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From Nervous Rehearsals to Applause: My Unforgettable Night as the Rector of Dubrovnik

Written by  Jun 02, 2024

For about an hour I held the keys to the gates of the city.

“So we have an event coming up and we’d like to act as the Rector, what do you say?” asked a colleague a couple of months ago. Of course I said yes. And as we all know in the times of the Republic it was the Rector who held the keys to the city.

The event in question was a fancy one with a large group from Terra Australis. Not only was I to play the Rector but I would have to act out a scene with the only commoner that the Republic erected a statute to, ship owner Miho Pracat.

Now reading a script - not a problem, standing in front of a large audience – not a problem, having a microphone and running the show – again, not a problem. However, acting and indeed remembering six pages of text – huge problem!

Over a period of about a month we practised. Over coffee, over a croissant, we would meet and basically read the text with our director throwing in advice and words and feelings that needed to be emphasized.

Yes, we had a director, who was also the scriptwriter. We even had a professional makeup artist and costume designer. Everything around me and my colleague was professional, maybe apart from us two.

Whilst both of us have experience of public appearances this was a whole new ballgame. We thought of sneaky ways to be able to smuggle our scripts onto the stage (yes, we had a stage as well, and one of the city walls no less), but failed. There was no choice but to learn it, parrot fashion.

Now, maybe it is my age, or rather ever increasing age, but I have to be honest my mind turned into a sieve. I was having problems reading the dialogue, let alone learning completely. “I just don’t know how actors get up on stage and remember their lines for a couple of hours of a play,” I said to my wife for the hundredth time. And her response of “I don’t know how you are going to manage,” didn’t really fill me with confidence.

The big day came. My pulse rate was off the scale. And to raise the temperature even higher I was dressed in a costume with three layers that would have kept me warm in Siberia!

“OK, let’s have one last rehearsal on the walls,” said our director. Miho looked at me as if he had seen a ghost. No turning back now.

As visitors walked the walls they stopped to watch our dress rehearsal, just to add to the pressure. It didn’t go that well. Would we be able to pull this off? Would we freeze? I was slowly melting under the weight of my costume.

“OK, guys the group have left and will be here in ten minutes,” shouted an organiser. “Think of this as an adventure and have fun,” I heard my director say.

The Renaissance band started playing, the caterers put the drinks on ice and the sound technician did his last checks. I was supposed to be gazing across the walls towards Lazareti, that was my first scene. And as I looked towards Revelin I saw a huge crowd of white coming down over the Ploce gate. Yes, it was one of those “white evenings.” The white cloud was getting closer; my heart was now beating through the costume.

Slowly they arrived, all relaxed, laughing and then sipping cocktails.

“Oh, how nice it must be to be on the other side of the coin,” I thought.

Miho arrived. Show time!

I heard my microphone click on. Miho looked at me, and announced to the audience, “I must gently introduce you to the Rector. He is deep in thought. Good evening, esteemed Rector!”

All the practise, all the time in front of the mirror and all the rehearsals suddenly flicked a switch in my head.

“Good evening, Miho! So, what do you think of that caravan that arrived at the Lazareti yesterday?” I boomed. “Forty days in quarantine... Let them pray to God for a dry, north wind,” said Miho.

We were in the flow, bouncing lines of each other. Don’t ask me how, but it was happening. The sound of small talk from the packed audience was gone, they were engaged, and Miho and his Rector were like a well-oiled machine.

After a couple of lines, the nerves had evaporated. I am pretty sure we got a round of applause at the end but I was still in the zone and to be honest just so happy that we had done a good job. I looked at Miho and winked, he smiled back.

And then as we filtered into the Rector’s Palace a broad Australian accent said to me “Well done, you guys are great actors.” I chuckled under my wig. 

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to


About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik

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