Repertory Company member, Brad Sytsma, shares his thoughts on what happens when things don't go as planned.
Yesterday, we opened our production of Julius Caesar with the first of three matinee performances for High School students at the Beardsely Theatre in Muskegon. As far as opening performances go, I thought the entire cast did a killer job, I felt pretty good about my performance, and the feedback we got from the student audience was very positive. Pigeon Creek has a great show on its hands. But as with any show opening, there were some things that didn't go quite right, many of them backstage and unnoticed by the audience.
As I was making my first costume change, technically before the show had even started, a button popped off of one my spats. Literally, seconds later, as I was tucking my shirt in, the zipper on my pants broke. For a split second, I was hit with a sense of panic. What was I going to do? I couldn't go onstage in front of nearly 200 high schoolers with my fly down. Lucky for me, and probably the students in the audience, the actors that make up the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company are seasoned veterans. Within seconds of both of my costume mishaps, Kat, Kate, and Kimi, were all there to help. Kat and Kate did their best to mend my spat on the fly, while Kimi sewed me into my pants. I made it through my first scene without traumatizing any children, and by the time I entered for my next scene, there wasn't a single person in the audience that would have thought there was anything amiss.
But it wasn't the costume that I was most worried about, it was that split second of panic that I had felt. As much as I'd like think that I'm unflappable, and that I always stay calm under pressure, that's not the case. As an actor, I don't like distractions. I don't check my phone during a show, I don't carry things in my pockets that my character wouldn't have, and I try my best to stay focussed on the story, on what happens next. Things like missing buttons and broken zippers, seemingly small issues, can have an enormous effect on the performance as a whole. If I walk onstage worrying about my zipper being down, I run the risk of missing a cue, fumbling words, or screwing up my blocking and changing the scene for everyone else onstage. In live theatre, the stakes are always high. You don't get a redo. You can't start over. If something doesn't go quite right, a costume malfunctions or a line is skipped, you have to move on and keep going. Memorizing the lines, learning the blocking, perfecting your cues, are all important pieces to putting on a good show; but maintaining focus and telling the story, despite popped buttons and busted zippers, and staying engaged with your character and your scene partners can make a show where everything should have gone all wrong into a memorable performance that a cast can be proud of. I felt our opening performance went extremely well, and I have a fantastic cast to thank for that. Their dedication to their characters onstage, and their duties backstage, made these unlucky costume mishaps quickly forgettable, and let me get on with the show.
One of the things that I love about live theatre, is that every performance is unique and provides its own set of challenges. As an actor, sometimes things happen that can pull you out of your character and disengage you from the story you are trying to tell. It's much easier to climb onto a platform and deliver "Friends, Romans, Countrymen..." when you don't have to worry about your pants ripping open; but it happens. And as an actor, a storyteller, you have to be ready to roll with the punches. Very very rarely, does a show go perfectly. Live theatre happens in the mistakes, in the mishaps, in the unique moments that will never be created again. When something goes wrong, do whatever you have to do to keep the story moving. No matter what happens, as the old adage says: "the show must go on..."