Not sure if this is the right place for this but I an involved with a local Jersey (UK)theatre group and we are writing a play to perform in February 2007 and it involves what happens in the run up to curtain up (warm ups, nerves, illness, loosing props, lantern bulbs going, which seat the reviewer will be sitting in etc). We have the basic scaffolding in place but are looking for true stories of stuff that has happened before the play has actually started. We already have lots of funny anecdotes mostly involving curtains getting wrapped around lanterns and going up in flames but would love to have lots of other situations to glean from.
If you wouldn't mind having your mishaps immortalised in print I would love to hear from you. Some of the funniest things happen in the theatre.
i can't recall who the actor was - it could have been david niven - but there was one famous anecdote of an on-stage murder, where one chap has to shoot another. come the night the pistol fails to go off despite several attempts to pull the trigger, and after the usual split second of panic the murderer hissed to the victim really queitly so the audience coukldn't hear 'fall down and die' - then kicked him. the victim drops down and goes into a dying routine. when he had finished the murderer gave an aside to the audience of 'the boot was poisoned'.
In a spoof, an actress enters, points a gun and shoots the guy who is busy strangling me. She entered, and the gun did not go off. I looked over my shoulder desperately, for Steve was a method actor...and she was shaking the gun like a rattle, as if that would miraculously make it fire. It didn't. Fearing for my life, and the play, not necessarily in that order, I yelled bang, and Steve fell to the ground in a heap. I don't think the audience noticed he was giggling. The audience applauded and cheered.
Moments later...as if not to be outdone by the gun, myself and another actress were to lift the dead body off the floor and stuff it into a trunk. The character was having a hard time dying. She had his feet. I was lifting his shoulders. I did that...lifted his shoulders and pulled his head right up under my short skirt. More cheers...one of them muffled.
I'm enjoying these stories. When I worked as a sound tech for Annie, a dog somehow got into the theater and ran joyfully onstage to greet Annie's dog, who managed to ignore him and remain in character but the kids in the cast didn't. They all broke up and I had to stop the music (which was recorded -- just that season we stopped using an orchestra) and wait until the dog exited and the kids settled down. The audience loved it.
I just remembered another incident in another play. An actor went up in his lines and as he exited said Well,that was really the shits, wasn't it?" Unfortunately he didn't give me time to cut off his mike.
. I am laughing and smiling. The dog one! This was a rehearsal: WEST SIDE STORY. Baxter (lives across the street from the theatre) got in through an open stage door. Baxter appeared on stage the minute the JETS danced on and the JETS froze! And Baxter froze. Sniffing each other to see if they were friendly.
Seems like every one of my plays (and the plays I've acted in) had something go wrong... think I could be the culprit?
Grade Four Parent's Day school play. Play (fairy tale) hinges around King who forgets that his pocket knife is still in his pocket and makes life hell for everyone. Show Date: King drops the pocket knife on stage 30 seconds into the play. Minor character dutifully scurries onto stage, picks up the knife and hands it back to the King in full view of the audience. There goes the plot.
Grade Six Parent's Day school play. Boy (in an all boys' school) playing the Fairy Queen (it was an apolitical time) gets tired of the ribbing and drops out seven days before show date. Self finds his hand rising and the alien words "I'll do it, Teacher," tripping off his lips. Show Date: Teacher picks Fairy Queen and puts him on the platform leading to the stage. Unfortunately, Fairy Queen, never having worn a gown before, finds that he has stepped on the hem with both feet, making it impossible for him to move. "Don't be nervous!" hisses the teacher. "I'm not," retorts the Fairy Queen in full view and hearing of the audience, "I'm standing on my dress."
Grade Nine Parent's Day school play. Playing a schoolboy kidnapped by mistake. Forced by the director (School Principal) to wear shorts. Tied to a chair facing the audience. "Did you like it, Mum?"
Mum: "Why didn't you wear clean underwear?"
