Summer outdoor theater is a miraculous thing.
The miracle happens about six months after the summer theater season, in the depths of winter. There is a moment when snow is on the ground and the wind’s a’howlin’. There is a moment on the ninth straight day of no sun at all, a moment when the clothing layers reach seven, when soup sounds real good once too often. At that less-than-golden moment, that summer night you spent on stage the previous year becomes pure gold.
That memory is purged of the heat. The roasted rehearsal on that concrete slab on that Saharan Saturday morning in full costume evaporates from your recall.
Those multitudinous bugs (many of which unsuccessfully screen-tested for the classic film Them and still harbored virulent stage revenge dreams) that you ducked, swatted, and too often swallowed during performances were forgotten.
The memory of the “dead characters’ cocktail lounge” where the actors gathered (after their character in the show was dispatched) to swap lies and hoist a brew or two, that grew in unholy influence during the run of the show until the curtain calls became wobbly bows from which returning to a fully upright position was un-guaranteed…yes, that memory became quaint instead of alarming.
Rain? Lightning? Make-up that melted faster in the heat than it could be applied?
It’s a miracle.
All that remains are memories and tales of;
– Riding a bike home from rehearsal through the reluctantly cooling blanket of dark.
– Humidity and iambic pentameter – a surprisingly compatible combo.
– Bright, pretty, scantily-clad actresses.
– Loud voices and ringing swordplay.
– Large, well-lubricated audiences.
– Stars (thousands) and moons (one per night) and a pool of artificial light in which to speak beautiful words.
That’s all that’s left.
It’s a miracle.
However, some of the non-miraculous is worth remembering as well.
In the summer of 1999, I was lucky enough to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. My luck expanded to include the fact that I was working with many of my favorite people in the world; Jeff Sherr, Eric Johnson, Anitra Brumagen, Sidney Shaw, Walter May, Glenn Thompson, Michael Thompson… It was a real good time.
Most of the time.
The first act of the show ends with Atticus’ closing statement to the jury. It’s about a ten-minute summation – inspirational and dramatic as hell – an actor’s dream.
On one night’s performance I arose to give the speech to a crowd of 1,000+ people (yes, most likely well-lubricated). As I walked downstage I heard the medivac helicopter approaching and I knew from previous festival experience that the flight path would be directly over our stage and loud…certainly louder than me. I took a dramatic pause before commencing the speech that exactly matched the flight time of the copter.
Mrs. Leasor didn’t raise any fools.
Then I plunged into the speech and was just achieving some momentum when, about five minutes in, I heard the sirens of the ambulance go ripping through the night.
At about minute eight of the soliloquy, the low-flying private plane rattled over and as I was winding up for the socko finish, you could hear the freight train moanin’ lonesome through the night.
Mercifully, the speech and the act ended, the lights went dark, and the cast trooped offstage. As I walked off the stage, Eric Johnson was exiting directly behind me and I heard him mumble; “Well, that was certainly a tribute to the combustible engine.”