Monday, November 16, 2009

A Fiasco Remembered or Playing Chicken

Years ago, I was in a production in which we had hired a chicken. This chicken, as I understood it, was making more money each week than the Equity actors in the show. Why? How many chickens do you know who can learn blocking?

I was playing a naval lieutenant who appeared in the last 3 minutes of the play. I seriously appeared on the last page of the script as the "white knight" come to save the poor damsel. But this white knight was in a vintage white (stark white, snow white, bleached white... seriously white) naval uniform from the early 1900s. This fact was made very clear to me by our wardrobe mistress who insisted that I not even sit down for fear of harming the fabric. She had the scene shop built me a "leaning plank" which was left in the green room for me to prop myself against if I got tired. Tired? Me? Being told to dress for the show at curtain and then stay upright for two and a half hours? Never.

Back to the chicken. This chicken was kept in a pen backstage until she was needed for her scene. At some point in the show one of the actors came off to collect her and then run across the stage while she "acted" frightened, squawked, etc.

As you can imagine, I was horribly bored during this show. I had good friends in it, but they were all busy on stage for the first 2+ hours and I was left alone with my "leaning plank". One night, I wandered on stage, behind the scenery, completely hidden from the audience and my cast mates. I saw our chicken actress, readying herself for her moment in the limelight and thought, she's probably bored too. Moving toward her pen I quietly said hello (not expecting her to respond of course) but, as she was a trained chicken, she moved toward me, bowed her head for a quit petting and I thought, "I see no reason not to pick her up. She's very docile."

Now, when you are in your late teens/early 20s, a thought like this isn't cause for alarm. Nowadays I'd think, "Are you kidding me?" But no, I picked up our little actress who then, thinking this was her cue, began to cluck loudly and shook so violently that she managed to pull out of my arms and onto the floor. After an internal scream I calmed down and made sure she was OK. She was. She was so fine, in fact, that she was now running toward the set... which was built roughly a foot and a half up off the stage floor... just enough room for her to wander off into the darkness.

I had about five minutes before my cast mate would come backstage to pick her up... and here was this "professional" chicken running under the set, some 15 feet ahead of me in a one and a half foot tall crawlspace. And I was in my vintage white (white) naval uniform.

Panicked, I darted back to the dressing room and switched into my street clothes. No shoes... no time. I hurried back onto the stage, still hidden from view, and dropped to my stomach. Like a recruit in basic training, I was maneuvering this obstacle course of 2x4s, arms first, slither, arms, slither, desperately trying to be silent while five performers clomped around above my head. Is this set still new enough to not yet have spiders living in it? I wasn't sure. I couldn't think about it. Probably.

There she was. She has nested at the very edge of the stage... the lip of the apron. She clucked, but quietly, as though she new. I slid forward, arms extending. "Shh, come here girl" I begged, in less than a whisper. She "ba-kawked." They'll assume it's "atmosphere", I thought, thinking of the audience. Finally, I slithered just close enough to catch her and while she clearly did not want to be held, she stayed relatively quiet while I slithered backward out of the floorboards.

She was back in her pen and I darted back to the dressing room to suit up. Just as I cleared the stage door on my way to change I saw my cast mate come off stage and collect the little actress. I thought I might pass out, but I had no time. I needed to change into my vintage white uniform and, from then on, there would be no lying down on the job.

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