Well, the show is over. Neither storms nor heat nor the gloom of realizing that the humidity had reached levels that actually had weight could stay these troupers from their appointed roles. We got fairly good audiences by Home Campus standards, even during the monsoon performance. And now it is done.
Theater is an ephemeral art. You rehearse for weeks or months (or, in the case of a last-minute substitution such as myself, for a frenetic eight days or so), and then it’s showtime [insert Jazz Hands here]. You give your performances to the open air and then they are gone, living only in the memories of the people who were there, for as long as they care to remember.
As a historian I like to write things down so I can remember them for that much longer. How much less ephemeral that makes them, here in the jiggling electrons of the internet, is an open question I suppose, but there you have it.
So: a few things I wish to remember about Much Ado About Nothing.
1. Never underestimate the ability of a cast and crew to change nearly everything on a moment's notice.
Our first performance took placed in a driving rainstorm, which is usually somewhat problematic for an outdoor show. I was there around 4pm helping the director put some finishing touches on the set and we debated moving the performance indoors for a while before he made the call to do so.
That was a really good decision on his part, though it meant making a lot of adjustments on the fly.
We had never even rehearsed in the space where the show happened that night, and the set was far too big to move indoors even if we had had the time. Three black curtains became the house and central doorway. Two ladders hidden behind the stage right black curtain became our balcony. Since we used not only the stage but also a good portion of the open courtyard in the original staging, we had to figure out all of our entrances, exits, and resting places (my character, for example, spends about half a scene sitting on a bench next to the audience and an analogous spot had to be found). The lighting could be skipped, since we didn't need it for that space, but the sound all had to be configured and set up anew.
All of that happened in less than an hour, with a 7pm curtain.
By the time we got everything settled the rain was alternating between driving downpours and false pauses and we weren’t sure if anyone would even come, but they did and they got a great show.
2. Theater runs on fast food and bottled water.
I was most involved in theater when I was in high school and college, which meant that my schedule was fairly flexible and I could often find time for real meals before shows. Except for show week, of course, since show weeks expand to fill the time available and then some.
This show was all show week for me, latecomer that I was to the party. And I now work for a living and have kids, which means that I am required to be in certain places at certain times, which in turn means that there are limited opportunities for real meals.
Enter, stage right, unreal meals. You can’t go too far wrong with General Tso Chicken, extra spicy, I think.
On the other hand, our director provided us with cases of cold bottled water during show nights, and when weather forecasters start throwing around terms like “heat index” like regrets after a night in Vegas, that sort of thing comes in handy.
3. Theater people are good people.
I didn’t have anything to contribute to the first act, and to be honest I really couldn’t tell you what happened in it. It’s Shakespeare – I’m sure there were verbal duels, attempts at deception and trickery, and more than a few examples of how not to live a happy life, but that’s pretty standard really. Other than opening night, when we all got crowded into the same room for the entire show, I missed the particulars.
This is because the play was (mostly) outside, and during the run of the show the entire Dogberry group spent the first act indoors in what is usually the dining commons for Home Campus (which is where we preformed on monsoon night, actually). We were joined by most of the cast, at one time or another, and we had a grand time talking about the show, about books, about various and sundry aspects of our individual lives. Honestly, I think it was my favorite part of the show.
People are interesting – they have lives that were in full swing long before you meet them and will continue long after the show is over (one hopes, anyway). It’s fascinating to hear what they have done and what they think, and to find out a bit about who they are.
I discovered two people whose taste in reading overlaps a great deal with my own. Another who got a PhD in Australia, a country I’ve always wanted to visit. Two ran local organizations that at one time or another I had been involved with but am no longer – maybe I should go back. There were conversations about chickens, fishing, concerts, movies, and tree trimming contests that were interesting because they meant something to the people involved. People had traveled. People had lived abroad. People had held jobs you wouldn’t think they’d held. People had been involved in theater for years and seen things that are still funny even now.
It’s a good time being backstage.
And when it continues at the local Mexican restaurant for an evening? Well, so much the better.
5. If you can’t do it right, make it convincing.
I don’t think any of the four performances matched any of the others. It’s a long play, and with the instability among the cast there were actors learning large parts fairly late in the process. I’m always amazed at people who can do that. It was all I could do to get my thirteen lines straight.
So things varied. I know my scenes did, at least. I assume I was not alone in this.
Some nights the lines got paraphrased. Other nights one or more got skipped. But as long as everyone kept on going and made it look like that was what was supposed to happen, it all went well.
6. The show isn’t over until strike is over.
We spent today taking everything down. Whoever it was who invented the cordless drill capable of holding a Philips-head screwdriver bit deserves a medal and a lifetime supply of pizza with all the toppings they desire. It was a fairly large and solidly-built set – one that had survived several severe storms, mostly intact – and it came down and was put away in less than three hours.
It probably wasn’t good for my back, which has been giving me grief all summer long, but it was nice to see everyone one more time.
7. It’s kind of bittersweet when the show ends, but it’s nice to get your life back.
The thing about theater is that is intense. You’re there for hours and hours, and during show week it’s every day. You get to know people. And then it’s over, and you may or may not see them again. I suppose I’ll see some of them, perhaps even most. It’s a small town, and a smaller community. And there is Facebook, of course. But still.
On the other hand, everything that I put on hold for the last week or so is still there, calling to me for attention. There are chickens and turkeys to look after. There are classes to prepare and papers to grade. There is a small group of people who apparently live in my house and claim to be my family whom I should probably get to know again. It will be nice to stay home and have a real meal or two, though 4H is rearing its head and may make that more of an aspiration than a reality. We’ll see.
I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do this. I don’t know if I will do it again. But I’m glad I did it this time, and that’s enough.