If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
"Have you got the letter?"
The 'letter' was a prop integral to a scene between Adelaide and Nathan in a production of Guys and Dolls. My 'Nathan' had a routine. He would find me backstage before curtain and ask me that same question, every night. I will never know why, but this time it ticked me off.
"You don't have to check every night, you know!"
What I didn't understand was that this routine was his way of preparing for a scene that he found challenging. If I didn't have that prop, the entire scene didn't work. So, this Idiot broke the routine and, well, you know what happened.
I can still remember 'Nathan's' face, later in the scene, when he realised I didn't have the letter. I can also remember my fear. I was living one of those dreams. You know, the ones where you're standing naked on the stage, in the wrong show?
The next 30 seconds felt like 3 hours. Making up something to get off stage, I entered the wings and launched 'Harry' onto the stage with a desperate 'Cover for me!' Those two amazing actors created 30 seconds of script during my mad dash to get the prop. Somehow, the scene continued without a hitch. I could barely look 'Nathan' in the face as I apologised afterwards. I reestablished the routine.
I learned important lessons that evening -
Don't be an idiot
Don't alter routines and tracks.
Respect others on stage and their need for routines and tracks; and
Don't be an idiot.
Accidents happen. We laugh about accidents. Theatre is beautifully alive and stuff happens. We don't laugh about intentional choices that throw others. They're amateurish and selfish.
My choice didn't acknowledge 'Nathan's' need for the routine.
Now, as a director, I get truly annoyed by actors who choose to change onstage blocking and tracks for 'fun'. It is selfish, throwing other actors off their game, effectively robbing them of their own experience of the show, not to mention the ultimate impact on the audience's experience when something inevitably goes wrong.
Remember that you're part of a team.
Look after each other.
Work hard together.
Don't be an idiot.
Sherryl-Lee Secomb is An Idiot On Stage. The Idiot exists to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary.
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