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You Never Know When Someone May Need to Puke
by Phil O'Hearn
Well, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were dead, it was Mardi Gras time in Mobile, and The Player was puking in the wings. I could have entitled this article "Being Prepared." But how boring would that have been?!
Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama is much tamer than it is in New Orleans. New Orleans is beads and boobs. Mobile's parades are more about moon pies. Nevertheless, it is a time for frivolity, and it is not a time for a serious intellectual comedy like Tom Stoppard's ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD. R & G is a play about Hamlet offstage, so the minor characters in HAMLET become major characters in R & G. The Tragedian players from HAMLET are big in R & G. The leader of the Tragedians is The Player. I was playing the Player King, which is a smaller role. I was on stage a lot but had few lines. Specifically, I had two lines that were the beginning of a soliloquy from HAMLET.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD is a dense and opaque play, but funny to very bright people. These people usually stay home during Mardi Gras. They certainly did not see our play. Yes, our show was dead. The reviewer for the local daily paper always attended opening night, and the cast usually stayed up until about 3 am to catch the morning review. So, we all stayed up. Some were drinking to pass the time. Then we got the review. And...it was bad. Those who had been drinking to pass the time now began drowning their sorrows. And as early morning became early day, our next performance approached.
Thus comes the lesson in being prepared. First of all, I was not drunk. And secondly, in researching my two lines from the soliloquy I had studied and learned the entire speech.
Curtain was always 8:15 pm in Mobile. In the green room a great number of actors were green, hung over or still drunk. But the show went on. And when the scene came for my two lines, I noticed The Player exit into the wings stage left. I started my two lines when I heard him hurling. I cannot say that I delivered the soliloquy well, but I certainly delivered the soliloquy LOUDLY. I roared and ranted the complete speech. And by the time I finished, The Player was back on stage.
Imagine what would have happened had I not known the speech. Would I have improvised Shakespeare? Probably not very well.
Now you may think that I am bragging because I am. But in many other plays fellow actors certainly helped me...when I blanked or missed a cue or dropped a prop or broke a leg or ripped a scrim. I suppose the lesson is to learn your lines and your acting partner's lines and understand the text and the subtext and the context...and be prepared...to help.
Because you never know when someone may need to puke.