First attempt at staging an amateur play. Person playing a bumptuous, rural character goes on stage and is greeted with roars of laughter. We're all pleased at how well he's playing the character, until his girl friend barges her way backstage to tell him, "Zip up, idiot!"
Acting in the first play I wrote, Business Is War. Last scene. Blanked out completely. Was actually rewriting the scene in my head until my co-actor said, "I suppose you're wondering what I'm doing here."
A couple of years down the line. Our first professional production, in the sense that we were contracted by a hotel to stage the play. Minuscule stage built and completed literally minutes before show time. Play begins. Chased onto stage, supposed to go around sofa. Go behind sofa and find that the hotel has kept no gap between the back of the sofa and the edge of the platform that forms the stage. Foot descends into the gap between stage and wall, backdrop proves strong enough to not only take my weight but actually act as a trampoline and spring me back upright. Audience is wondering why the person chasing me has collapsed in laughter.
i remember a story told to me by an old boyfriend, who swore it was true. he used to write for saban tv in south africa, and for low-budget made-for-tv properties they used a lot of white south african actors many of who had strong afrikaans accents. in one scene an american actress had to nag her on-screen husband in a sitcom, and she was complaining about how badly he had cleaned and tidied the house. her line was 'and did you put a clean sheet on the bed?' and his was 'yes, i've put a clean sheet on the bed' (or something similar). all the way through rehearsals they had real difficulty getting the male actor with the afrikaans accent to say 'sheet' not 'shit'. eventually they got it right, but it caused a lot of amusement.
on the day of the recording in front of a live studio audience the american actress came out with the feedline 'and did you put a clean crap on the bed?'
Once in an outdoor drama, everyone, both audience and cast, froze and held their breath as a skunk walked across the stage. Fortunately he didn't smell up anything. As soon as he was out of sight, action resumed.
An actor was to enter and run some bad guys off stage by shooting his gun in the air. The actor entered and tried to fire. Nothing happened. He looked in the barrel and tried to fire. Nothing happened. He shook the gun and tried to fire. Nothing happened. The other actors left the stage in hysterics. The actor looked at the gun and said, "I'm coming back. And next time I'm bringing a gun with bullets!" The audience, of course, cracked up. Unfortunately it was a drama not a comedy.
I danced onstage in a kickline and my two year old daughter screamed, "Hi Mama!" The audience laughed and applauded.
Someone concerned about an accompanist with nerves, gave him a valium before opening. He played the show fine then after the final curtain, he stood to take a bow. He fell into the orchestra pit fast asleep. The audience stood to see what happened to him. He calls it his first standing ovation.
I was in a play once (Sondheim's "Passion") where an actor had been one of those attention-seeking divas for weeks during rehearsal...you all know the type. He threatened to quit just so he could have the pleasure of having people beg him to stay...
At one performance he "overslept" (more attention seeking) and was not there when the show began. His first scene was a scene between the four soldiers in the chorus who are gossiping. The three of us who were there realized we could easily just split his lines between us, and so we did. The scene went off without a hitch, and without the diva! The diva then showed up, flabbergasted that we had even STARTED without him and enraged that we had not only started but had done the scene without him. One of us...maybe it was me, I don't remember...said, "Yeah, in fact I think the scene works better with just three actors..." Needless to say, the diva was crushed to not have received his much needed dose of narcissistic supply...poor kid.
Many years ago, a tent theatre in the round in New England. The production: The Boy Friend. The director, who all we apprentices and crew folks hated for the unreasonable (and never ending) demands, decided on opening day that it would be a wonderful touch to have a net filled with balloons hanging in the space above the stage, which could then be opened for the festive effect of balloons bouncing all over the stage for the curtain call.
It meant rehanging lights, rigging the net, getting the balloons, etc. In the space of about four hours. So we did it.
Opening night. Television stars played leads well. Audience pleased and cheering. Curtain call. Character of Maizie pulls trip cord. Nothing happens. She pulls again. Nothing happens. She pulls as hard as she can.
