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(Today’s author is Jonathan C. Dietrich – Grumio from the production. I asked him to tell me a story about his acting experiences for the blog. Enjoy!)
I recently realized that the summer of 2010 will mark my twenty fifth year of doing community theatre. Along the way, I have learned how actors need to be able to deal with the unexpected.
When I was 10, I joined a youth company in Stratford, and our first production was Oliver. During the scene in question, a fellow actor was required to deliver a couple of heated lines, then turn and storm down a flight of stairs leading off the front of the stage. On one evening, the scene had taken place a little closer to the edge of the stage than ever before, and when he turned, he stepped right off the stage! There was a huge gasp from audience, cast and crew. My fellow actor quickly stood, looked up at the characters he was just fighting with and bellowed, “And fix those blasted stairs!” It was perfect. He stayed in character, accepted and acknowledged the situation, and incorporated it into the show.
While I was studying Drama at the University of Waterloo, I played the Porter in a production of Macbeth featuring Jonathan Goad as Macbeth. Young Siward cautiously approaches the stage from the audience. Waiting for him there is a very confident Macbeth, laughing and swinging his sword around. Just as Siward stepped on the stage, and the fight about the commence, Jonathan’s sword slipped from his hand sliding upstage away from the audience. Without hesitation Jonathan lets out a great laugh as if it was planned. Without taking his eyes off of the enemy, he both taunted him and retrieved his weapon.
In my first production with Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre, I learned that this type of quick thinking is not always easy. I was playing in a production of the Hand that Cradles the Rock, and it features two scenes in which I was required to answer a phone call. The first call occurs quite early in the show, and the second much closer to the end. It being theatre, there was not actually a working phone, rather just a prop and an off stage ring.
One evening, after picking up the phone for the first call I confidently started carrying on my half of the conversation for the second phone call. It wasn’t until I was done that call that I realized what had happened: I had just cut out the middle half of the play! My fellow actor on stage was stunned. Stage management, who was trying to follow along in their script, was frantically turning pages. There was an awkward silence that felt like forever, then we worked it out. The two of us on stage carried on with a couple of improvised lines followed by the lines that should have happened after the first call. After stage management had turned back a bunch of pages, we were back on track.
I felt horrible, and was sure that I ruined the show for the audience. Afterwords I learned that few had realised what had happened, and most had chalked it up to a bit of bad writing, and maybe a small slip up on one of the actor’s parts. whew
Since then, I have honed some of my improvisation skills with the help of our local improv comedy troupe Theatre on the Edge, where the unexpected is the expected. I have also had the joy of playing in two British style pantomimes where the audience is encouraged to be unexpected. Even when you are prepared for the unexpected, you can be surprised. During one performance of KWLT’s recent production of Aladdin, there was a technical issue.
I was in drag playing Aladdin’s mother, it’s a Panto tradition, and gave the cue for the music to start for my rendition of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. There was silence. I addressed the audience, “This is a great number. You’ll love it. We’ll do it a capella if we need to”. After another few seconds with no sound, I looked up to the booth. There was a thumbs up, and I started. The real magic happened when the entire male chorus entered and provided the orchestral part with “ba ba ba da da”s. We were all having so much fun: the audience, the actors on stage, and the rest of the cast and crew who crammed into the wings to watch! It was honestly the most magical moment I have ever had on stage, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the unexpected.
Hopefully nothing too unexpected comes up during the run of Taming of the Shrew, but if it does I hope I can handle it with grace and style. Here’s to another twenty five years.
- Jonathan C. Dietrich