I was once hired as the stage manager for a professional production of a new, avant-garde German satire, which was to premiere in the USA after a production in Germany. The German director and one of the German actresses were coming with it, but the rest of the cast was American. In the first scene, lights came up on the male lead lying on his back in the middle of the stage, masturbating. It was that sort of play.

The German director and actress (who was also his girlfriend) were fantastic: talented, charming, and all-over lovely. The leading American actor, who was responsible for my presence, was also a good guy. Unfortunately, that left the remaining American actors: the leading actress, the second-lead actress, and a male character actor.

I liked the male character actor up until opening night, when he gave me a token of his affection, tucked into an envelope along with a kind note thanking me for my work. It was a Xeroxed page of racist jokes.

The leading actress was quite famous from having played the wholesome, all-American, and perfect Mom on an old, long-running, wholesome, all-American TV show. Lest she find this and sue me, I will not use her real name, but rather a pseudonym. I’ll call her Mrs. Dalton. She was an evil harridan who took pleasure in making everyone around her miserable. Once she stomped out of a rehearsal, and I had the surreal experience of chasing her through the halls of the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, screaming, “Get back in here and finish the rehearsal, or I’ll report you for breaking your contract!”

The second-lead actress—I’ll call her Marlene-- was well-known in Los Angeles as an acting teacher. It wasn’t that she was a bad human being. It was that she could not remember her lines. The day before the opening, she had still not learned her lines. On opening night, she jumped ahead twenty pages. I prayed, “Please please please let someone else notice and get her back on track!” But, as if they were hypnotized, everyone else continued from where she had jumped to. But the part she had skipped contained crucial information without which the entire rest of the play made no sense.

So I decided to call a cue that would be an unmistakable signal to the other actors to go back. But I had to talk the light and sound people through this, because they were now completely lost, and it involved jumping five pages forward from where we were supposed to be. But at least it wasn’t twenty pages forward. And it was the only thing I could think of that would definitely force the actors off their current track. But by the time I’d gotten the techs ready, they actors had all continued on from the wrong place for several minutes and were now twenty-five minutes away from where they should be.

I called the cue. In the middle of Marlene’s sentence, the lights blacked out on everyone but Mrs. Dalton. A spotlight shone into her pop-eyed and horror-struck face, and treacly piano music began to play. With an audible gulp and in what was clearly a programmed response, she began the monologue that went with the cue. When it was over, the rest of the play continued as it was supposed to go. Unfortunately, however, when it got to the five minutes that we’d already been through, we were forced to go through the entire thing again.

The centerpiece of the entire play was a very long family dinner scene. The director decided to have the sole food be a life-size bull’s head, horns included, made entirely of crimson Jello. Mrs. Dalton hacked off great slabs and hurled them, quivering, onto everyone’s plates. It was pretty funny. Especially since the prop woman kept screwing up the recipe. One time she forgot to put in the sugar, which made the actors all make dreadful faces, gulp down their mouthful, and take no more. Another time she put in too much gelatin. They didn’t react to this when they first bit in, but slowly, as their mouthfuls turned first to pebbles, then to sand, and then to dust, without ever dissolving into a substance they could swallow without choking, they each gave up and spat it out.

The stage hand was an arrogant jerk. When we did a scene change during intermission one night, when I thought the audience had all gone to the lobby, he refused to obey my instructions on how to get a large piece of furniture through the door. It slammed into the set, knocking off a large piece of plaster.

“Do it MY WAY, you fucking idiot!” I shrieked. “YOUR WAY just destroyed the set!”

When we emerged onstage with the furniture, we were greeting with a round of laughter and applause from the audience members still in their seats.



The conclusion of this miserable production was when the house manager oversold the performance. Despite my express order forbidding her to set up illegal, fire-hazard extra seats, she snuck in and put in folding chairs at the top of a steep aisle, backed by a six foot drop with no railing, so if anyone sitting in them leaned back, the seats would flip over and they would fall and smash their skulls. To add to the likelihood of this happening, the actors ran up and down those aisles as part of the production.

