By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Theater people must go to bed every night cursing the law of averages. No matter how carefully they have prepared, no matter how much they think they are in control of their material, theater is a live medium, and--statistically speaking--this means sooner or later there will be a catastrophe. Kevin Kling, who appears in this year's Fringe Festival performing his one-man show 21A, recently described a production he was in at the Mixed Blood Theatre in the late Seventies--a stage adaptation of Rebel Without a Cause. He dubbed it Rebel Without Applause, and explains, "The reviewer from the newspaper wrote about the play, 'If one thing goes right on stage during this production, it won't be worth seeing. But right now, with nothing going right at all, you must go see it. It's the funniest thing I have ever seen on stage.'"
It was the early years of the ordinarily competent Mixed Blood Theatre, and Kling relayed how, in the Sal Mineo role, he was expected to move a dead cat across the stage. In fact, the cat was very much alive, and put up a mighty fight every night, scratching him badly. He describes how, during the script's deadly cliffside game of chicken, the production had simply shown footage from the film with cast members' faces superimposed over those of the film actors. "And during the switchblade fights," Kling adds, "we used switchblade combs, because real switchblades are illegal. But we didn't even bother to tape them over. We just painted them silver, so when the characters would fight each other, they would just click open silver-colored combs."
Worse still, during scenes where the characters were on motorcycles, the director placed plastic figurines on miniature remote-control motorcycles and sent them whizzing across the stage. "But they kept breaking," Kling says of the minibikes, "so we just piled them all up on whatever motorcycles were still working. And the cue for the motorcycles was the same as one of the lighting cues, which got confusing. And so once in a while, without explanation, these little motorcycles covered with figures like the Flying Wallendas would race across the stage in the middle of a scene."
And that brings us to this year's Fringe Festival: With 120 companies performing in 12 main venues around Loring Park this weekend, the ghost of the law of averages will be peeking in on the various productions, looking for its opportunity. Indeed, there may be a few in the audience with a perverse sense of humor who will be clutching their $75 Ultra Pass and waiting for the catastrophes: flubbed lines, lost actors, collapsing sets, and all. For those discriminating readers with a less perverse appetite for the unhappiness of others, we're offering 30-odd capsule reviews of Fringe shows to help guide your viewing, as well as information on venues and showtimes.
Because the worst experiences often make for the best stories, we asked members of the local theater community for their favorite anecdotes of past mishaps and missed cues. What follows is a chilling peek into a world held hostage by the law of averages, where actors can be menaced by everything from murderous audience members to poisonous Jell-O.
Cats: Now and Forever
In 1980 Mixed Blood was producing Bloody Bess, a woman's pirate play--sort of Patty Hearst on the high seas. To get the out-at-sea feel, I set oyster shells and humidifiers with salt water around the theater. At intermission on opening night, as the audience stepped outside to smoke, 50 cats charged into the theater!
One fall, Mixed Blood produced Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In one scene an actor snuck into the seats and started borrowing pieces of clothing from audience members. Well, on the night of a Halloween promotion in which people got in for free if they came in costume, the actor asked to borrow a woman's mask for his onstage disguise. She declined, but he persisted. Finally she blurted, "It's a cast!!" It seems she had a broken head and it was the only night in months that she'd been able to leave home incognito.
The Ordway presented a touring production of I'm Not Rappaport immediately before Mixed Blood's production opened in 1988. In a marketing ploy, we compared our database with that of the Ordway. Our patrons who had gone to see the show at the Ordway got a letter offering a free ticket so that they could compare. The letter started out "I noticed you've been unfaithful..." One livid audience member didn't read closely and chewed us out for spying on her. It seems she'd gone to the Ordway with a man other than her husband and felt busted!
The Energy Crisis
As a theater company that loves to push the physical boundaries of performance, Margolis Brown ensemble members pride themselves on their well-trained bodies. Preparation for the rigors of performance are taken seriously by the company, with an actors call at least three hours before every show. Therefore no one took much notice the night that one young company member decided to forgo dinner, replacing needed nutrition with four energy bars. As we all know, energy produces energy--and energy has to go somewhere.