BWW Blog: 'Why Must the Show Go On?' or 'There's No Crying in Theatre'

Why must the show go on?
It can't be all that indispensable.
To me, it really isn't sensible on the whole,
To play a leading role,
While fighting those tears you can't control.
Why kick up your legs
When draining the dregs
Of sorrow's bitter cup?
Because you have read
Some idiot has said
'The curtain must stay up!'

from Noel Coward's "Why Must the Show Go On"

There are any number of events that can cause with an actor to miss a performance. Illness. Accidents. Funerals. Arrests. (Yes, arrests.) And yet, more often than not, actors find some way of getting there and getting on with it where people in others endeavors probably wouldn't and don't.

There is a general belief that actors are children, they're vain, narcissistic ... I can't say that I haven't come across actors who fit that description. But, overall, I have found actors to be remarkably strong and resilient people. I have seen actors go from a funeral to an opening-inside they're in pain but they know that they have to honor their commitment. I've seen actors perform with buckets in the wings to get sick in.

In the spirit of full disclosure and giving credit where credit is due .... I'm going to name some names ...

Last fall, in the Mainstage production of Treasure Island: The Musical, there was a young man who was dancing and sword-fighting with a dislocated kneecap and two torn ligaments. If you saw the show-you wouldn't have been able to pick him out. (Bobby Montaniz)

Another actor was in a car accident and opened two days later with her arm in a sling. I know for a fact that she was running lines in the E.R. (Sari Feldman in Wacky Wednesday)

During the tech week of Sweeney Todd, the Beggar Woman broke her foot going down the chute. She didn't miss a rehearsal or a performance, playing the entire run in a cast. (Phyllis March)

The Leader in Zorba's had an outbreak of chicken pox-into her eyes and throat-and still got through the performance. (Marenne Kashkin)

People have checked themselves out of the hospital to make performances. (Jennifer Collester in The Pajama Game; Kelsey Cheslock in The Adventures of Peter Rabbit)

Julie Peierls was diagnosed with ALS during her tenth season of our educational touring program And These, Our Friends, a safe-driving show. Each day she would come in and tell us what adjustment would have to be made-where she needed help moving a chair, picking up a prop, someone to help her into her jacket. She finished that season. How many people would stay in a job, knowing what was coming? The last year, she never missed a performance.

Longtime Theatre Three veteran Brent Erlanson was performing almost until the day he died.

Ellen Michelmore, Resident Musical Director, who has had health challenges over the last number of years, and has returned to her keyboards show-after-show ...

It might seem crazy-maybe it is-but that's just who they are.

I am sure there are dozens ... hundreds of cases that I am missing in my years at Theatre Three. These are just a few examples. I'm not sure what to label this. Hyper-professionalism? Maniacal commitment? Raving dedication? (I am sure Dr. Seuss could have come up with something-sort of in the On Beyond Zebra vein.) It's not just above and beyond ... and it's over and through and then another hundred miles.

There could be a whole separate piece on those who rally and replace-the actors who step in at the last moment, with no rehearsal (sometimes never even having seen the show) and those people who come in to re-costume, restage, and just support.

Which leads us to this past week ... Two events which I will take in chronological order.

Sunday afternoon, while getting into place for Act Two, Debbie Starker, our Ghost of Christmas Present, had a terrible fall. While waiting for the EMS, in pain that I cannot even fathom, she looked at me and said, "I'm so sorry. I would never do anything to hurt this show." With two broken legs, this was what when through her mind.

The second is Joan St. Onge, our Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Fezziwig. Several weeks ago, Joan told me that she would have to have surgery. She would schedule it so it wouldn't interfere with any rehearsals or performances. This was her priority. When I asked her if she was sure she wanted to do this, she looked at me. "Of course," she said. "This is my family." Joan had surgery on Monday and returned to the show on Tuesday morning.

Maybe the show shouldn't go on-I'm not sure-but it somehow it almost always does.

Photo Credit Sarah E Bush; Theatre Three A CHRISTMAS CAROL Debbie Starker as Ghost of Christmas Present

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