“I abhor the idea of a perfect world. It would bore me to tears.”
I hear you Shelby Foote! Perfection is so overrated and boring. Call me twisted but during my quarter century in theatre, I loved it when things went wrong. When inevitably something hit the fan, two things invariably popped into my mind: first, glad this happened to/because of me, and second, I wonder if I will write about this one day.
I was cast in my first theatrical show for London Community Players at The Palace Theatre, Gordon Pinsent’s A Gift to Last, back in 1992. I went up to ask the director a question at rehearsal and the answer was, “Why are you talking to me?” Later during the run, the fire alarm went off during the big funeral scene. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but you can bet I didn’t ask!
My first big break was as the Bell Hop in Port Stanley Festival Theatre’s Lend Me A Tenor in ,93. The cast and team got along like gangbusters — for the most part. I have since learned this is the norm but I remember there was some frustration in terms of whether we would be able to pull the show off. It didn’t help that opening night was the first time we ran act one and two together and with the set. Let’s just say that everything that went wrong opening night worked in this crazy comedy and we kept it all in — especially after the standing ovation and the rave reviews.
It’s interesting: in some shows everyone gets along from day one, and everything works like a charm, but come opening night the audiences just aren’t feeling it. I’ve had few of those experiences. Mine have been more of the gloriously imperfect kind.
For example, more than twenty years ago, I was cast in a show Out of Town and the actress I played off refused to kiss me during the rehearsal process. To state that we weren’t getting along would be to put it mildly. I know she thought she was a reincarnation of Sarah Bernhardt. Regardless, the director kept demanding a kiss. I finally asked, “Well, it isn’t because I’m gay, is it?” “Of course, it is.” I wanted to shoot back, “Pucker up buttercup, you know how many gays Sarah Bernhardt kissed before she ended up on Broadway!” but chose instead, “You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve probably kissed more guys than I have!”
I don’t recall one line from the show, let alone the plot, but I’ll never forget that “actress” for two reasons: When I said two sentences in the wrong order during a performance she went, “tsk-tsk!” to the audience, and I got an unexpectedly passionate kiss on opening night.
Talking about realism, or lack thereof, physical contact is often faked on stage. I just witnessed the first real slap in ages in Venus in Fur at The Palace Theatre’s Procunier Hall. I wanted to stand up, applaud and yell, “Again, but this time leave a mark!”
Once, to get in the mood for my character’s big scene in Elgin Theatre Guild’s Jitters , I had an actress slap me off stage. “Not hard enough.” I had her keep doing it until I got the “red” I was aiming for. I rationalized that I was helping her come out of her shell. By closing night, she was winding her arm just like a baseball pitcher.
Frankly, I’m the most imperfect person I know for I always find unique ways of screwing up.
Once, while rehearsing a show, we went for drinks after. The cast suggested we order pizza. “I don’t mind picking it up,” I said. Who knows why but I walked back from the pizza place holding the pizza like it was a briefcase under my arm!! My only response to their dumbfounded faces: “Hey guys, I’ve never delivered pizza before!”
I’ve chosen the hard way over the ‘right way’ on more than one occasion.
When I was cast as the monster in another Elgin Theatre Guild production, House of Frankenstein, I was merely required to grunt on stage the entire play, until taking a potion at the end, after which I miraculously spoke — with an English accent. Funny play but lame ending, I thought, so opening night, I was in my Franken-tux in the green room and sighed to the other cast members, “Too bad I couldn’t spice up the ending.” As I spat out the word spice, I spotted a wedding veil and some make-up. “Wouldn’t it be a kick if I came out after taking the potion as the Bride of Frankenstein?” The laughter that just the expression of the idea caused had me in the veil and rouge in moments. My entrance stopped the show and unfortunately the hearts of the directors. “It’s alive!” took on a whole new meaning, for they wanted to kill me and had me veil-less the next night. One of them has never spoken to me since, for which I cry into my pillow every night.
So many more stories, so little space.
Ilyas Kassam was so right when he wrote, “There is beauty in the imperfect. Thus I lust over the flawless, and fall amorously forceless to the flawed.” (Reminiscence of the Present: Spiritual Encounters of the Analytically Insane)
I promise more flaws are forthcoming. Meanwhile, you have a London Fringe Festival of 40-plus shows to see this June.
Let the new stories and games begin.
Donald D’Haene is Editor of donaldsdish.ca. Twitter @TheDonaldNorth and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.