Well, much as I hate to look a gift-compliment in the mouth, I had to respond by saying, “Listen, with all the lines I have, and all the hundreds of times I’ve had to say them, it’s inevitable that I’m going to mess up from time to time.”
This incident also caused me to reflect on line issues from the past. The fact is, tonight’s little faux pas was nowhere near as bad as the time I forgot Tina’s name! Yes, you read that right. I once began the wedding service by saying, “We are here today to witness the feast of love that Anthony and . . . uh . . .”
At that point, the actress playing Tina, who was kneeling in front of me about a foot away, looked up at me and hissed, “Tina!” along with a look that seemed to add the words, “–you freaking idiot piece of shit! Get it together!”
Back in Detroit, I did several shows with a certain actor who was infamous for never knowing his lines very well. He was a good-looking guy who presented himself well, so he got cast in a lot of shows. His particular gift was that, with seemingly no effort on his part, he could make it look like the other actor was the one who screwed up the line. When he didn’t know what to say next, he would look over at his fellow actor with an impish little grin that seemed to say, “Well, it looks like YOU certainly screwed this one up! Let’s see if I can bail you out!” So while he could get cast, it became difficult for him to do more than 1 or 2 shows at a given theater before he would have to move on to someplace that didn’t yet know him.
During one night of the run of Steambath at the Attic Theatre, one of my fellow actors skipped about two whole pages of the script. Not a fatal flaw, but the problem was, he had skipped my exit – and I had another entrance coming up! So I had to sneak off the stage to get ready for my entrance. Now I’m a big guy, and I don’t sneak anywhere, especially when all I’m wearing are green boxer shorts, black dress shoes, and socks. But I made it work as best I could.
My mother used to tell a story about my father going up on his lines. A little background –
My parents were both members of a local Catholic organization called the Third Order of St. Francis. The group put on a lot of plays and my parents were both avid participants, with the result that they had done various shows together, and in fact had played husband and wife, before they even started dating one another. Neither of them ever considered pursuing theater on a professional basis, but they enjoyed it tremendously on an amateur basis.
Anyway, they were doing some play together, and in one particular scene, my mother’s character needed only to sit there and take it while my father’s character spent a couple of pages ranting and raving at her. One night, he blanked, and his way of dealing with it was to look at my mother and say, “Well, don’t just sit there, say something!” My mother never went any further with the story, so I don’t know what she said to get the scene back on track, but I have to say that some actors would consider what my father did to be punishable by death.
I will close with an old and possibly apocryphal theater story. Two actors were on stage doing a scene together when the on-stage prop phone began to ring. There was a scene later in the play where this needed to happen, but it was way to early for that moment. No, this scene could only be about the conversation between the two characters. The two actors pretended to ignore the phone, thinking that the tech director would quickly figure out the mistake and stop the phone from ringing. But alas, the phone continued to ring. Neither actor wanted to answer it, because there was no room for a phone call in this particular scene. But still the phone kept ringing. Finally, one of the two actors decided to do something. He answered the phone, much to the relief of the other actor, and said, “Hello?” into the mouthpiece. After a moment, he turned to the other actor. “It’s for you!”