I Was There On The Night
by Associate Artistic Director Christie Vela
“You have to have amazing cock-ups in the theater, because then you have stories, and then you’ve had a life. “ – Slings and Arrows
Here’s a secret nobody tells you and most of us, as makers of theater, don’t like to dwell on; Ready? The rehearsing of a show is just a desperate hope to control forces outside of us that could make things go terribly wrong. You get a large group of people together, they practice saying some words to each other, sometimes to music, all of them hoping that they will remember the words. Meanwhile, another group of people are building things for the first group of people to wear or stand on, hoping that the things they are building will not be hazardous, and are big enough, and can be moved easily, can withstand the elements, will last a month or two, won’t rip or shrink and God forbid I must go find another one of these mid-run. Meanwhile, there’s another group of people selling your show, hoping not only that people will buy tickets, but also that they are willing to follow you to various locations. Hoping that everyone is reading the information you’ve provided to make it a good experience, hoping you’ve provided enough of it. Hoping it doesn’t rain and isn’t too hot. Hoping the audience will show up on the day. And even the audience is hoping; that they have enough bug spray, that they get a good spot, that there will be actual bathrooms and not port-o-potties (or maybe that’s just me), that this crazy notion of a 10-actor The Music Man will be good , because I may never get these two hours of my life back. Everyone is hoping. Now that’s not to say our staff isn’t good at what we do, because we are. We are experts at the hoping and ensuring that everything is as perfect as can be. We cross our T’s, dot our I’s, over and over. We double, triple check everything, play out scenarios, make plans, and annoy the hell out of each other with multiple what ifs. But in the end, honestly, it’s just a great big HOPING we can pull it off.
Why am I giving away this secret? Because sometimes, things just go wrong.
As we moved The Music Man to The Texas Discovery Gardens for the final leg of the run (incidentally, TDG beautiful as it is, has the friendliest most welcoming staff, but no infrastructure to make a theatre, so EXTRA HOPING) we were keenly aware of the prediction of rain for the entire week leading up to the 4th of July closing. So, more hoping we could beat the rain and believe me , the past two months had turned all of us into experts of multiple weather apps. But even Theatre Three’s small but mighty staff of 7, can’t control mother nature and on the final Thursday, she caught up to us. As the first half of the show started to wrap up, we were all intently looking up at the skies, religiously monitoring the apps, and collectively willing the lightening to move in a different direction. Throughout intermission happy unaware patrons got up to stretch and mingled with cast, explored the immediate surrounding gardens, eagerly anticipating Marian and Harold’s inevitable romance, staff was huddled discussing where to put patrons in the event of a lightning storm/rain. The conversation may have gone something like this: (Liberties have been taken for comedic effect.)
Jeffrey – Okay, when I get the signal from Sarah I will walk up and let the audience know that they should take shelter.
Charlie – Where?
Max – We can lead half of them under the awning of the main building, but it’s not big enough for everyone.
Me – Maybe the snake house is open.
Sarah – No. And No.
Wesley – Those gazebos on the playground do not provide enough shelter.
Jeffrey – We’ll have to lead them to the dressing rooms bungalow
Sarah – with the actors?
Charlie – we don’t have a choice
PATRON – WE’RE HAVING SUCH A GOOD TIME! IT’S WONDERFUL!
ALL – THANK YOU!
Max – What about Covid regulations?
Jeffrey – They can go inside or stand under the porch, we can ask them to mask up, there’s nothing else we can do, tomorrow we put up another tent just in case.
Me – If only the snake hou-
And yes, we did have to put our plan in action. The lightening got closer, we started to feel big drops of rain, so we sprang into action and quickly led audience to shelter, promising we’d start back up as soon as it passed. But no…it started raining in torrents, and then our problem became, HOW do we get patrons all the way across the gardens to the parking lot? We gathered up every available umbrella, and our drenched staff escorted those patrons who didn’t want to stay back to their cars, multiple times. But some patrons stayed. Eventually, Wesley our box office manager had to make the announcement in that packed bungalow that we would be calling the show, “you can get a refund or come back another night, we’re terribly sorry, oh well, who loves live theater?!”
After a few groans and awws from the audience, something amazing happened.
The actors in the quartet and the actor playing Marian came out of their dressing rooms and spontaneously serenaded the audience with two songs from act two, acapella, to thank them for being good sports. For accepting the contract with the possibility that it may all go terribly wrong and staying anyway. In that moment, no audience member was annoyed at what was happening, some swayed to the music, others mouthed the words, one kept the beat on a table for them, all were smiling, huddled together in a lovely little bungalow while the rain poured, sharing a moment that was never rehearsed. I stood in a corner of the room and soaked all of it in. Throughout the run, patrons approached us to share anecdotes about the The Music Man; “my mother sang Gary Indiana all the time, I didn’t know it was a song in this show!”, “I was in The Music Man in high school 50 years ago”, “This was the first show I ever saw”, etc. So many memories. And it dawned on me, in that moment, that I was experiencing one of these memories in the making. One day, the 10-year-old girl sitting on the floor of the bungalow, transfixed by Christina Austin-Lopez playing the ukulele, singing ‘i love you’ to an invisible Harold is going to tell this story to someone, and I will have been there, and everyone who experienced it will be alive in that memory again. I remembered how special it is that we all agree that for two hours, we are going to pretend that the story unfolding before our eyes is real and unique and on any given evening just for the people in the room. THIS uniqueness, and not the perfect rehearsed performance, is the true power of live theatre. This is the experience that fires a new path in your brain transforming how you will forever think about the meaning of community. “I was there on the night…” are magic words that conjure up the joy and wonder of what live theater can do. And I was suddenly overcome with a sweet tenderness for the thing I do again. Like an old high school crush.
This is only one moment in an unforgettable summer of many. Our executive director, Charlie, literally switching pants with Harold Hill on closing night, Our production manager, Max, running around in the dark plugging and unplugging cables so we wouldn’t lose power, Me and Jeffrey jumping in his pick-up half-hour before curtain to search for an actor stuck on 635. SIGH. So long to the “unendurable” Music Man. (story for another blog entry) we’re glad we knew you!
These are not the moments we necessarily hope for when we’re making theater for you, but they are the ones we live for. Here’s to making more.