Friday, November 04, 2016

Magic Moments

There's nothing worse than bad theatre, because you're right there watching living, breathing human beings doing a bad job, and it's embarrassing. (And you can't leave because they'll see you.) With a movie, the actors are long gone, and if they stink, you can just enjoy the photography and production design.

But the great thing about theatre is, even at the lowest level, it can still be magical.  It reminds me of that scene in Hoosiers.  Gene Hackman coaches his small-town team to the state championship, and when they get to the auditorium, he has them measure how big the floor is and how high the basket--turns out it's the same size as back home, so there's no reason to be awed.

In local theatre, you're doing the same play that professionals have done.  Same characters, same plot, same lines.  And the simplest theatrical tricks can still stun an audience as much as anything in the slickest Broadway production, because it's happening right in front of them. Sorry to bore you with old stories, but here are a few moments I recall from years ago when I did high school/community theatre.

Damn Yankees: Applegate, the Devil, gets his big number, "Those Were The Good Old Days." It's done Vaudeville style, in one, and has a built-in encore. Applegate would have his big finish and go off stage left.  Then, during the applause, he'd run like the wind, and by the time the applause died down, he enter stage right and do the encore.  So simple, but it got a big laugh and a huge hand every time. (And I got to see him run because I was one of the ballplayers, and we were setting up the next scene behind the curtain.)

Li'l Abner: A scrawny scientist is given a teaspoon of a local tonic and grows into a tall, strapping fellow. The transition was simplicity itself.  The guys cast as the before and after, luckily, had very similar faces, but the big one was about eight inches taller and muscle-bound.  The scrawny guy would take a sip, go into conniptions, fall over and be surrounded by the citizens of Dogpatch.  In a split second we'd slip in the big guy (and slip out the small guy) and the citizens would disperse.  The audience wasn't sure what was going on, and even as the new fellow was getting up they weren't sure it was someone else.  When it was clear what had happened, not only applause, but some gasps.

The Fantasticks: We may have been the only production ever to pull this off.  It was a case of necessity being the mother of invention.  In the script, halfway through the first act, a trunk is brought on stage and out pop the Shakespearean actor and his sidekick the Indian.  However, our production was done outdoors, and there was no backstage.  So instead, we had the trunk extreme stage right, always in sight.  And when the character I played went to open the trunk, they popped out and the audience was astonished.  What we did, simply, was put the actors in the trunk half an hour before the show--just before the audience started gathering. To make it a bit easier, we cut away part of the back of the trunk so they could stick their legs out, and covered them with a blanket.  But for an hour or so, they sat in that trunk waiting to make their entrance.  When they did, the audience applauded--they'd seen that trunk the whole time, and there was no trickery.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

How did you manage the transformations in Damn Yankees?

8:56 AM, November 04, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

The guy dropped behind a couch.

9:48 AM, November 04, 2016  

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