1. September 2006. The very top of our first performance of our drug awareness play at a local elementary school. It wasn't our first show performance as a unit, because we'd had a successful Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe booking about a week before out at Camp Allen, but it was the first time doing this show, and it was the first time performing a show all four of us were all actually performing in. (For Lion, two actors do the whole story, and the sound effects are run by the third and fourth members of the team. Since 2006, we've brought it down to only one sound tech) Plus, this was easily the show that most of my unit lost the most sleep over. In fact, to this day if I bring it up to one of the gals who was in the show with us, she rolls into a ball on the floor and rocks back and forth. This little show had a lot of little issues. Nobody liked the script, which was so rad it had clearly come straight outta 1993. Also: the rest of the cast was terrified of the director. It was actually kind of funny. Again, one of those actors still refuses to say the words "embarrassed zebra" after a particularly harsh rehearsal. Anyway, all that was behind us now, and here we were, trying it out on a live audience of grade school kids for the first time. I always enjoy a first audience. Even if they're unlike every other audience you'll ever have in a run, they're still your first indicators as to what worked, what didn't, what was funny that you never realized was a joke, all those kinds of good things. This particular show began (as many of this playwright's kids shows begin) with the protagonist walking on stage and introducing himself to the audience. These openings are meant to be audience participatory. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Today, however, the response was beyond what we were expecting.
"My name is Max."
Now, this playwright often sets their plays in the Pittsburgh area, because that's where his home theater is based. When we first started touring this show in the mid-90's, we decided to change some references to make it Houston instead.
"I live in Houston, Texas."
The kids went nuts. They were cheering, they were clapping. They were so excited that Max lived in Houston. Which was unfortunate, because the next line was...
"I didn't want to move to Houston."
A beat of stunned silence. And then:
That's right. Fifteen seconds into our first show, and we were getting boo'ed. Awesome.
2. Late November 2007. The next-to-last dress rehearsal for my first professionally produced script as playwright and director. The show was my adaptation of Why the Bells Chimed and the cast was our Christmas touring unit. I would have been a part of the unit, but this was right after Robbie had been born and I asked out of the Christmas season at work, seeing as how back then it was wall-to-wall bookings. It hadn't been anywhere near a perfect rehearsal process, and the show's run that day had lacked a bit of energy and sincerity, so I knew it hadn't gone too well. Naturally, this was the day the boss had come to see what we'd been working on. (This may have been the cause of the lethargic run; at any rate, this was back before I realized it didn't matter how well the show went as far as the boss was concerned) To my surprise, she didn't comment much on the pacing or the energy or...really, she didn't mention anything concerning the actors. Instead, she told me that, as a playwright, I had clearly bitten off more than I could chew. The audience wouldn't follow the story, they wouldn't accept the storytelling aspect of the script (it was one of those where you've got a classic fable story being told in the midst of a modern-day story), that it was too grim, et cetera. "What I just saw was not a play," she said, and that seemed to be the final verdict on the matter. "But I'm glad you tried."
Stephen King once wrote that an old babysitter he'd had when he was a child used to sit on his face for fun, and that it was the best preparation he'd ever receive for literary critics. Much to my surprise on this day, I wasn't hurt or even discouraged by my boss's words. Instead, I chose to respectfully disagree. (And, again, I just chalked it up to "She saw a bad performance, that's all) I did make a minor tweak to the script based on one of her suggestions, and then I sent the show out to perform as it was. Less than a year later, it became my first professionally published piece of writing. Still, I think, looking back on that day in late November, what stuck out to me most that day wasn't the fact that I'd been (politely) ripped apart that day. It was the realization that I was officially a playwright :-)
3. May 2011. I know most of you will have already heard the newer stories, and I've probably already blogged about some of them, but...so? ;-) My adaptation of Pinocchio had been playing at our children's theater for about a month. (And if you thought the Bells comments were a bit harsh, you shoulda been there for Pinocchio!) I'm really pretty proud of that show, as I've mentioned before. I made some adjustments to the story to provide a bit of an allegorical slant, but I don't believe it's out of place or heavy-handed at all. I'm pretty sure a non-Christian company could pick up the script and do it with no reservations. It's a lot like the gospel: if you want to find it, it's right there. But no one's gonna force you to look.
At opening night for Parenthesis, my direct supervisor was providing the pre-show announcement. When he mentioned Pinocchio he felt the need to point me out in the audience. I'd actually tried to look busy reading my Playbill as a cue that "Hey, I'm trying to be inconspicuous." Next time I need a better cue. So I lifted a hand and gave a small wave and a smile. During intermission, he caught up to me and looked a little embarrassed to have done that. I told him not to sweat it, and I meant it. It wasn't really all that inconvenient. I just hate to take focus from a show once it's up and running.
After the show, I was opening up the front door for our house manager. A woman in her early thirties practically ran out of the theater to catch me. She told me she and her husband had taken their two boys to Pinocchio the previous week and that after the show, they'd had a forty-minute discussion about God's grace as revealed through the characters in the play. She said they'd never had that in-depth of a discussion with their boys on the topic. And the best part about it was that the kids were the ones making the connections and asking the questions. They even saw some spiritual parallels in there that I hadn't seen.
Here's what's cool in all this (to me): I started to read the book Pinocchio with the intent of adapting it because I knew we'd been looking for a manageable Pinocchio script for several years and hadn't found one we liked. I didn't set out to make "Christian Pinocchio" and I didn't really sit down and map out a complex allegory. I read the book in two days, saw something of my spiritual struggles in the protagonist's life, and just started writing. It was eight days between my first touching the book and the finishing of the script. It wasn't in my plan, it was a God thing. And often, you don't really get a chance to see the results when you participate in a God thing, especially in theater. The audience comes, they watch, they leave, and if they got anything out of it they talk about it afterwards at home. Here I wouldn't have known what God had done through me in this family's life if my friend hadn't pointed me out at the pre-show announcement of a show I'd only decided to attend about an hour before curtain.
Now that's awesome.
4. December 2005. Once upon a time, our children's theater mascot got to do stuff before the show. He actually went out a full fifteen minutes before the show started and shook hands, gave hugs, took kids' suggestions and acted them out. After all, he is the Acting Bug. We had a formula we followed pretty closely most of that first year I was there. First, we'd ask for emotions Ta Daa could act out. When we ran low on emotions, we went on to sports, and that was always fun. (Some kids who had been there before wanted to skip ahead. "Who knows an emotion Ta Daa can act out?" "Football!")
One day--I think this was during Rock Nativity--I was watching Ta Daa ta-do his thing when a kid suggested deer hunting for their sport. And so I watched (at least a little concerned) as the big blue acting bug crouched down behind the large circle platform in the center, a pantomimed hunter's rifle in his hands. He peered through the imaginary sniper scope until he spotted the doe. He crept forward, the barrel of the "gun" still trained on his prey. At this point, I was really worried. Ta Daa can't kill a deer, I thought from the booth. I tried to send telepathic messages both to Ta Daa and the handler: "Find an excuse to stop! Take another suggestion, quick! Don't kill imaginary Bambi in front of all these kids at Christmas!!" Ta Daa raised the gun and prepared to fire.
Then, he sprang up, ran over to where the deer was standing, and patted it on the head, scratching it behind the ears.
I spoke with the gal in the bug suit that afternoon as we drove back to the shop after the show. She said she had actually started the mime with the intent of carrying it out, but as she was about to pull the trigger the thought suddenly occurred to her that it would be horrible and traumatic for Ta Daa to "kill" a deer, so she went to pet it instead.
I'm pretty sure I saved the day in this story somehow.