Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Invisible Man Award

Most of my nightmares are about theatre, and most of my theatre nightmares are about missing an entrance. In my nightmares, it's never my fault: someone has taken my costume, my makeup, my prop. The one time it actually happened, I had no one to blame but myself—well, myself and one of my fellow actors, who shall remain nameless. (Mainly because I can't remember his name. He was playing the role of an English lord, so I shall refer to him as "His Lordship.")

I was playing the role of Johnny Tarleton, son of underwear tycoon John Tarleton. The play was Misalliance, by George Bernard Shaw—a play that is chiefly remembered as the source of the oft-parodied line delivered by my character, "Anybody on for a game of tennis?" It was the second semester of my freshman year of college, my third show, and my biggest role yet.

During this particular performance, His Lordship and I were chatting in the green room, waiting for our entrance. We were probably talking about the ceramic bowl I was supposed to have smashed in the previous scene. (It worked in rehearsal, but in every single performance, no matter how hard I threw the thing to the floor, it would not break. At the final performance, I hurled it with such force it bounced off the floor, ricocheted off a flat, and rolled off the stage—finally coming to rest against the foot of an audience member in the front row.)

The green room was separated from the stage by some distance; a speaker on the wall allowed actors awaiting their entrance to listen for cues. At some point in our conversation, His Lordship and I simultaneously noticed that there was no dialogue coming from the speaker. After making sure the speaker was functioning properly, we simultaneously came to the realization that the reason there was no dialogue was that the actors who were supposed to be speaking were not on stage, and that those actors were us. We dashed down the long, dark corridor to the wings and made our breathless entrance, much to the relief of the actors onstage, who were desperately trying to improvise in the style of George Bernard Shaw.

At the theatre department award ceremony at the end of the school year, His Lordship and I were dubiously honored with "The Invisible Man Award."

* * * * *

Anyone who has been on the stage will agree that, as embarrassing as it is to be the Invisible Man, it is much worse being onstage when someone else misses an entrance. Karma dictated that sooner or later it must happen to me—as it did just a few years later, during a community theatre production of Chekov's Three Sisters.

There were four of us on stage that evening, waiting for the Invisible Man. Fortunately, all of us were reasonably seasoned actors with the good sense to keep calm and remain in character. The man and woman playing clandestine lovers flirted shamelessly. I, seated between them and playing a shy, awkward military officer, acted shy and awkward—an easy task when you are sitting between two people who are flirting shamelessly. The fourth member of our quartet, who was playing a broody, dangerous military officer, sat in the corner and brooded dangerously. We were all, if I may say so myself, brilliant. I doubt if Anton Chekov himself would have realized that anything was wrong. I'm fairly certain the audience didn't. (Unless they happened to be "theatre people." Theatre people usually notice when something goes wrong during a performance because they expect something to go wrong during a performance. They know that something goes wrong during every performance. It's one of the cardinal rules of theatre.)

Finally, after what seemed an eternity but was probably only a minute or two, our Invisible Man entered and the play continued.

* * * * *

I am proud to say that, since receiving my one and only Invisible Man Award, I have never missed another entrance—although I did, due to a spectacular display of clumsiness, once miss a curtain call.

But that's another story.

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