ewhightower

Bus Stop: Next Stop, Livermore! Part II

In Theatre on February 18, 2014 at 10:25 am

[As mentioned in my previous post, this is a portion of something I originally wrote in another time and place. I share it here for reasons previously stated; if you haven’t read Part I, that’s where you should begin.]

First order of business: contracts! Not something many community theatres are good at, I’m giving Role Players the benefit of the doubt: contracts are on the table, and (we’re bordering on fantasy here) Role Players is willing to reimburse all gas and travel expenditures to and from Livermore for the duration of remount rehearsals, tech and performance. (Even if they were not willing to do that, in my experience many if not most non-AEA actors in the Bay Area would agree to a remount of this nature; assuming they still like the show and their castmates, of course, there’s something alluring in the shoddy glamour of a community theatre tour.)

So: we’ve got the actors and the director signing contracts. Things are looking good. It’s unrealistically rosy. Which invites the Jinx. This is what happens when things seem to be going swimmingly in theatre: someone will invariably predict success. The Jinx, being alive and well, rears its ugly head and swoops into the building, scattering seeds of doubt, distress, jealousy and betrayal whithersoever it may. Whether it’s an actual force of nature or just chinks in the armor of human nature, the Jinx is always there. Lurking.

So let’s watch where the seeds take root: will it be the supporting actress who thinks she could do it better than the lead? Will it be the chorus boy who has a jealous crush on the male ingénue and wants said ingénue’s hot girlfriend out of the show? Will it be the director who so longs for the lips of this or that actor, s/he is willing to risk the entire production by re-casting that actor in the lead, in hopes of some flustered, dusty fellatio in a props closet or the parking lot of Wal-Mart after the preview performance? (Understand that these are generic instances and do not apply directly to the cast of Bus Stop, thanks.)

The Jinx will come to fruition in one of two ways. The first, if we’re lucky, is that an actor will have an unpleasant revelation while he’s looking at the contract. Actors being actors, however, it’s more likely that he will come to his realization the night before the first rehearsal in the new space. He won’t call the director, but he will leave ten minutes earlier than usual to try to catch the director outside the theatre, break the bad news, and still have time to make a 7:30 movie with a girlfriend. The bad news is this: the male lead cannot do the show. Whatever his reasons — and they could be anything but he will devise something dire and serious — he is completely unable to go any further with the project.

This prompts two immediate questions from the director: a) if it’s so fucking serious, how could you not have known about it before now?!; and b) what the fuck is wrong with your brain you fucking asshole, how could you do this to me?

If the actor is very clever, he will devise something that has at its heart a kernel of truth, to which he can cling with complete sincerity. He will also make it something he could not possibly have known about before that very day. The director will buy it. If the actor is very good, he will use his natural alarm and anxiety in the situation to fuel honest tears, which will stun the director. Having had to struggle to get that kind of performance during rehearsals, the director will swallow the actor’s story hook, line, sinker and dinghy.

The actor departs, promising to keep in touch. The director marshals his resources, adjusts the strap on his used Kenneth Cole attaché case and marches courageously into the theatre to break the news. People are shocked. The female lead immediately dials her now-former opposite, leaving a whispered an impassioned inquiry via voice mail. As she is doing this, the director is telling the cast why the actor cannot do the show; surprisingly, even this old war-horse with over a decade of community theatre and semi-professional regional theatre is moved to tears. Briefly. It is a moment that the female lead will recall decades later in the bar at O’Flaherty’s, drawing deep on a Parliament and staring off into the middle distance, “I heard he moved to New York, that’s actually why I came. I never expected to get work. Funny how that happens. Little fucker never called any of us again. Far as I know, he’s fat and married in Suburbia. At least I am in New York.

Back to the present: one actor dropping out sends shockwaves through the cast. Those who considered it begin to reevaluate. The female lead is only here because he was going to do the show. Her parents were coming down from Oregon to sort of officially meet him but she made her mother promise not to freak Dad out. Or smile at him with big eyes and teeth that say marry my daughter, marry my daughter, you’re the first straight actor she’s ever liked and the last guy was a meth-head who hit her. A lot.

The production is in danger of breaking down here. Realistically, it probably would. In Edward’s Imaginary Theatre of Yes!, however, the producer steps in with bold and encouraging words: “You are all under contract. That actor will have me to reckon with and his reputation will suffer. We will find a replacement. You are all wonderful, truly the most amazing and talented cast I have ever seen in my life. This show will be a complete success no matter what. I feel it in my bones. Now, I want you all to work very hard today. It’s going to be tough, but I know that together, we can do it. I will find you a new lead. Hooray!”

Actors are generally desperate people. This rousing speech brings them to their feet, applauding and cheering. Rehearsal gets off to an unnaturally cheery start, with the director working all scenes in which the male lead is not an immediate part; the Stage Manager reads the lead’s lines from the second row, completely monotone. It’s a superb performance by all involved.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: