Letters to Holly

Saturday, December 20

Fourth Show

Everyone has heard the saying "the show must go on." It's a necessary credo, especially on the volunteer level. No small hiccup can derail the production. And in order to cancel one of this production's shows, you need the president, artistic director and publicity director's agreement. Our director discovered this just 15 minutes before show time.

Our Scrooge is sick. In one of those rare times when we could also yell the other theatre cliche "is there a doctor in the house" -- we instead look to our judge, a retired general practitioner. He diagnoses Scrooge with food poisoning, and it's apparently bad. He's sick at both ends, and the director calls a huddle to ask if we should cancel. Scrooge won't have it, and we prepare for a possible show. We set up a trash can and water bottle on his side of the stage wings, in case he needs them. We check the actors' bathroom and discover it's, of course, locked. If Scrooge has to go to the bathroom during the show, he'll have to run past the entire audience. Our tech person is told to prepare an extra intermission if Scrooge needs it. I suggest we grab the visiting college student who did a show with me in the spring; he can read Cratchit, and I can do Scrooge. That gets no traction.

Scrooge arrives from make-up, shaky and quiet. He won't cancel. And it becomes his strongest show. Because he's concentrating on staying upright, and not on the words, they come to him naturally. Act One zips by a full ten minutes shorter than normal. Doc has trouble again, and Marley says a big line three pages too early. It's a good audience in size and response; they're really enjoying it, and the entire cast is giddy at what we expect will be a Future Ghost scene that will kill them.

It comes very close. They go crazy for the ghost and translator, and we're in that rare groove where the slightest gesture will knock them over. But right before we get to the heart of the scene, Doc kills it. He jumps ahead a full page, and the audience knows something is wrong. We lose them. We never get them back. Scrooge again falls apart when he confronts the Future Ghost, and the audience is now silenced. It's heartbreaking. We never hit this high before, and we scuttle it within a minute. Even Brick is mad; he lost a few good lines. I'm typing this almost 18 hours later, and my stomach is still sunk over it. It's crushing. But Brick and I get a good response on the curtain call. That helps. The show must go on and all that.

Friday, December 19


The rehearsal between performance weekends is usually a linethrough. You sit, you rattle off the lines. It goes by quickly. But we need more than that. We need to do the entire play onstage. And we do. We skip the makeup and costumes though.

It goes about usual. The attorneys get lost, the judge calls them to the bench and feeds lines, they go back to the play. There are times when we jump ahead a few lines or pages. Early on, the defense attorney blanks while questioning me, and it's one of my rare lines where I can skip his missing question and keep talking. When I'm up as the ghost, he skips a load of dialogue, and the director reels us back in to get those lines in. So, no, I don't think he looked at the script. I know I didn't, but I also haven't blanked in every performance of the show. I just scoot up on the witness stand and open my head and out come the lines. We finish very quickly.

We discuss the review. One actor complains that the first act isn't funny. Another actor counters that it is funny, but the audience isn't laughing. I keep mum. The play is funny. it's very funny. If you know the lines and deliver them properly and understand what makes funny. But we're not performing it as comedy. We're doing it straight. Mostly. Some lines are obviously punchlines. But some situations need to be played for laughs, and that ain't happening. Usually when the audience isn't laughing, that means you're not funny. That's usually a reliable indicator.

The cast party is announced for Sunday night at 6, but I've already made dinner reservations. I might drop in beforehand. Maybe not. If it's a bad show, no. I have no enthusiasm for the last shows. I just want to be done with it.

The keepsake cards are printed, and I'll spend Saturday attaching the magnetic tape.

Thursday, December 18

Carol Consideration

I learned late that this week contained both a birthday and anniversary for a pair of buddies. We took them out for Mexican and heard about their Thanksgiving cruise. Your Sis has been on two cruises. I have been on none; I don't think ferries count. But now I'm very curious about cruises and wonder if this is something we can do next year.

We discovered the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol adaptation last night, and we saw most of it. We got all the way to the departure of Christmas Present. It was sadly not up to the George C. Scott version, which I had just raved about with half of the couple over Mexican. The Stewart version has weak ghosts. They chaperon Scrooge instead of guiding him to recognize where things went wrong. The Marley was blase, and that's a mortal sin. Marley should spook you.

