This weekend found us sitting front and center at opening night of the local high school production of The Addams Family.
If you’ve ever been in a school show, you know that the cast and crew have just come through hell week–rife with tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals, and every other type of rehearsal as the various groups from the production come together to turn individual scenes into a collage performance. The lighting and sound crews have only had potentially two chances before tonight to run the cues for these scenes. The set crew might have only run the full show once from beginning to end before tonight. Often those support crews have not seen the weeks or months of read throughs, blocking workshops, or scene run throughs with the actors. Opening night is a little like handing car keys to your 16 year old after only a few hours of driver’s ed.
They did a nice job all around. Once or twice a mic wasn’t switched on for an actor’s first line in the scene. They caught it quickly. A couple of set pieces got stuck in traffic moving on and off stage between scenes, but every scene was set. Overall the first act was moving along swimmingly…
In the finale to the first act the whole cast is around a banquet table nearly the full width of the stage. There’s singing. Character’s hobble around the table, crawl under the table, dance past the table and ultimately climb onto and collapse full length along the table. The energy is high. Her singing is superb. The scene hits its climax in turmoil.
And crash! Bang! A lightning flash!
One end of the table collapses to the floor. Alice tumbles off the table.
The audience gasps. Was that supposed to happen?
No way would a director responsible for students intentionally engineer a collapse. Would he?
But it punctuated the physical and symbolic elements of the scene perfectly. Maybe.
But Alice’s eyes grew round as she abruptly found herself on the floor. Not possible.
Well, she rounded those eyes, and batted her lashes for all they were worth. She sang from the floor instead of trying to get up. She was perfectly in character except for a fraction of an instant. Wow! She’s GOOD.
And the song carried on, uninterrupted. As the curtain closed Alice edged ever so slightly back from where she was gracefully crumpled on the stage, just far enough back so the curtain cleared her on its way by.
When the house lights came up, the buzz started around us. Rumors circulated. The stage crew and pit orchestra mingled with their families in the auditorium and the story became clear.
Definitely an accident. She’s not hurt. The show will go on as scheduled in act two.
Even as I was still sitting in the audience it made me think of workshop. There are days when it feels like a table has collapsed in our lesson. And crash! Bang! A lightning flash! We’re the ones left crumpled on the floor, metaphorically of course. (Praying there wasn’t an audience.)
Some days we miraculously manage to right ourselves and even put on a plausible performance, selling it as all part of the plan. In those moments sometimes our craft becomes visible. What otherwise feels intangible is suddenly lit up in that lightning flash.
Oh, listen to how she modulates her voice to draw them in. Watch how she uses her eyes and even her shoulders to project nonchalance. Did you see when she…?
Sure. It was technically a mistake. But that moment of potential disaster ended up showcasing her craft. What had been an understated performance in a supporting role, became memorable. From trouble, beauty.
So next time a table falls out from under you in class, carry on with all your aplomb. Show off that craft! The show must go on.
Unless it was an actual table, then ask the kids to call the nurse.