Monday, July 1, 2013

Ummm...No...I'LL Pay The Rent

49 years ago, I had my one bout with a summer theater.  I was between high school college.  The summer before, I attended many of the theater's productions, only that year they did nothing but melodramas.  The Gilded Cage Playhouse.  The building was the Guernsey Barn, just outside Lancaster, and the Gilded Cage producer converted it into a cabaret.  I was enchanted and thought it would be fun to spend a summer being the hero's best friend...or maybe just schlepping scenery around.

I was somewhat disappointed to receive a letter from the producer saying they weren't doing melodramas that summer.  Rather, they were going to do Amish musicals.  Well, Lancaster County, tourists, why not?  But Amish musicals?  I think I understood how stupid the concept was, but it was also my chance at professional Theatre.  Not Equity, but you got paid.

We went through six of them, and then in August put them in repertory.  Amish aren't known for the vastness of their wardrobes, so if we were Amish, whether chorus or character, we had the same costume every show.  Those who weren't Amish, the people who brought conflict into the lives of the lovable and simple and carefree Amish, at least had a change of wardrobe -- if not within the show, then at least from night to night.  Amish?  Not so much.

I once confessed to a couple of my cast friends that it was sometimes hard to remember which show we were doing, that they all seemed pretty much the same.  As it turned out, the Amish hero and the Amish heroine were the hero and heroine of the melodramas the previous summer and they, too, wore the same costumes night after night.  (I should make clear that we had a wardrobe person and she spent many hours washing and pressing our costumes.  They were clean, but they were always the same.)  They, too, did all the melodramas in rep in August, and one night it happened.

They were onstage, in the middle of a scene, and they forgot not only their lines, not only the scene, not only what was to happen next, they forgot which play they were doing.  And they had no way to get back on track.  It was their scene; no other character was waiting for an entrance, so they couldn't pick up a cue that way.  After trading lines, something got them back on track and they finished the scene, ran offstage and laughed hysterically until one of them had to go on again.

Back when Theatre was going to be my life, that was the anxiety dream of anxiety dreams.  What never happened in the anxiety dream was having an actor onstage in the same boat.

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