NOTE: The relaying of this post was inspired by DCup's post about her Eldest's recent experience on stage.
As some of you may know, I have spent a good bit of time onstage. I have played everything from a bit part to the lead. Perhaps the most challenging role I ever had was that of Valmont in the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons).
No, make that definitely the most challenging role. Onstage for almost the entire show, having almost half of the lines, saying similar - but not quite the same - lines to three different characters... all this combined to make it a difficult role. Below are a couple of representative pages of my hi-lited script:
The production was a late semester add on at one of the many colleges I have attended (but somehow never earned a degree), made possible because the budget had a large outstanding balance and the Prof in charge of the department didn't want it cut for the next season. Since it was not a pre-approved production - and, in fact, would not have been approved by the Bible Belt board of trustees at the school, because of the mature nature of some of the scenes - we students had to do the whole thing without any faculty input. We would also have to take the heat if there was any community protest.
I was originally slated to play the bit part of Azolan, Valmont's valet, and Tracy, the guy who was directing, was going to play Valmont. In fact, the choice of play was his, and he had always wanted to play Valmont. But somewhere between auditions and the posting of the cast list, he decided that it would be too much to take on to both direct and perform one of the main roles.
I was very surprised when I saw someone else's name next to the role of Azolan, and mine by Valmont. This was my first lead, and I was quite nervous. All those words....
Anyway, we rehearsed and rehearsed and finally it was opening night. Right up until the house opened, the actor playing Merteuil and I were on the stage, running lines, hoping we didn't screw up royally. (Interesting [maybe] aside, she and I were living together at the time) Moments before the lights came up on the first scene, a huge thunderstorm hit outside, thunder and lightning and very heavy rain, so throughout the whole first scene we had to basically scream our lines so that the 3/4 round audience could hear us over Nature's performance. And, halfway through the scene, water started pouring onto the stage from a leak way up in the dim recesses of the roof of the auditorium, puddling on the portable parquet floor we had borrowed from a local hotel.
We made it through the scene, though, and the whole performance, without any major problems. In fact, things went fairly well until the penultimate performance.
As any of you who have been involved in theatre know, there is often as much (or more) drama backstage as onstage in any production. All of the backstage came to a head in that next-to-last performance, and one of the actors purposely missed an entrance cue (imagine Noises Off!, without the comedy). Things went downhill from there.
A few scenes later, "Merteuil" and I skipped from the middle of Act 2, Scene 1 to Act 2, Scene 5 without realizing it. When we did realize it, we stumbled around, both of us trying to figure out a way to get back on track and hoping the lights would go to black, until finally she asked, in character, "What do we do now?" and I replied "I have no idea." and stormed out... of "my" house, and walked straight to the director, who was standing off stage, holding his head.
"Just keep going," he said. "Which scene?" I asked. "Scene 2."
So we kept going, finished the performance, and no one in the audience - including the two Drama faculty in attendance - ever seemed to notice.
The final show went flawlessly.