Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Comedy of Personal Errors

Claire Rice bumbles through life…and has the stories to prove it! 

I’m working on an ongoing series on what the theatre scene looks like in the Bay Area on any given night. While I continue doing research for the final article in the series I would like to present you with a comedic break: shit that went wrong a little wrong. You see, sometimes things go really wrong: “Well shit, now the curtain is on fire.” Sometimes things go kind of wrong: “OMG! I’m at the wrong theatre! Be there in five!” Sometimes things go wacky wrong: “Then I dropped a line and everyone was quiet for, like minute before the sound guy made the gun go BANG!”

But sometimes you have little personal comedies that don’t harm anyone else really. They are just publicly embarrassing or privately surreal. Sure, these moments are “teachable” but they are also the ones that stick with you in the middle of the night when you find yourself reexamining your life choices.

Teachable moments feel like shit IN the moment.

Teachable moments feel like shit IN the moment.

I didn’t take it seriously

This one isn’t funny “ha ha” sort of funny…sad. I went right from undergrad to graduate school with only a summer in between. During the long strange summer spent in San Antonio before the move to San Francisco I was alternately bored and anxious. I spent the time working at a strange job and writing. I also submitted my senior thesis, a short play about a Cambodian boy solder, to a prestigious theatre company in New York. I’d never submitted my work anywhere before and I picked this one because it had a famous name attached to it. It seemed like, maybe, they might like the play. But being so isolated in New Mexico until that time, I really didn’t know anything about the American Theatre scene. It was a shot in the dark. So when they called me back asking for the whole script I figured that is what happened every time you submitted a script. Of course, I didn’t put my phone number on my submission, I put my mother’s. By that time, though, I had moved to San Francisco and started school so they had a hell of a time reaching out to me. When they finally got a hold of me I was on my cellphone outside and the poor literary manager at the other end couldn’t hear me. We had to try several more times. When we finally connected I let her know that I had, in fact, sent her my full script and that there wasn’t any more to send. That was the whole play. There wasn’t more to it. She, surprised, said “oh.” And that was it. When I told someone later about this whole thing they looked at me shocked: They called you?! They actually called you!?! They want you to write more?! You TOLD THEM THERE WASN’T ANY MORE!?! YOU NEVER SUBMITTED TO THEM AGAIN!?!?!?!?! That’s right. I had a major literary manager on the phone with me who worked hard to talk to me and I didn’t do anything to further that relationship at all. See…funny sad.

I’ve seen everything you were in…or one thing…that I can’t remember the name of

I was holding auditions and an actor I had really been looking forward to seeing walked in. I’d seen him in a show and I had specifically requested that the casting director invite him. He looked happy to be there. I smiled and shook his hand. “Thank you for coming!” I said. Before my brain could stop my mouth I followed that with, “I’ve loved everything I’ve seen you in.” He followed up my line with “Oh, what have you seen?” My anxiety kicked in: Was it Shakespeare? He was funny. Wait, was he? No. Yes. It was at Theatre X…but I see so many shows there…shit. Wait. Was it there? Maybe it was at Theatre Y…CRAP! “Uhm…wasn’t it…Mid Summer?” He saw through my faux Hollywood-glad-handing-kiss-ass ways and his eyes glazed over and I could tell we were done here. There really wasn’t much of a need to go on.

