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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Friday Five, March 25, 2011

Steve Diamond (l) as Gynt and me as the Buttonmoulder - 
before I lost my eyebrows

We are experiencing technical difficulties...
Five personal theatre catastrophes
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I have been to all sorts of theatre over four decades and have seen my share of technical problems on stage (mostly in the kind of shows so wacko you wonder if they're "part of the play"). Each time something went wrong in a play I was watching, a flood of memories would do a little zing-zing-thing in my brain. Been there...done that...the horror...the horror.

1) The Crucible
I was playing the Buttonmoulder in a production of Peer Gynt at theatre school. As I conversed with Gynt, I was to be melting buttons in a crucible which flamed away as I spoke. It was a metallic bowl with a small jar of Sterno at the bottom. At the end of the scene, I was to pop in a pinch of flash powder causing a small and colourful explosion, scaring Gynt and making the audience go, "Oooooh! Aaaaah!" Problem...the residue of several performances'-worth of flash powder had formed over the days and during one show the explosion was considerably less small and considerably more colourful. It nearly blew my motherfucking head off. As I walked off the stage, wobbly-legged, I could see and hear the orchestra laughing their asses off as my hair and eyebrows continued to smoke.

2) The Drawbridge
Same place, different play. The Devils, this time, was done with audience on two sides and the performance occuring in a pit in the centre. To get to the pit required a drawbridge which was lowered and raised at various times for crowds of "possessed nuns" to cross in and out of the acting area. Depending on who you ask the lead actress either missed a cue to cross the drawbridge (in a blackout) or the drawbridge simply wasn't lowered in time. This is what the audience heard:

Actress: (Shrieking) AAAAAAAAA! Technician 1: (Not so sotto voce) FUCK SHE'S FALLEN!!!! Technician 2: BRING DOWN BRIDGE! BRING DOWN BRIDGE! (The sound of a drawbridge crashing down followed by a hideous sound similar to that of an over-ripe melon being smashed on the sidewalk.) Actress: MY HEAD!  MY HEAD! Technician 2: DRAWBRIDGE UP! DRAWBRIDGE UP!!!!
When the lights came back up, this particular nun did not look so much possessed as brain damaged.

Dear Liar; the unfortunate
Jim Murchison, Allison Heath
and, behind, the curtains
from hell
3) Set Piece
In a production of Dear Liar I was directing, we had to do things on the cheap. In one performance this proved to be a monumental case of penny-wise, pound-foolish. The split set was divided by curtains which had the curious habit of falling off their stands. During a performance one curtain fell and the actor playing the lead did some superb ad libbing as he put the set back together. Remember...on the cheap; this also applied to the costumes which were put together from clothing we had bought at the Salvation Army. As the brilliant actor stretched to put the curtains back up, his pants split from arsehole to breakfast-time revealing a pair of brilliant, out-of-period paisley gotchies. The rest of the act was performed by him walking like an Egyptian.

4) Malrobe Wardfunction
This one goes in the other direction. It was a preview of a Kabuki-style Romeo and Juliet I directed (great concept badly executed). I had asked the actors if they would do a nude scene. No prob! the very beautiful pair said. Well, prob... Our preview audience was a bus tour of highschool kids from the US. As the actors got naked, almost the entire audience rose as one to hissed orders from chaperones to leave immediately. The rule about the taking of pictures fell by the wayside and my two nekkid actors were blinded by a wall of camera flashes from the exiting kiddies. What followed was hi-larious if you weren't actor or director. Poor Juliet couldn't get her Kabuki costume on and Romeo was pulling his pants on backward. Meanwhile...

R&J with, l, Jacoba Knaapen as
Juliet (in THAT costume), Marie-
Christine Legault as the nurse
and, behind, the unit from hell
5) The Unit
At the centre of the set design for this same production was a large unit on four wheels which, depending how it was turned, could be a balcony, the stairs of a temple, a wall...very lovely, very Zen, if you will. The problem were cut-rate wheels on the unit. As the object was being moved for scene-changes, to appropriately mournful Kabuki music, it would sometimes gain momentum and the actors controlling it, well...couldn't. A front row of the house that was full before intermission wasn't after. That fucking unit would move with such speed it was a miracle it didn't fly off the stage and behead spectators (the first three rows could clearly see the actors couldn't handle the piece). Before each performance the house's head technician would give us the same speech: "If that stupid thing tears the scrim, you're all screwed." When my brother saw the show he was sitting far enough to the back not to notice the terror on stage or in the house. After the performance he said, without irony, "It would have been great if there had been a kind of choreography with maybe three of those units!" 

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