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WhenCyrano de Bergerac opened many patrons commented on how nice the theater and the director looked. None of them knew that when the director Ben Teague arrived at 5 pm, he had discovered the theater was flooded. Thanks to a wet-dry vacuum cleaner and industrial absorbent, he rolled up his trousers and managed to get the water outta there before curtain.
Fool for Love is set at a sleazy motel. During one performance a wedding was going on at Taylor-Grady with a loud band blasting rock and roll at the theater. Afterwards audience members commented on how authentic the show was: it even sounded like a cheap motel! Fran also directed The Dresser. The production was fraught with misadventures, and the less said about most of these the better. (Ask Paul Rea about his clown suit sometime when you have an hour or so.) But one was especially memorable. It's half an hour to curtain on opening night when one of the male leads gets my attention by saying with quiet desperation, "Uh, Fran?" I listen closely. "I don't know if there's a sewing machine available or not, but the zipper in my fly has just broken." We grabbed a bunch of safety pins and he went on in the male equivalent of a chastity belt. But at least his fly wasn't open!
From Suzan Lund: My first audition for T&G was for The Foreigner. I was nervous--I hadn't auditioned for anything in a looong time and was new to Athens so I wanted to make a good impression. I went to the library and read the play. This was a great part for me and I was ready! My first cold reading was with Paul Rea. He and I went outside to run through the scene before we got up on stage. It was a tender moment between the young lovers. Catherine has to tell her boyfriend, Rev. David, she is pregnant. She isn't sure how he will take the news. Paul & I are both being very sincere and heartfelt in our reading of the parts and everything seems great. David is happy and supportive of Catherine and asks her to marry him. It couldn't be going better for her. Then we come to the tender moment when I (as Catherine) look into Paul's (as David's) eyes and ask him, "Who are you?" as though he were the most understanding wonderful man in the world, and I just can't figure out how he could possibly be so perfect. I am brilliant in this moment! No question the part is mine! (Silence) Paul gets this funny look on his face and just stares at me for a moment. I can't understand his motivation. The next line is his. Why isn't he saying anything? And what does that look mean? Then, in that oh so polite and Southern way, trying hard to suppress his laughter, he haltingly says, "Um...I think you're actually asking that question of the foreigner. See," he points to the italic notation in the script, "you're supposed to have just noticed him eavesdropping on our private conversation." Another one of those looks, then Southern composure, "But wow, what a really great reading!" I thought I would die of embarrassment. After all, I had read the script, I was a trained actor! What was I doing? . . .Thank God for Paul Rea. Not only did he save me from doing that "great" reading on stage in front of everyone and making a fool of myself . . . he also showed great restraint. He only poked fun at me a few times after we were cast! Thanks, Paul. I will always love you for that!
From Steve: A Wednesday night. A quiet crowd. Can we ever forget Steve E.G.'s powerfully executed, moment-driven entrance in The Rivals? Everything was perfect, his timing, his energy, his precision in taking the scene. Unfortunately he forgot to call his line to mind. So, instead of "Ha! my dear friend, noble captain, and honest Jack, etc.," we got a highly animated "Dub, dub, dub!" After a slight slackening of the jaw and widening of the eyes, Stuart Ivy (the other actor on stage) replied (as the script suggested) "Ah! Bob, you are indeed an eccentric planet!" It worked!
A note from Fran: Steve had to carry a sack of props on in the last scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He played Quince, a character who becomes mortified by what's going on among the other characters. I recognized Steve's comic genius the night that I looked up and discovered that he had managed to pull the bag not only over his head, but also over about 80% of his body. It looked like a bag with tennis shoes on and got a huge laugh.
The single most valued possession that Town and Gown has may well be an unpretentious little table. It has appeared in more shows than any performer and when it isn't on stage, it's in the wings holding props. The only thing that changes about the table is its color: mahogany one week, black enamel with gold trim the next, and battleship gray the next! So valued is it that one year John Vance, the president of Town and Gown, presented the annual Spotlight award to The Table.
