As Freddy Mercury sang, and as every actor knows, "The show must go on." There are occasional moments when you must stop or pause the show (like when the fire alarms go off and you have to wait for the department's "all clear"), but you get right back at it. Only once have I been involved in a show where we had to stop everything, send people home, and reschedule that performance. We will get to that in a bit. I would like to start with what has happened most recently in my career to spurn this blog into existence.
Our stage has a lot of platforms and stairs, as you can see in an earlier blog I wrote. At one point in the opening number, I exit stage right, run across back stage mid-quick change, run up the stage left escape stairs, and land on the top platform to do a scene. This happens in about 30-45 seconds. Last night, as I began to bound my way up the stairs, the third step broke beneath me. I mean, this step and its supports were completely ripped out from under me. As I fell and smashed my leg against the next stair up, I managed to hoist myself up using the hand rails, keep running up, and land on the top platform in time to do the scene. Everyone heard the stair break...who wouldn't! However, no one in the cast knew that I was on said step until I got off stage. On we went with the show. The stair was braced for Act I, fixed for Act II, and I got a lovely mark to show for it.
In 2006, I performed in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street with the Rochester Civic Theatre as Tobias. This was the show that helped to solidify my love for the works of Sondheim. However, this was also a show where I nearly died. I have the lucky privilege to suffer from severe allergies. Yay! They have much improved over my lifetime, but in my high school days, they decided to be the worst they had ever been. I was hospitalized well over a dozen times and intubated four times. For those of you who never watched ER or House, intubation is where they stick a tube down your throat to ensure and oxygen makes it into your body. When I had a severe reaction, I would go into anaphylactic shock and my airways would start to close off.
This wonderful horror began one night as we were performing. I still to this day have no clue to what I was reacting, but airways were beginning to close during the show. Being a community theatre, we did not have any understudy lined up so I had to power through the show. My adrenaline kept me breathing, and the cast kept my spirits up. As soon as the show was over, I skipped curtain call, ran to the ER, and was intubated in minutes. I remained as such for the remainder of the weekend. A late friend of mine, Steve, took over the role in my absence. However, the next weekend, eyes bloodshot from the vessels bursting from coughing, I returned to finish out the run.
However, the pinnacle of shows that went on despite insane odds was the 2001 production of Pinocchio. Our production was a great deal of fun; costumes that made us look like coloring book characters come to life off the page, an incredibly beautiful and complex soundscape run by my sister Amanda, and a very great cast. That being said, our troubles began on preview. That night, our actor playing Geppetto arrives to the theatre drunk...not just "oh I had a couple with dinner," I mean when he had to hoist our Pinocchio up, you could see them teetering from his inebriation. He was subsequently kicked out of the show and was replace by our wonderful director Jerry Casper.
Opening night signaled a different emergency. Our adaptation had a character named Fire Eater, who was a nicer version of the Disney character Stromboli who was in charger of the other puppets. At the top of the show, our actor blew fire live on stage. This had gone off without a hitch all through tech and through preview. That night, however, the accelerant he had been using dribbled onto his beard. When he blew the flame, it then caught his beard on fire. This was the one night where the show did not go on. We rushed the actor to the ER and later learned he has suffered second-degree burns to his face. He was replaced by the artistic director Greg Miller for the remainder of that weekend.
A week or so later, we added a show for the opening night audience whose show was canceled due to the accident. Our actor had returned for the remainder of the run. He went out on stage as if he was going to perform the stunt again, looked at the audience (who were nervous about him doing this again), smiled and said, "Nah," and extinguished the flame to huge applause.
While these were not Spider-Man sized issues, they were all very big at the moment in which they happened. In the end, we continued and didn't let these momentary failures effect our spirits. Live theatre is a crazy thing, but at the end of the day, the show MUST go on!