Entire net pulls down, covering entire cast, who struggle but are trapped. Balloons bounce festively off their heads. Apprentices and crew thoroughly enjoy the effect. It's cut the next day.
a dance contest begins, involving members of the audience.
the soon-to-be-murder-victim exits. one by one, the other characters exit & then re-enter i reenter. the victim then stumbles back in with a clam rake buried in his back (don't ask) & dies. any of us could be the murderer as we had all left the room.
one night, we had a stand-in stage manager. right after i exited, the sm started the music for the dance contest. the victim exited, got his murder weapon attached. before any other character could exit, the music malfunctioned. the sm couldn't get it fixed. the actor playing the victim panicked & immediately entered before any other character could leave.
since my character was the only one out of the room when the victim was attacked, it wasn't much of a mystery as to who the killer was.
I remember I stage managed a school production out of the insanity of my own heart. The play was crap to begin with. It was some obsure, boring play about cleaning ladies who overthrow a big company by reading scrap paper from the bins.
Anyways, leading up to it, lights didn't work, props went missing and actors walked onstage with the wrong props. I ended up having to lable everything with arrows saying 'Bun for scene 3, Act II' so the actors knew exactly want to bring on. To make matters worse, the backdrop kept falling apart. I was frantically repairing it the day of the first performance. The show went okay. One actress walked onstage without her prop, said 'just a minute, ladies' walked offstage, collected her prop and walked back onstage and the scene began from the top again! By the end of Act I the set was in less than complete condition and during the interval, while everyone else was enjoying food and drink, i was frantically stickytaping cloth back to where it belonged. I got back to my desk, where i also operated the lights (multi-tasking stage manager) and realised the second act lights somehow got wiped. So that was the most stressed out twenty minutes of my entire life.
After the show I just wanted to go outside and weep! Actors lost cues and even the actors hated the play. The other shows I worked on have been SO MUCH better - apart from the costume lady locking her keys (and the costumes) in her car fourty minutes to curtain up on opening night...
Ah, the blood squib stories. I was doing Christie's "The Hollow," and I was the guy getting shot. I had a pin sticking out near one button on my shirt, and the finger of a surgical glove filled with red tempura paint palmed in one hand. In rehearsals, the squib hadn't leaked reliably, meaning that sometimes Dr. Cristow appeared to have been savagely assaulted by a mosquito.
So it's a preview night. I get shot, I hit the deck. I press the squib to the pin. It feels like it's going okay, but just to be sure, I decided to give it one more squeeze....which forces the paint all up into one end of the glove finger, which promptly explodes.
Now mind you, I'm on all fours, and that end of the squib is pointed "up"--which is to say, toward my face.
Bad enough, right? I now look like I've been shot with buckshot and it's taken me in the face as well as the chest. The stuff is dripping off me, and there's a big puddle of it on the floor. But now I have to stagger downstage, nearly collapse on a chair, and then ring a bell to bring the butler. So I head for the chair, suddenly realize--my hands are covered in red tempura! So at the last moment, I duck my shoulder and basically barrel into the chair, shoving it a good three feet. Then I make for the bell--but again, if I ring the bell normally, the wall of the estate will be forever imprinted with Cristow's bloody paw print. So I turn my hand in and ring it with the BACK of my hand--I'm sure that was terribly convincing. Always good of the dying to be considerate of the cleanup.
But it's not done yet! Now people have to come running in and try to staunch my wounds. They have NEVER seen this much paint on so many parts of me, and they're being terribly gentle about where and how they hold the handkerchief. And behind me I hear my friend Peter come running in as he's supposed to, hit the patch of tempura where I was shot, and literally SLIDE in my gore! Luckily, he stayed up--but he did track paint down the stage.
The last one to attend to my wounds was the woman who appears alone onstage in the very next scene, knitting. But now she's got tempura-covered hands, so as the lights come up, she knitting in a very odd, possibly arthritic way, with her palms turned in--so the audience doesn't see that her hands are still covered with "blood"!
