Monday, February 01, 2010

Curtain

"It is bad enough that I had to listen to your mother tell me the entire time how romantic it was to watch Shakespeare, which I have hard time understanding, in the park, at night, under the stars but then to have some idiot propose to his girlfriend in front of the whole audience, I am never coming to one of your shows again."

And that was the review my dad gave my performance in Much Ado About Nothing. The "idiot" was a cast member named Jim who used the curtain call to propose to his girlfriend.

Six months later, in a tiny theater in Cheltenham with a different theater company, I asked my dad what he thought of my performance in the thriller Cat's Paw. My mother drug him to the show.

"Well, I nearly had a heart attack when you fired the gun, but that is a good thing because then I was awake for the rest of the show." he said. He then told me he would never come to another one of my shows again because his heart would not be able to take it.

Which reminded me of what he said we had 8 months earlier when he saw me in The Glass Menagerie. "Bill, you were great but that show was very boring. If you keep doing shows like that I am never coming to another show again."

As you can figure out my dad was not into live theater. If he knew someone in a production he may have gone, no strike that. If he was related to someone in a production he may have gone to see them. Of course when I started to act in the local community theaters in our area, although he was not thrilled about it, he made every effort to attend the shows.

A year or two after Cat's Paw, Dave, a guy I met during Much Ado About Nothing asked me to get involved in a modern production of Rope (Alfred Hitchcock made a film version). The production would involve some of the same people I met doing Shakespeare. We would perform at the same location; the only difference was that we would do the show inside in a very intimate makeshift theater "in the round". The stage would be floor level and the audience would be on risers looking down into the set. Rope is a dark drama about two college aged guys who strangle their friend and stuff him into a trunk. They then host a dinner party serving food off the trunk with the body inside. The intimate setting and the closeness of the actors would provide a very dramatic feel for the audience. The play is very dark and moody.

During the rehearsal process I became friends with most of the cast and we started talking about forming our own theater company. These were good people to work with and they knew their stuff. I did everything I could to impress them hoping they would keep me around. I told everyone I knew about the show hoping they would come out to support our fledgling group. I mentioned the show dates to my parents knowing that my dad, who recently had eye surgery, would not come.


A creative decision was made to start the play in almost complete darkness with the two murderers discussing their plans. This would set a very eerie, creepy tone for the audience. Instead of the normal "house" lights down stage lights up, we went with a very slow, methodical, increase in one blue-ish/purple-ish light that would cast an ominous glow on the two villains as they "set up" their diabolical plot. Eventually, over a time of about five minutes the stage lights would slowly increase to be at a normal level. This lighting trick with a touch of the right music would "bring the audience up to speed" in a very dark foreboding way.

Opening night, the cast and crew were full of nerves and energy knowing that we were close to selling out the small venue. We also knew that the local paper had sent a photographer and reviewer. "Places" was called and the entire cast sat in the wings of our stage to listen to the opening sequence. Dave, who was playing the evil Brandon, started with his dialog in the darkened room. Suddenly there were very loud whispers coming from the audience. Two people were doing their best not to disturb the rest of the audience as they struggled to get out of their seats and leave the theater. Their footsteps on the hollow risers echoed louder with each movement. The whispers grew louder and more panicky as they approached the stage area. Due to the very intimate setting, the only way out of the "theater in the round" was by walking right in front of the stage and through a blackened curtain. When they left the area the bright lights from the other side of the curtain blazed across the stage.

Dave, being a professional, kept his composure and continued on past the distraction. The rest of the show went very smoothly. During intermission and after the show everyone in the cast cursed and mocked the two old people who ruined the opening. Dave said it sounded as if an old man was having a panic attack and that the old lady with him was arguing with him. I even joined in the jokes about the old crazy couple.

The next day I received a phone call from my mom. She asked how the show went. I told her that it went well except the huge distraction at the beginning. She laughed. She then apologized and confessed that the two old crazy people we her and my dad.

My dad just had eye surgery the week before the show. When the play started he heard the voices but could not see the actors. He could only see a blueish haze. He thought that maybe he was having a complication or a set back to the surgery. He thought he was going blind. My mom tried to explain to him that he wasn't but the only thing he wanted to do was get somewhere where he could see before he would panic. My mom had to lead him out of the darkened theater.

That night I told the theater group that the crazy old people were my parents. I explained to them what happened and I offered an apology which they all accepted. I also then told them that I made my dad promise to never come to one my shows again.

But this time I made my dad mean it.




I will be performing in a production of the Pillowman next month with the same group I met those 12 or so years ago. If you live in the Philadelpia area and would like more information please email me at batmeaks at verizon dot net.

11 comments:

Melinda said...

Too funny! Your poor father. Your poor mother... for being called old and crazy.

I would love to come to see your production but it would be rather expensive for me. Someday, perhaps!

Mainline Mom said...

Hehe. Your poor dad. Wish I could come see you perform again, but alas I am too far away :(

Anonymous said...

Are you going to dress as Elvis?

SciFi Dad said...

That is funny. My father was never one for live performances either (I was/am a musician, not an actor).

Anonymous said...

The fact that your Dad was claustrophobic, had the most to do with that situation. But he did think he was going blind. I can laugh now, but it was scary for him and embarrassing for me. Through the black curtain and then 5 steps down, which he couldn't see. He stepped off into oblivion..I was afraid he would kill himself. I had to grab him and take him step by step through the darkness. What an experience! But the show did go on..."Crazy old people" eh? Should I say "Break a leg" ?

Anonymous said...

I heard Skip say on few occasions that he liked thesbians.
He may have been talking with his mouth full though.

eclectic said...

Oh, live theater rocks SO hard!

Dad Logic said...

This game me a much needed laugh this afternoon. Thanks for sharing the great story.

Susie said...

I love this bittersweet story. As someone who has felt claustrophobia and panic, I empathize with your Dad. Theater in the round SUCKS when you need to get the hell out of Dodge as covertly as possibly (and it's not possible). Mostly, as I read about your Dad saying he's never coming to one of your shows again, I thought about that parenting gem I learned, "99% of being a good parent is doing what you don't feel like doing." That's what he kept doing.

Bogart in P Towne said...

Wish we could make it.

kcinnova said...

Your dad clearly loved you more than he hated theatre!
Wish you weren't an entire day's drive away. I'd love to come see you perform -- and I wish I could have seen that dark play that freaked your dad out. I think I would have loved it.