The stage sits empty, the shapes of faux concrete walls and furniture barely visible in the dark. The lights come on, the characters begin to shuffle in and the audience leans forward in anticipation of the action to come. The actors boom out their lines, conveying confidence and nervousness depending on their character and the audience is drawn into the world of this unnamed country, the setting of Union’s The Queen and the Rebels. Suddenly, 15 minutes into the show, the stage lights go out.
Sitting in the audience for the third consecutive performance, I waited fearfully for the lights to come back on. They didn’t. The stage maintained its dark, reddish-purplish hues, produced by the four LED lights that miraculously stayed on despite the crashed lighting system.
Not long after, on the cast and crew Facebook page, freshman Rebecca Duttweiler posted a screenshot from the popular television show Parks & Recreation, where the character Andy Dwyer says, “There’s an old saying in show business: ‘The show must go wrong.’ Everything always goes wrong, and you just have to deal with it.” I have to agree that this misquote much better captures The Queen and the Rebels than the actual saying.
The thing is, this incident wasn’t the first to jeopardize the show. The actors were forced to deal with a plethora of technical issues: wet matches, sound malfunctions, leaking roofs (in the sound booth of all places!), entangling curtains and more. Yet the actors handled it perfectly.
The paper was ripped up instead of burned. The wrong sound cues were ignored. A makeshift fix was found to protect the equipment from dripping water. The shoe was quickly released from the curtain that had ensnared it.
On Friday night, the actors kept going even though the suddenly dimmed stage lights left them just barely visible to the audience. After a few moments, the intrigue of the play had distracted everyone from the dim room. The system was rebooted during intermission, and everything continued on as normal.
Of course, every production has its own set of difficulties. There are always flukes, unreliable props, unexpected events. It’s one of the greatest appeals of theater. It’s live, mistakes can’t be fixed in post-op, so sometimes the audience is witness to the great talent of covering over such events. Sometimes they may never notice that a mistake took place.
As numerous as the technical glitches were during this production, the illnesses and injuries dealt with by the cast were even more astonishing. Certainly, anyone watching the show on any given night was unaware of the physical discomfort many of the actors were in. For instance:
Sophomore Samuel Edgren, the play’s male lead, came down with the flu the Tuesday of opening week, forcing him to miss a dress rehearsal and sit through most of another. He powered through the misery during each performance.
Freshman Cayley Cantwell, the engineer who delivers plenty of monologue in the first act of the show, came down with a fever a few performances in.
Freshman Nicole Snover, who plays one of the four travelers, injured her knee to the point of needing crutches, but went without them for each performance of the show.
Junior Priscilla Porter, one of the female leads, found herself with an ear infection the day of opening night.
Sophomore James Martin, who plays the battle-wounded General Biante, dealt with a panic attack onstage during Monday night’s performance.
Yet very few people realized what miserable state so much of the cast was in. Speaking as someone who had seen the pitiful actors backstage pre-show, their stellar performances were nothing short of astounding. Sitting in the audience, I almost forgot multiple times that any of them were actually sick. Many audience members who attended the talk-backs after the shows were amazed to hear how sick or injured many of the actors were.
Professor David Burke, the director of this week’s production, could often be heard saying, “I truly believe the devil hates this show. It makes Christians think, and there’s nothing the devil hates more than thinking Christians. Because if we start thinking, we just might start acting.” Considering the obstacles that had to be overcome for this play to take place, it certainly is a miracle that it turned out so well.
As assistant director, my job, for the most part, was to watch the actors do their thing, write down what Professor Burke wanted changed, and then to tell the actors to make the changes. I was backstage before every performance telling the cast what needed to happen differently this time around, and seeing how sick and pained the cast was as a whole. I was in the audience every night, constantly amazed by the commitment of the talented actors who let nothing stand in their way of giving a performance worthy of the script.
Despite every possible difficulty thrown our way, Union’s production of The Queen and the Rebels was an unquestionable success. The show certainly did go wrong, in a multitude of ways, and we just had to deal with it. But the result was a show that couldn’t have been better.