We rehearse tonight, and I still won't even sniff in the direction of the script. I suspect the cast party will be scheduled for after the Sunday show, but that's when I intend to take everyone out to dinner.

Picture of the Day
The Brazilian martial art of capoeira as displayed by members of a Santa Claus convention.

Wednesday, December 17

Taking Stock

Sometimes being a local celeb has its rewards. No, not me, Your Sis. We hopped into the town's Italian sports bar, and the owner is the parent of a current student. He chatted us up for a while and returned later to say he covered our bill. He certainly didn't have to do that. Especially since his kid is close to failing. He complimented me on the muttonchops, and I confessed they're for the play. Because I only had my plastic to pay the bill, I had to run out and find an ATM so I could tip the waitress. But I get leftover lasagna for lunch.

We watched the annual Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon, and it's just not the same without the ads for York Peppermint Patties. This year featured many ads for Kohl's, Macy's, and jewelry stores. All ads for adult consumers. Were any kids watching this?

It's an odd time of the year for us. I'm between play weekends, and she's preparing for a stack of grading over the holiday break. This formula of ending a semester after the new year is stupid and stupid some more. No teacher likes this. No kid wants homework over the break. And a failing kid can't miraculously save his semester with work done over the vacation. Your Sis and I had a sit-down yesterday to get our marital bearings. Everything is fine, but we both noted that we're stuck in the amber of cumbersome schedules.

An online buddy sent me a hand-drawn Christmas card. I use pictures of House as my avatar on our message board.

I made him one to mail today.

Tuesday, December 16

Time Off

As soon as I opened the back door of the house, Your Sister presented me with a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale. It's for the ritual wings dinner. It's 38 ounces of Guaranteed Tipsy. Once the wings hit the table, I popped open the bottle, clinked it against her water bottle, and toasted her with "let the awkward advances commence!" Your Sis is a good gal.

I'm not even looking at the script. F' the script. I worked on the magnet yesterday, and I decided to forgo the usual illustration and just work with the reference photos. Frankly, I don't have the initiative to devise a swank design. I'm burned out.

I'm shopping for Mom through Amazon, and I think I know how to distract her from a depressing Christmas at home and occupy her holiday time with a stack of throwback DVDs.

Picture of the Day

Monday, December 15

Third Show

I try to arrive early for make-up, but Marley gets there first and grabs the lone chair. It takes half an hour to paint him up. I sit off to the side and quietly run my lines. Our makeup lady is also our costume lady, and she has two parts in the show. When the judge arrives, he immediately argues that she messed up a line. She argues back. The judge won't let it go and asks me for my script. It's in the car, I say. I ain't getting into this. The line doesn't affect the judge anyway; she says it to another actor onstage.

She also offers us the use of another space heater from the warehouse. I volunteer to take it, but only after I confirm with Scrooge that this won't blow our wiring in the dressing room. Nope, he says, as long as the heaters are off before we turn on the stage lights, there will be no problem. Of course it blows our surge protector. At least we have daylight for our costume change.

We vote to run a full rehearsal Thursday night onstage. We decline to just run lines at a table. We need as much familiarity with props as possible. I kinda sorta make the argument that clinches the vote.

Before we go onstage, Mrs. Cratchit pulls me aside to explain why she didn't join us onstage Friday. Normally, she sits in the gallery and leaps up to shout her lines before the bailiff escorts her out. This time she came running from the wings when it was her cue. She explained to me today that she's supposed to startle us with her lines. I try to explain: You can startle Cratchit, but don't startle ME. She laughs it off.

Act One is our strongest yet, and Scrooge is in the zone. We all focus on picking up the pace, and the first act flies by. We have some hiccups. Doc loses his lines, and the judge whispers them to him. Instead of covering it, Doc turns to him and says "I'm sorry?" Twice. During intermission, the attorneys joke about which ending we should have today based on the previous three nights -- A,B, or C.

Act Two boogies along until the future ghost comes onstage. Brick makes a rare mistake and forgets what the ghost is trying to say.

Doc: What was the purpose of your visit that night?
Brick: ... I, um ... wanted to see what he was doing. [Doc locks up, the stage is silent.]
Me (whispering): redemption.
Brick: ... and redemption.

And we're back on track.

