Thanks a bunch: Actors are forgoing the usual first-night bouquets - and donating the money to charity instead
Theatreland lore dictates that flowers should only be given to actors celebrating their opening nights after the curtain has fallen. Many still believe superstitiously that delivering a bunch of blooms prior to the first act invites a disastrous run for the play.
But tomorrow night, after the opening of the new Sam Shepard play, A Particle of Dread, the dressing rooms of the Playhouse Theatre in Derry/Londonderry are likely to be much less colourful than they normally would be on such an occasion.
A number of cast members have asked their agents to take the money that they would usually spend on sending flowers and instead donate it to Kids Company, the charity for disadvantaged inner-city children.
The scheme, provisionally entitled "No More Flowers", was thought up by the actor Eugene O'Hare. Living in Tower Hamlets, one of London's poorest areas, he regularly witnessed the despair of some of the capital's young people.
"I try and give what I can to Kids Company because I think it's a real inspiration," says O'Hare. "But actors' incomes can be very irregular and I wondered how other actors donated to charity. Then it occurred to me that it could be a two-way relationship between them and their agents."
O'Hare worked out that between last month and next spring he would have three different opening nights. "Flowers can be 40 to 50 quid including the delivery. So that's about £150. And I have two agents. I thought if I could get other actors to join me then there could be a real cumulative effect."
Flowers might have traditionally been given to actors since the Middle Ages, but O'Hare found that actor friends were more than happy to forgo their bouquets for a good cause. "As a group, we're fairly socially and politically conscious. Even if we might get a bad name for it sometimes," he says with a laugh. On hearing of the initiative, Caolan Byrne, one of the cast members of A Particle of Dread, immediately lent his support.
"I was speaking with a few other actors and they all agreed that the gifts we get on opening night are nonsense and don't serve any purpose," he says.
"You could give something to people who really need it. Flowers just sit in the dressing room dying. Then at the end of the run, you throw them away. It's depressing."
The founder of Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh, was delighted to hear about the scheme. But she was quick to point out that it's not just the actual money that will make a difference.
"With children who have been abused, their biggest problem is that they feel violated and that no one wants them around; they feel discarded often," says Batmanghelidjh.
"And to know that people at the centre of society, especially people who are admired in the arts, are doing something like this is so important, not only in terms of the donations, but also in terms of the compassion that is demonstrated to the kids.
"It tells them they matter," she adds. "It sort of helps to return some dignity to the children by having them embraced in this way. I think Eugene is amazing to have thought this up. The fact that actors are agreeing to do this really touches me."
The agents, too, have been quick to get on board. "My agency, Curtis Brown, thought it was a great idea and something that they'd love to do," says O'Hare.
"They wanted to celebrate my work in whatever way I wished. Also, it's easier to text a donation than to go about trying to arrange a flower delivery: everyone's a winner. I think the only enemy we're going to make out of this is a handful of florists."
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