Stage life in an off, off, OFF Broadway Production 

One of my favorite activities in the world is putting on productions with my students. I love to write, so I compose a play and my students are so good as to go along with me. Once a year we enter a competition wherein we put on one of my plays.

Except for the agonized screaming and fist-pounding on walls while I’m writing, the creative part goes fairly smoothly. I cast the students and we begin work on the play. Breaking them of using scripts is a little like taking a pacifier away from a toddler, but eventually, they are pottering around the stage, determining that they need a towel for this activity or the third cowboy is standing right in front of the saloon girl and we are almost ready.

What I would really like to share with you, however, is the frantic ten minutes that occurs just before we take the stage at competition. Everything seems to go well until we reach the day of the competition, and then the closer it gets to performance time, the sketchier it can get; that’s why I’ve decided to break it down for you a minute at a time.

Ten minutes to showtime: My saloon janitor informed me that he has forgotten to bring his mop. Keep in mind that the saloon janitor spends most of his time on stage mopping and you can see that this is a minor disaster. After ten minutes of frantic searching, we find a real janitor at the stage and the best she can do is produce a push broom. We accept, and the stage janitor disappears, practicing how he will now talk about his broom and not his mop.

Nine minutes to showtime: I cannot find one of my saloon girls. After a hectic search, I find her in the bathroom, trying to put a pin in the back of her dress, which she has discovered gaps in the front in a most distressing way. I helped with the pin and was proud that I didn’t jab her with it.

Eight minutes to showtime: My sheriff cannot locate his badge. We search and run every direction, searching for something shiny, glittering on the floor. After five minutes, we found the sheriff’s badge clipped to the lining of the picnic basket. We don’t know how it got there and don’t have time to care.

Seven minutes to showtime: In setting up the poker table, the poker chips spill out and all over the floor. We have three saloon girls, a few cowboys and even a preacher all crawling around collecting them as they rolled tipsy-turvy across the stage.

Six minutes to showtime: One of my townspeople decides that it will not be possible to breathe and remember her lines all at once. We practice a little controlled breathing and she eventually declares herself in recollection of her lines, even though she’s a little light-headed from the breathing exercises. I move on to the next issue, wishing someone could control my breathing.

Five minutes to showtime: Two cowboys are arguing about which one had the black cowboy hat with the red braid and which one had the one with the mud on the brim. I rushed by, deciding that if they got excited while settling that, it might give them more energy on stage.

Four minutes to showtime: I give instructions as to where to set the standing door which is to represent the sheriff’s office. When I got out into the audience, I discovered that my instructions had caused the students to have to enter and exit the door in exactly the opposite direction as we had practiced. They compensated, I cursed under my breath.

Three minutes to showtime: I find two girls with their heads together, talking. Thinking they were running lines, I snapped, “You should know your lines by now!” Then I realized they were praying.

Two minutes to showtime: I hand out the toy guns with instructions that the students not mess with them. There is an immediate whirring noise all around me as they pressed the noise-makers on the guns.

One minute to showtime: I give the light crew the signal that means that they should let me get to my seat in the theater and then they should hit blackout before we start. They hit blackout immediately, leaving me in the middle of the stage with no way to see. I only fell four times before I made it to my seat.

And so, another night on Broadway carried forth!


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