Monday, March 10, 2008

The Oops Factor (Plus Prizes)

It is a fact if you perform live, sooner or later you will meet with a genuine, bona fide onstage disaster. Generally, these seem to fall into two categories. The first is the self-made conflagration where lyrics evaporate into thin air, the high note that was there at sound check mysteriously vanishes in performance, clothing falls apart, and stools move themselves about the stage so that you find yourself in a heap on the floor. I could go on, but being the superstitious type I’ll stop here.

The second is the stuff performance legends are made of, those moments where, despite your diligent rehearsal and careful plotting of every moment, elements beyond your control enter in and all hell breaks loose. Sometimes it comes from your fellow musicians onstage, sometimes from the tech booth, and sometimes from that ever unpredictable element, the audience. No matter the source, this is the moment where you learn that today’s abject humiliation is tomorrow’s great story.

Scene I: A dimly lit venue, three singers are onstage performing their opening number. The door opens and a couple enters. They are on one side of the stage their seats the other, what are they to do? Remembering that their teacher once told them that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line they precede accordingly…right across the middle of the stage.

Scene II: Another dimly lit venue, another opening number on a postage stamp of a stage. Cast of characters one Singer (me), one back up singer, and one very energetic pianist. It’s the second set, we’re loose, we’re having a good time, we’re singing our hearts out… until… a loud thump…the music ceases…I look to my right…no piano player (has he been raptured?) …from the depths of the floor comes a voice…. “I’m All Right”. My energetic piano player has played himself off, literally. He fell off the back of the stage bench and all. Fortunately no musicians were harmed in the making of this tale, and the show went on.

Ahh…but what good is disaster if you can’t profit a wee bit from it? With that in mind we are using this topic to inaugurate our monthly RedHead Award. We want you to send us your hilarious, humiliating, and utterly true stories of real life performances gone haywire. Send us your tales of onstage disaster by March 30 and you will be among those considered for our fabulous prize. This month it’s a copy of Stop the Show: A History of Insane Incidents and Absurd Accidents in the Theatre. There is only one rule. The incident in question must be one in which you were personally involved as a performer, or personally witnessed as an audience member. Urban legends, previously published disaster stories, things you read on the WWWeb, and tales heard from your cousin’s mother’s chiropractor “Who was there” will not be considered. The winner will be chosen by us with no other criteria other than what makes us laugh the most while cringing. While you’re at it if you’ve got a topic you’d like the redheads to cover send it along. We're all ears (or eyes as the case may be)!


Mark Hansen said...

My disaster story is not as a performer, per se, but rather as a sound man. I was called in to mix for a band performing at a prom to be held at our state capitol rotunda. As is to be expected, the interior of our state capitol building is beautiful, elegant, lofty, and made entirely of hard, smooth surfaces.

I knew I was in trouble, but not quite how much, until the drummer, setting up his kit, hit the kick drum once. I think it took a full ten minutes for the echoes to die down.

But the punch line to this joke of a gig was when the singer came up to me and asked, "Did you bring a reverb box for my vocals?"

Yeah, right. Here, let me turn up the "Mud" knob. How does that sound?

Tracie said...

This is sort of funny, kinda sad, really. I was in a production of Fiddler once and we were right in the middle of "Tradition" when a whole row of people looked as though they were leaving and the curtain was lowered. The unfortunate bit was that there was a woman in the audience having a heart attack. The fortunate part was that, in the men's chorus, we had a pediatrician who went out in full Anatevka costume to help (Yes, there was a doctor in the house, or rather, in the village). The truly bizarre part was that in the women's chorus we had a woman with multiple personalities (not me, thank you very much) who was so traumatized by the incident that she did the rest of the show with the mentality of a seven year old (apparently there was enough of the show in her subconscious to continue). So it didn't really happen *to* me so much as *near* me.

Elaine St. George said...

Several years ago, I was in an off-off-Bway musical at a theatre down in the Village. During the opening number, I noticed a man in the front row. Staring right at me (while I was singing), he opened up a newspaper. "Odd time to read," I thought. But no, he wasn't reading. He placed the unfolded newspaper across his lap. And then his hands disappeared beneath it. Ick!

Anonymous said...

From Rhonda in Minneapolis...

I was really excited about this jazz gig because I
was going to play with an amazing bass player of
International acclaim. I made an interesting set list
and dressed my best. I had on a really cute brand
new black jumpsuit.

We were planning to do the soundcheck about an hour
before the show. Right before the soundcheck I went
to the powder room. Much to my shock and amazement,
the zipper on the jumpsuit (as in one piece)
completely broke. I thought "This can't be
happening". I could feel the color drain out of my
face and I almost went into a cold sweat. I went
upstairs and asked if anyone had any safety pins --but
without any luck. When I explained what happened-the waitperson said that there was a used clothing store down the block which was still open. I ran over there--tried on two things, bought the first thing that looked good and ran back to finish the sound check. The show went on!

Terri A. said...

I've always wanted to tell this story. I was the understudy in a production of Tintypes at Arena Stage. I was understudying both female singing roles (the soprano, and the alto.) We had worked through the first week of rehearsals, and I had learned all of the soprano's songs, and was learning the alto's numbers. Somewhere in the second week of rehearsal, the soprano was sick -- she lost her voice and could not sing a note. I fit into her size 5 costume; had some kind of run through in the afternoon; and went on stage. The first scene is a tableaux. Everyone is faced outward and I had a lovely umbrella I was holding. The scene changes, and everyone moves. What hadn't been rehearsed in the afternoon was that someone was kneeling in front of me with their leg right where my first step would be. So, yes, the first step I took out of the tableaux, I hit his leg, and went down. After that, I realized nothing could be worse, so I made it through at least two shows, and hit all of the high notes.