It’s A Mystery

Theatre is exciting in proportion to its stressfulness. On the bright side, the show is different every night! People react to different lines! Actors can play with how they perform!

On the dark side, the show is different every night! People react (or fail to react) to different lines! The actors across from you can be playing with how they perform, and you have to be prepared for that!

I think that to really have staying power in the theatre, you have to be prepared to roll with punches. Like with anything you do, it’s easy to get into a routine–this is my job, I show up at 6pm on Thursday and pre-set this here and jog onstage and do this choreography and then they clap–but it’s so easy for one link in the Rube Goldberg machine that is a performance to miss its mark, and then you have to figure out how to make the show “go on.” Hopefully while it still makes sense to the audience who paid you for that night.

I have a confession to make: I secretly love it when something goes wrong at the last second.

In travel plans? No. In my job? Oh heck no. When I’m onstage pretending to be another person and I have to figure out how to make sense of something that has gone terribly awry? BRING IT.

Usually the thing that goes wrong is something fairly minor–something that, if you play it off correctly, the audience won’t even notice. For example, when one of our actors came on prepared to do the scene that came after the song “I Didn’t Do The Reading” in “Liberal Arts” when it was song time. He sat on his bed at his computer, the other actors came in and began to sing, he realized what he was doing and decided to play it off like his character had just figured out that he hadn’t done the reading–then jumped into the choreography. It was seamless. He even integrated a laptop into choreography that was meant to be performed with books, and not a soul noticed but me and the directors.

Sometimes, though, it’s something bigger. Something that needs to be done if the play is going to end the way it’s supposed to, let’s say. That’s what happened to me when I played Gertrude in “Hamlet” my senior year of high school.

We’d made it safely to the last big scene, where Hamlet and Laertes were going to fight. Claudius had taken my glass of wine and had put a poisoned pearl in it, intended for Hamlet. The wine was on the table. Hamlet and Laertes were fighting. They were doing a great job of fighting. Swords were flashing, they were up on the furniture, behind the thrones, running around–and a rapier knocked over the table with the glass of wine on it.

Here’s how this goes: Gertrude drinks the wine, setting off the chain reaction of deaths. Hamlet realizes Claudius is trying to kill him. He stabs Claudius and makes him drink the rest of the poisoned wine. The wine is kiiiind of the catalyst for the whole actually-killing-Claudius thing. So that wine glass really does need to be full and poisoned.

So when the wine glass spilled, I had to figure something out, and quickly. Luckily, we’d cast a bunch of servants in the interest of giving people stage time. I snapped my fingers, told the servant, “Servants! More wine!” and graciously accepted the newly-full glass. But it still wasn’t poisoned. So I leaned down, tried to find the pearl, couldn’t see it, mimed picking it up, “dropped” it into the glass, and said, “To your health, Hamlet.” Effectively poisoning myself.

I’m not trying to brag, I just honestly love having to be on-the-spot like that. I really enjoy having the outline of a story and figuring out a realistic way to achieve the end result, given what the characters are looking for. Maybe that’s why I like writing so much–that’s what I get to do, over and over.

Anyway. What I’m sayin’ is that you still should come see “Liberal Arts.” Because who knows? You might get a one-night-only show, a hands-on lesson in flexible storytelling.

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