Props will let you down; your castmates won’t
In the final scene of Wait Until Dark, in which I played the psychopathic Roat, the tormented heroine Suzy turns the tables when she flings a vase full of ammonia into Roat’s face. This occurs after Roat puts his valise on the table and pulls out a gas can, which he uses to douse the stairs. There are a lot of fluids; it gets messy.
On this night, however, when I removed the gas can, my bag tipped over the vase and its contents. Gah! What to do! We can’t go on unless Suzy blinds me with… something. Could she blind me with science? No, not an option!
So, after I spread the gasoline (it’s all just water, folks, don’t worry), I plunked the gas can on the table so Suzy would have something to throw in my face, and really, when it comes to blinding with gasoline instead of ammonia, it’s really just splitting hairs.
I said my cue and expected Suzy to pick up the can. Instead – splash! – something else in my face! Where the hell did that come from?
It turns out that when my castmate Mary “heard” the vase tip over (because Suzy is blind, you see), she went to the sink and retrieved the bottle of “ammonia” while I was spreading the “gas,” and that’s a lot of “quotation marks” in one sentence.
My point is that Mary had my back, and I had hers, because we knew we couldn’t let each other down, and we couldn’t let the audience down either. There’s no rewind in live theatre. Or paper towels.
My friend Phil is a gadget god
Speaking of props, my character protects himself with a knife called “Geraldine.” On some nights, when I pulled this somewhat phallic looking ceramic figurine out of my pocket, some in the audience would chuckle. But when I touched a switch and a blade popped out, the audience would go “Ooooh!”
Ooooh is right. What they don’t know is that this piece of machinery was cobbled together by my talented friend Phil out of Dollar Store material, bits of cutlery, toilet hardware, screws and rubber bands.
He also created a replica Geraldine that popped out of the wall when Roat “throws” it at Suzy. The illusion worked thanks to some misdirection and a blackout, but it wouldn’t work at all without Phil’s ingenuity with statuettes, steak blades, drawer slides and more rubber bands. Thanks, Phil. Or should I say, “Ooooh!”
Smoking is the coolest
My character smoked. They were stage cigarettes but they made me feel edgy and sophisticated. Don’t listen to what they tell you, kids; cigarettes are cool beans. Oh, and wielding knives concealed in dildo-shaped statuettes – also the bee’s knees.
On the other hand…
Any coolness was undermined by my Lloyd Christmas haircut. And I don’t even want to talk about the wigs.
I’m all about the boos
Like I said, I was the villain, a sunglasses-wearing, turtleneck-sporting, monologuing, scenery-chewing baddie. So getting booed at the curtain call? Better than a standing ovation. Mind you, I think most of the booers were my friends, so I probably had it coming.
Actors speak in code
I don’t mean stage lingo like “stage left” or “front of house” or “has anyone seen my wig?” I mean catchphrases and lines only people in the play understand. At home, someone might say, “I don’t know,” and I’ll reply “I don’t know, I don’t know, over and over again. I’ve heard people say that before, only she was more stubborn…” and so on, and no one else in my family will have a clue what I’m talking about, although that’s not unusual. But my castmates would get it. And that’s a lot of horse.
I don’t know if we were any good, and that’s okay
When you’re in a play, you become so involved in the lines and blocking and interpreting the character that in the end it’s hard to tell whether the production is actually any good. People will tell you it was wonderful, but people are polite, aren’t they? Even the booers.
I think our show was good, and, no, I’m not fishing for compliments. Because it doesn’t matter whether we were good, so-so or I-want-my-money-back. We did our best. We did our best as a collection of theatre amateurs – “amateurs” meaning “lovers of.” Community theatre performers do it because they love stepping out of their Walter Mitty lives to become con men, policemen, blind women and psycho killers with atrocious haircuts. They love entertaining people, making them laugh, inching them to the edges of their seats, and by doing so taking them out of their own lives for a couple of hours.
I’ve discovered that I’m such an amateur myself. It’s been over two decades since I’ve acted and it turns out I’ve needed more chewed scenery in my diet. Oh, and there’s one more thing to love…
Two months ago, I walked into a room full of strangers and near-strangers. Now, after a brief but intense time together, I have new friends. Normally, when it comes to making friends, I warn myself, “We have to slide into this very gently,” and then, too late.
But it’s amazing how quickly friendships form when you’re pretending to stab each other. Or when you’re sitting in a dressing room shooting the breeze for an hour before the show. Or when one of your castmates gives everyone personalized business cards based on their characters. Or when one of them really does spill blood after passing out during a rehearsal. (Note to self: work on “stitches/bonding” metaphor.)
How much fun it’s been to be so warmly welcomed by these lovers of theatre. How I’ve enjoyed spending this time with Mary, Nate, Brian, Mike, Eric, Jim, Judy, Susan-Lynn, Benjamin, Dennis, Lisa, and our 11-year-old part-time extortionist Tori ($1 per swear word), most of whom live in an entire other country, for God’s sake. How sad that I’m not likely to see them again.
At least not until next season…