The most entertaining job I’ve ever had was working for a touring children’s theatre.
My tour partner and I were responsible for teaching a musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk to up to 100 children each week. We meandered around the Midwest in our pickup that held the set, costumes, props and our luggage.
Training for this endeavor was a bit like bootcamp. A dozen theatre majors (many fresh out of college) converged on a small down in southwestern Minnesota in early June. In a week’s time, we had learned our shows, bonded with other company members, and went through our most arduous task: trying to teach a number from our show whilst all the other company members pretended to be unruly children.
Some company members worked from past experiences with children, others made up aggressive avatars. Sometimes you were locked out of the building while trying to teach, sometimes the “children” produced knives or beer or cigarettes. Sometimes they didn’t speak english. Or had Terrets. It was the ultimate test in keeping your cool under pressure.
Once on the road, the most pressing task became finding ways to entertain yourself in small Midwestern towns after completing your 4 hour work day. Karaoke and dive bars became staples, as did inordinate time spent watching cable in hotel rooms and whiling away time in the hot tub or pool (if the hotel had one that week).
At the end of tour, everyone came back together and swapped memorable stories from their respective tours. The pair who had done Snow White recounted the story of the small bumble bee who had been so nervous all week he hadn’t defecated…until he was onstage during the performance.
Fortunately, our tour didn’t have any mishaps involving uncontrolled bodily functions. We did, however, have a bit of an accident prior to our final performance.
We were getting children ready in the band room of the local high school. We had already done our own hair and makeup. The costume design for the giant and the giant’s wife was Flinstones-inspired. My dress had obviously been intended for a much shorter actress, so I had taken to wearing leggings underneath it. I was breaking in a new pair of leopard print leggings from Hot Topic.
A small contingent of girls were setting next to the cabinets on top of which the band trophies were perched. Suddenly, some structural component of the cabinet broke and trophies rained down onto the floor.
Luckily, most of them missed hitting the girls. One unfortunate little actress was grazed. She was in tears, understandably. But it was minutes before the show started, and we needed to get her onstage to say her lines. My tour partner looked at me. “You take this one,” he said.
Determined, I tried to reason with the girl:
“Listen, I know a trophy just fell on your head, but we need you to go on. Think of all the hard work you’ve done this week. And your friends and family are out there, waiting to cheer you on…”
She continued to cry.
I decided it might be a better approach to get down on her level and be eye to eye with her. I bent over to console her. As I did, I heard a sonorous RIIIIP that indicated my new leggings had spilt down the crotch.
The girls tears immediately turned to raucous laughter.
“Ok, you’re FINE. Get in line to go onstage.”
She trotted over to her friends, who joined her in giggling as soon as they had been informed of my wardrobe malfunction.
It’s stories like this one that remind me why I do theatre. 🙂