I arrived in Sunderland about an hour ago and after taking the short walk to my digs, via the theatre so that I could get my bearings, I am hunkering down into my room for the week. My digs landlord this week is, you might have guessed, a Doctor Who fan. I think I'm
safe to say that. His beautiful home is subtly sprinkled with a multitude of Daleks and similar paraphernalia. It's officially the coolest place I've ever stayed and this little geek is certainly very happy to call this home for the week. My only disappointment? His dog is named after Indiana Jones instead.
The gorgeous Sunderland Empire
It takes a certain type of person to be a digs host, and a special one to be great at it. You effectively have to be okay with allowing complete strangers into your home for as little as a few days, and as long as a few months, with no knowledge of who they are or what they're like. Whilst touring, digs effectively become your home from home and if you can't feel relaxed and able to be yourself there, then it's pretty exhausting. Fortunately Dan, my landlord in Sunderland, is brilliant. His home is beautiful, clean and utterly welcoming, and myself and Jonny, the other cast member staying here this week, are made to feel immediately welcome. By the time we leave on the Sunday, Dan has jumped straight to the top of my 'must recommend' list.
Who knew they were stackable?!
As a first time tourer there were very few places where I knew people to stay with, so after the recommendations came in the next step was to get a digs list from the various theatre venues. Gone are the days when these epic documents would be popped in the post, deforesting half the rainforest along the way, nowadays it's a simple click-click process and five minutes after requesting it, one pings into your inbox. With the list in hand it's then a laborious process of reading through each three-line entry of the 72 page document and trying to pick out the most appropriate digs for you based on location (thank you google maps), price and whether or not they sound utterly crazy.
We're given a touring allowance of just over £200 per week, as we're on one-week sit downs and from that we must fund our accommodation, food, travel in the city etc for the week. Some people choose the luxury of a hotel or B and B but I personally prefer homes where I can cook a meal or two. In a few of our venues I have my own little place but generally I'm renting a room in someone's house. This means that I'm effectively living with them and it is always pot luck as to what they'll turn out to be like. And what house rules or regulations you'll be living under whilst there! This can be anything from the totally understandable taking off your shoes in the house, to the slightly more extreme not using the bathroom between 10pm and 9am (pretty hard when you get back late at night needing a wee!).
Of course everybody has their own quirks and foibles, and there's a level of eccentricity that comes with almost every digs host. It's perfect as we're all pretty eccentric in the theatre community anyway, but there are also the occasional scary hosts that you end up making a note of. The ones who turn up in your bedroom at 3 in the morning trying to get into your bed claiming to be sleepwalking. The ones who stand over you as you heat your soup up in the pan that they specified, stirring it with the spoon that they specified and then tell you off for stirring clockwise rather than anti-clockwise (I kid you not). Or the ones who make it quite clear that they don't want you there in the first place and send you running for the hills before you've even put down your suitcase. Thankfully these types of digs are few and far between and the 'Diamond Digs' at the opposite end of the spectrum certainly make up for them. 'Diamonds' like Dan, or Annie who hosted me in Salisbury recently, are the people who bring you into their home, sit you down in front of the fire, pour you the (very large) G&T they're famous for and effectively adopt you for the duration of your stay, making it very hard to leave at the end.
There are also the moments when you realise that you may need to leave for no other reason than that the people you're staying with need some personal space, and are too polite to ask for it. Thrust into the intimacy of family life with someone generous enough to give you a bed for a few weeks, there's a level of socialising that you become involved with. You become a part of their family, albeit briefly, so when a tragedy strikes, as it sometimes does at unexpected moments, there is the tearing difficulty as to whether you should try and lend a supporting shoulder, or simply allow them the space to grieve privately and find somewhere else to bunker down, even if only temporarily. It's a thankfully rare occurrence, but a difficult one nevertheless and there's no right or wrong answer.
Officially the coolest digs ever!
So far, I'm lucking out with my digs for Annie Get Your Gun. I have one or two weeks of staying with friends and family, some great recommendations and a couple of gems that I've found. The entire company have taken over a fab little hotel in Blackpool for a week of hilarity and in Stoke one of the places comes with it's own bouncy castle! In the meantime I've been borrowing dogs for walkies, learning to bake exciting new meals with accommodating hosts and, slowly but surely, I'm pencilling in my Equity diary with recommendations so that the next time I visit these cities, I'll be throughly prepared as to where I should stay. Sunderland, however, gets the full pen and ink seal of approval though. I mean, seriously, who doesn't love a Dalek in a bathroom?!