Embarrassing moments. We all suffer them. My most excruciating ones get written into a plot. Some poor, schmuck character gets hit upside the head with one of my humiliating life experiences and poof, I forget about it—a sort of emotional enema. Hey, it works, but I have one experience left that is so pathetic and ridiculous and hysterically funny that it’s a keeper for one of my characters. I think kick-butt heroine Phil Hafeldt is getting the honors in her next adventure. She’s quirky and tough enough to get through it. I still can’t think about it without laughing and cringing at the same time.
A less devastating but funny occurrence happened on stage at Racine Theatre Guild—and thanks to all the Powers that be everywhere in the universe—it happened during rehearsal and not during an actual performance. But the discomfort lingers.
Eons ago, I did a lot of comedy, so got somewhat accustomed to unexpected wrenches sabotaging the works. Audiences rarely know the mayhem that happens behind the scenes, horrible accidents, broken bones and sprains, costumes that come apart, props that disappear, sets that collapse, an endless set of catastrophes that marvelous crews save, correct, stitch, and paste back together so the performers can be shoved back out in front of the audience. I can’t imagine the trauma if my calamity had played out in front of patrons. Actors, crew and the director (Norman McPhee) got the brunt of it.
Tech reheasal, two nights before full dress, and our first night on the actual set, Petruccio (Jim Iaquinta) drags me by one arm, a violently resisting shrew, Kate, up the balcony steps. He gets a foot on the balcony and the entire staircase collapses. I’m swinging in the air, worrying about the crew, running with arms outstretched. In period costume, I’m also hoping I haven’t worn skimpy underwear, while praying Petruccio can hold on, so I don’t fall and crush the nice carpenters. (I’ve never been a lightweight.)
Petruccio hauls me up, asks me if I’m OK, takes my numb-brained nod as a yes, and goes on with his lines. His next blocking move is to throw me over his shoulder. Now it’s an even longer drop to the stage floor. He isn’t afraid of heights, so he stands with the tips of his toes off the edge of a balcony with no railing. I screamed so horribly people came running from everywhere in building. Meanwhile, Petruccio’s still delivering his lines and the director is gleefully shouting: Now, that’s how I want you to scream! (To be honest, I did use a rendition of that scream every performance.)
That was the set up for the impending humiliation, but not the first warning. That came when the costume lady takes me into the bathroom—which had me wondering why not the wardrobe room—and tells me all of my costumes have to be altered. The director wants to make use of the rack I downplayed with minimizer bras my entire life. I dutifully get into the wedding costume. She takes a scissors and hacks out a chunk of the bodice. I shriek, horrified and gob-struck. (Think da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine but much lower.)
Next night is dress rehearsal. The staircase has been tacked back together and now, thankyouthankyou, has a railing. We get up to the balcony, lines and timing are going great, Petruccio slings me over his shoulders. I inhale to scream with appropriate gusto, and my boobs fall out of the gown. Wardrobe malfunction? Uh-no. More like wardrobe catastrophe.
The director can’t see what’s happening beyond my butt in the air and me furiously wriggling to reinsert my bosoms. He knows something is going on because the two actors to one side of the balcony are now rolling on the floor with laughter. There’s just so damn much of me that it takes FOREVER to get them back in place and hold them there. In comparison, it wasn’t quite as humiliating as the debacle I’m saving for Phil, but maybe now I can forget those guys, holding their sides, laughing their heads off.
Solution/moral of the story: Every night I surgical-glued my tatas into a cut down bra and ripped it off after performances. I lost a lot of skin but saved a lot of face.
I could caption this What We Do For Our Art or Was I Ever That Young?