Some years ago, I had a role in a dinner theater tour of the south, one month in each city. Some of us in the company pooled our travel money, bought a second hand car in Kentucky and drove from city to city. We left Cincinnati for South Carolina, arriving at 4pm for an 8pm curtain. We unloaded the car at our living quarters and went to the theater, only to discover that our production, which had been directed for proscenium, was to be performed in the round! The director was not traveling with us, and there wasn't enough time to restage anyway. So the cast sat down, scripts in hand, to mark the places where we absolutely had to be facing one of the other actors. The rest of the time, we decided to just keep moving, trying not to stay too long with our backs to any one side of the house. The following day, we spent hours reblocking for the rest of the run. After that experience, very little has been able to throw me a curve on stage.
Actually, there was another instant which I'll save for another day.
I was stage managing "Annie" and I was infamous for my huge purse that held everything but the kitchen sink in my attempt to be ready for any emergency. Our dressing rooms were primitive and poorly lit, so a burned out bulb was a big deal. A stage hand came up to me and said, "Jill, I know this is probably a stretch, but I had to ask, do you have a regular light bulb in your purse?" I did.
Hmmm, it was funny at the time. Doesn't sound so much so now. Most of my best stories come from AFTER the curtain was open, like Miss Hannigan losing her bloomers onstage, or the time we forgot to open the magic windows before flying Peter Pan in...ouch!
We have a tradition in the troupe I'm with now...in the early days we often worked on the set until the curtain rose and had to warn actors where the wet paint was. Now someone always discreetly adds a dab of wet paint somewhere on the set just before every opening.
I was dancing in a Rockette type musical. At the final performance, the girl next to me in the kick line came to the show falling down drunk. Not much we could do so the girl on her other side and I propped her up as around thirty dancers went onstage for the finale. We sort of dragged her through the set and at least kept her vertical until our grand finale when we were supposed to kick off stage with our arms entwined over each other's shoulders.
The drunk dancer kicked off the wrong leg then passed out. Her three inch heel cut my leg and stuck in my fishnet hose. We finished the set dancing with her limp body as blood gushed and her shoe flopped on my leg where it was permanently imbedded in my fishnet hose.
Just remembered a good pre-show story. (Since my last was mid-show.)
There was a woman...let's call her Stacy because that's her name. We had done a show together where I found that she had a tendency to oversleep. Sometimes making it to the thater at, oh, 5 minutes to curtain.
So the second show we're in together...it's the last night of the run, about quarter of 8--15 minutes to curtain--and someone says, "Is Stacy here yet?"
Why no, she isn't. We try her cell. No answer. We call her home number.
And wake her up.
Poor Stacy is mortified. So mortified, in fact, that (Are you ready for this?) she insists she simply can't come to theater and face everyone. Oh, it would be too embarassing!
There then ensues a good 10 minutes where the phone is passed around to people trying to placate our dear actress and convince her that yes, she really DOES need to come to the theater (which, by the way, is about a 25-30 minute drive...) and do the show. Literally 10 people talk to Stacy before she agrees. By this time, mind you, it's getting to be after 8--and we're a good half-hour from Stacy.
The director decides the audience shouldn't have to wait. He sends the stage manager out, script in hand, to read Stacy's role for the first act. Come the second act, Stacy's character miraculously changes form!
To cap this story: This was the night we were taping the show. So when we were done, instead of striking the set, anyone who was in the first act (which blessedly did not include me!) stayed back and ran it again. The director later edited the two acts together and added audience laughter to the first act!
In college I had my first lead... Moulineux in Georges Feydeu a fitting confusion. Fantastic play and I won a Kennedy Center award for best actor, but on opening night... well, let's just say the costume designer did not finish my pants for the first act, until the day of the show. and they looked great, they were fantastic, looked real period, and I was in love, except that I think I gained some weight from the time measurements were taken to opening night.
Well, i told her, they felt a little tight, but you know what, I am a trooper and hell, the first act scene was 20 minutes and then a costume change.
