Thursday, August 27, 2009

Instantaneous Ingenuity 8/27/09

Don't be rigid Be flexible with your discipline and disciplined in you flexibility.

DB - The Vagabond
Hurry and get your note book ready because September is coming and that means all the....
I have three theatre stories for you. Some of you say you like my crazy theatre stories so here goes. But first I want to issue some thank yous. For those of you for whom I have no email address: Alaina, Pacifica, Char, Sarah and, well, you know who you are, let me say how grateful I am for all the kind words of encouragement and support and for the good advice you sent my way during this past distressing week. I appreciate it more than my words can say. Thank you.
#1 My first theatre story is about my friend Lily, who may be reading this right now. Hi Lily. Actually it's not about Lily herself so much as about how we met. I was hired to do a show at a theatre outside of New York. The transportation to get there was by bus. I knew Lily was also in the show because I had seen the cast list. But we had never met. And although I sort of knew what she looked like I didn't know she was on the same bus.

Our instructions told us to go out behind the theatre when we arrived and into a garden at the back. I was first to enter the back area, Lily followed a few moments later. But there was a New York Times reporter doing a story on the playwright, Joe. He had finished the interview and wanted a picture, some graphic image from the show. Joe thought the Pieta moment in one of the scenes would be best, a moment reminiscent of the famous Pieta statue, the dead Jesus lying across Mary's lap. But the two actors who played that scene weren't there yet so Joe decided that Lily and I could do it instead, So Lily sat down on a stone bench and I draped myself across her lap and that's how we met. And we've been friends ever since.

I still have a copy of that photograph and there is Lily looking appropriately sorrowful and compassionate and there am I looking appropriately dead.

#2 Once, and only once, in my career, way back at the beginning of it, I gave a performance drunk. It was summer, there was a beach party that afternoon and I was having such a good time I didn't realize how much gin I was consuming from the big cooler and the little paper cups. That performance so humiliated me that since that day I have never even gone near a beer or a glass of wine if I had to play that night.

A few years later I was doing a play in Boston, During the second act my character was on stage the whole time while a string of others entered and had scenes with me where they did most of the talking, then left to be immediately followed by another.
One night one of them came in and stuck out his hand for a handshake. That was unusual. A handshake was not part of our scene and it wasn't really appropriate. Neverthelass I reached out and shook his hand. When doing that he pressed a piece of paper into my palm. He continued the scene speaking his long speeches while I carefully opened the paper in a way that was masked from the audience. The paper read "George is drunk". George was the next actor on and he also had long speeches with little interruption from me. We had been running the show for a while and so I knew something of what George's character was supposed to talk about. When George came out he was indeed drunk and quite bewildered. He started to speak and then forgot his line. I asked him questions that triggered his memory all the way through the scene. I don't think we got all the information said that was supposed to be said but we made it to the end of the scene and George got gracefully off the stage. Well, as gracefully as possible. As far as the audience was concerned they probably thought George's character was supposed to be drunk and that the actor was doing an excellent job.

#3 The world of Grand Opera is so well prepared and well rehearsed, with so many people responsible for every detail that nothing can go wrong. Right? Wrong. A noted New York conductor was scheduled to conduct a performance of a French opera called The Tales Of Hoffman. In that opera the tenor role is huge and is the most important role. The conductor arrived early, went to the tenor's dressing room and spent a long time discussing things he wanted to do in the performance: tempi, expression, action and so on. At a half hour before the performance the tenor decided he was too ill to sing the role that night, so they suited up his understudy. Now the conductor went to talk to the understudy about the tempi, expression, action and so forth. Just before it was time to start, the original tenor decided that he was well enough to sing after all, so the conductor went to talk with him briefly to remind him about the tempi, expression, action and so on. Finally it was time to begin so the conductor went to the orchestra pit. But he was unable to start right away because there was some problem back stage and he had to wait for several minutes. But he soon got the signal to begin so he gave the down beat and the orchestra played. But when it came time for the tenor's entrance the one who stepped on stage was a third man the conductor had never seen before and didn't even know his name. He conducted a total stranger through the performance.

These are just three of the crazy theatre stories I have in my catalogue and so does any performer have who has spent a lifetime doing it. They just go to illustrate what the song says "There's no business like show business" thank goodness. I hope you enjoyed them.

DB - Vagabond actor
Make it a summer Thursday to remember fondly.


pacifica62 said...

DB did you ever say that you were writing a book of memoirs? You have many stories to share of a world I know extremely little about. When I read them I feel the passion that you have for your craft and the theatre. I can almost see your eyes sparkle and light up and your heart start to swell in your chest. It is nice to see cause so many of us do not have that kind of passion for our jobs or what we do in life. When I read your stories I have this sense of longing to experience something like that in my life too. To feel vibrant and alive and to be completely in the moment loving what I do. It flickers sometimes but not nearly enough. I feel it in your stories though and that is nice.

a corgi said...

loved this entry, DB, and loved that you are writing again! my favorite of the 3 stores you shared was the drunk actor; so clever how the other actor got the message to you and so clever how you were able to help "save the show"!


Dannelle said...

1. Want to see the picture!
2. & 3. Alcohol and speeches do not mix!It is better straight or on the rocks!

Beth said...

I did enjoy these! I'm with Dannelle. I'd love to see that picture, too! Hugs, Beth

Gerry said...

I enjoy theater stories a good deal because I had enough scary moments on stage to appreciate the horror and panic when something unexpected happens. My poor daughter was playing her first big role in my play, Happy Hello, and the leading actor missed his very first cue to come on stage! So she was left up there alone to improvise lines until he came bounding on. I tried to convince her this rarely happened but she wouldn't believe a word of it! I love reading bios of stage actors. Have you written your memoirs. You seem to have a large store of experiences in theater that theater buffs might just love in book form! Gerry

Bonnie Bonsai said...

Little would we ever know what's going behind the curtain. Though I haven't been really into one live opera show (which to this day remains a dream), I thought "all goes well that ends well" with everybody that is involved, discounting the possible drama that could erupt from time to time. That must be a real challenge indeed especially if it would come out successfulm, regardless.

The second story is my favourite.