Great moments in live theater?

One of the great things about theater is that each performance only happens once and is born between artists and audience.

What memorable moments have occurred in your theater experiences?


Lab theater, College of William and Mary, 1988 or so. Chekov’s The Bear.

The main character (the “Bear”) is in the middle of a rant, graps a china figurine, slams it down, breaks it and starts bleeding. I figured he had one of those little blood bags in his hand for effect. No, it slowly became clear that he had actually cut his hand and was actually bleeding. Neither he nor the other cast members missed a beat-to be sure the scene lent itself to the event. The actor’s intensity was exciting and the accident made the play a one time only.

Well, I’m not sure how exciting these moments were, but I think they’re funny stories, and they are reminiscent of the spontanaeity (sp?) of your own story.

My friend Kelly was doing a play in college (John Guare, In the Boom Boom Room), and she had to go to a kitchen drawer and get out a knife with which to fend off her father. She went to the drawer, and one of the prop people had replaced the knife with a carrot. She had to improvise from there.

One time I was onstage in an obscure Michael McLure play in which an imaginary Billy the Kid performs a sex act on an imaginary Jean Harlow (me) in hell. I threw my head back in a simulated gesture of ecstasy, and some of my hair, which was quite long, went down my throat and I almost choked. Very smooth.

Another actress I used to know was doing one of the Greek plays (Medea?) and had a long blonde wig. At one point she had to kneel before one of the male characters. When she tried to stand up, her wig was caught in his belt buckle.

Maybe none of this was exciting for anyone else, but it sure was for us.

At my high school’s rendition of Little Shop of Horrors the guy playing the sadistic 1950’s greaser-slash-dentist was wearing tight, glossy black pants. He does a splayed-leg Elvis move for the “Oh, Momma” line, and, predictably – Riiiiip!

There is a collective intake of breath from the audience…

But, trooper that he was, he didn’t miss a beat, tossed off his leather motorcycle jacket, tied it around his waist and finished the scene.

Got a well deserved standing ovation too!

Once upon a time ago, in our high school play, we had the prototypical disaster. A stand-up bus cutout (for Bye Bye Birdie IIRC) propped from behind got bumped by a member of the chorus. It leaned forward ever so gently, taking forever, than hit the point of no return. And then WHOOMP!, flat down. Best part of the show.

Saturday Night Fever on Broadway, spring of 2000.

The part of Tony is being played by the understudy in this particular performance. Apparently the lead actress is not happy with his execution, and after one particularly displeasing scene she dances offstage, but someone forgot to turn off her headset mic. She rips into the Tony, saying how awful he dances, how he’s too weak, too clumsy, too stupid, not ready for prime time, etc. etc. etc. For the whole theater to hear.

Community theater back a few years ago. I was playing the ever pitiable “Moonface Martin, Public Enemy #13” in a production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes

At the beginning of Act II, the curtain rises, there we see the deck of the SS American. Reno and Billy are walking accross the deck inthe genral direction of Moonface, who is reclining, asleep, in a deck chair.

I’m a good two minutes from my line as Reno and Billy continue their conversation. I begin to feel the wood of the deck chair creak. Then crack. Then, with a thunderous KA-THUD amidst the splintering of wood and the rending of fabric, I fall flat on my ass atop the remains of the deck chair.

The audience, perhaps predictably at this point, breaks out into gales of full-bellied laughter. Reno and Billy stand, staring in disbelief, waiting for the laughter to die a bit so they can continue the scene. I am now laughing, but remain on my back, cross my legs, one over the other knee, and nag my bowler hat from my left foot. I realize that this may have been a bad idea as it simply causes the audience to break up again.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was only a minute or so, the audience had calmed enough for Reno and Billy to continue while I lay where I was.

Billy and Reno exit, a waiter enters and begins speaking to me. I sit up and we continue the scene as if nothing had happened. The waiter picked up the remains of the deck chair upon his exit.

There were gaffs and screwups before and there have been since, but that’s the one I’ll always remember as the best.

So we’re clear, that would be HANG my bowler hat … :smack:

That’s excellent!

And, TVGuy, great story and a perfect recovery.

I was at a performance of The Unsinkable Molly Brown starring the ever classy Debbie Reynolds at the St. Louis Muny Opera (the oldest and largest outdoor theater in the U.S. – outdoor being the operative word).

That particular night, we were having a total lunar eclipse and the audience simply couldn’t help themselves from turning around in their seats to witness it. During one of the scenes that takes place outdoors, Ms. Reynolds pointed to the sky and, completely in character, worked the eclipse into her lines, basically giving the audience “permission” to turn around and look, then bringing their attention back to the stage.

It rocked!

BTW, I believe the eclipse shown on the page I linked to is the actual eclipse that took place the night of that performance. I checked the show dates in an old program and The Unsinkable Molly Brown was playing that season, and an August date would be within the season’s time frame. It’s possible, though, that it could’ve been as far back as July 1982, as Molly Brown was at the Muny that season, too, and July is also the right time frame. I can’t seem to find a source to verify who the leads were in those performances in those years, though, and since I’ve been going to the Muny since I was 5 years old (and seen pretty much every single performance until I moved away in the mid-90s), it could easily have been either of those years – I simply can’t recall it that specifically.