Well, i am trying to convince my wife DONNA that I am not having an affair, we're glaring at each other when... The button pops off the PANT, it falls on the floor and rolls towards the audience.... I give my wife a look, the audience is in laughter in hysterics, the wife almost breaks, but she's a pro, she is fantastic... well, in college I wasn't that into laundry and I was in rehearsal all week so I didn't have that much time to do it anyway, so the only underwear I had was a pair of speedos with a stop sign in the back that read..."EXIT ONLY." Also this is a Jesuit university and the priest, head of our school was there. had given a speech before about the magic of laughter and how great humor does not have to be bawdy. GUESS AGAIN!!!!!!!
two seconds after the button comes off the pants slide down, and I turn away from the audience to pull them back up, not realizing the underwear sign, and then there's howling LAUGHTER... I mean HOWLING.... and I pull my pants, and had to do 13 minutes of the play while trying to keep my pants from falling... and tripping... it was the most exhilarating thing that ever happenned to me.
The one pre-show story that comes to mind for me is when I was in high school and was the assistant stage manager for "Little Shop of Horrors." At one point on opening night (probably no more than an hour and a half before curtain) the house manager asked me to see if everyone was ready to open the house. So I went back stage, returned, and reported that we would be ready to open the house when we were finished building the set.
Recently I was stage managing a show at the Iowa Fringe Festival and our venue was a meeting room in a library. Well, this unfortunately meant that if your show started just before the library closed, then you'd get all the closing announcements blaring through the speakers during your performance. So on our opening night we get this loooong series of messages during the show, during a quiet office scene, that ended with three loud beeps. Pause. One actor looks at the other and says, "I think four means fire." And the audience lost it! I think they were mostly impressed at how the actors dealt with such unexpected interruptions.
Tolson's story reminded me of an outdoor production funded by the local Air Force Base. Everything went well until the first plane came in for landing and drowned out all sound with its roaring engines.
The first night it was a problem, but the second night when a plane came in, the cast just froze and someone walked onstage with a big sign that read "And Now a Word From Our Sponsor." The audience cracked up and everyone went for popcorn.
I was Sound Designer and Engineer for a production of Sweeny Todd a few years back. It was only a one week run. On the 4th night I came in nice and early to start my pre-show checks and found the director and the Guy who played Anthony onstage rehearsing Sweeny's songs.
The Lighting guy came up to me and I asked what was happening. "Sweeny's wfe went into labour last night. He's still at the hospital!"
why this eventually hadn't occured to anybody earlier lord only knows, but there was some frantic rehearsals, a cast reshuffle and some very tight costume changes as actors double-up on roles. We finally opened the house and the audience piled in and took their seats. The director then got onstage to explain the recasting and then said what has got to be my favourte pre-show announcement ever:
"...so thank you very much for your paitence ladies and gentlemen. We hope you'll enjoy the show. .. .. er ... and could we please ask that you leave the auditorium at the interval so we can rehearse the second act!"
I just have to add this because it happened only yesterday. I was working as a follow-spot operator for a amateur production of Chess - the musical. I was sitting outside the theatre - in a park across the road - with my boyfriend. He is still adjusting to having a theatrically-minded girlfriend, so to pull him out from under the hood of his car, I dragged him up to the theatre to sit through a musical.
While we were enjoying an early dinner before I had to run off, I was explaining to him some things about theatre. Most importantly the taboo of saying 'Macbeth' inside a theatre.
We were fourty metres away. I didn't think it would matter.
That night, half way through Act One, our critically important projector malfunctioned. So the audience had no idea where the action was taking place as there were no set changes. While us in the lighting booth were panicking, the director burst in, white as a ghost, desperate to save what was left of the Act.
It didn't work.
During the interval, the director went onstage with a ladder and fiddled with the projector. There was video footage which was vital in one scene. We held our breaths but alas, luck - and technology was not on our side.
