Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Accidental Comedy

As I sat watching tonight's Easter drama practice, still a bit under the weather and only half-engaged, my mind started to wander (sorry, cast!) to one of my very first adventures on the stage.

It wasn't my first play ever. That would have been the third grade class play, when I played the main part as the prophet, Jonah . I don’t think I was very good in that play, but at the very least it was a benign performance. Nothing too outrageous that I would still remember any details of it some twenty-five years later.

No, tonight I was thinking of the second (and not surprisingly the last) school play that I was involved in. I can’t really say I was in the play, other than in a behind-the-scenes kind of role. But I nearly singlehandedly ruined the play nonetheless.

It was my sixth grade year. Our class was putting on a play , most likely for the parents as part of some parent/teacher conference night, though I can’t recall the details (for reasons that will soon become obvious). The play – I don’t remember the title – was basically a synopsis of the Creation story and the Fall of Man. Our Adam and Eve were a guy and a girl who stood in back of the wooden flat which made up our backdrop (painted to look like the Garden of Eden) and poked their heads and arms through in holes cut for that purpose. I think we also had some actors and actresses dressed up as various animals in the Garden. Beyond that, I don’t remember a whole lot about the play. I just know I wasn’t part of the cast.

My behind-the scene responsibilities were to, along with a female classmate of mine (I think her name was Wendy), move props into and out of place or simply to hand the props to the actors when they needed them. Suffice it to say, Wendy and I clearly didn’t have enough to do and we both became quite bored a mere ten minutes into the play.

Someone in our class had brought a couple of plastic birds mounted on these two- or three-foot long wires. The thought behind these was that we’d attach them somehow to the back of the flat so that only the birds crested over the top of the flat. I suppose it was supposed to add some three-dimensional visual appeal to the scenery or something. Well, for some reason, the birds had never been attached to the flat and they were just lying around on a bench backstage.

Bored out of our minds, Wendy and I got the brilliant idea to be the bird holder-uppers ourselves, and proceeded to do so. But holding the birds sitting just within sight of the audience at the top of the flat quickly became boring. So we decided to give the birds something more fun to do.

We began twirling the birds-on-a-wire between our respective palms, causing the birds to spin around and around rapidly. We did this for awhile till that also became boring. (Keep in mind, we were easily distractible sixth graders.) We thought it odd that the audience seemed to be laughing sporadically. Strange, the Creation story had never struck me as humorous before. And Wendy remarked that the Fall of Man had never tickled her funny bone either. Oh well…there’s no accounting for taste, right?

After a few minutes of performing the birds’ whirling dervishes, Wendy and I decided that it would only be appropriate to then demonstrate the birds’ dizziness. So we tipped the birds, exposed wire and all, over the top of the flat and began spinning them slowly right above Adam and Eve’s heads. Apparently, this action only served to distract our Adam and Eve, and they started to stumble through their lines clumsily, even as the sporadic laughter of the audience became more constant and much louder.

Then it hit Wendy and I at almost the same instant: They like us! They really, really like us! So we started back with the twirling and the dipping over the front again. We added to the routine by walking our birds back and forth along the length of the flat, all the while spinning and twirling and dipping as it struck our fancy. The laughter just kept getting louder and louder, and the actors and actresses on stage kept struggling more and more to say their lines, with very little success. For some reason, the cast of our play was not nearly as impressed with our efforts as the audience and Wendy and I ourselves were. We would later learn, in no uncertain terms, that our teacher was also none too pleased with our “performance.”

They say the show must go on, and somehow or another I suppose it did. Because eventually the play was over. All of our parents remarked what a funny play it had been, and how whomever was backstage manning those birds did such a great job with them. We were a hit! But, as we learned later, not for the reasons we should have been. Needless to say, the play lost much of its meaning about the time that the birds made their first appearance.

But here it is, some twenty or so years later, and I can’t help but remember that play. Now as a director, I can only cringe at the thought of something even remotely like this happening in one of the plays I was heading up. It’s amazing how much things change.

To my current drama cast: I’m fully aware that our last night of performing the Easter play this year is on April Fool’s Day. But please don’t get any horrible ideas from this post. I can dish it out, but believe me, I can’t take it. Have mercy on me…

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