No, really…please don’t make me see your show

Rob Ready has made a great deal about theatre’s late seating policies on his podcast. Most of his contention is with a “no late seating” policy. He feels that theatre has to work so very hard to keep audience right now, why are we turning any of them away? So what if they are ten or fifteen minutes late. They want to see the show. Let them see the show. The last show I directed had a no late seating policy for various reasons. The first three minutes where in utter darkness. The audience door was used as an entrance frequently. The audience door also faced the audience making it particularly distracting when it was opened or closed for any reason. I felt justified in the policy. I mean, sure. I was the one who directed it that way so I also ENSURED the policy had to be in place. Anyway, during the run of that show, Cutting Ball was showing “Communique” which I had been looking forward to. I bought a ticket for one of the last performances. I laughed, LAUGHED, when I got an email that was so hand-holding I thought it was ridiculous. (Read the following like a teenager who has a permanent eye roll in place.) A little history on the play was nice, but detailed information on when to arrive…I mean come on. I bought the ticket! I know what time the show starts! I’m not an idiot! (Teenage mode off.) But I am an idiot. The email was sent, in part, because the show started at 7:30pm…not 8pm. A follow up email also had that information. In bold. My ticket had that information. Everything had that information. Except my mind. My idiot mind. I showed up at 7:50. Rob Ready, you would have been proud. That theatre was bending over backwards to get me in. In hushed tones they welcomed me and told me not to worry. They called up the assistant stage manager on headset who picked out a seat. She was in communication with the stage manager over when a break in the action would happen so I could be seated. There were limited doors into the theatre so I would need to be guided into the house. I could see the actors waiting to enter where I would eventually be lead. Everyone was so nice. And I could see how much trouble I was causing. “You know, I’m sorry. I think I’ll just go.” No, no…they said…just wait a few more minutes. “I am so embarrassed, please…” No, really, it’s Ok. That house manager was so nice. Everyone was so nice. They wanted me to see the show. “No, please don’t make me go in there now.” I couldn’t I couldn’t be the late person. The late THEATRE person. After all the emails and the trouble. I couldn’t do it. I ran out of that theatre and went home and had a stiff drink.

I fell asleep during a show…while running lights

I was running lights for The Importance of Being Earnest. It was an easy job. The stage manager was good and I just had to hit a “go” button. The booth was warm…and full of bees. The theatre was having a problem with a wasp nest in the fly grid. The nest had been sprayed, which meant drunken wasps were flying around harmlessly everywhere. A large number of them found their final destination in the booth. Also, I had a crush on the young man playing Reverend Canon Chasuble. He was funny, handsome and very talented. The show was a great show all around. Beautiful set design, gorgeous costumes, and lively comedic timing. So there were a number of reasons I should not have been able to fall asleep. A drunk and disorderly wasp might land stinger side down. The handsome man might come up and see me during intermission. The show was worth watching. This is why I don’t chalk it up to “being tired.” Nope. I had to WORK at that nap. I let myself sleep. My heavy eyelids slipped somewhere in the first act and I let them go. Speaking of the word “go”, this word filtered into my dreams and acted like a shot of adrenaline. I heard it and snapped awake and acted. I hit that “go” button with as much force as I could. Of course, it wasn’t my go. It was a sound cue. I plunged the stage into the pink lights for the act scene change. It was at that moment the adrenaline, sensing no immediate danger after all, left my system and sleepy confusion returned. Where was I? What happened? Who are all these people? The stage manager yelled something in my ear and my fingers fluttered over the board. I hit the “go” button again and brought in the lights for the following act. After a furious moment of hitting buttons I was only vaguely familiar with, a short disco ensued onstage before the lights settled into their proper places. We all breathed a sigh of relief. The terror was over. And then a wasp landed on me.

My costume fell off

Matthew Lillard gave a great interview to the AV Club about his career. He talks at length about his experiences doing bad movies. He even goes so far as to say that if his name is at the top of a call sheet, you know it’s not a great movie. “And being an actor, when you sign onto a project—whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent— you kind of fall in love with it. You fall in love with the experience, you fall in love with the memories.” Keeping that quote in mind, know that when I say I was in a show where I was dressed in the Princess Leia gold bikini, standing next to Perseus, looking on at our fallen hero (a Teddy Ruxpin), and surrounded by the dead bodies of our enemies and photo copy clerk rivals when the bottom of my costume fell off…well…I’m in love with that memory. I love telling that story. If you’ve been at a bar with me late enough into the night, you’ve heard that story. I might have even already told it on this blog. I’ve told it so many times I’m sure the telling of it has colored the actual memories. As a director I tell my actors again and again that they should be human beings on stage. React when things happen. If your clothes were to fall off, don’t stare down at them stupidly and wish them back onto your body. Don’t stand in your nude underwear and suddenly hope that you shaved down there sufficiently. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The audience laughed, as they should have. And when I caught the eye of an audience member she mouthed to me “You’re so brave.” It was all I could do to not bust up laughing.

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