I spotted this and ordered the arrogant stage hand to take them down, and the house manager to not let anyone in until I gave her the OK. Then I went to look for the director, who could not be found. When I returned she had seated the entire audience, including four people in the danger seats. I told her I would not call the show until those seats were gone. She refused to de-seat anyone, and threatened to have me fired. I got up on the stage, explained the situation, and asked those audience members to relinquish their seats and take comps for another night. They refused!

“Okay,” I said. “Here’s the deal. The show’s not happening until those seats are gone. I’ll give you three choices. One, you take tickets for another night. Two, you sit up in the booth with me, which I strongly advise against since it will be hot and cramped and you’ll hear me talking for the entire play and you’ll barely be able to see the stage and you may not make any noise whatsoever and it will be no fun—“

“Okay, the booth!” They exclaimed this eagerly and without waiting to hear choice three, which was “I go home and there is no play for anyone.”

I was irritated, as I didn’t want them up there and it was probably a fire hazard, but I’m sure they always remembered that night for its novelty. The house manager again threatened to have me fired, but the director backed me up so nothing came of it. It is the right and duty of the stage manager to refuse to call the show if there is an outstanding safety hazard, though I don’t think it’s often exercised.

A few months later a different theatre in Los Angeles did the exact same thing, only the show went on with the illegal extra folding chairs in place and a guy sitting in one leaned back, fell, broke his leg, and sued. When I heard about that, I felt completely vindicated.
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From: [identity profile] arielstarshadow.livejournal.com


These stories are KILLING me! They are hilarious.
ext_124701: negativised photo of me (Default)

From: [identity profile] kitryan.livejournal.com


Keep it up, I love it! Despite being in theatre for about 10 years, none of my stories are as good as yours. (It's also possible that I'm not as good as telling them) Mine are pretty much always just the title-'the time the prop corn turned into bugs in the dressing room' 'the time sweeney todd's pants massivly ripped 5 minutes before curtian'-both stories are pretty much summed up right there-(there were stray bugs in the dressing room for some time, but no disaster ensued, I fixed sweeney's pants with a minute to spare, and was a minor hero of the evening.) In the category of inexplicable acts of highschool actors-while stagemanaging Scenes From American Life, I had a missing highball glass-returned to me by a sheepish actor (who had made me promise not to be mad) with scratches and specks of pavement all over the bottom-apparantly it had been used in some sort of impromptu parking lot hockey game.

From: [identity profile] wyldemusick.livejournal.com


Oh lord, this stuff puts my travails in the audio drama world (accent on the drama) into perspective.

From: [identity profile] jinian.livejournal.com


Nice work not letting the audience kill themselves!

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


You're not the only one. I am loving all this more than anyone decently should.

From: [identity profile] kaigou.livejournal.com


“Do it MY WAY, you fucking idiot!” I shrieked. “YOUR WAY just destroyed the set!”

For that alone, I owe you a drink the next time we meet. ;-)

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com

I concur


There are a number of moments in my life at which I wish I'd had the guts to say exactly that.
ext_12542: My default bat icon (Default)

From: [identity profile] batwrangler.livejournal.com


If you made a book out of these stories, I would buy at least two copies. :) (They're even better than your crazy-date stories.)

From: [identity profile] movingfinger.livejournal.com


Where do you get a bull's head mold for Jello? I think I need one for Thanksgiving.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer


My thought exactly.

(Well, I was actually thinking Passover, but same diff.)

---L.

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


I think I just realized I have a theatre horror story, though a rather tame one. Does anyone want to hear it?

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


I was maybe nine, ten years old.

My first grade teacher was putting on a play, which was running into problems. It was a dramatization of an African folktale where a jackal speaks to several different animals and things--a fox, a tree, a road--to find out how to get a piece of meat out of a trap. She was having a really hard time getting her actors to perform. (I don't think she was teaching first grade anymore; my brother was the fox, and he is only two years younger than I am.)

I was supposed to sit in the audience and watch the rehearsals, and then tell my old teacher how everyone did, so she had a sense of where the problem areas were.

