JONATHAN: (Stretched out on the sofa.) That’s what makes this house so perfect for us–it’s so peaceful.
The theater shakes, then…
More like panic!
This is a big deal. This is a HUGE deal. Only a moment ago I had been sitting in the balcony of a mostly full house watching the dark comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesslering; and now I’m in inky black darkness. Aside from two or three audience gasps and one child-like, “Whoa!” from the void, the entire theater is silent.
What just happened?
It takes what seems like ages for me to turn toward my light board operator and whisper something unintelligent. I know it is unintelligent, because the only response from him is a drawn out, “Uuuuummmmmmmmm…” And neither of us can see each other anyway.
The entire theater is pitch black.
Then the emergency lights hum on. It must have only been moments but those moments feel like an eternity. What just happened?
Scene: Inky, black darkness. First time director and hero of our story, MICHAEL leans toward current student and future Broadway Lighting Designer, KYLE [that’s not his real name] and states the obvious.
MICHAEL: It’s dark.
MICHAEL: Did we lose power? (Fortunately for our hero’s often fragile ego, its too dark to see Kyle’s reaction.)
KYLE: I think so. (At this time in his journey our hero struggles with silence, so, he fills it with fillers.)
MICHAEL: Cool, cool. (Beat.) Except that’s not cool, of course. Not cool at all.
(A murmur begins to fizzle around the crowd. The shock of the boom, the flicking hum of the emergency lights, the frozen statue silhouettes of the actors…they put the pieces together that something is not as it should be.)
KYLE: (Cont’d) So, what do you want to do?….
We’ll skip over the existential crisis our hero experiencs and the possibly small amount of vomit in the back of his throat and pick up at the desperate, pleading, end of the rope choice…
MICHAEL: Ice cream! (Because his eyes are still adjusting our hero doesn’t notice the Costume Designer making her way tentatively into the booth, until there’s a finger in his eye.) Ow!
COSTUME DESIGNER: Sorry! (Beat.) I just came to say, it looks like the power’s out. We should let people go to over to the parlor and have ice cream.
MICHAEL: That’s a great idea–(But our overwhelmed director doesn’t have time to finish the thought as the reverberations of a stumbling, metallic crash ring behind him.)
STAGE MANAGER: F***! (For those following these posts, there is often emotive language in theater. Another crash, this one smaller. Some grunts, silence, final crash followed by…) I’m ok.
Everyone’s eyes are starting to adjust now. Shortly after the Stage Manager hobbles out from under the piled up contents of a knocked over shelving unit with a broken foot, the Make-up Designer practically climbs over her to share a great idea she has of sending the audience to get ice cream.
There is much lively discussion, (mostly just a cacaphony of gibberish.) At some point we decide we will do that and while the costume designer is calling emergency services for our intrepid stage manager and their broken foot, the director makes his way to the stage to announce to the audience the obvious.
MICHAEL: Hey folks! So…uh…well…so…it…it appears we’ve lost power. (Thank you Captain Obvious.) We have a plan to start back up soon (We do.) And in the meantime we’d like to invite all of you to make your way out through through the lobby to the parlor for some ice cream. (Feeling the pressure of lightening the mood.) I bet you’ll never experience another show like this, huh? (Waiting for laughs to his clever joke. None come.) Ice cream’s on the house! (Some hooray’s from the younger folks in the crowd.)
You may be wondering what our plan was? Well, it was super intricate and well-laid. (Sarcasm font.) We sent out three parent volunteers to Fred Meyer, Target and…dating myself here, GI Joes to buy every battery powered camping lantern on the shelf. We set up just enough lanterns on stage for the actors to move around safely and for audience members to see the isles. As all of this is going on some of our parent volunteers scoop ice cream in the parlor until there it is all gone. They take music requests and basically MC an impromptu ice cream-dance party.
We tell folks if they want a refund just let us know. Surprisingly, no one does. Once the lanterns are set and the actors are in a space to pick back up where they left, we escort the audience members back into the theater. Some of them are delighted enough to comment on how the actors are still frozen in their same places. Some comment on how the lights are, “Ooh, creeeeepy!”
We finish the show, without any light or sound cues, any mics or special effects being lit only by the dim glow of camping lights. The actors take a curtain to a raucous standing ovation.
Theater like life is unpredictable. And theater, like life happens in the moment.
In front of the world.
No editing. No retakes.
In theater, like in life, we will never be perfect, nor should we strive for such. We can be adaptable. We can be excellent. We can often cover a multitude of woes with some ice cream and camping lanterns.