Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Close Every Door (But Not On My Head)

We are heading into the final week of our production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; the past two weeks have spontaneous. A little while ago, I posted a note of admiration for our company of players, for having survived an intense 9-shows-in-5-days work week without injury or illness. No sooner had I posted that mash note than the wheels on the bus started to wobble.

We knew in advance that the gal playing Mrs Potiphar, the lovely and talented Heather Beck, would have to miss one of our performances due to a prior commitment. This kind of thing is very likely to happen if a show extends beyond its original date of closure, as ours has. Heather was replaced in that particular performance by the lovely and talented MaryLee Adams, who in addition to subbing for Heather, accomplished all her other duties in the show, including her scene-stealing moment as a camel.

It was the unexpected happenings which added some spice the past week or so. On different occasions, Car Trouble caused not one, but two of our actors to arrive so late to the theatre that we did the show without them. In both instances, we expected the actors to arrive in time to slip into the show in progress, but that was not to be. I was particularly impressed, then, that one of our non-Equity ensemble members, the lovely and talented Vinnie Kempski, was alerted (in the middle of the show!) that he would be performing one of his understudy assignments, singing the role of the Baker. I slipped into the vom under the audience to watch (I have about 15 minutes offstage, alone, during the show, so I often slip out to watch, the cast never suspects), and I can verify that he played the role with smooth aplomb.

But it was last Thursday's school matinee that caused the most consternation. We started the show missing two ladies, one of whom had a previous commitment, and the other had (you guessed it) Car Trouble. A momentous crash was heard backstage, during Joseph's "Close Every Door" scene in the jail cell. One of our actors, the lovely and talented Ben Lurye, had been clobbered backstage by a falling door. You may well wonder how a door can fall over onto somebody. Only in the Theater, folks. There were these huge metal doors, you see, which I guess had been impeding the backstage traffic during performances, so they had been removed from their hinges and propped up against a wall. Gravity being a cruel bitch, one of the doors fell over, conking our Ben on the head while he changed his clothes. His skull was cracked open, or it seemed so, as blood gushed all over the place. I was backstage at the time, and overheard Ben keeping a level, if bloody, head. His first thought was the show, and he whispered urgently, "Tell Parker he has to go on as the Butler." Yes, while his head was bleeding profusely, this actor was anxious that his understudy be alerted that he would have to perform his number in about 2 minutes. Now that's commitment. The noise backstage, and all that blood, caused stage management to halt the show, which was ultimately canceled outright. We were about half-way through, but it was thought unwise to attempt to continue with 3 actors absent. The matinee was rescheduled for the following week, causing a whole lot of dashing about by company management in order to get the necessary riders signed (riders are addenda to our original contracts). This added school matinee also necessitated yet another rehearsal for yet another Mrs. Potiphar, as both the lovely and talented Heather, who usually plays the part, and the lovely and talented MaryLee, who is her understudy, were unable to make the additional early morning show. So, between our performances on Saturday, we spent an hour or more rehearsing the lovely and talented Briana Marcantoni in the role.
All this dashing about proved moot, as the production office curtly alerted the cast and crew on Sunday that the extra matinee had been cancelled.
This kind of confusion isn't all that unusual, as I said, when a show extends its run. On the same day that one of our actors had car trouble and missed the show completely, another of our guys had an important rehearsal elsewhere, and was forced to leave the performance before it was over. In a cast of 21, you may not even notice such a thing. All of the men in the show play my 12 sons, and there are many mentions of Joseph and his 11 brothers. That one day, he had only 9; for a while, our family was looking a little dissipated.
Many theatres try to minimize the effect of missing actors by employing swings. These are performers who learn the music and choreography of the show, with the expectation that, should an actor go out (that is, miss a show), and the actor's understudy bumps up from the chorus to play his role, the swing would step in to fill in any gaps in the ensemble. We had swings for all our shows at The Shakespeare Theatre Company when I interned there, due to the extensive fight choreography, and most musical houses employ them as well. I imagine it was a financial decision to forgo hiring swings for Joseph, even as there are surely musical theatre students over at Catholic University who would eagerly sign on for such a gig, for 200 bucks a week or less. The lack of swings for Joseph has probably caused some frustration for stage management, and has certainly caused the show to look a little under-populated when things such as Car Trouble and Falling Doors sideline our actors. Who knows what our final week of performances will bring? We already know Joseph will have only 10 brothers Saturday night, we'll see about the remaining shows. I have no doubt this cast can put out any fires that spring up unexpectedly; Ben, the aforementioned injured actor, returned to the show that very night, earning respect for his professionalism and a new nickname to boot. We've been calling him "Staples," since that's what he now has in his head. The adrenalin has been flowing out at Olney Theatre, that's for sure. I'll be sorry to see it all end Sunday afternoon.