Another from John Vance: In December of 1988, we were doing our first musical treatment of the Dickens' classic. I was playing Scrooge and was led into the graveyard to be shown my own tombstone, which of course would be the final vision to shock my sensibilities toward the good. I was then to sing one of the GREAT (or is it GRAVE?) songs of the musical theatre: "Mankind Should Be My Business." Now, the graveyard scene was set in very dim lighting--and all of the tombstones--the "Scrooge" one as well--were made out of cardboard boxes. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Mark Bristol in this production) would lift the shroud off the tombstone; I would see my name; I would realize the truth; I would sing the aforementioned song. So there we were--at the big climactic moment. Mark pulls the shroud off the tombstone. I am of course standing away from it--because we must not block out what we want the audience to see. And lo and behold, there it said--not "Ebenezer Scrooge"--but rather "This Side UP"--the tombstone having been set up backwards. I did a nice moon-walk in front of the tombstone and did the song, hardly able to keep a straight face--which I needn't have been concerned about anyway--since many in the audience allowed their guffaws to provide appropriate harmony to "Mankind Should Be My Business." Of course, I may have sung "Killing a Member of the Set Crew Should Be My Business," but I can't really remember.
Addendum from Shannon Anderson: Backstage during Merry Wives of Windsor, Shannon and John engaged in running warfare. Whenever one of them exited the stage, the other would try to provoke inappropriate laughter that would be heard onstage. So one actor would step into the backstage area and see the other pose, vogue, moon, or gesticulate in . . . well, let's just say in an explicit way. Then the actor tried not to explode in giggles or snorts. The various poses began as simple moments of racy humor and quickly progressed to heights of earthy bad taste that neither party had attained before or since. It's not quite possible to describe the final tableau, but it involved a dummy (named Mr. Spinalzo), articles of Shannon's lingerie, a ladder, and a pair of Groucho glasses.
Lindsey Vinson can owe her existence to the placement of a trunk a fraction of an inch to the left during Robber Bridegroom. During one song near the end of the show, her father Toby Vinson was blocked to step off a platform, onto a trunk standing on its end, then onto a barrel and then onto another platform. When he stepped onto the trunk, the end collapsed. Toby fell, one foot inside the trunk and the other foot outside the trunk and didn't stop falling until the edge of the trunk stopped him. He crawled offstage and then actually finished the show -- somewhat bent over. Marie took him to the hospital immediately and we all waited around to learn what happened. After what seemed like a LONG time, Marie drove up with Toby in the car yelling out the window, "THEY'RE BOTH THERE!!!!!!"
From Stuart Ivy: There's also the Amadeus tale. About the fellow going to play the Emperor (uh, me) being sequestered in a double murder/double rape trial until shortly before the opening of the show. Fortunately, Steve E-G came to the rescue and ended up splitting the show with the fellow (uh, me).
From Ralph Stephens: In Seven Keys to Baldpate, John Carson, the leading man, knocked a lamp off a table and the glass shattered into a million pieces. Staying in character, the Hermit (me) grabbed a broom backstage and swept up the wreckage, as the audience howled the entire time. Also in Baldpate, Mitch Young forgot to give me a call for Act II because I was only actor in the dressing room. I was sitting there waiting for places when I heard my first line cue over the intercom. I scuttled onto stage as though in response to John Carson's call for "more wood for the fire."
Just before Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened, the lead actor developed appendicitis. On short notice, Sam Word jumped into the role of Brick and did a fine job. A few years later, Sam also had to step in at the last minute and perform the Major General's role in The Pirates of Penzance. Today Sam is a successful actor in Atlanta, no doubt thanks to his on-the-job training at Town and Gown.
Low Moments (Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.)
During the years in the Cannery, the company coped with little heat during the winter, no air conditioning during the summer, and leaks. The leaks in some spots were so bad that certain seats could not be sold when rain was predicted or else the patrons in those seats would be soaked. Especially valued were empty two-pound coffee cans because the company used them to focus the stage lights.
Once Town and Gown moved into the playhouse, there were occasional reminders of the Cannery. The first play of each season has always had a special opening night, which used to be a black tie affair. One year the members running the box office arrived, he in a tuxedo and she in an evening gown. They checked over the theater, and he went into the restrooms to make sure there were paper towels and that the toilets flushed. Suddenly he ran out in great alarm: the toilet in the ladies' restroom wouldn't stop running and was overflowing. In horror they watched as the water rose, leaking through the wall into the lobby itself. Bravely they battled on. He rolled his trousers up to his knees and she used string to lift her evening gown off the floor. After struggles with plumbing, mops, and a wet-dry vac, they succeeded in restoring the lobby to an appearance of order, but not themselves. As the patrons arrived, beautifully garbed, they were greeted by two members with hiked hems and by a carpet that squelched and squished.
