"Don't Ever Say (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Onstage Again!"

Audiences storm the stage. Actors suffer gastrointestinal distress. Backstage confessions of theater gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Andrew R. Cleveland

actor

 

Where the Hell Art Thou?

Two years ago I was part of a production of Romeo and Juliet at the old Phoenix Black Box space. The actor playing Lord Montague doubled as the Apothecary in Act V. In between, he would take a nap backstage underneath the props table and snore. Despite the best efforts of the stage manager and other cast members to wake this guy, Romeo could never be absolutely sure he would be there when he called "Apothecary!"

One night, this actor proceeded to take a nap at home before the show and was awakened by a phone call from our frantic stage manager approximately fifteen minutes before curtain. He arrived at intermission. Our Friar Laurence played Montague in Act I and then Lady Montague entered in his place in the final scene to announce to the Prince, "Alas, my liege, my lord is dead to-night; grief of our son's exile hath stopp'd his breath." Within a week, this became a permanent change, and the actress who played Mercutio took over the Apothecary.

During a rehearsal of this same production, the director instructed me to "snatch the fan from the nurse's hand." As he walked back to his chair he called over his shoulder for us to "take it from the snatch!" He turned around, red-faced, to see his actors rolling on the floor, convulsing in laughter.

Andrew R. Cleveland

 

Character Assassination

Hotdish! was touring in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1994. We were doing a one-hour cabaret show at a restaurant/theater called Cappuccinos. One of the sketches we did that summer was one of our most popular, "The Jackie-Oh's"--a tribute to those Sixties girl groups like the Supremes or the Shirelles. It involved three of us dressed in Jackie drag (think pink Chanel, flip wigs, and pillbox hats) singing a medley of utterly tasteless and wholly inappropriate songs relating to the JFK assassination and Jackie's true feelings on the subject.

Keep in mind that not only did we do this in Cape Cod, but we did it only a month after Jackie had died--though the sketch had actually been written in early 1993.

As we began the sketch, in the middle of the show, a group of four audience members, who had until then been thoroughly enjoying the performance and eating their dinner, stopped whatever they were doing and sat dumbfounded at the spectacle before them. Without consulting one another, they simultaneously put their forks down on the table, turned their chairs around and sat with their backs to the stage for the rest of the sketch. They made no noise. They made no disparaging remarks. No boos. No hisses. No nothing.

When the sketch was over, they turned around, picked up their forks, resumed eating and enjoyed they rest of the show.

It was such a strong, strange, and evenhanded reaction to something that obviously offended them--make no mistake, we knew the sketch pushed some people's buttons--I had no choice but to respect their response. They simply chose not to participate in that sketch and to allow themselves to enjoy everything else we had to offer on its own terms.

Jon Mikkelsen

Hotdish!

 

Hazy Shade of Winter

I've had the experience more than a few times of an audience member flipping out during the performance while I've been onstage as an actor. It happened when I was acting in The Winter's Tale at the Guthrie nearly ten years ago. (I was playing one of those court guys who smiles and nods a lot and occasionally dispenses needed information--though I fancied that I was doing so with an extra pizzazz: "The part of Cleomenes has never stood out before, but actor Bill Corbett provides a certain clarity and passion that..." etc.).

Anyway, during the opening scene, which was basically a big party at the court, all is well--the stuff hasn't hit the fan yet, and there is lots of general jocularity. I was in the middle of a very charming laugh at the king's joke, but because of where I was standing onstage, I noticed that one of the doors to the house was opening, and light was streaming in. Since we'd been running it for a few weeks already, I knew that this was not the standard "seating the latecomers" time. A woman emerged from the light and started down the aisle. Nervy of her, thought I, in the midst of my courtly onstage smile, but she'll sit down in a second. Nuh-uh. She kept coming down the aisle. Wow, she must be sitting close up!

Very close--she kept coming, and coming--and I watched with disbelief as she stepped up on the stage! Needless to say, by this time other actors were noticing. It was scary, a violent break of that fourth wall--the poor woman looked disturbed, and wasn't wearing any shoes. She just looked at us.

Actor Steven Yoakam, who was playing the king, took charge of the matter brilliantly and compassionately, taking the poor woman aside and gently asking if she was all right, leading her to the ushers. Then after she was led away, he addressed the audience and told them we'd be resuming from where we left off. Seamless. (Stuff like that is how a man becomes king, I suppose.) Apparently the woman had stopped her car right in the middle of Hennepin, and just kept walking from the street to the stage. This was the fourth time an audience member had decisively interrupted a show while I was acting. Is it me?

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