Tuesday, June 10, 2014

After Dark, June 10, 2014

Oh! The Ugliness!
You don't want to look under the rocks of the performing arts
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

“I don’t understand anything about the ballet; all I know is that during the intervals the ballerinas stink like horses.” 
Anton Chekhov

You don't want to know! But I'm going to tell you anyway. But why? you will ask. Because it has to be said. It started with a posting on Facebook by a well-known actor. An anecdote about his present job. Then all my horrible, hideous memories of my life in art came back to me.

Like the time I was in a school production of Midsummer Night's Dream and the costume design involved all the nobles wearing tights. Ballet-dancer-tight tights. So a bunch of late-teen boys would be walking about on stage with goolies clearly visible. Moreover, not only would the goolies be on view, but late-teen boys often have goolie...mishaps (if you know what I mean and I think you do). Buying the right undergarment garment, dance belts, was too expensive for the school so they went on the cheap and bought all the boys skin-tight white bikini-underwear to wear under the tights. But things happen to teen-boys and their riding-the-crack bikinis too. Bad things. Wrong things. Every night, at the end of the show, we all took off those bikinis and put them in a bin to be washed. This may sound like assuring each user's anonymity. Nope. Our names were sewn into the goddam things.

Oh, yes! Scratch a performing artist and before they tell you a story of artistic ecstasy, they will share some hideousness from their own experience - share the secrets. I will share some now.

- Some directors/conductors/choreographers are, indeed, like Hitler. I was in another production where the director was so angry during rehearsal he lost it and started saying the actors were performing like crippled children and then showed us how crippled children might act the scene from Molière until all the actors not being targeted stopped laughing. I've heard first-hand stories like this from virtually every performer I know.

- Performers are, indeed, horny people. In another production the director wanted us to live on the set for a night to get its feel. Sure! By three a.m. backstage was a fuckfest. When I was at Banff, in the playwrights' colony, all the young artists (actors, dancers, singers, painters) at the Banff School shared a dorm. By midnight it was a whorehouse. (There is a story, hopefully apocryphal, that says Banff has a huge VD rate.) In another play a couple who had to simulate copulation on stage asked if we could tell when they were actually boinking.

- Stage managers (SMs) are more important than anyone else in the production. Many of you don't even know what a stage manager does, but he or she is, basically, the one who has to learn everything about the show and make sure that everything is maintained into performances. SMs will: track performers who may  have a breakdown; monitor drunks and their intake; will have wax to rebond a cap or filling that may fly out of a mouth during a show; investigate backstage romances which almost always go wrong, wrong, wrong; and...take care of the above-mentioned underwear.

- A bad dress rehearsal means opening will be perfect. Hardly ever does that happen. Technical difficulties persist, the weird shit you are seeing on stage is not always "part of it" and the opening night post-mortem, often led by the beloved SM, will turn into an opera of finger-pointing and buck passing. However, a couple of hours later, in a bar, those who despised  each other at the post-mortem may very well be fucking in the bathroom.

- Not just Janet Jackson has wardrobe malfunctions. I've seen nude scenes followed by actors struggling to get back into their costumes and then, finally, just walking off stage, naked, for help. I directed a production with no budget where the lead actors pants split from arsehole to breakfast time and he had to perform the rest of the scene facing the audience because his paisley underwear were a little out of the period of the play.

- Those lovely people you see on stage can have bad breath, smell bad and have a pile of redolent real hair under that wig. Like with everyone else. However, one actor I worked with was so stressed during a performance she left the scene, threw up, and came back for the French kiss that ended the act. Top that!

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