Saturday, February 12, 2011

When Things Go Wrong

I apologize for the lack of posts this week. It has been my goal to post at least twice a week, but I happen to be in the midst of the not-so-happy convergence of midterms and tech week, and am meanwhile trying to fight off a cold. If you have ever been or known an actor then you know about the ultimate time-warp of tech week; if not, keep reading.

Tech week is the first time that the technical aspects of theater—lighting, sound, set transitions, costumes, hair and makeup—are added to the work that the actors have been doing for weeks. Theater is ultimately a collaborative process, and so tech week can be alternately the most satisfying and the most maddening part of getting the show together. For the last show I was in I counted over fifty hours of rehearsal in the span of seven days; my part in this show is small, but on this Saturday and Sunday alone I have twelve hours of rehearsal each.

I have been through quite a few of them by now, but never cease to be amazed by the time and energy drain of the week that many actors affectionately term “Hell Week.” Ideally, the elements of light, sound, costume, props, set, etc. would congeal effortlessly on the first run-through. However, that never happens, and a scene transition can take hours to get right. Usually most of the kinks are ironed out by opening night; but at some point, things will go wrong.

Actors are notoriously superstitious, but that’s because theater is a notoriously finicky medium. Little trips or stumbles that are commonplace in everyday life become disastrous onstage. Of course, some mistakes are worse than others. A small slip-up, like a wardrobe malfunction or a missed line, may just be a little hiccup. But sometimes the accidents are big, like the time my friend was elbowed in the face during a fight scene and developed a whopping black eye in time for the curtain call. Recently, a friend was stranded onstage waiting for the sound cue of a five or seven minute long interview that never came—the speaker was in the television set and it had somehow come unplugged. After kicking the TV for a few minutes in very real frustration, she attempted to summarize the main points of the recording, which contained the name of the play and main themes, among other things. She did an admirable job, but it was agony for those of us standing backstage.

I spend a lot of time worrying about little bumps and hiccups, onstage and offstage. A good stage manager or actor makes every effort to ensure that mistakes don’t happen, but sooner or later they do. In my own life, when things are going well, I am afraid of doing anything to disturb the balance. What is most distracting about mistakes for actors is that a missed line or a disturbed prop breaks the moment onstage, taking the actor out of their imagined circumstances and forcing them into an intellectual realm that is not as authentic. The same applies to my own life—if things are going well but I cannot escape the nagging fear that I may become depressed again then I am unable to fully experience the good things.

But the truth is, eventually things will go wrong. I will have a bad day, or a panic attack. I will feel sad about something, or I will beat myself up for some mistake. Although I would love to say that my most recent bout of depression was my last, it is always possible that it will return some day. And although I do my best to make healthy eating choices, it is a daily struggle that I do not always win.

As for my friend with the black eye, no one even noticed it during the curtain call, and in subsequent performances she was able to cover the bruise with make-up. And as for my friend with the missed sound cue, my parents didn’t even know that anything had gone wrong (although they admitted the play made more sense the second time around). The show goes on, and most of the time other people don’t even notice the little bumps that can seem like the end of the world to the person onstage.

So maybe I should stop worrying about them so much.


  1. Break a leg Beth!! That is what they say in the theater for good luck isn't it??

  2. Beth- I have so enjoyed following your blog. Break a leg with this show, you are always beautiful on stage- and I remember that black eye fondly ;)