There was for many years a much-beloved sofa in the lobby. Whatever it might have been when it was new, it had become grubby and huge and not at all an object anyone would want in the home. Of course, actors loved it, especially when rehearsals ran long and they needed to take a nap. One night after a late rehearsal, the director and stage manager stayed even longer to finish painting the set. Too exhausted to go home, they collapsed on the lobby sofa to steal a few hours of sleep. In the morning the gentle rays of the sun awakened them and they looked through the lobby window to discover that they had an audience: a work crew from the city was gazing in fascination at the paint-spattered pair to see what they'd do next.
The entire lighting system failed during a performance of Oliver. How was the company to finish the show? Finally someone sat next to the "scoop," a big floodlight, plugging and unplugging it in a wall socket to provide the actors enough light to complete the show. On an earlier occasion, finishing had been a challenge as well. During Annie Get Your Gun, the curtain stuck tight and wouldn't open for the third act. Finally, everyone who wasn't needed in the last scenes lifted up the edge of the curtain and held it back as far as it would go so the cast could perform the finale.
Various animals have graced the Town and Gown stage, including a goat in Mr. Roberts and a dog in Camelot. Dita the dog stole the show in A Midsummer Night's Dream so thoroughly that one performer swore he'd never act with animals again. About a year later, Dita's owners came by the playhouse for the party after a show had opened. Seeing where she was, Dita didn't wait for them to park: she sailed through the open window while the car was still rolling, trotted directly into the lobby, and settled down at the feet of the actor who had spurned her.
In Julius Caesar during a tense bit of dialogue between Brutus and Cassius, the actors wondered why the audience kept giggling as they planned the deadly serious assassination of Caesar. While they were plotting downstage, an enormous cockroach was strolling ever so slowly upstage behind them.
In The Night of the Iguana, the alcoholic priest has a scene in which he is tied up in a hammock. The actor playing the priest struggled so hard one night that he flipped the hammock over, leaving his nose dangling inches from the stage and leaving everyone else on stage snorting with laughter.
During The Haunting of Hill House, an actor was seated downstage center to give a long speech of exposition. Suddenly he realized that he was providing more exposition than he intended: his fly was unzipped. Carefully adjusting his posture, he gallantly kept talking until he found a line on which he could gracefully rise, turn upstage, and fix the problem.
One actor in The Nerd was supposed to hide himself on stage during the blackout at the close of the show and then pop up at the very end of the curtain call. Unfortunately, the piece of furniture behind which he hid was not marked with glow tape. When all the other actors had taken their bows, he popped up when he was supposed to, holding a hand to his bloody nose. The following evening the back of the couch was covered with glow tape.
During courtroom scenes in The Night of January 16th, audience members may have wondered why the actors playing the attorneys kept saying, "May we approach the bench, Your Honor?" The reason was simple: when they went up to the bench, the actor playing the judge would show them a copy of the script so that they could find out what they were supposed to say next.
Terrible telephones have haunted productions. They rarely seem to ring when they're supposed to. Sometimes they're late. If an actor picks up a phone on stage, there's a good chance that it will ring loudly after the receiver's lifted. And sometimes they're early. In one show the fellow in the booth thought he heard the crucial cue and rang the telephone: he was two pages of script too early. A quick-witted actor picked it up, had a brief conversation with the thin air, and hung up to go on with the scene. The fellow in the booth was by now flustered and lost: he tried both to find his place in the script and to rewind the tape of the ringing phone bell. Neither task got accomplished. When the actual cue line came, the phone remained silent. The actor glared at it. Still silent. Cursing in the booth. Silence on stage. The actor strode to the phone, dialed a number; and then handed the phone to the actress who was supposed to answer it. She went through her speech, ending with the line, "This is so-and-so, calling for you!" and handed it back to the actor who had, supposedly, placed the call.
When the Ghost-of-Christmas-Yet-to-Come shows a tombstone to Scrooge, the old miser is supposed to see his own name on it and recoil in horror, or respond in song if the company's doing a musical version. Let the actor tell the tale: "The ghost pulls the shroud off the tombstone. I am of course standing away from it, because we must not block out what we want the audience to see. And lo and behold, there it said not ‘Ebenezer Scrooge' but rather ‘This Side UP,' the tombstone having been set up backwards. I did a nice moon-walk in front of the tombstone and did the song, hardly able to keep a straight face, which I needn't have been concerned about anyway, since many in the audience allowed their guffaws to provide accompaniment."
Town & Gown Players, Inc. · P.O. Box 565 · Athens, Georgia 30603
Phone: (706)548-3854 · Fax: (none)
Celebrating 50 Continuous Years of Community Theater
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