As I sit on my balcony, waiting for the gas company to send a guy to inspect the probable leak coming from an ancient and non-functioning heater which I have smelled potently but chosen to ignore since last Wednesday, my impaired brain drifts back to happier times. Be it my yearning for connection or the natural gas I’ve been inhaling all week, I’d like to share with you, dear readers, some of my most noteworthy theatrical experiences.
The two worst plays I have ever been involved in both failed due to unrealistic expectations. The first was an original 3 hour musical about a USO club on the eve of World War II. After the plot line had pretty much been completely resolved, there was an extra 30 minutes of all the people who hadn’t had solos previously singing songs that had nothing to do with anything. We used to joke that no matter what else any of us achieved theatrically, our careers would end immediately should anyone discover our involvement in “Shippin’ Out.”
The second worst was a children’s production of a certain holiday play in which Tiny Tim never went onstage, our lighting designer was forced to play the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and the ringer we brought in to play the lead had asbergers.
But then, where would we humans be without our ability to laugh at really really terrible things?
Recently, I had one such experience.
Three days before Christmas I am in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Grand Ole Opry, awaiting the stockingless stylings of the Radio City Rockettes. This is not a hip thing I just admitted, but hear me out you assholes. The Rockettes are amazing. I can’t kick like that. You definitely can’t kick like that. These women work really really hard to be really really good. And they are.
That being said, the whole concept of a New York Christmas Spectacular in Tennessee is insane. The Opry itself, resembling a very large theatrical version of a Longhorn restaurant, is packed. On our way in, the ushers present us with 3D glasses. Kettle corn is being sold in pound bags by tall men with decidedly un-ironic mustaches.
So we sit not knowing what to think until the lights dim, and, with a drum flourish, the curtain rises.
What follows are two mostly delightful and highly redundant hours of big production numbers. Tap tuhtap tap TAP TAH DAH! Tapping shoppers, tapping people in a sled, tapping toy soldiers. The kick line is a miraculous invention and the Rockettes are surely its pinnacle, but after the eighth time you pretty much know what to expect.
And so it went on into the night. The show after intermission was pretty much the same as before. Huge number after number, all ending the same way much to the delight of the audience, who did their best to whistle through kettle corn-encrusted teeth.
Then, all of a sudden, about 3/4 of the way through the second half, the stage went dark.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we come together to celebrate this festive time of year, we all must do our best to remember the true reason for the season.”
“It is therefore our pleasure to present you with our rendition of the nativity story.”
“May his grace fill us all with understanding and light.”
Tap tuhtaptap JESUS!
And with that, the curtain rose to reveal a procession of shepards with their LIVE SHEEP and wise men with their LIVE CAMELS. Were they just backstage eating hay for 2 hours?
Then a second curtain rises to reveal, you guessed it, the baby jesus and his white, sparkly-faced parents.
Now, at this point a number of things could have happened.
1.) The angel of the lord, dressed as a Ziegfeld Follie, could have descended from the rafters and led everyone in a rousing rendition of All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.
2.) The Virgin Mary could have thrown off her robes to reveal a cross-shaped one-piece and joined the camels in a kick line.
3.) The baby Jesus could have jumped out of the manger and stunned the audience with his flawless two-step.
Did any of those things happen?
Would the play have been better, perhaps even have made more sense if they had?
This is what we’ve got people. This is the theatre today.
It all happened, it’s all true, and now you know.
And I even feel a little better, but, as the technician has yet to arrive, perhaps that’s just the gas talking.
About the Author: Jen Davis is a stranger in a strange land. Following a life of wandering and re-location(where am i? WHO AM I?) she made a decisive (drunken) decision to forsake all things holy and move to Southern California. She recently received her BA in Theatre while narrowly avoiding a minor in philosophy. Jen has staged plays, mimes, sword fights, and cakewalks throughout the Pacific Northwest, most recently as Associate Artistic Director of Toy Boat Theatre Company. She seeks to revitalize and re-establish the theatre as a necessary part of American life through producing, writing, and generally crying out to anyone who will listen. Her marketable skills include learning to juggle, baking, and persistence.