Anyway, it was very cool. To get the chance to see Ms. Reynolds live on stage in a role she created was amazing enough. But to see her hilarious improv skills at work, and a lunar eclipse in the same night was just completely incredible.

I was in a production of Beauty and the Beast, Really, a campy re-telling of the classic fairytale, for a community theater group in Maryland. I played the Beast. One night, Lula (the female lead) couldn’t get the back of her dress hooked up. We had a kind of a complicated dance number, which she managed to do without turning her back to the audience. Unfortunately, it was blocked so she had to exit through the audience. Guess I should’ve lent her my cape…

In a later performance, Maxine (the narrator) had her showgirl costume accidentally hook her legs together. She looked down at it, looked up at the audience, and said “Couldn’t you just die?” Great save.

I was the Old Man in Twelve Angry Men in high school. The Good Guy main character actor was pretty animated, and banged on the table a lot. We had an ash tray on the table that he kept knocking off the table accidentally. For some reason the ash tray had to be there for the performance, so it was taped to the table.

The first night of the show, I was taking a drink of water at a point in the show where he banged on the table. It was a pretty tense moment in the plot to begin with, but disaster struck. Looking back, it must have been intentional, but he hit the edge of the ashtray with some meat of his palm. It flipped off the table, but was still hanging there, swinging gently off a short strand of masking tape.

I’m one of those people that can barely control their laughter in tense situations like that. Somehow I managed to avoid a spit take without drowning. So there I was. Mouth full of water, head tilted back, shaking violently. But I maintained a somber expression throughout, which probably made it all the more bizarre.

Thanks guys, great stories!

The Kentucky Cycle, a very long (they split it up into two plays, you’d have to come back the next day to see the second half) and bloody play about one family’s dealings on a certain piece of land in Kentucky from the early 1800s to the present.

There’s a scene that takes place during the Civil War, during which one particularly insane and violent member of the family is gunning down some defenseless soldiers who grovel at his feet. Except, the prop pistol wouldn’t fire. All the while the sounds of battle are raging around them, and for about two solid minutes the guy tried to get the gun to fire. I don’t know why he didn’t just pretend. As I recall, he finally gave up and clubbed them with the pistol.

One of the funniest things I can remember was a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that featured an all-female cast. If you know the gender-bending storyline of the play, you can imagine how surreal that made the whole thing. The best moment was the “entrance of the lawmen”; they were dressed like Texas rangers, complete with hats, dusters, and 5 o’clock shadow.

And oh, the memories I have of the performance of The Imaginary Invalid

Once I played the Provost in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. I was onstage, agonizing with the disguised Duke: would Angelo spare Claudio or sentence him to death? Enter Angelo’s Messenger, and says to me “My lord hath sent you this note,” and proffers HIS EMPTY HAND. He had forgotten the death warrant, upon which the whole plot hinges, which I was to read aloud in a few moments.

I shook his hand and said a line not by Shakespeare: “I thank thee for thy pains. I prithee bring me to thy fellow messenger.” I grabbed the startled kid by the elbow, propelled him into the wings, made a mad dash for the prop table, and somehow got back onstage, warrant in hand, just as the Duke finished his aside.

Speaking of horror stories involving wireless microphones, I have heard that in the Broadway production of CARNIVAL, Anna Maria Alberghetti left the stage wearing a live mike and went straight to the loo . . .

Good story, but it may be apocryphal.

So many, so many…There was the time touring with Antigone when a featured actress’s gown began unwrapping (a bra would have shown so she wasn’t wearing one) and with out dropping a line she turned her back to the audience and rewrapped the gown and continued. I don’t think the audience noticed, but the other actor on stage with her was so stunned by being flashed by her that he missed his cue and had to verbally stumble around for a couple of minutes before finding the right line.

Then there was the time while doing outdoor drama in New Mexico with Billy the Kid…the actor playing Billy was not familiar with either firearms or horses and during the entire run those two props haunted him. At least two times he missed his opening line in act one because the horse would wander off with him and one time he came on chasing the horse. But perhaps the most memorable was one time during a very moving scene, he was supposed to draw his pistol during a funeral, fire it in the air and say something to the effect of, “This is the only thing I believe in!” Instead he fired the gun (thus blasting his foot with the blank) then drew it. He then began hopping around on one foot shouting, “Ow, ow, ow, shit, shit…”

I was playing the minister at the funeral and had the next line. You try and deliver a serious line after that. It can’t be done.

