Ah, live performance – there’s nothing quite like it. From the warmth of the stage lamps to the constant threat that the show could go horribly wrong at any moment.
Murphy’s Law states that “things will go wrong in any given situation, if you give them a chance” and I have found theatre to be no exception. We do our best to avoid ruining the audiences’ experience, but when you’re performing the same complex series of tasks every night to an unforgiving schedule, sooner or later something is bound to cock up!
For example, I was once operating the lights for a professional but inexperienced company. There was a scene in act one in which a detective character was supposed to walk on stage after the cue line “they are coming!” We were into the second week of the show’s run, and so far things had been mostly okay; a skipped line here or there but nothing to seriously interrupt the flow of the piece. Today, the character on stage shouts “they are coming” and… Nada. Zilch. No detective appears. He tries again – “they are coming!” Still nothing. At this point I’m frantically flipping through my prompt script to see if they’re waiting for a lighting cue or something, but no, it’s got nothing to do with me. I can only watch and wait.
How long do you think is an awkward time for nothing to be happening on stage when it’s clear that there’s been a mistake? Five seconds? Ten?
The detective did not appear on stage for over three minutes.
During this time, the characters on stage were just stood there dumbfounded. The occasional “they are coming” soon gave way to stunned silence and an idle whistling. And then, when the detective finally charged on, one of the actors actually shouted “oh, fucking hell” in exasperation!
I asked around after the show to find out what had happened. It turns out the detective had just picked an extremely bad time to go to the toilet.
In another show, I was performing in an intimate studio presentation of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs. The audience members were seated in and around the space, with the actors performing up close in all parts of the room. One particularly agile movement and the back of my trousers ripped wide open, baring my thoroughly modern boxers and bum for all the world to see. There was simply no escaping what had happened with the audience up close and all around me – I had to just carry on with my lines, but I was fighting back tears of laughter while waddling about the room so that not too much of me was on show.
Everyone with a history of performance has a few interesting anecdotes about performances gone wrong. With that in mind, I asked a couple of Broken Chair to share.
Lights up. It’s January, 2009. A group of year 10’s are performing an extract from A Midsummer Nights Dream. Lights up. Enter myself and three other names. We start the scene where Lysander and Demetrius have a sword fight because they love someone and someone else is in love with another person (forgive me on the lack of details, it was a while ago). All is going well, and then nothing… A pause that starts to get longer. Someone’s forgotten their line. Nothing. The crickets have been playing for so long that they’ve managed to have a siesta and then start again and still… Nothing. This silence continues; for a minute or a thirty minutes I will never know. And then, my saviour, somewhere in the crowd starts the best and worst thing to have ever happened to me on stage: the slow clap. This leads to the entire audience of students and bored parents to applaud, out of pity most likely. Exaunt all on stage, from a scene that will never be complete. I never managed to thank that lone clapper.
Katie M says…
So I went to a dance school and the age range was from babies to sixteen year olds, and every year we would have presentation days; a great day of celebration, awards and proud mums… for everyone apart from us. For the dancers it was a day of constant rehearsal so that we could all curtsy to Theres No Business like Show Business correctly. It was sweaty, the lights were intense and having to stand in first and smile for 2+ hours straight has… actually trained me well for my customer service job. Nonetheless me and my friend would always play a game of Wee, Faint or Throw Up. Not familiar with the rules? Its pretty simple, you had to predict if someone would either wee themselves on stage, faint due to the sweltering heat or throw up. One year we were all standing on stage and it was right at the end of presentation day, its picture time, so we are all staggered on chairs and tables so that we were in view and the photographer is getting some really good stuff. When suddenly, there it was, in the row before ours right in front of were me and my friend were standing a girl slowly starts falling backwards. So the logical thing for me and my friend to do at the time would be to put our arms out and catch her. But no no no we decided to split like the red sea and let her fall to the ground. it was like nothing I can describe, mums flooded the stage, I’m pretty sure an ambulance was called and all of us dancers were practically thrown off our tables to get to her. In the end she was fine and, silver lining, my friend won the game.
Got any funny anecdotes or theatre horror stories? Do share!