Tonight's installment is more a collection of incidents showing that actors, and tech people have to be on their toes when doing live theater....because you never know what's going to happen! Little oddities happen all the time....a prop will go missing, lines will be screwed up or forgotten, late or worse, early entrances will happen, there can be costume malfunctions, wigs that come off, or disturbances and distractions in the audience. You have to be ready! A few small vignettes, just to show what I mean:
First: "The Front Page"
One of the male actors knocked a telephone off a desk. That sort of thing happens all the time. It's funny, but when something ends up on the floor, that isn't meant to be there, the audience will spend the rest of the scene watching that item, whatever it is. It's almost as if it begins to glow or something! I don't know if they expect it to do something other than just lie there, but watch it they do. Eventually they begin to whisper and titter. That's why one of the most important rules of stage work is if a prop is dropped or falls, one of the actors on stage must pick it up, as quickly and naturally as possible!
The actor on stage who knocked the phone over, was one of the most clueless individuals I have ever worked with on stage. Actually, there were several actors in this show who were just not very experienced and kind of difficult to work with. There is nothing worse for other actors than trying to cope with the problems created by neophyte "actors" who haven't a clue!!
Going back to the phone on the floor, it was an old style phone from the 1920's, commonly known as a licorice stick. So there it was on the floor with the receiver completely off the hook, the cord snaking across the floor, and the brain-dead actor stood there and looked at it for a second, and then turned away and LEFT IT THERE! A telephone! If you knocked your home phone, would you not pick it up?? Yet it sat there for the whole rest of the scene, because none of the others on stage were any smarter! None of the more experienced actors were on stage in the scene, so we couldn't fix it. Suddenly it was if there was a whole new cast member on stage who was getting all the audience attention. The dodo bird actor couldn't understand why the director was upset when they came off stage.
Second: "My Sister Eileen"
In that show, the character of the younger sister, Eileen, is a bit of a ditz, cute as a button, but just not quite bright. Just a few hot dogs short of a picnic! You know what I mean? Unfortunately the woman who played the part fit the part to a tee....but she wasn't exactly acting! She was a ditz too! Talk about clueless! Throughout the entire run, she kept messing up her lines, or dropping a cues, moving to where she wasn't supposed to be, or just generally looking lost most of the time.
As I was playing the older sister, Ruth, (the smarter, witty, level-headed one, but definitely not the "pretty one"), I was on stage with my "sister" for practically the whole show, so I was the one that most generally had to deal with whatever the ditz did or didn't do!
My favorite of her screw-ups took place one night about 10 minutes into the first act. The two of us were alone on stage having a conversation when for whatever reason, she gave me a line directly from the last part of the third act! If I had responded with the correct response to that line, the whole show would have been over in about 15 minutes! I was tempted for about half a second to do that, just to see what she would do! Of course, I didn't. I made up some lines to get us back to where we were supposed to be. The sad thing is I don't think she ever even realized that she was screwing up the lines. She never acknowledged it, apologized for it, or got any better!! I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse!
Unfortunately it's not only actors who can cause upsets on stage. Oh no! There is a stage manager, people doing lighting, backstage crew, and sound people....we must not forget the sound people! They, too, can make or break a show!
Third: "My Sister Eileen" (Same production, different night)
In the show the sisters have come to NYC to make their fortune. They end up renting a basement apartment in an old rattletrap building owned by a tightwad, lazy landlord, Mr. Apopolus. Nothing much in the apartment works right. The light switches are reversed, there is no water in the shower, the streetlight is right outside the window and one of the panes is broken. Worst of all, a subway is being built right below the building and there are periodic dynamite blastings going on most of the day! Apopolus, of course, ignores all their requests for repairs.
Somewhere in the second act, the telephone rings so Ruth (that would be me) is supposed to cross over from the other side of the stage to answer it, which I did. I picked up the phone, said hello, and the phone rang again! The audience laughed a bit; I don't blame them it was funny, There I was talking into a phone that was still ringing! I am blessed to be able to come up with lines that can save a situation. It's a gift! After the laughers had settled down, I shook the phone, looked at it, and said, "Damn that Apopolus! Not even the telephone works right in this place!" And we went on. You can be sure that sound technician paid closer attention from then on!
Oh yes, indeed-dee, anything can happen on stage....and usually does!