War Stories Revisited
Many moons ago, while gainfully employed by the Las Vegas entertainment industry I had a regular column in a publication known as “Callback Magazine”. It was a publication that served the local performance artists with audition information, show reviews and other industry tidbits. My editor wanted to try a new column called “War Stories”. It was to be a series of essays recalling a performer’s funniest, worst or most humiliating moment on stage. I had the pleasure of contributing several stories before the publication shut down.
I was curled up near the tree tonight reading David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice” when I was reminded of a war story I wrote about my dear friend Ken.
This story has no brewhouse ties though I’m sure after the event he was sure to tie one on. And it’s Christmas-y. Hope you enjoy.
War Stories first published March 9, 2007
“Don’t look,” I thought. “If I can’t see them, they can’t see me”.
But they could see me. Therein lies showbiz irony. The creators of any theatrical production spend countless hours to ensure that stage lighting, set placement and directorial blocking enables all audience members an unencumbered view off all bodies onstage- even those bodies that don’t want to be seen.
There they were. Doubled over in their seats. Obviously so weak from laughter, their own stomach muscles failed to support them in a seated position. Their hands, desperately trying to stifle the irrepressible peals of laughter, left their mouths briefly, so they might wipe away the wild stream of tears from their cheeks. Their bodies shook in uncontrolled hysterics. They were my closest friends, and I’m not sure if that made them laugh harder or made them try harder to laugh less (…and thus laugh harder.)
I was in the last act of a Christmas concert and despite the manger with Mary and Baby Jesus in the upstage right corner, I was certain I was in hell. Nothing seemed to go right. Every scene had a problem.
Being it was our last night in preview I tried to take comfort in the expression “bad dress rehearsal, great performance,” after all, that’s what a preview is for. It is a last chance for us in the entertainment industry to expel the demons and exorcise any bad karma so we might focus our energies wholeheartedly to the satisfaction of the general ticket holding population.
Tomorrow was opening night; the night these ticket holders would be streaming through the theater doors in the hopes of witnessing an evening of seasonal joy and holiday goodness.
I do not know those people.
I did, however, know these people, more specifically the ten people in the audience, some of whom were filled with so much seasonal joy and holiday goodness, were on their way to emergency hospitalization.
“Look away!” my internal voice screamed soon followed by my internal Tourette’s Syndrome. I furiously tried to wedge my head sideways into my costume’s head piece and continued my sashays across the stage. I was dressed as a giant gingerbread man complete with hair ribbons of pink frosting and raisin buttons the size of New York City roaches.
And my friends, my dearest, sweetest, closest, most considerate friends seated in the back row, were here to support me. Just as I was here to support them by dialing 911 when their lungs collapsed from involuntary hysterical convulsions.
Truly, I could not blame them. If the tables were turned and one of them was currently imitating a 10-year-old fat kid’s fantasy, I would be the one conducting the wave in the audience. Hell, I would have been thrown out hours ago for heckling the dancing sugar cookies.
I glanced once more into the audience from my only sight-line; the oral cavity of the gingerbread man. Yes, I was looking out of a cookie’s mouth. It was the only area I could see out and the only area ten friends could see in.
I pulled my head away from the opening and deeper into the foam and wires. Pride and dignity were first and foremost. Sight and oxygen were secondary. Holding gingerbread hands with gingerbread guy and gingerbread girl, I shuffled through the longest four counts of eight in theatrical history and allowed my gingerbread wing men to escort me off stage.
I rested for a moment near the rails, headpiece in lap, sweat on my brow, confidence in the toilet. My humiliation was over but I knew, deep within my heart, it would never go away. Because my friends would never let it go away.
How quickly they had forgotten my haunting rendition of Silent Night and my stirring Charlie Brown Christmas soliloquy not to mention my a capella Rum-pah-pum-pum that had earlier brought tears to the director’s eyes.
They would remember Christmas as a night of missed cues and forgotten lines. They would recall the holiday season, as the time the third wise man got his robe caught on the Candyland set piece. They would remember the most important commercial holiday of the calendar year as the night the Sugar Plum Fairy was high on cold medicine, and the Angel of the Lord’s cherry picker lost power and the time when Santa’s favorite elf forgot to use the restroom before they called places. My friends would now and forever, equate the birth of our Lord, with the moment I debuted as a giant slab of pastry.
Opening night, on the other hand, went off without a hitch. And my friends were never invited to another dress rehearsal ever again.