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How to Suck Without Really Trying

Posted on 2015.11.02 at 17:23
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Brotherhood of Man
It was early 1992, I think. I was happy to be playing the role of Bud Frump in a production of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. For me, the highlight of the run was the night my brother Frank was in the audience, since he had played the same role several years earlier. But I’m not here to talk about that; the lowlight of the run makes for a much better story…

The show was originally scheduled to open the first weekend in January, which upon reflection is a terribly strange time to open a show. The holidays are over, people are done spending money for a while, and the Michigan weather is liable to be inclement. But I don’t make these decisions; that’s when we were scheduled to open and we prepared accordingly. But then, sometime in late December, we received word that our producer had sold a performance to a group for a presumably nice chunk of change. The show was to take place on New Year’s Eve, several days before our scheduled opening.

If you’ve ever worked on a play at any level of theater, you know that pushing up your opening night is not a trivial matter. Much scrambling was begun by everyone from designers to costumers to actors in order to put up a complete show by December 31st. Pros that we were, it all came together and we were ready to go by the appointed night. But there was one factor no one had considered until the night of the show.

Our performance was scheduled to begin at 11:30 p.m. When we arrived at the theater that night, someone had finally realized the implications of this – that midnight, i.e., the New Year, was going to hit somewhere in the middle of Act I, and our large, well oiled audience would want to celebrate at that moment. So a plan was put in place – wherever we were in the show at midnight, we would come to a halt on a signal from the musical conductor. The entire cast would then enter and we would lead the audience in a rousing chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”. We would then go back to the start of whatever scene we’d been doing and start it over.

If the theater people reading this are cringing right now, rest assured that the rest of us were cringing twice as hard. It all struck many of us as an appalling scenario, but really, once the decision had been made to start the show at 11:30 p.m., the rest was inevitable. We could at least tell ourselves that this wasn’t a public performance; it was a private party and as long as they had a good time, we could just chalk it up as a very strange dress rehearsal.

By the way, the protocols for midnight all went off as planned, although starting at about five to midnight, people’s electronic alarms started tinkling all over the theater, announcing the approaching moment, and a murmur built in the theater until the musical conductor took over just before the hour hit. Lovely.

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