06:09:57 am on
Thursday 21 Jun 2018

Backstage
AJ Robinson


Behind the scenes on Star Wars

Over the years that I participated in community theatre, I think the most fun I had was backstage. My mom and dad were always asking me, “Why don’t you want to act, get onstage?”


You’d make a good actor.

That last bit was my father’s assessment of my ability to learn a script. Not merely one role, mind you; no, I would learn the entire all or most of the parts. By opening night, I could recite it verbatim!

Everybody asked me if I had a photographic memory. I explained that I didn’t. I remember what I hear, especially if I hear it several times.

While Oscar, Felix, Speed and the gang would be onstage, going through the various scenes, I’d be on the other side of the flats lip-syncing the lines and mimicking their actions. The rest of the crew found it hilarious! During the cast party, I did a ten-minute scene to the hoots and applause of all assembled.

I even remember one show, Anastasia, where one of the actors was having trouble with his lines. I started feeding them to him from backstage. This arrangement worked well, until the director heard me and put an end to it; the director wanted the actor to play the role himself.

We had a similar problem on the musical Taking My Turn, which is about a group of retirees. This meant the entire cast was, to put it diplomatically, little “up there” in years. One of the cast members had some trouble remembering his songs. He was solid with the lines, but his songs were an issue.


My wife, Jo Ann, came up with the solution.

We came up with a rather amusing solution: my wife Jo Ann, at the time she was my girlfriend, would get on a headset backstage and actor wore a tiny earpiece. Jo Ann would sing him his first line of a song and then he’d take it from there. Here was the tough part: whatever way Jo Ann sang it, that’s how he did it; she had to be on key or he’d screw it up!

In Kiss Me, Kate we had the exact opposite problem. The male lead had the most incredible singing voice and could nail every song with gusto. He’d sung with the Met in New York City. His lines, well, not so much.

Backstage, we gathered to brainstorm and came up with a plan: hidden pages. In the opening scene, we gave him a clipboard, in his dressing room, “congratulatory telegrams” taped to his makeup mirror, during the wedding scene Kate’s bouquet had little notes sticking out of it. Yet, as always, I knew every word by opening night. Bob, the lead, would come off stage after each scene, turn to me and say, “Okay, which lines did I blow this time?” The whole crew found it most amusing.

Ah, but the topper of them all was Brigadoon, which the cast and crew called “Bridge of Doom”! Let’s just say the show had numerous technical and artistic issues. Yet, as with any show, any cast, we faced those problems with gumption and humor.

During the ballet scene, of Brigadoon, when the girls were prancing about on stage, those of us in the light booth, which was behind the audience, matched their moves. There were two teens, two old players and me, in that booth.

We were in a tight and confined space. Our ability to move like them was nothing short of a miracle. Moreover, given our location, the audience couldn’t see us, but the cast could.

The girls later said they found it one of the funniest things they’d ever seen.


Backstage was more fun.

There was little mystery as to why I preferred working backstage. Why be on stage in front of a bunch of strangers every night and have to say the same lines, repeatedly? Not for me because hanging with the crew and getting to share some silliness was much more fun.

 

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

More by AJ Robinson:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.