Actor Jay Laga’aia has had some frightening experiences onstage.
Playing Mufasa in the Lion King and standing on Pride Rock reciting the show’s opening stanza, he momentarily lost his concentration.
“At that moment I thought to myself, have I turned my car lights off?’ he told AAP.
“Then it dawned on me that I stopped talking. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t know where I stopped talking at!”
With the actors below him shaking with silent laughter, he had to swallow his pride and start again from the top.
Worse, there are moments he’s found himself enjoying his own musical numbers from the wings, having forgotten to go onstage.
“So that is one of my phobias… theatre is a cruel thing. It’s why I’m always side of stage before I’m going on, double checking with people,” he said.
In the upcoming Australian production of the West End hit Ghost Stories, the former Playschool host is charged with scaring the living daylights out of his audience – many who grew up watching him on children’s television no doubt among them.
Laga’aia plays a warehouse nightwatchman, and at this point not even he knows how his ghost story ends.
“When I first started talking about the show I did a deep dive, which I found out was like a kiddie pool because there wasn’t much to dive into,” he said.
That’s because at the end of each performance the audience is sworn to secrecy to preserve the scariest parts, although Laga’aia promises the show is funny as well as frightening.
The nightwatchman’s tale is one of three told by Professor Goodman, an expert in ghosts and the paranormal who is played by Steve Rodgers.
Ghost Stories is Rodgers’ second show in two and half years after his theatre work dried up due to the pandemic.
Despite 20 years of acting and writing, he found himself teaching at a Campbelltown high school and laying bricks at building sites around Marrickville.
While he did have some scriptwriting gigs and landed a part in streaming series Bump, in 2021 Rodgers began to fear his acting career was over.
“You kind of start to feel like it’s not gonna happen again, like maybe I’m done,” he told AAP.
But returning to the STC for a workshop he remembered the joy of simply being in a room with people telling a story.
“It’s like my church and it’s where I get to talk about life and rub up against other people who are really interested in human nature,” he said.
He describes Ghost Stories as a psychological thriller with laugh-out-loud moments.
“It’s a thrilling experience, you come out feeling alive and it’s incredibly entertaining,” he said.
Ghost Stories will play at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre in September-October, and Adelaide’s Dunstan Playhouse in December.