Act II progressed and to compensate for the lack of video, the cast were told to say 'audio' as the audio feed still came through.
Three scenes into Act II, the whole theatre was plunged into darkness. We had 5 seconds of blackout mid song. When power returned, the lighting board was wiped. So I frantically lept behind my followspot and turned it on. The director, who by now was deepy in shock, was pushed behind the second and the pair of us had to spot the scene until the lights came back into our control.
The show progressed as normal - minus the projections - after that. For the rest of act II, I kept wondering if my little 'Macbeth' talk was the reason, but of corse there's always an expanation. However, in this case, there was no reason for the projector to stop, nor the lights malfunctioning.
The show stumbled home and 'video' became 'audio' and 'audio' became silence. Apart from that, the audience said the music and the singers were good. The director regained his sanity in time for the next show.
Mozz's story reminded me...this isn't a pre-show story either, but still a great one.
Two summers ago, I was Salome in a production of Oscar Wilde's (you guessed it) "Salome." This meant that I had to learn to dance (and strip! oy.) for the dance of the seven veils. I was needless to say a LITTLE uncomfortable, but we had worked the dance so that there were veils attached to my (quite skimpy) shirt w/ a series of snaps and velcro, and I would remove them one by one until I finally took my shirt off w/ my back to the audience. Well, opening night my parents, my boyfriend's parents, and the theatre critic, all happened to be in the audience. In the first 30 seconds of a 3 minute song, as I was pulling off one of the veils, my shirt (which had one measly hook at the top) came off with it! I had to 1) abandon most of my choreographed moves and 2) desperately drape myself with the (gauzy, see-through) veils that I had already taken off. Longest three minutes of my life!! My father was absolutely traumatized! It was kind of relieving, though, to have the worst case scenario show up in opening night...
I was watching a show on tv the other night and some famous actor (I think it was David Tennant) admitted that a good fart (sorry, I did warn you it was about bodily functions) was a wonderful way of reliefing stage fright!
Anyway, it reminded me of one time when I was about to go onstage on our first night and I was petrified. The adrenalin was rushing through me at 100 mph and as I went to step out into the spotlight, I literally *let rip* - please believe me, I did not intend to do it - it just kinda slipped out. Actors that were stood behind me shot back about 5 feet, aghast at my *explosion* and, of course, we all burst out laughing. I was near hysterical at the suddeness and embarrassment of my rather loud faux pas!
All I kept thinking was: "At least the audience didnt hear that!". About 5 seconds later, the onstage phone rang. It was our sound/lighting man up in the heavens - he rang to say "Tell Tracy.... I heard that!". The thing is, if he heard it, so did the audience because the mic's are in the ceiling of the stage.
Any actors reading this will understand when I say how difficult it is to go onstage stifling the giggles and these werent just any giggles - these were raucous, belly laugh, rolling on the floor giggles. Bright red in the face, cheeks puffed I pushed myself on stage. Suffice to say, the *professional* in me went into acting mode and, although the voice was a little shaky through stifling hysterics, I was able to get through the initial entrance.
I try to be much more discreet these days - I am a lady really, honest!! <blink, blink>
Last edited on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 09:37 am by Tracy
Paddy wrote: ............................. She had his feet. I was lifting his shoulders. I did that...lifted his shoulders and pulled his head right up under my short skirt. More cheers...one of them muffled...........
*THAT* has to be one of the funniest things I have read in a long time!! Class A hysterical!!!
That's what I love about live shows - anything can happen and it can be the making of a show - the audience knows there is a possibility that things wont necessarily go right on the night and it adds to the whole magic of live performance.
I was in a production of Footloose, and as part of the Act One Finale involved projecting shapes (such as peace signs, squiggles, ect) on the scrim on the back of the stage. On opening night, the lighting operator was bored with the proceedings and playing solitaire on his computer. When it came time to project the shapes, he ended up projecting the card game instead.
Luckily he corrected his mistakes quickly, no harm done. Still, there were some very confused audience members....