A few years ago, I did a non-Equity, bilingual, traveling children’s theatre version of Don Quixote. As you can imagine, the production values were questionable at best. So was the company. My cast was an assortment of oddballs and misfits. It was the first time I felt truly creeped out by a fellow actor onstage (tiny hands), the first time I learned that one can be too liberal (I’m looking at you, Sancho Panza, the Fox News man of the Left Wing), the first time anyone had ever put me in charge of electrical equipment, and the first time (and pray to God, last time) I’ve ever stayed in a hotel that should have been shut down on the grounds of being both a crackhouse and a brothel. What I’m telling you is that we saw some shit go down on our three-month tour of the eastern half of the United States. We had an entire set piece fall over in the middle of a scene. We ate more Subway than Jared.
Our performance venues were an interesting lot as well. Sometimes we were in stunningly beautiful old theatres. Sometimes we were in cafetoriums (the spork of arenas). On one very memorable occasion, we were at a national park in Mississippi. When we got there and began loading in, it was pretty clear that the space didn’t get used too often. Backstage was a little dusty and a little cluttered, but at this point in the tour, we were used to less than idyllic conditions. We also saw a few bodies of dead bugs. Kind of gross, but all dead. No big deal.
For part of the show, the ethereally beautiful and brilliantly wise Dulcinea, (Played, obviously, by me. When will I stop getting type-cast?) performs from behind a scrim, which is a piece of fabric that becomes see-through when light hits it one way and solid when light hits it another. Ours was about the size of Snow White’s stepmother’s mirror and was placed in the middle of the walls that made up the set. I walk up to the scrim to prepare for my entrance. As I start singing my little Dulcinea entrance song, a giant killer bee flies up and attaches itself to the scrim about two inches from my face. I have never been upstaged so rudely.
But the show must go on. I finish my scene, all the while slowly backing away from the scrim, trying not to get stung in the face, or anywhere else but also trying not to lose my light (AKA “mother’s milk for an actor”).
For the rest of the show, we kept finding live, scary bees all over backstage. Luckily, no one was stung and the audience never caught wise. And after all our behind the scenes bitching and hysterics, the kids loved our show. This was the first time a lot of these kids had seen live theatre, even though many were in high school. It was a nice reminder of why I love to act and a story that I reflect back on when temping and waiting tables start to get me down. Performing shouldn’t be about “ego” or “personal safety”; it’s much bigger than that. We all got back on the bus that day a little more grateful for our jobs.
…And to be fair, a little more grateful for our lives.