Sunday, February 23, 2014

Yesterday the World

When I was in elementary school, my parents sent me to a drama camp. I got hooked on theatre and wanted to do more. As it happened, the theatre department at the University of West Florida was holding auditions for the play Tomorrow the World by James Gow and Arnaud d'Usseau. The casting call announced the play needed child actors. I auditioned and was cast as a boy named Butler, a minor role.

At the end of the second act, my character came on with two other boys, each of us holding a wrapped package for a birthday party, and each of us looking very glum, as our characters did not want to be there. The guest of honor, Emil, wasn't looking very good, either. That's because he had just followed his cousin offstage and smashed in her head with a bookend. As we waited in the box-set living room, Emil's crime was discovered, and his uncle came in, holding the limp body of the cousin in his arms. Emil ran to the window, jumped out onto the fake lawn, and fled. The rest of us were left staring at the window in disbelief. The lights went out, and there was an intermission.

At one particular performance, however, the blackout didn't happen. We were all staring at the window, and the lights stayed on. No one had any idea what we could possibly ad lib at a moment like that. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, the audience figured out what had happened and started to laugh. Eventually, the lights went out and we left the stage. I later heard that the light op had been alone in the booth and had fallen asleep. The stage manager, who was backstage at the time, had to run around to the light booth and bang on the door.

Going through my personal files recently, I came across a program from the play, so I do indeed have physical evidence that someone named James Armstrong played Butler in a production of Tomorrow the World in 1985. But what about the rest? How much evidence remains of that memorable failed light cue that turned my first play into an actor's nightmare?

This mishap would have been left out of any official revues of the production. There might or might not have been a bootleg recording of the play, but if there was one, it was probably taken at a dress rehearsal and not during the unfortunate performance. In addition to my own memory, I can easily consult two other witnesses to this event, as I believe my parents were both present for that performance. What about others?

Because I have the program, I suppose that if I really wanted to I could attempt to track down other witnesses, including cast members, the director, the stage manager, and even the light board operator. (Yes, Karen Streeter, people still remember your goof-up almost 30 years later!)

Other than people's memories, there is likely little evidence of what happened during that one memorable show (other than, now, this blog). Most professional stage managers do keep records of each performance, but I don't know if the stage manager of this small academic production kept such accounts. If he did, do the records still exist? Perhaps the theatre department kept a binder on each show, and perhaps the stage manager's report was saved. However, the theatre program moved into a new building in the 1990s, and I find it unlikely that such records would have been deemed worth keeping during the department's big move.

Theatre is fleeting, and sometimes that's a good thing. But until my brain falls apart, I will always remember the terror of being stuck onstage with nothing to say, as the lights stayed on, and on, and on....