Scrooge again has trouble confront my ghost and collapses into blabber when he accuses all the ghosts of conspiring against him. Christmas Past refers to her hand for her lines. But today, the attorneys heed the judge when he whispers the lines to get us through the conclusion, and it's as smooth as we've ever done it. So it's D.

Dan and I joke about his minor mistake, and we all run to our cars wearing half our costumes. It's the end of tech week, this was our eight consecutive day of this show. We're brain dead. I get home, toss mom in the car, drive her to Spartanburg, hit the passenger eject button, and drive back home. And my head is dead dog tired by 9 p.m.

Here's the official review, and again it's designed simply to get everyone's name in print:

Cratchit in full glory:

Sunday, December 14

Second Show

The director calls us to announce an early call for make-up and lines. Unfortunately, only 2/3 of the leads get this call. When Doc and Brick show up at the normal time, Doc has missed half an hour of practice time. I drive him over to the stage, and we run the last scene as the audience begins to dribble into the building. We try to give Scrooge mnemonic devices. The script has plenty of them -- "fabricated future and counterfeit corpse" -- but they don't stick. Christmas Past has written the first words of her last two lines on her left palm, and now she's worried about the audience seeing them.

When the director called, I was in Spartanburg picking up Mom. It's a three-hour round trip, but she wanted to see the play, and she doesn't like mountains. I leave her to Your Sister while I go to the theatre early. I've warned them about what this play has become.

The dressing room still has no heat, and all of our clothes are a toasting 30 degrees when we put them on. So we at least feel properly Victorian. The costume lady has fixed my britches. I realized right before last night's show that the backside has split open. Thank God for black underwear.

Act One drags and drags as people clamber for lines.We've done this show every days since last Sunday. Our brains are mush. The line trouble is spreading to other actors. Scrooge mangles his first scene with Fred the nephew, giving away the scene's punchline early and forcing himself to repeat it to get Fred off the stand. Marley forgets the easiest line of the play ("A year ago today."). He is forced to say "I don't know" and Scrooge has to work Marley's correct line into his own. The leads are becoming fairly adept at ad-libbing by necessity, but that skill is backfiring: They add to many words to their dialogue and become lost when they realize they're not saying script words anymore. Brick sits next to me the entire first act, and he is shaking with laughter as the others lose themselves and freeze onstage. When we are alone during intermission, we practically on the floor laughing. We've reached that point. It's all goofy now.

The crux of the play is Act Two's conclusion, and that begins when Christmas Future takes the stand. Tonight, Scrooge leaps over an entire page of material with him and detonates the crucial "confession" scene. As he harangues the ghost, my character is reduced to simple yes and no answers. But tonight, Scrooge asks a question requiring a noun-verb answer, and I don't have one. I mumble a generic answer and then look to the translator to improvise and answer. He wisely jumps us ahead in the script. But Scrooge is now lost more.

The end is again the two actors scrambling their conversation, and we three ghosts are lest on the far stage left, whispering to each other as we realize we are wandering in the wilderness and our Moseses are working without maps. Tonight, the judge is clearly feeding them lines from his bench, but they are ignoring the actual lines as they follow their own dim notions of where they are in the script. We finally, finally get to the blessed line that gets us offstage ("Let's all go to my house for a party"), and we practically run passed the attorneys before they can leap back into the quicksand of wrong lines.

The director pulls me aside right before I leave. "You never complain," she says. I feel a little two-faced about this. I vent here, but remain optimistic there. I don't see the need to grumble aloud and add to the drama. I ask here why I should grumble there. I get to be Cratchit, and I have the most fun role as Future Christmas. I don't have to carry the show. I know my lines. I'm the youngest cast member. We're almost at the end of opening week. Monday's wings and beer are closer every hour. And we both joke: This is the best ad-lib exercise anyone could ask for. It's a different show every night.

The missus, my mom, and I dissect the show when I get home, and we stay up very late recreating what we saw. But here's the highlight of the day. As we talked earlier about British accents, Mom asked if we would sound like Monty Python, whom she could never decipher. How can they be funny if you can't understand them? Oh, but they're hysterical, I contend and grab my Python scripts. I read her the Dead Parrot sketch in my normal voice, and my Mom is grabbing her sides in laughter. I've tried to advocate Python to her since high school. And here we are.

Yeah, why should I grumble?