Break a Leg

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Maybe it was a little much to expect doing Shakespeare in a community theater group, and in a small community at that. The call for auditions went out to the world by way of paper signs stapled to phone poles and trees along the main street throughout town. The theater was located in a hundred year old school building, it seated around fifty people, and did have a nice small stage and lighting. Citizens that had attended events there before brought their own cushions for the hard, wooden seats. 

I was walking my dog Buster one morning and spotted the new posting on a phone pole. Buster liked to sniff around at the base of a pole to get the latest dog news. The sign read:

“Casting call: Come one, come all. No experience required, just a strong desire to revive local theater in town and entertain our friends and families. This could be your chance to show that hidden talent that will lead you to fame and fortune in Hollywood! Auditions will be Saturday starting at 8AM sharp at the Central school.”

I thought about that for a minute, and then thought about the fame and fortune in Hollywood, and said to Buster, “This could be our big chance.” He nodded at me as he lifted his leg on the base of the pole. He was done reading.

As Saturday approached, I was feeling more and more confident of my theatrical future as I practiced in front of the mirror when I stepped out of the shower in the morning. Just in case there’d be a nude scene, I’d be ready. My main problem was that I’d never been in any kind of play or film since third grade when I played the rat in Wind in the Willows. True, that was more than fifty years ago, and I only had a brief appearance, and frankly, my agent, who was my mother, should have gotten me a better gig. The academy passed me over without even a mention, maybe because my teacher never sold the movie rights for the production. It was filmed, but dad later managed to lose the reel of Super Eight it was preserved on. 

Friday night arrived and I got to bed early to be fresh and sharp for the morning audition. Plus, I hadn’t been up by 8AM on a Saturday morning in years. Morning arrived and it was a beautiful fall day. I had a light breakfast and a cup of coffee. But I confess, I did have a small case of the jitters in anticipation of my embarking on my acting career. 

I hooked the leash to Buster, who now I considered my agent, and we headed down the street toward the old Central School. As I mentioned, our town is pretty small. Once a booming mining town on the Mexican border of Arizona, it was now a rickety old burgh clinging to the sides of a canyon in the desert mountains, inhabited by a variety of misfits and creative types that found a home away from most of the insanity the rest of the world liked to live in. I fit right in. 

A crowd had gathered at the entrance to the Central school, or at least a crowd by our standards. Twelve people. The director, standing on the steps leading up to the door, waited a few minutes to see if anyone else might show up, then began his introduction. 

“Good morning. Most of you know me as the bartender over at the Main Street Saloon, but I am the director of this production. My experience is extensive as I’ve produced plays in several towns, including here, until we had some minor problems with funding. I know those of you here will step up and together we will produce a successful production of Charles Dicken’s, A Christmas Carol.” He paused, and one by one we clapped haphazardly. “Remember,” he said, “this is a holiday classic, and we have to focus on being dramatic, bringing our characters to life for the audience.” 

Well, I thought, it’s not Hamlet, but a beloved Christmas story by Dickens is a great start for a budding acting career. I could see my version of Ebenezer Scrooge prowling the stage already. Humbug! 

The director continued. “I’m sure you all know the story. The theater is on the third floor, so I’ll have you each come up one at a time and we’ll do a brief reading for different parts. FYI, it appears we have a few more parts than people auditioning, so relax and enjoy, you will probably get a role. Congratulations.” There was a murmur from the crowd.

Things were looking up, I thought, not that all of my practicing would not be enough to land a part anyway. We were called in one at a time, and then waited in the lounge until all of us were done. I was the last one to go.

“Okay, sir,” the director said, “this will take about five minutes. Please relax and just read the bits of script I give you. When done, we have coffee and donuts in the lounge. Wait there, meet your fellow actors, and I’ll be in shortly to pass out your assignments and give the schedules and information you’ll need for getting the ready in time. Our opening date will the Friday night on the week before Christmas, followed by a matinee on the Saturday and Sunday following. Three shows in all. Okay, ready?”

“Yes sir,” I said. I glanced down at the papers he handed to me and gave each line my best shot. I felt pretty confident I nailed it and was already planning in my head how I’d portray old Ebenezer. 

“Go relax now,” he said. “I’ll be in shortly.” 

I wandered down the hall to the lounge. It was abuzz with chattering aspiring actors, and I joined in. I looked around and figured my competition wasn’t much. My stardom was on track. 

An hour went by and finally the door opened, and the director entered. The crowd hushed and he took a spot at the front of the room to make the announcements. 

