Journal entry: December 31, 2005 (age 36)
“Everyone knows what it’s like to be nervous about a big test or an important presentation at work. And we’ve all had that dream the night before where you’ve completely forgotten the material being tested, or you’ve forgotten to wear clothes to work.”
That was the spoken introduction to tonight’s performances of Christopher Durang’s one-act comedy, The Actor’s Nightmare. As part of this year’s First Night celebration of the arts and the community, we presented the play in Binghamton’s City Council Chambers for several standing-room-only performances.
In the play, I was cast as “The Actor,” or, rather, the accountant who finds himself onstage in the middle of a theatre production he knows nothing about. He fumbles his way through a bizarre performance that veers from Shakespeare to Noel Coward to an amalgam of works by Samuel Beckett. (Bizarre AND Beckett? Shocker.) I had two weeks to memorize a large number of lines, including a three-page monologue, so I was a bit nervous.
During rehearsals, my nerves worsened a bit when I attempted a required quick change into an Elizabethan tunic that was too tight and complicated to put on in time. The too-tight tunic threatened a truly titanic tragedy. After one of our final rehearsals, my wife, Amanda, mentioned that she had seen some Renaissance-era clothing for sale at a funky store in downtown Binghamton called Imagicka. We immediately went there and bought a black “puffy shirt.” It had billowing sleeves and was long enough to reduce my embarrassment at wearing tights underneath. Later that night, Amanda fashioned a gaudy silver medallion on a thick chain, completing my desired “Hamlet” look.
As the lights came up for our first performance of the evening, I felt much more confident about the upcoming quick change. Amanda had carefully placed my Hamlet outfit in the appropriate room offstage, and she had checked it again just before curtain. When the time came for my quick change, however, the costume had vanished. Some well-meaning volunteer must have thought it didn’t belong there. “Gee, thanks, do-gooder!”
To kill some time, I poked my head out at the audience, wearing an idiotic grin. They assumed this was part of the show and laughed dutifully. Our director, however, took the hint that something was wrong, and quickly joined me in the woefully tunic-free changing room. He went off to track down the errant garment, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I had heard my cue to re-enter. Making this entrance was doubly difficult because I knew that my character had to remain onstage for the remainder of the play.
So I returned to the stage, wearing only a pair of black tights and a white dress shirt that was almost, but not quite, long enough to provide, um…coverage. This imbued my performance with an extra dash of realistic fear. I wasn’t exactly nude onstage, but the concept of showing off my out-of-shape, highly non-balletic figure in a pair of tights was not something I had prepared for. Neither had the audience.
Now we’re all going to relive the show in our nightmares.