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On With the Show!
Thursday night around 9 pm, a significant portion of the city lost electrical power, including Lawrence High School where the opening night of "Lend Me a Tenor" was just twenty minutes from curtain call. So what do you do when you are performing a show and the electricity goes out? You perform by flashlight, of course!The adage is "the show must go on" and that's exactly what happened. Without hesitation, Director Charles Goolsby told his cast "Don't leave the stage, just keep going," while he and Assistant Director Ceri Goulter stood at the front edge of the stage wielding flashlights as spotlights. Luckily, most of the action toward the end of the second act involves only two people on stage at a time, so the lighting demands were simple. I went to see this hilarious show Friday afternoon. While I was commiserating with Charlie over his memorable opening night, I thought back upon some of my own memorable openings. I can laugh at them now, but at the time they were sometimes horrifying and sometimes merely disappointing.Like the time about eight years ago I had a high school actor on drywall stilts playing the Uncle Sam character in the parade scene of "State Fair." Despite weeks of carefully choreographed rehearsals, someone put a bench in the wrong place at the wrong time backstage and Uncle Sam tripped over it in the blackout for the scene change. When the lights came up, I saw Uncle Sam all nine feet in height sprawled on the floor with his head too close to a platform. He wasn't moving. I rushed backstage with my principal and head custodian to find several girls in hysterics. "He's dead!" they cried. "Don't be ridiculous!" I snapped. Then we grabbed his stilted feet and dragged him off stage during the next transition. When I asked why he didn't move or give a sign he was okay, he explained he thought he would be less conspicuous and the scene would look better if he stayed as flat as possible. "After all," he said, "the scene must go on."Just a couple of years ago, I had a student discover why it is that we never say "Macbeth" backstage. He scoffed at the tradition, being new to theatre, and would go around backstage saying it just to prove the more serious Thespians wrong. We were performing a double bill of one-act adaptations: "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Much Ado About Nothing." Opening day, he came down with a serious case of some stomach virus. He tried to stay at school rule is you have to be in attendance at least half a day to perform but I could see he wasn't going to make it. I suddenly questioned my practice of working without understudies. So, opening night the role of the Prince in Much Ado was played by one of the lead actors from Earnest, script in hand. He was so natural that you'd never know he had never rehearsed the show and had only watched one rehearsal.Good thing the costume fit, because the show had to go on. The Prince was disappointed, but was well enough to perform the second night of the show. I'll have to save my most potentially disastrous show for another entry. But if you want to know why the arts are essential to the future of our youth, consider the lesson they learn in these seemingly hopeless situations. You want creative problem solvers in your workforce? Hire those who've been in theatre they know how to make magic from a possible disaster.