“First,” he said, “thank you all for coming this morning. I appreciate the interest and support of community theater in our town. All of you qualified for at least one role in the story, and a few of you will be asked to do two. Also, we have some behind the scenes jobs I will appoint. When I call your name, step forward and grab your script. We’ll need to start studying our lines right away as Christmas is coming up fast.”

 One by one the roles were passed out and there was only two of us left. I’d been passed over for Scrooge and all three ghosts, and Bob Cratchit and every other role I could think of. Finally, he pointed at me, and I went forward to receive my fate. He handed me a folder and I glanced down to find the name of my character: Jacob Marley. I was certain there must be some mistake. I’d hardly have any lines. Marley was dead before the story even began. After the opening scene, I’d be sitting in the seats watching the show. The director, noticing my lack of joy for the situation, said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got another very important role for you. You will be running the lights when your time on stage is done. The lighting is vital in a ghost story like this. I think you’ve got the talent for this.” I wondered why he thought that, then I remembered writing on the information form we filled out that I had a temporary job with the town putting up the Christmas lights over Main Street. I started to object but stopped myself in time.

“Thank you,” I said. I was going to be the best Jacob Marley ever. Of course, in competition for that title I have Leo G Carrol, Sir Alec Guinness, Basil Rathbone and many others. I could just see my face on the door knocker in the beginning. As for being the lighting guy, I did do a heck of a job stringing those lights from the cherry picker, and I would knock them dead with lighting special effects. They have academy awards for those special effects guys when the eventual film comes out. It would be a piece of cake. So I thought. 

Rehearsals were a dark comedy all on their own. The guy that was playing Fezziwig, who in real life was the town mechanic, got so caught up in the swirling, joyful dancing at the party he tripped and fell, spraining his ankle and knocking himself out of the show just days before opening night. The director chose the ghost of Christmas future to replace him in addition to playing the ghost, because the ghost figure had no lines at all. She would have to study fast, and we’d have to change Mr. Fezziwig to Ms. Fezziwig. The director was beginning to look haggard and seemed to be drinking a lot as our first night opened. His inspirational speech prior to curtain time focused on the dramatic aspects of our characters. His favorite slogan: be dramatic. 

Fortunately, the Friday night show had light attendance so we could work out the many kinks while minimizing the humiliation. Saturday went a little smoother, and we had confidence that the sold out grand finale would be a success. By then I had mastered the lights job, working out of what looked like a small cage with a wide variety of levers and switches just off stage right. I could see out to the audience but was partially hidden from their view. I had red, blue and white stage lights, low and high, and a spotlight from the back of the room I could direct to a specific spot at key moments. 

Sunday arrived and we all felt confident. The crowd filled the seats and standing room in back. I brought Buster for good luck as I had the light cage to keep him with me. Christmas was just days away. I set up the lights for my opening scene as Marley, strapped on my chains and made my entrance, moaning and groaning and clanking and dragging my chains, the chains I’d forged in life. Scrooge reacted as rehearsed as fearful and skeptical at the same time. As I turned to fade back to my lighting booth one of my chains snagged the corner of the chair Scrooge was cowering in, I started to go down, dragging the chair over, tossing Scrooge to the floor. We both floundered around like fish out of water, and I managed to crawl slowly on the floor to my sanctuary in the booth, the chains dragging behind me, as the director pulled the curtains closed to part one. There was a mix of gasps and laughter from the audience. Dickens would not have been happy. It was an omen.

After the set change, the curtains opened, and the show moved on. Buster was getting anxious in the lighting cage, so I gave him a bowl of water to settle him down. In hindsight, maybe that was not the best idea. 

We made it through the ghost of the past and the ghost of the present, and finally, we were at the ghost of Christmas future, the tall, frightening specter in black hood and robes pointing a bony finger at the grave of Scrooge. Of course, the specter was also the woman from the bank in town who was also Ms. Fezziwig. She was five foot four and the too long robes pooled around her. It’s a little fuzzy now, but it was right about this time I realized that my cage door was open, and Buster was missing in action. I flashed all the wild colors of light for a brief dramatic effect, then clicked on the spotlight to highlight the big moment of the ghost, the cowering Scrooge and the tombstone with his name on it. To my horror, there was one more being on stage, and there was Buster in the glaring white light, standing proudly lifting his leg and watering the base of the Scrooge gravestone. The crowd loved it and broke out cheering, as the director tried to grab him and get him off the stage, but evading capture was one of his favorite games. Before someone managed to get the curtain closed, the director had knocked over the tombstone and Buster had gotten tangled in the robes of the ghost, knocking her down as well. The crowd was roaring. 

The director stood up, dusted himself off, and took a deep bow. Shrugging his shoulders he said, “Well, that was dramatic!”

END WC:2145

179 thoughts on “Break a Leg

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