By the end of today, all of the groups will have had at least one performance and will be officially open. There are a lot of nerves on the first two days of the festival between performers in front of an audience for the first time, technicians trying to remember the show they rehearsed 5 days ago, and the vendors scrambling to find more mustard that they ran out of.
Most shows go pretty smooth on their first day…. some have a few hiccups… and a very few disintegrate into a puddle of muddled chaos and lost dialogue…
It reminds me of some first show stories from the past…
I remember in my first year, of the Winnipeg Fringe there was a show in my venue (back in the days when Venue 2 was Venue 1) that started with a man entering a house with a gun accusing his lover of cheating on him with this man. There was supposed to be a long back and forth conversation of angst and tears, and then the man shoots his lover and then shoots himself leaving the man who turns out wasn’t sleeping with the lover.
On opening night, the first few lines of the play went swimmingly, until the cap gun accidentally went of as it was pointed at the lover. He was so confused and panic set in… so he naturally pretended he was hit, and died. The guy with the gun then panicked too, looked at the other guy with a horrified look on his face, and did the only thing that made sense. He shot himself and died. The last man standing looked to the booth for guidance… so I went to black, and then brought up the curtain call cue. The three actors got up and bowed to some bewildered applause and then left the stage, where I brought up the house lights.
The entire show ran just under two minutes. One review told readers that it was a quick thrill, three stars.
Another group, some years later set up their set, sound, and lights for their opening performance and I let the house in. There was no preshow music so everything went according to plan right until the first sound cue. The play was a dark piece about suicide and death and angst, and the music for the first scene change was a melodramatic string piece that complimented that theme. But instead, Sesame Street’s Elmo came out of the speakers singing a rendition of the alphabet song in rap. The stage manager looked at me in horror and said “OH NO! This is my 5 year old’s CD! The show CD must be in the car!”
Many audience members thought that the show was excellent, but couldn’t understand the significance of the beloved children’s character in the show.
I once had another stage manager read her schedule wrong. She thought the show was at 1:45 PM but it was actually at 1:15. The actors had arrived for their opening performance, but there was no Stage Manager. I asked them what they wanted to do.
“Well you can run the show by yourself, can’t you.”
“I could, but I don’t know your show.”
“It’s easy, you just follow the script.”
“Oh ok. Do you have a script?”
“Um…. no. The Stage Manager has it…”
So now I have a gaggle of bawling actors, no stage manager, no script, and a full house. I let in the house in and wait at the entrance to the venue. With 5 minutes left before curtain, I went back to the actors and reported that their Stage Manager was still missing. More tears, more bawling, more angst… and I was getting worried that I would have to try to run this show by myself without a script, SM, or a clue.
I wander back to the venue door and am just about to close the door, when the stage manger comes running around the corner, in tears, crying “Oh My God I thought the show was at 1:45!”.
She runs into the venue, I close the doors, relieved that I wasn’t going to have to figure out this show, and follow the grief stricken Stage Manager into the venue. Now the actors and the Stage Manager were crying…
“Oh My God We Thought you were dead!”
“I could just die, I’m so sorry!”
“We were so scared”
“I was so scared”
*hugs, sighs, tears*
I remind them that there is a show, and that I would give them a moment to compose themselves.
I go back to the booth, with the Stage Manger, and her a box of Kleenex, and ask her if she was alright. She breathes, calms down, and starts calling the show. I go into the first cue which turns out to be a dance chase of lights that is completely wrong for this coming of age piece of angst…
In all of the confusion, I had forgot to load the show… I was playing the lighting cues for a different show… so this time, I was the one who screwed up…
It was ok though, coming of age plays have the benefit of being so weird sometimes that any thing could have worked, so no one noticed the dance lights while a barefoot young girl tried to catch imaginary butterflies beside a lake.
But this is live theatre, and anything can happen. These mishaps end up becoming cherished memories, and I still see that stage manager around sometimes and she will say “Remember that time I almost missed a show and you loaded the wrong cues?”
You never see that on HBO…