Friday, July 4, 2008

But First, Some Comedy

From Rob:
The show was for a group of information technology programmers. They were about 200 or so of them, grouped in their cafeteria with a small stage at one end for us to perform on.

Before we got up there, the CEO took the stage and spoke in Dutch. After about two minutes of a weirdly restless but attentive audience, an audible groan of what I can only describe as disbelief roses. I asked our contact person for the show to translate what just happened.

"The boss just told everyone they're being let go next month. Hey, that's your cue. Good luck!"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yes, We Have No Propmasters

Another from Zoe:
Imagine a serious drama. The tension mounts as we reach the conclusion. There's been deception, betrayal, murder. The audience is gripped by the final confrontation. Protagonist against Family Enemy. There's no going back.

The Protagonist yanks open the desk drawer to reach for the gun. The next line is:

"I'll kill you. I'll kill you with my father's gun."

The drawer is empty.

On top of the desk is a bowl of fake fruit. The Family Enemy registers the flush of panic on the Protagonist's face and sees him reach for the bowl of fruit.

"I'll kill you!" He screams as he advances. "I'll kill you with my father's banana!"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It's in My Fake Blood

From Rachel:
For my first job out of college, I worked at the haunted house at Navy Pier. The casting process was awkward enough because they behaved as though you'd just won the acting gig of your life, when in reality they'd cast you if you could act like a cartoon and pass a drug test.

I remember them holding my headshot and saying, "Why haven't we seen YOU before?" and I sort of mumbled, "Oh, I just got out of the acting program at Northwestern," wanting to say, ". . . where I took a special class in haunting."

The house had many Disney-esque rooms full of moving parts, flashing lights, and special effects all cued to a soundtrack. Every day, you'd be assigned to one of your potential roles (Real Estate Agent with Knife through Head, Scared Librarian, Evil French Chef, etc.), and you would do your lines in tandem with the house's track. That meant doing a ninety-second scene followed by a thirty-second break that allowed "guests" to move into the next room.

Overall, a silly but often fun job – until the week before Halloween. As the weather got colder, the staff got sicker, and anyone who could work got overtime. We couldn't count on breaks at the end of the night since the house had to keep running until everyone in line got through, and the hours of repetition started to feel like a bright and shiny purgatory. As the crowds grew, it would take the entire thirty-second break for them to clear the room, and then you'd be bombarded again. Even with microphones, most of us lost our voices – one duo of French Chefs resorted to miming and smearing fake blood on each other's faces instead of saying their lines. 

On Halloween weekend, I played a chef – with no partner, since we were so short-staffed – and took to hiding behind a door during the thirty-second break so I could suck on a Halls that I kept in my pocket. After days of heavy crowds, my whole body, but especially my voice, killed, and I was more than a little slaphappy. At one point I lay down on the floor just to get off my feet for a second and did some zombie sit-up action when the crowd came in. The tech guys who watched us on monitors thought I'd passed out and almost stopped the house.

I hadn't, but I was so out of it, going on impulse, that when a little kid held a plastic spider ring up to me and yelled, "Cook my spider!" which sounded more like, "Cook mah spahdow," because he was just that adorable, I snatched it out of his hand and stuck it in my mouth, making a big show of gnawing on it. When I spit it out and looked back at him, he looked not so much scared or upset as stunned. 

I went on autopilot until he left the room, thinking both that he might at any second start crying and that he might have some terrible child disease that I'd happily put in my mouth. Gross. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Free Is Never Free

From Zoe:
I was playing Blanche in a production of “The Glass Mendacity” at a small theater. This is a spoof that combines all the major works of Tennessee Williams into one play. It's what one might call a “romp,” although not in regular conversation, because who talks like that?

Things were going well. The cast got along, for the most part everyone was talented and enthusiastic (in spite of the toxic swamp breath of Big Mama) and for once the box office was pre-selling -- a cheerful indication that we wouldn't be showing up for a call and repeatedly asking the stage manager how many were on the books now as we delayed putting on our make-up in case the show got cancelled.

During tech rehearsal, everything seemed fine until we started doing full runs of the show. We would happily be mid-romp when suddenly: total darkness. The director would yell, "Hold!" We'd freeze, lights would pop back on again after about ten seconds and we'd continue.

The first few times? “Hey, it's dress rehearsal; these things happen.” The next ten times pushing into final dress, we started to ask questions. (For a “romp” with lots of physical comedy, darkness was a real issue.)

"Oh," the director shrugged. "That's just John." As an afterthought: "He works for free."

My friend Dave, who was on the soundboard, reported that John was a Vietnam vet still suffering from the effects of his combat time. If he was late for a cue, or god forbid missed one, he would panic, slam the main power button on the board and then sit frozen with his hands trembling over the board. Dave would gently say "John… JOHN." Turning the board back on, he’d place John's hands on the sliders for the next cue. Once back in position, John could continue. John loved theatre and loved running lights.

We played for sold-out houses night after night. And almost every night, we would be plunged into darkness, freeze... and wait.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

But You Were Great.

From the New York Times, via my brother:
The play was “Moose Murders,” and even now, 25 years later, it is considered the standard of awfulness against which all Broadway flops are judged.
The reviews, which were not helped by the man reeking of vomit who sat in the third row during a press preview, made the 14 performances of “Moose Murders” legendary in theater history.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Three-Hour Dour

From Jeremy:
When I was just in Chicago for the first time, one of the first jobs I had was working at the Organic Theater box office. The theater was rented out for a production of "Gilligan's Island, The Musical." It was terrrrrible. (Sample lyric: "Hey little buddy, that's terrific. / You just spelled 'hieroglyphic!'")

But they were spending money and hiring Equity actors, and the theater was broke, so there it was. The cast was extremely game, by which I mean they tried hard. The songs were gamey, by which I mean they stank. And the book was worse. The show was panned. I'd say it was "brutalized," but all the reviews were doing was telling it like it was. Not a good show. And the houses were small, and got smaller over the eight week run.

All the actors were imports except for two of the leads. One day late in the run, I was in the box office and one of the local leads was walking in. (I'm not protecting the guilty -- I just don't remember the actor's name, and I doubt he put it on his resume.) I waved hello, but he didn't see me. His head was down, and he was muttering.

As he passed the window, I heard what he was saying, over and over. "An actor has to eat. An actor has to eat. An actor has to eat."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh, Henrik!

From Lacy:
A friend attended a production of "Hedda Gabler" in college.  It was what you'd expect of a college production of "Hedda Gabler," more or less.  Until the last moment.

In the script, as you may know, Hedda goes upstage to a semi-concealed anteroom, shoots herself abruptly, interrupting the conversation onstage, and her husband dashes back to find her, upon which:

TESMAN: (shrieks to Brack).
Shot herself! Shot herself in the temple! Fancy that!

Well. In this staging, Hedda was supposed to go offstage, then a running crew would fire a prop gun for the sound cue.

So one night, she exited as planned, and … no gunshot.  

The actors stranded on stage … waited. Dragged out their lines, repeated the cue. Finally, Tesman muttered something along the lines of, "well…. You know, I think I'll just go check on Hedda," and awkwardly went offstage where the frantic running crew member could not get the gun to fire.

So Tesman covered the only way he could.

TESMAN: (shrieks to Brack).
Stabbed herself! Stabbed herself in the temple! Fancy that!