I saw Seton Hill’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone last night, which I loved.
After I left the theater, I realized I left my hat under the seat, so I went back into the house for it. As I passed in front of the stage, Karen Glass and a line of black-clad theater technicians walked out from behind a curtain. I remember thinking to myself, “This must be the number where the techies strike the fourth wall.”
My subconscious must have been particularly impressed by that joke, because overnight I dreamed I was a stagehand during a metatheatrical musical number called “Butts in Seats,” in which my job was to move a curtain leg out of the way of a set change.
The number just before “Butts in Seats” seems to have been from Annie, because John Noble (who played Daddy Warbucks when my daughter was Annie, and who will be reprising his same role next weekend) was onstage dressed in a tux, having a telephone conversation. The scene ended with John doing a long take and giving a “What am I gonna do?” gesture to the audience while “sad trombones” played.
Perhaps I just happened to be watching the show from backstage, and I noticed the curtain was about to be caught. At any rate, there I was holding the curtain, and nobody came to relieve me. I could feel tension in the curtain, and realized if I let it go it would probably knock a flat over onto the props table, so I just kept holding it.
Meanwhile, many of the stage crew I had just seen striking The Drowsy Chaperone filed onto the stage wearing tool belts and holding power drills, singing a song about papering the house with comp tickets.
The lyrics I remember were “Technic-al-ly your tickets were free. / Economic’ly the house is (**RATCHET SOUND**) em-em-empty,” delivered with vaudeville comic leg motions.
Then an ensemble dressed as stagehands entered, pursuing a rope that they were choreographed to fumble. There were slide whistles and gongs in the musical score, as two people bending over to pick something up bonked heads, and someone did the bit with carrying a board over your shoulder and turning around to see what’s behind you, thus forcing the people on either side of you to hit the floor. That sort of thing.
A person standing next to me, identified by my dreaming mind as an actual stage hand, noticed I was holding back this curtain and started trying to tie it off. After a particularly well-done gag, we exchanged friendly glances and shared a chuckle. The scene was corny, but the performers were selling it.
Then the music stopped, and suddenly the performers were standing there dumbstruck, and an offstage voice — that my dreaming mind recognized as the producer of the show in which the song “Butts in Seats” featured — began berating the performers as if they were real stagehands who had just made multiple ridiculous blunders.
“Fire everyone involved in that set change!” the offstage voice of the producer thundered, apparently not aware that he was yelling at actors who had been choreographed to look like they couldn’t handle the set change.
The actors, ashen-faced, started shuffling off stage. I exchanged a shocked glance with the real stagehand next to me.
“You there, at the curtain,” the voice boomed.
My companion, who in his efforts to secure the curtain had stepped partially onstage, pointed gingerly at himself, as if to say, “Do you mean me?”
“Yes, you!” said the voice. “You’re fired too! Get out of here!”
My companion sadly took off his head headset, left it on a stool, and walked away.
Just as I was thinking that all this time spent on the anonymous stagehand’s reaction was slowing down the pace of the scene, it was my turn.
“And who’s that holding onto the curtain?” said the voice, dripping with mock deference. “What are you doing still standing there? Do you think you’re special? Do you think I’m making an exception for you?”
Now everybody backstage, who could see I was holding a curtain to keep the set from toppling over, was watching me to see what I’d do.
“You’re fired, too!” said the voice. “Get out of here!”
My dreaming mind told me that, if I obeyed the voice, abandoned my post, and let the set destroy itself, nobody would blame me, and in fact a crowd would probably burst into applause.
I kept waiting for the orchestra to start playing, or for another stage hand to come take the curtain out of my hands. In my dream I noticed part of the Star Trek turbolift set backstage, and idly thought it would be nice if my dream would please shift now to a tour of the Enterprise. Even a “walked into class to give the final exam but forgot to bring enough copies” nightmare would have been welcome.
But there I was, still holding the curtain, with everyone watching me, waiting to see what I would do.
At that moment, I woke up — my cheeks were burning with shame and rage, and my fingers were gripping my blanket.
Then I started writing this blog post.