remains me: aware what is going on is fiction and even a bit silly. The professionals have no such reservation and simply throw themselves into whatever direction they are given with complete commitment. Boris Charmatz showed the director, as well as having vision for a project, must be able to reassure, even inspire, those involved. He must have been out of his mind on occasion dealing with people who simply could not dance or even keep count but never let it show.

Hard to know what other participants took from their involvement. We were a varied group, few, as far as I could tell, were interested in theatre or the arts and simply saw Sea Change as an experience—something new to try. From an objective viewpoint, it is hard to see the point of Sea Change and that, in a way, is its purpose. Sea Change is a throwback to before COVID when it was possible to do things without justification for no other purpose than recreation. You know—for fun. The current puritan atmosphere condemns any action that serves a purpose other than drab functionality.

Sea Change is a reminder there is more to life than just survival. As for me, considering I’ve just done something completely out of character, for the first time in ages I feel like myself.