Then there was the time I was in a community theater tour of Unsinkable Molly Brown and this one community theater decided to test if we were unsinkable or not. We had four performances in this one town. Night one — girl playing Molly is supposed to sit on an old barrel and sing the ending of her song. The top of the barrel gives out and girl plunges into barrel and has to be pulled out to finish song. She is hurt badly enough her understudy has to step in the next night. Night two — During the brass bed scene, the bed collapses on Molly and J.J. Brown injuring the man playing J.J. He is able to continue but with his wrist bandaged. Matinee — The 100-year- old beam supporting the main curtain starts to sag to a frightening degree. Thus eliminating any chance of using that curtain for any purpose at all and making the actors play well back from the front of the stage. Night three — Somewhere in the middle of the second act, all lights in the town go out (including the theater) because of a lightning strike. One of the audience members was a volunteer fireman and went the half a block to the local fire station, got their emergency lights and generator, put the generator in the lobby and the lights in the theater and “the show went on.”

Then there was the time…ah, but three’s enough.


Ah, let’s see:

The Glass Menagerie - Small table full of (plexi)glass figures. Actor bumps the table so it lads on its side. Figurines are still on the table, now parallel to the floor, having been glued there.

Twelfth Night - outdoor production, themed in the Caribbean (very bright tropical colors, reggae music, the whole nine yards). Scene where Feste, Andrew and Toby enter, prior to the baiting of Malvolio, all three well inebriated. On this particular performance, three cop cars, a fire truck, a rescue truck, and an ambulance go screaming down the street right in front of the venue. Not all at once, just spaced far enough apart and loud enough so that no actor could get through a single line without being interrupted. So they all just sat there with that drunk and dumbfounded open-mouthed look, all three just following each vehicle as it passed, like watching a one-sided tennis game in slow motion.

Maria, on her entrance, modified her line to something about them being so drunk and disorderly, that the neighbors had alerted the constable.

Twelfth Night - same production, closing night:

  • One of the Duke’s henchmen breaks his set of maracas during a serenade to Olivia, sending beads all over the stage.

  • Toby breaks open a prop bottle of asprin, sending asprin all over the set.

  • Maria accidentally flashes Andrew while adjusting her peasant shirt.

  • Malvolio slams a door, causing the decorative cap over the door to crash onto the stage.

  • Feste breaks a guitar string onstage.

And that was just the first act.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - stage show at MGM Studios, Walt Disney World

(former)Roommate whispers to me that Esmerelda wasn’t lookiing too good; says she looked pale and sweaty during her initial dance number. Sure enough, during the scene where Quasimoto takes her back to his place with the gargoyles, she turns to him and says, “Quasimoto, I’ll be right back.” and walks offstage. As she walks off, there is the sound of heavy breathing over the sound system, and the unmistakable sound of retching. Immediately the sound system goes dead. Quasi and the gargoyles look at each other for about 30 seconds, then walk off stage. A few moments later, the stage manager walks onstage and announces that ‘due to unforeseen circumstances, we will have to cancel this performance’ and invited us to a show later that day.

Funny though, it wasn’t too long after that that Disney scrapped the entire production.

The Taming of the Shrew - set in the 1870s southwest.

The three part set is on a very large turntable. The techs turned the turntable a wee bit too far, so that one half of Petruchio’s hovel and the cast were now backstage. Actors decide to start the scene, talking to people who could not be seen. A couple minutes into the scene, someone finally shifts the turntable to its proper position, taking a few of the actors by surprise. One looks at anouther, says “Earthquake”, and continues the scene. Half the cast and all of the audience lost it.

How about a tragic, yet can’t-help-laughing circus story?

We’ve got a drummer in the studio today, one of his best buddies is notorious for his performace as a drummer under the big top.

His job was to improvise a beat and, whenever it was necessary, do a drumroll-cymbal combo. You know how it goes: acrobat prepares… does a fancy leap, spin, and catches himself on a pole balanced on one toe to the drum accompaniment of:

It was all improvised. He just sat looking up in the air at the various trapeze artists, acrobats and tight-rope walkers and would drum along to their daring feats.

One night there was a fatal accident. A trapeze artist fouled up something, flew out past the safety net and plummeted to the hard ground… accompanied by a dramatic crescendo of:

Yes, out of shock, disbelief and through the “auto-pilot,” pure reflex that takes over in a crisis, the drummer drumrolled the trapeze artist’s death.

Our studio drummer, let’s call him “Albert,” had no idea that his good pal was THE circus drummer until recently. (And no, the guy doesn’t work for the circus anymore.)

On a lighter note, on a production of (IIRC) An Inspector Calls a distinguished actor had to be shot. He had a very fancy blood bag rigged up nder his clothes. We could put 2 litres of blood in the thing if we wanted to.

He just had to push a button on a nozzle under his shirt and apply gentle pressure. The blood (and LOTS of it) would pool out in his shirt – his entire chest would turn red. It was kinda gross, and eerily accurate.

In rehearsal, the distinguished performer had no problems. Opening night, however, he didn’t quite open the nozzle all the way. He pressed on the bag under his shirt and there was barely a trickle of blood. “Uh-oh.” He thought. He didn’t want to be staggering around the stage all night so he squeezed really hard on the blood bag.

All of the blood burst out at once, like Sigourney Weaver’s alien bursting out if his chest, and there was a very audible “glurch!” sound.

There was a moment of stunned silence, then you could hear the audience collectively say: “Tsk. Ewwww…”