LITERATURE OUT LOUD
Audio of this piece is available at the bottom of the post.
I Lit The Stage On Fire
This particular story is an adventure that I had that an audience got to share. This is at the University of Utah a good thirty years ago. I really only had one interesting incident that endangered my life, but also threatened the entire audience. My wife and I were in "Romeo and Juliet". It was being performed on the main stage of the Pioneer Memorial Theatre. It's a great stage; it's got a loge; it's got a balcony; seats hundreds of patrons. The seats have the names of pioneers on the armrests, so that's why it's called the Pioneer Memorial Theatre. I'd never even been to a show in that theatre before; I didn't realize that's why it was called that.
The best news is that since it's an Equity stage, as students, we got paid - in the form of free tuition for the semester. We were acting with some really great actors I have crossed paths with again and again since then. It was a great experience and we still laugh about the night I lit the stage on fire.
Really. It was a small flame, but it was a small fire. The audience knew it was a fire. I knew it was a fire and had to make a decision.
I was playing Balthazar, just a small speaking part who is the servant of Romeo. I was really excited because the whole play turns on the speech I give to Romeo, telling him Juliet's dead and the audience would go completely silent anticipating how the play was about to become an incredible tragedy, caused by a simple speech by a servant who thought he was telling his master about his wife.
I felt really bad in this production for the guy playing the apothecary scene right after mine. He had memorized his part but since we were running a little bit long, cut the scene three nights before the show, and that was after all the costumes and sets had been built for this scene and I don't know how he felt, but it would have crushed me as an actor. I'm glad my part didn't get cut.
I was playing a scene with two of the leads, Mercutio and Benvolio, Max Robinson was playing Mercutio and if you saw his performance of that you know what an exquisite thing he was able to make out of a character who dies in the second act. These are two of Romeo's best friends and as Romeo's servant I was carrying this torch with these two guys as we searched for Romeo. Now, he's slipped off to see Juliet, but we're wandering around, boisterously making our way home calling out his name. The scenery department had built this great wall which was about 4 feet high, and we were to lean over the wall into the Capulet's orchard. The prop department had arranged for us to use live flame on stage, which is illegal now unless you have the proper training and certificates. But they had taken some gel sterno that's usually used for warming trays underneath food and stuck some in a tin can on the top of a stick. It was a great prop, and it was a little dangerous; sometimes a little smoky.
We were constantly having to refill the tin cans, and as the stuff heated up it would liquefy. So one night, as we leaned over the wall and called for Romeo, I stuck my torch on the other side of the wall to light the orchard as we searched for Romeo. The torch dipped, and the liquid sterno dropped out of the tin can into a small puddle on the floor, which would have been fine.
But it stayed lit.
Now there was a small flame; it's about 3 inches tall on the stage. We could see it; we could tell the audience could see it because there were some murmurs in the crowd. Everything got silent. We had a little short, stocky stage manager. She was ready to run on stage with her fire extinguisher when I motioned to the other two actors to lift me over the wall. I was going to stomp on it when I got to the other side of the wall, and if I climbed the wall on my own, there was a chance the Styrofoam would fall over and maybe get on the flames.
Scott Wells was playing Benvolio and he and Max Robinson lifted me up. They unceremoniously dumped me over the wall. I landed on my feet, and one of my feet serendipitously landed on the flame.
There had been an extended silence in the audience while this was going on. "Was it a real fire?" they're wondering. "Was it planned?" I looked down at my foot for the flame, and seeing none, I lifted up one of feet to look at it.
The audience started to laugh, and they knew everybody was all right. I started to climb over the wall and Scott and Max grabbed me and we beat a hasty exit.
When you do a live stage production, people can listen downstairs on monitors so they know what's going on with the show. So those listening downstairs were wondering what was so funny about Mercutio, Balthazar and Benvolio looking for Romeo. We'd never had any laughs in that part before. We decided we didn't want to get laughs that way again. So I made sure that every night after that my torch had as little liquid sterno in it as possible.
LITERATURE OUT LOUD -- see and hear great literature Audio narrations with synchronized visual text
The Complete Collection of
all 154 poems $3.99 DVD with FREE shipping
Click on Amazon Payment button to order