5. February, 2009. There are certain things in life you can try to mentally prepare yourself for, but once they come around you realize how feeble your understanding of the situation really was all along. Marriage is one of those things. Parenting, too. Living on your own as an adult. Job-hunting. Playing a bank robber dressed as a bottlenose dolphin.
I knew it was coming. I knew it was going to be utterly ridiculous. I knew it would look and feel goofy from the start. But until the first time my BNG and I flopped onto the stage in our scuba fins and full-body dolphin suits, I had no idea exactly how ridiculous the whole thing was.
The first time we did this scene, I did not think we were going to make it through. We were laughing so freaking hard. In fact, I'm pretty sure it took a full week before we could do the scene with straight faces. Goodness, it was silly. It was the silliest thing I've ever done on a stage.
I still can't think about it without a grin finding its way to my face. Wow.
6. September 2005, August 2007. My first show assignment was to cover for the A.S.M. in The Mousetrap once the A.S.M. went into rehearsals for our Christmas show the last two weeks of the run. I sat in on the booth for about a week before taking over. The crew gifts for that show were white little rubber rats. The S.M. and A.S.M. enjoyed playing with the rat in the booth. Well, I got a hold of the rat and started to see how many different shapes I could make with it. The tail was amazing. You could stretch it far enough to tie all the way around the rat's neck twice. My favorite thing to do with the rat was to press its head in and set the rat upright with the newly-flattened shoulders against the table. The effect was similar to a cartoon character who has fallen off a ledge and landed face-first. It looked pretty convincing. All of this, of course, was only encouraged by the lame duck A.S.M., who always either laughed or gagged depending on the shape I'd leave the rat in for her to find.
Fast forward two years. I'd kept the rat (in my car, for some reason) after Mousetrap was over. The former A.S.M. and I are in touring rehearsals together. I found the long-forgotten rat on the floorboard of my car and decided to reintroduce it into our friendship. There was some playful hiding of the rat on set pieces or in props during rehearsals, many of which drew Glares of Death. It was all in good fun, of course. As the game went on, the stakes went higher, and pretty soon I was finding it hard to top my previous hiding place. Finally, I knew I hit the jackpot in our morbid little rat-hiding game.
The next afternoon, she went to her box in the mailroom and saw a pink rubber tail sticking out of her box. She grumbled and pulled the rat out by its tail.
It had no head.
What I love about this story is that the Headless Rubber Rat became a prop in our literacy show that year. The evil witch's monstrous henchman would have it dangling from his soup bowl when he came onstage to prepare to cook the hero.
7. October, 2009. Ah, Teammates. My own stab at a drug awareness play. Written solely because I so disliked the one we had been using since 1995 or whenever (referenced yesterday). It was actually a really fun show to be in. It's kind of fun to be in your own work. It's also a good experience because it helps you recognize what some of your writer-habits are that tend to make life more difficult for an actor. Plus, Bruce Dumpling is a fun character to play, and I loved the rest of my cast. And we got to play a lot of basketball, which was fun.
We had rehearsed and put together a pretty decent little show targeting second through fifth grade (but still pretty enjoyable for the younger ones as well). Our second booking for this show was for a combination elementary/middle school (come to think of it, same school from memory #1!). I'd spoken with the contact the day before and she had told me that the audiences would be split up into 2nd-3rd grade and 4th-5th grade.
The first show was something like first through third grade. Which was fine. The second audience was fifth through eighth.
It's always funny to see the reaction of a cast backstage at our children's theater when they are told that the house is full of middle school students. They just deflate. Nobody wants to perform for these guys because they're often "Too Cool For School." It's even worse when you give them something that is obviously for younger kids. Some of these kids will openly mock you as if you can't see them sitting four feet away from you. And for some reason, being mocked by middle school kids is one of the worst things in the world if you're an actor. Still, the best advice I've ever heard in dealing with a MS audience has been, "Trust the show." So that's what we decided to do. Mostly. With a few minor edits to "age" the characters just a bit. Because they were in fourth and sixth grade in the original, we changed them to sixth and eighth grade and made them a tad less little kid-y.
The only noticeable eye-rolling moment came in the opening monologue when I said the line "I'm in the sixth grade." I heard a few groans. One kid said "Oh, come on." Yup. You guys got me. I'm not actually in sixth grade. I'm a grown-up. No fooling you guys. Good job.
After that, though, they were pretty much with us. I always loved performing Teammtes because we never played a show where the audience didn't go nuts at the end. I can honestly admit I did not expect a similar reaction from these kids. Nevertheless, as Bruce sank the final shot over a diving Staci to win the game, the entire auditorium cheered. Not just the fifth grade kids, either. All of 'em.
Teammates cast 1, middle school snobbery 0.
8. December, 2006. In six years, there has really only been one mainstage show that I was excited enough about that I really wanted to be in it. I wasn't cast, obviously, but I did get to understudy the three different guys in the ensemble. I went to every music rehearsal and worked to learn tenor, baritone, and bass for every song. 'Cause hey, that's what an understudy is supposed to do, right? I had a couple guys who were in the cast telling me I was working way too hard. "Just learn one part and sing it whoever you go in for," I was told. I attended enough run-throughs to get all three men's blocking. I went to the show once a week to keep it all fresh in my mind. I even sang through the entire thing on longer drives, first in tenor, than in baritone, and lastly in bass. About halfway through the show it had become clear that I was never going on, but I stuck with it anyway because, by that point, I just really enjoyed singing the music.
Then came New Year's Eve, the day of the last performance. I'm actually taking my Sunday nap when Kim comes into the bedroom with my phone and a troubled/confused look. She says it's someone from work and that it sounds important. I take the phone, half-asleep, and it's one of the guys I'm understudying. "Hey," he says. "Are you my understudy?"
"Yeah," I reply groggily.
"Okay. Well, I can't walk. It hurts to try to stand up. So I think you might have to do the show tonight."
Crap. It's almost 4:00 already. My voice is nowhere near warmed up. There's no time for a costume fitting. I tell Kim I'm going to go for a drive, because it's the best place I can think of to get away from the house to do some singing warmups. While I'm driving, I get call from the costume designer, asking for my sizes. I get a call from the stage manager, the final confirmation that yes, I'll be doing the show that night, can I get to the theater soon to go through blocking and choreography. I call a friend and ask her to bring some foodstuffs to the theater for me because I haven't got any time to eat at home. In case you can't guess, everything's pretty much a whirlwind at this point. I come home, grab my clothes for the evening, and get to the theater.
Look, I'm not going to say I was perfect. I will say I was good. I was never hopelessly lost. A cast member occasionally had to move me into the right spot (I only remember this happening twice, and once it was totally in character anyway). I nailed the hard choreography, but tripped up a bit in one of the easier songs. (I was later told I did just as well with the dance as the actor I replaced usually did) And once I left my jacket on the wrong side of the stage. I was pretty mad at myself for that one. The worst blunder of the night came at the very end of the curtain call. I realized I'd always been so focused on the show and the dance that I'd never worried much about what to do at the curtain call. Somehow, some way, I totally missed doing The Pose. Oh well. I'd done pretty darn well given the circumstances.
That was probably the most fun I ever had in a single six-hour stretch at the Players.