I have been involved in theatre since 8th grade when I was cast as one of the citizens in The Lottery. We performed one night at the local college. I forget what the occasion for the show was. In high school I acted in almost all of the shows we did, having roles in Oklahoma, Gypsy, and Our Town just to name a few. In college I continued to study acting playing roles in Guys and Dolls, Charlie Brown, and Godspell. After college I realized I sucked as an actor, didn’t have the drive to pursue it and to make matters worse it made me a nervous wreck. So I became a designer. I’ve been designing lights for theatre, dance and opera since 1989. In all I’ve designed lighting for close to 100 shows.
I’ve seen actors forget their lines, trip and fall, drop things and break them. I’ve seen shows stop because of safety concerns, for tornadoes and fire drills but never by an actor. They have all adhered to the idea that the show must go on. It’s your job to make it work, hopefully without the audience knowing there’s a problem. I have never, ever, ever seen an actor stop the orchestra and ask to start over. After tonight I can’t say that. Tonight the leading actress entered as usual, the lights came up on her, the conductor cued her and she mumbled something you couldn’t understand, hummed a little and then tried again. Hummed some more and finally over the orchestra said, “Can we start over.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or hide. It was embarrassing for me and I wasn’t on stage.
None of this would be terribly exciting if it weren’t for the fact that the leading lady thinks her shit don’t stink. She’s made everyone’s life miserable for the past 6 weeks. I haven’t been in rehearsal, so I don’t have any first hand knowledge but I know most everyone in the cast hates her. The director has sworn never to work with her again, and stage management would like to push her into the pit. I don’t have to deal with the actor’s much so I haven’t seen it but 40 people can’t all be wrong. All of this and she’s having an affair with one of the other actors in the cast and has stopped even pretending it’s not happening. I think everyone but her husband knows it’s going on. Except perhaps the family of the man she’s fucking. That would be one wife and two kids. Makes me think about the sanctity of marriage we hear so much about.
So tonight she started over. And was never quite on for the rest of the evening. She stumbled over words, was off pitch, and just couldn’t seem to get it together. I sat in the audience tonight waiting to see what would happen next. Luckily for the most part not much…at least not that the audience noticed.
My ME who I’ve now written off as completely incompetent, was ahead two light cues tonight for almost 10 minutes, completely unaware that anything was wrong. Luckily the stage manager was paying attention and realized something was up and questioned him enough to make him realize there was a problem. He might have realized all of this if he hadn’t been reading a book during the show. I’ve seen some nights where he never looks at the stage and never looks at the monitor to see what’s happening. He just sits there with his head in the book completely oblivious to what’s happening around him. Tonight I wanted to strangle him.
And why tonight. I think I might have forgotten to mention…the show was video taped tonight. So the official documentation of the show will have the lovely leading lady starting over and will have the light cues in Act 2 completely fucked up. I can hardly wait to see it. Nothing like having documentation of the mistakes you make. Maybe I’ll force the ME to sit and watch it so he can see how bad the show looks when it’s not done the way it’s supposed to be.
Or maybe I’ll go back to New York and call it day. And know that HE won’t be back next year. At least not if they want me to be here.