Friday, December 4, 2009

Recess: Stuff Happens

Ask any theatre actor about mishaps and you might as well curl up with a drink because you'll be entertained for hours listening to the anecdotes.

When an actor forgets a line on stage we call it drying or going up. I have an actor friend who, when he dries doing a Shakespeare play, can make up a whole new speech, on the spot, in iambic verse. I've been onstage with him and have seen it happen first-hand. He speaks utter nonsense but it's mesmerizing to watch.

I was in a production of the Arthur Miller classic "The Crucible" when an actor "went up." In an important courtroom scene, prosecutors accuse young women of being witches and list witchy behavior like flying, dancing, fainting, and such.

What can happen to any actor is that the words inexplicably disappear into the rafters. Such was the case when in this play, which takes place in the 17th century, an actor suddenly began to accuse the witches of skiing, ice skating and singing (he seemed locked into S words). Those of us gathered in the courtroom bit our tongues to contain giggles. Were those witches weightlifting as well? Perhaps barbecuing hot dogs or playing croquet?

The audience didn't pick up on these crazy improvisations because, above all, the actor was completely confident in his delivery.

In other words: Say anything, but mean it and you'll be fine.

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