If you ever decide to produce a play with a cast of 50 high school students, I would strongly suggest that you take a few minutes before starting to beat yourself in the head with a blunt object.
This tip comes to us from Craig “Duke” Duke, who was the director of Elsinore High School’s recent production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” If you saw any of the performances of this show, you are probably still doubled over with laughter, which must make it extremely difficult to drive.
As you may have surmised, I was in this show. I played “Mr. MacAfee,” the grumpy-but-irritating middle-aged father. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the show, except for the time during a rehearsal that I was almost killed by the Piano of Death.
We were rehearsing the scene wherein I sing “Kids,” a song that revolves around the general theme of kids being very bad. At the end of the scene, the lights went off (or “down,” as we say in the business), and I was supposed to run off stage — in the darkness, mind you — in a humorous, middle-aged manner.
As I did this, however, I found directly in my path: a piano. Goodness knows why there was a piano there. I later learned that it had been placed there by a member of the technical crew (a group whose combined literacy rivals that of a postage stamp), apparently in the hopes that I would scurry off stage, sit down at the piano, and play a little ditty, perhaps “The Entertainer,” or something.
I did not do this, however, because I did not discover the piano in the normal fashion, i.e. with my eyes. I discovered the piano via running into it with my head. I promptly responded to this minor setback just the way a professional actor would have: I exclaimed, “Uuuuunnnhhh,” or some equally professional phrase, and fell professionally to the floor, banging my head again, only more professionally this time, as it knocked me out.
The last thing I heard before I slipped into unconsciousness was very comforting, because it reminded me that, no matter what our differences or problems, we Drama People are really all one big, happy family, full of people who are deeply concerned for one another’s well-being. I heard some guy — I’m guessing a member of the technical crew — say, “Eric, get up off the floor.” Feeling thus reassured of my importance, I promptly passed out.
Except for this minor incident of near-death, the show went very well, although it did make everyone a little nutty. For instance, during the cast party after closing night, the aforementioned director, Craig Duke (who can legally vote in this country), decided, on a whim, to let Nick Sandoval shave off his beard for him. Personally, I can think of several comical things that Duke could have done with his hair after it was shaved off (i.e., putting it all in the microwave and exclaiming, “Honey! The cat!!”), but that is not the point. The point is that acting is an all-around very enjoyable experience. Far more enjoyable, for instance, than writing a column, where you always have to worry about running out of space and being cut off right in the midd–
The Piano of Death is one of my favorite anecdotes, and it's ALL TRUE! And it's fun.
"Bye Bye Birdie" was a fun show because I got to play a middle-aged man, complete with old-age make-up and a fake "spare tire" around my belly. I also got to wear a bathrobe, which I have always enjoyed doing onstage. All of this nearly cancelled out the fact that "Bye Bye Birdie" is kind of a stupid show.
I re-used this lead for this column. Try stealing from yourself sometime; it's fun!