The road was a really shy kid (what was his road costume? A piece of cardboard with holes for his arms, and yellow marks up the middle) and much of my job consisted in telling Mrs. Goldstein, as I'll call her, that he needed to speak up. (Although at one point I got a little too much into my Roger Ebert role and told her "the tree was good, but not as good as he might be..." To her credit, Mrs. Goldstein was amused.)

The big day came; the play was ready to be put on for real.

I think it was not clear to me that my responsibility for anything in the play had ended. Because whereas I KNEW what order the fox, the tree, and the road were supposed to come out in, to my HORROR, the road came out...before the tree.

At this late date I'm sure there was some very logical explanation, such as that the tree couldn't get into his costume. At the time, I knew what I had to do. I leapt to my feat and shouted NO! in my loudest voice, waving the road toward the curtains as I did.

Baffled looks from the entire school...

To her credit, Mrs. Goldstein thought that was funny too. As I later found out, when to my great disappointment I hadn't died then and there.

From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com


Somehow it being a kid playing THE ROAD makes the whole thing all the funnier ;)

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


Indeed. That THE ROAD, and I and everyone else were kids--or else parents and teachers.

Also I find it funny that THE ROAD was costumed as a paved road with a yellow interrupted line, and it's an African story with the road a little path in the dirt. And that it was the shyest little mouse of a kid in the whole class, maybe the whole school.

From: [identity profile] jonquil.livejournal.com


Dude.

(A) you have the most amazing life and (B) you tell the best stories.

From: [identity profile] tirwen.livejournal.com


Thanks so much for sharing these stories. It brings back memories (although mine weren't so bad and were all amateur).

From: [identity profile] tharain.livejournal.com


I LOVE THESE STORIES!!

You need to put them in an anthology, called "Theatrical Disasters" or some such thing. They're BRILLIANT.

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


I don't see how Rachel can avoid becoming famous one day.

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


Friended you, by the way--I think we laugh at some of the same things.

From: [identity profile] minnow1212.livejournal.com


>leaned back, fell, broke his leg, and sued. When I heard about that, I felt completely vindicated.<

Yay!

...I am not sure I should say Yay for injury, but presumably his leg is healed by now, so yay anyway.

From: [identity profile] faithhopetricks.livejournal.com


In the first scene, lights came up on the male lead lying on his back in the middle of the stage, masturbating. It was that sort of play.

//dies Have I told you lately that I love you? because OMG. "It was that sort of play." PURE R.

I liked the male character actor up until opening night, when he gave me a token of his affection, tucked into an envelope along with a kind note thanking me for my work. It was a Xeroxed page of racist jokes.

omg omg omg omg

The stage hand was an arrogant jerk. When we did a scene change during intermission one night, when I thought the audience had all gone to the lobby, he refused to obey my instructions on how to get a large piece of furniture through the door. It slammed into the set, knocking off a large piece of plaster.
“Do it MY WAY, you fucking idiot!” I shrieked. “YOUR WAY just destroyed the set!”
When we emerged onstage with the furniture, we were greeting with a round of laughter and applause from the audience members still in their seats.


Fierce Rachel! Awesome!

When I heard about that, I felt completely vindicated.

You totally were! God, that house manager was an idiot. More, more! These are great!

From: [identity profile] leiliaxf.livejournal.com


oh holy crap!

Now I'll be up half the night trying to figure out who the famous actress is!

From: [identity profile] madam-silvertip.livejournal.com


Let's just say, it's as good as knowing there is a movie with Betty White where she says "Cocksucker," and that's also true. (Based on a guess, of course.)

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com


That's a very special disaster, that is.

From: [identity profile] mearagrrl.livejournal.com


I love theater disaster stories. And awesome stage manager stories.

Though in my own sad collection of stories, I'm not sure anything tops one of my very first ones, which was a middle school production of the Hobbit. First there was the malfunctioning smoke machine (we, um, couldn't make a dragon. So we had a smoke machine offstage, which stood in for it). It went off early. Then it wouldn't go off when it was supposed to. Then it set off the fire alarm and the principal made us all evacuate. Then because of that, we ran out of time, and they made us stop the show before the end! It was delightful...
.

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