Notafingah!

19 Jan

One of the benefits of working in the theatre is that it teaches you basic life skills: Stand up straight. Know your intentions. Speak clearly. Be generous with your scene partner. Don’t touch other people’s stuff.

OK…maybe that’s an oversimplification, but it’s kind of true. I may not remember much from my opera history classes or stagecraft labs, but I do remember one of the first rules of theatre: “Don’t touch other people’s props.” Sure, it’s good fun to pick up that sword backstage and have a pretend sword fight until the blade breaks off or someone loses an eye or it gets put back in the wrong place and the cast member who actually needs it can’t find it and has to improvise an entire end of “Hamlet” without it. Not only have you violated the “Don’t Touch” rule, you’ve also not been very generous to your scene partner.

Today I had to scold someone for touching something that didn’t belong to them. “Scold” isn’t really the right word for it…I guess I sort of embarrassed him into putting it back where it belonged.

Josh Young, one of the stars of our show, has two solo CDs that I sell and often he’ll come out into the lobby after the show to sign CDs and merchandise. While the show was in Chicago, he had a 3’x2′ foam board poster made announcing that he will be out in the lobby to sign his CDs after the show. I set that poster up before each performance, but every once in a while, for whatever reason, Josh will text me at some point during the day/evening to let me know that he won’t be able to sign after the performance, so I take the sign down. I hid it behind my booth and propped the easel against the wall and thought nothing more of it until a gentleman in his 40’s came along, dragging his friend with him, talking about how Josh was going to be out front to sign. He had intended to show her the poster which I guess he’d seen when he walked in, but it was gone and he was clearly very confused. I was helping other patrons at the time, so I wasn’t really able to let him know that the sign had been put away or why.

Before I knew it, though, I heard this man and his friend digging around behind my booth and from the corner of my eye I saw him walking over to a large table in the corner with the poster of Josh. Now, this poster cost Josh about $90 to have printed, and it’s the only one we’ve got, so it’s my responsibility to make sure it’s taken care of. When I saw the man walking away with it, I leaned around the corner of my booth and said in a moderately stern voice, “Sir! I’m going to need you to put that back where you found it.” Don’t touch other people’s props! 

While I was doing Oklahoma! at Discoveryland! USA, there came a night that Curt, our horse wrangling, snake killing, poop scooping stage manager was unable to load the blanks into the pistols that Curly and I had to use in the show because he had to fix a wagon…or shoe the donkey. Who knows. I had seen Curt load the guns many times before and, with his permission, I loaded mine up and preset the gun before the show.

Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Oklahoma!, but if you’re not, I’m about to give you spoilers for a 70-year old musical. Sorry ’bout it. In the first act of the show, Curly, who has a crush on Laurie, goes out to the smokehouse to visit Jud, the bullet-colored growly farmhand who works on the farm where Laurie and Aunt Eller live. Jud has a penchant for dirty pictures, booze and Laurie. While the two men are talking, Curly upsets Jud, who has up to this point been cleaning his pistol (like ya do),  and he fires it. To show Jud whose is bigger, Curly takes his pistol out, shoots a knot in the wooden wall, and the noise of the second shot brings Aunt Eller and a whole host of people down from the house to see what all the ruckus is about. The group returns to the house with Curly, but Ali Hakim, a traveling salesman, stays with Jud, who asks Hakim for something called a “Little Wonder,” which is basically a kaleidoscope with a trick blade built into it. Jud wants to get rid of Curly once and for all. This is a major plot point.

So Curly and I were in the smokehouse scene and everything was going well. He started in on me and BANG! My pistol went off as it should have. Because I was firing a real firearm mere inches from my head, the scene often left me temporarily deaf, or at very least with some serious ringing in my ears. My biggest panic was that my hearing wouldn’t come back in time for me to sing my big solo, “Lonely Room.” Anyway…Curly started saying his lines – what I could hear of them, anyway.

“They’s a knot­hole over there about as big as a dime. See it a­winkin’. I jist want to see if I c’n hit it. (Unhurriedly, with cat­like tension, he turns and fires at the wall high up)…” 

Only his gun didn’t fire. I knew I wasn’t deaf enough to have missed a second gunshot, so I turned to look at him and he gave me a face that most actors come to know as the “Oh, shit…I don’t know what to do now!” look. Neither did the 8 people upstage who were waiting for that gunshot as their queue to come onstage. Curly was supposed to fire the gun and then say, “Somebody’s a comin’, I’spect.” But no one was a comin’. The show ground to a hault for a few seconds, but from where I sat it felt like hours. I’m pretty good at getting out of awkward flub-ups on stage – mine or someone else’s. I once made up entirely new lyrics during Gladys Gutzman’s song in Junie B. Jones when Junie accidentally knocked all the cookies off my tray – and they rhymed and made total sense in the moment! But in this situation, I didn’t know what to do, and David clearly didn’t, either. He looked like a deer caught in headlights…his impending death coming at him at 60 MPH. I honestly don’t remember how Eller and the gang ended up making their way into the scene – I was still stunned and just a little bit deaf.

Everyone made their exits as they were supposed to, leaving me and Ali Hakim to do our scene. Thinking we’d gotten through a very close call, I breezed through the scene and my hearing returned in time to sing the song. I was golden. When I came offstage, though, Bhavesh, who was playing Ali Hakim, pulled me aside with a wild look in his eye. Apparently in my bewilderment I had completely skipped over the “Little Wonder” section of the scene and thereby, however inadvertently, stripped the show of whatever conflict was to happen in the second act. Oops!

He and I went back up to the dressing rooms during intermission and figured out when we would introduce the Little Wonder into the plot. Illegal as it was, Bhavesh and I improvised a scene rewrite – otherwise there was no way to get that very important plot point into the show and none of it would have made sense. We knew how we were going to fix it, and we did, however awkwardly.

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That’s me in the middle as Jud Fry in Oklahoma! at Discoveryland! USA. Wasn’t I terribly bullet-colored and growly?

After the show I overheard David (Curly) talking to someone in the dressing room about the gun misfiring. As it turned out, the gun didn’t misfire at all. It didn’t fire because he hadn’t loaded the gun as he’d been told to. Apparently in addition to his fear of horses and singing on pitch, he was also terrified of firearms and simply didn’t put a blank in his pistol. Rather than ask for help,  or even giving me warning that it wasn’t loaded, he went on with the scene as if everything were hunky dory. He was being less than generous with his scene partners that night. And I’ve never been more tempted to touch another actor’s prop…and hit him upside the head with it.

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One Response to “Notafingah!”

  1. mikiepocd January 23, 2014 at 6:28 am #

    I can’t get over the man taking the poster. I hope he was appropriately chagrined.

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