Sunday, July 5, 2009

Christopher Columbus and his Ninjas

Our fourth and final week of Man of La Mancha ended with a bang. Literally. In fact, lots and lots of them.

We shrank to five shows this week, only two of which took place at their normal time. Our closing day, Saturday, was also the Fourth of July, and both shows were rescheduled to attempt to compliment, rather than conflict with, Middletown’s lavish Independence Day celebrations. Those celebrations included a parade (I missed it, but was told that there were fewer tractors than usual, and that the troupe of Bolivian Dancers was greeted with stony fondness for furriners here), and a family-friendly campground with live music and booths offering pretzels and funnel cake. I had heard of funnel cake, but did not know what it was. After asking somebody, and getting more information than I really needed, I determined that, essentially, funnel cake is a cake that’s fried. And looks like a steaming pile of...well, you can see what it looks like.

Fried Cake that looks like turd. Welcome to the Deep South.

Both our Fourth of July shows had about a quarter of a house (which was expected); they were warm and receptive audiences. Our evening show had been bumped up half an hour to avoid the fireworks which Middletown always provides to its citizens, paid for by their numerous speed traps. The pyrotechnics are ignited in the field behind the theatre, so it was important that they be held until our final curtain came down. No such luck. The building began to shake during Don Quixote’s deathbed scene, and continued through the end of the play. I decided that the Spanish Inquisition had stopped burning people at the stake. They were blowing them up instead.

But the weirdest performance of the week was on Thursday. Our regular Wednesday matinee had been canceled, or rather moved to Thursday morning to accommodate a school group. It was never clear to me what the hell kind of school group goes on field trips in July. One rumor stated that it was a "make-up" performance for a kids’ matinee of Wayside’s annual Christmas show, which had been canceled back in December due to bad weather. You’ve heard of Snow Days? This was a Snow Show. Another rumor I heard was that this was not in fact a school group, but a summer camp group. That made a bit more sense to me, though I wondered why they didn’t go down the road a bit and see West Side Story at Shenandoah University. At least that show has kids in it. Man of La Mancha has dirty, foul smelling men, and a woman who gets raped.

Welcome to Children’s Programming!

I don’t complain about singing at 11 AM, though it’s not the easiest thing in the world. I spent enough time on tour with a kids’ musical to consider 11 AM a gift; we often performed Tom Sawyer at 10 or even 9 in the morning. But backstage at Wayside, I did inquire what age our audience would be. "6 or 7," was the reply I received. "6th or 7th grade?" I hopefully asked. Nope. 6 or 7 Years Old. Some School Group or Camp Counselor actually considered our very adult, two-and-a-half hour show, to be appropriate for children who are still learning not to eat Play-Doh. Our director Warner tried to lessen the violence by clipping the majority of the rape sequence, but we left everything else intact. We lost three quarters of the audience at intermission, as the children hadn’t had lunch and the chaperones were under the impression the show lasted only 90 minutes. But even with slightly older kids remaining for Act Two, they did not follow the story much, and never recovered from the sight of Quixote grabbing that gypsy’s boob.
Warner did his best at intermission, running a Q&A session to try to clarify any misunderstandings, but it was clear that the kids were just too young. Their questions did not revolve around the story, but rather things like "is that a real sword?" We did get a kick out of two misconceptions. One kid asked if the Captain who comes into the jail cell to fetch prisoners was Christopher Columbus (I guess the Spanish military helmet caused that confusion):

Another kid asked if the black-robed Inquisitors were ninjas.

Columbus and his Ninjas. There’s a video game waiting to happen.

At least we did not receive the one question everyone backstage was sure was coming:

"Mommy, what’s a whore?"