Friday, March 5, 2010

Theatre Stories...

As most of you know, gentle readers, I have long exhibited a dark and quirky sense of humor. Fortunately for me I have chosen a career that allows that. A life in the theatre (thank you, Mr. Mamet) has allowed me to continue a seemingly endless existence of dysfunction. Having grown up in the prototype of a family in dysfunction (awful and overwhelming alcoholism - completely ignored, I might add) I was completely prepared for the lifestyle of the theatre.

As such, I have a thousand stories about the darkly humorous moments of being an actor.

I was doing a play in Virginia, Mill Mt. Theatre in Roanoke, called You Can't Take it with You. As I remember it, there is a role in that play for a drunken countess, or something like that. The actors all came together from various points in the country, some from New York, some from Chicago, a couple of locals. So we start the first read-thru of the play. This lady that's been hired from NY to play that role is, well, horrible. She can't seem to read with any honesty. Sounds like she's just reading it out loud. We all raise eyebrows but let it pass. Next day, on our feet, blocking. She's incapable of doing this. Doesn't understand stage directions. Has no idea where to go when the director says, "Why don't you cross down left on that line."

I happened to be good buddies with the director, Jere Hodgins, and the next day I wander over to his office to find out what's what. He says, "I don't understand it. She was brilliant in the audition. Absolutely brilliant."

A few more days go by and finally he has to let her go. She just can't do it. She's not an actress. She's replaced and the show goes on. End of story.

Not quite.

About a year later, Jere calls me one night. He's laughing hysterically. Finally he says, "Remember that actress that I had to let go last year?" I say, "Yes, so?" He says, "I finally figured out what happened. I just came from a round of auditions and she showed up again. And again, she was brilliant. So I cleared the room and got to the bottom of it. She started crying and admitted it was her identical twin sister who wanted to be an actress. She would go and get the role and then send the sister to the job!"

Funny stuff.

I remember acting and directing a Lanford Wilson play called Redwood Curtain in Rochester, NY. I had become close with one of the Equity Interns there and she was working in the shop one day. Her name was Sheila. So, I'm strolling through the shop, seeing how the set was coming along, and Sheila is there building flats. I stop and talk to her. Now Sheila was from a very rich family, was getting her theatre degree at U. of Rochester, a REALLY expensive school. Some girl walked by and said, "Hey, Sheila, what are you doing?" Without missing a beat, she said, "I'm building FLAPS." She then turned to me and said, "She wouldn't know a flap if it hit her in the face."

I was onstage once with an actor in Texas. Dallas Theatre Center. We're doing a new play and it's opening night. He's playing the lead, I'm the supporting actor guy. Middle of the play. I say my line to him. Pause. I paraphrase and say it another way. Silence. I say the line in such a way that HIS line is included in it. Deafening silence. After about twenty seconds he says, "I have a LIFE, goddamnit. I don't need this constant pestering!" And walks off stage. After a moment of being stunned, I just looked out at the audience, equally stunned, and said, "So you wanna be an actor?" And walked off stage. One of the biggest laughs of my career. The frozen actor had already walked out of the theatre and was heading back to his hotel.

Many more.

See you tomorrow.