David Bruce: Theater Anecdotes

In Miami, Florida, during a production of a murder mystery play that was set in London, England, an emergency arose that required the presence of Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz, who was in the audience. No one knew what Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz looked like, but rather than interrupt the play to make an announcement from the stage, the female lead put the news into the play. On stage, she asked, “Has Inspector Thorpe left?” Hearing from the other actor that he had left, she then said, “That’s pity. I have a message for him from Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz. His mother-in-law’s home was broken into, and she needs to get in touch with him right away.” A moment later, Police Captain Ron Finkiewicz jumped up and left to take care of the emergency. Later, he said, “It was so smooth that it took a moment to sink in. All of a sudden it dawned on me. The play was about a murder in London, not Poland. Why would there be someone with a Polish name like mine in it?”

While he was kindergarten, children’s book author Tomie DePaola hoped to get the lead role in the class production of Peter Rabbit, but because he talked so much, his teacher gave him the minor role of Flopsy instead. In his dancing class, he had learned that when acting on stage, he should react to what the other actors did. Therefore, when the actor playing Peter Rabbit did anything, Flopsy reacted—opening his mouth in shock, waving his arms, putting his hands over his ears. Naturally, all this reacting got a lot of attention and gave the audience pleasure—with the result that Flopsy stole the show. Afterward, Tomie’s mother made him apologize to his teacher and to the child playing Peter Rabbit, but Tomie apologized when no one could hear him, because he wasn’t very sorry.

The stage directions in the plays of lesbian performance artist Holly Hughes are often witty. For example, a stage direction in The Well of Horniness says, “Feel free to go too far; it’s the only way to go in this play.” And in World Without End, a stage direction refers to “an opportunity for acting, which I feel should be avoided at all costs.” Later in World Without End, a stage direction refers to the music for a scene: “From offstage—left preferably —comes the sound of an accordion. I’d prefer a set of bagpipes, but an accordion is acceptable, considering the great shortage of accomplished lesbian bagpipe players. Not that I can tell the difference between between well- and badly played bagpipes.”

Actress/comedian/writer Ann Randolph got her start in performing when she was hired to work with mental patients at the Athens Mental Health Center while studying theater at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. One of the activities she did was to write several plays for the patients to perform. Some of the things she saw at the Mental Health Center became part of the plays she wrote. According to Ms. Randolph, “I think it shaped me because I was able to see … how devastating mental illness is. I wanted to immediately tell the stories that I was hearing up there. I wanted to tell them on stage. They were amazing stories.” The plays were popular with the patients—one patient even requested, “Don’t discharge me until the play is over.”

Alexandre Dumas invited a friend to attend with him the premiere of one of his plays. During the intermission, Mr. Dumas remarked that he had the previous night in the same theater seen a production of Fournet’s play Gladiator. The friend asked about the production, and Mr. Dumas replied that it was “boring. People actually fell asleep.” The friend pointed to a member of the audience who was dozing in his seat and said, “Apparently, your play isn’t particularly riveting, either.” Mr. Dumas disagreed: “My dear friend, you are mistaken. He is left over from last night!”

Despite his profession, nineteenth-century cartoonist Bernhard Gillam took a serious view of life. His friend and fellow cartoonist, Eugene Zimmerman, once took him to see a comic play. While the other members of the audience laughed, Mr. Gillam scowled. After the play was over and they were leaving the theater, Mr. Gillam turned to Mr. Zimmerman and said, “If you ever dare to take me to see such rot again, I’ll kill you.”

In the Broadway musical Red, Hot, and Blue!, Ethel Merman was supposed to sing the lyric, “Here I sit above the town in my pet pailletted gown”—paillettes are long, narrow spangles. She wanted to wear a pailletted gown while singing the song, but the producer protested that a pailletted gown would cost $1,000. Ms. Merman replied, “No gown, no song.” The producer paid for the dress.

When children’s book illustrator Denise Fleming was a young girl, she and the neighborhood kids put on plays, charging other kids buttons for admission. Her young neighbor Charlie once tore all the buttons off his shirt so he could pay for himself and his friends to attend one of the plays.

While attending Yale University, movie actress Jodie Foster got a role in an off-campus student play—her first role on the stage. On opening night, she warned reporters that they had better write about more than just her—because if they wrote about just her, the other actors “will kill me.”

At Ferney, Voltaire had a church built. In it, he had a stage built for the performances of plays, saying, “If you meet any of the devout, tell them that I’ve built a church; if you meet pleasant people, tell them I’ve finished a theater.”

After watching Eve Ensler perform her play The Vagina Monologues, an entranced 70-year-old man told her that he “finally got it.” A few weeks later, he brought his girlfriend to the play, and she thanked Ms. Ensler.

While attending a rehearsal of a play by Voltaire, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, went to sleep. Voltaire ordered, “Wake him up. He seems to imagine that he’s in the audience.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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