I played the ship. When people tell you there are no small parts, only small actors, you can tell them that you know someone who played the ship in a play and swayed wordlessly on my knees at the front of a stage for the better (or worse) part of a twenty minute scene. I’m obviously not still bitter about it at all.
In the finale of Pericles, the entire cast enters the stage to celebrate the joyous reunion of the royal family. Once, during said finale, in a matinee on a two-show day, the entire twenty-five person cast except for two (sanctimonious professional) actors, broke into laughter, killing the final scene.
That night, the company gathered on the stage before our evening show. The tension in the air was palpable. The director, Steve, paced back and forth across the stage.
* (A momentary aside for Steve: He was a professor at my university. He taught some things well, others not so much. I would not call him a feminist or sensitive or fashionable. I will say that I learned a lot from him, more about how the world really works than anything acting related.)*
Steve had a large stack of papers in his hand. He began passing them out, so that each cast member had one. He opened and closed his mouth several times before uttering the speech that has been paraphrased through the years, every time two cast members of Pericles meet, just as I paraphrase it now:
“Theatre is a cruel mistress. A cruel mistress. She will break your heart. In a professional setting, you would all be fired or at least fined. If you aren’t ready to be serious about acting, please consult the piece of paper in your hand. It is a change of major form…”
To give you the full speech, I could write “cruel mistress” and “change of major form” about 15 more times and tell you that eventually Theatre became a dominatrix who will commit unspeakable and depraved acts, but I am sure most people have been told that they disappointed someone and know how that speech goes.
I can tell you that no one changed their major, though at the end of the year, some people were asked to leave the acting program. To this day, I feel a little guilty about what happened. I hold myself to higher standards than that. And if someone wanted to make me the understudy to the ship in a play today my response would be effusive thank yous and assurance that I have studied playing a ship in the past. I have learned that Theatre is indeed a cruel mistress. But it does help me to think back on the time a man wearing ridiculous pants gave a ridiculous speech. It makes me giggle.