Friday, June 27, 2014

Backstage Drama - All In a Day's Work - Tracy Krauss

Photo courtesy of Tumbler Ridge News
“Everybody take a deep breath.” I purposely inhaled to demonstrate. “Everything is going to be fine. You know the motto.”

A couple of veterans, sporting manly beards despite the fact that neither one of them was quite eighteen, nodded. “The show must go on,” Poseidon said.

“That’s right.” I smiled reassuringly.

“You better go check on Hermes, though. Some of the girls are pretty emotional and you know how he can get.” It was Zeus talking. “It might throw him off for Act Two.”

Indeed, I did know how ‘Hermes’ could get. New to my drama troupe, he was a talented actor but was a bit of a wild card. One day he was quick, witty and totally in character. The next day he might as well read his lines from a dictionary, it was so dry. He’d even been known to just up and leave rehearsal when he suddenly felt angry or uncomfortable. I should have cut him long ago, but being a bit of a soft touch, I saw how being part of our tightly knit drama group might boost his self-confidence. Plus, strong male actors aren’t easy to come by in the boondocks.

This was the scene a few months ago at the final performance of my stage play, MUTINY ON MT OLYMPUS. The truth is, we were heading for a near mutiny backstage. All in a day’s work.

In my ‘real’ life I teach Secondary School Theater Arts at our local high school. Believe me when I say there is often more drama outside the classroom than in it.

In this particular instance, Hermes (I am using his stage name) said something very inappropriate during the performance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time. Now, I encourage my students to improvise their way through a scene if necessary, and most of the veterans have become quite good at it, often adding the odd one-liner that gets a good laugh during the course of any given show. The ‘messenger-god’ wasn’t quite as adept and obviously didn’t understand the line between innuendo and being downright crude. The night before, his attempt at humor brought a gasp from the audience, followed by a tittering apology from me at intermission. (You just never know what might come out of the mouth of a teenager…)

The next day, after fielding two telephone calls from concerned parents who had heard the show wasn’t suitable for children, I read the riot act to the entire cast. The sober faces of thirty-three teens aged thirteen to eighteen told me they understood the seriousness of the previous evening’s faux pas. My reputation, not to mention the future of the drama program, was on the line. I also had a very serious private discussion with Hermes. Everyone got the message – or at least I thought so.

The final performance got under way. This was their fourth time in front of an audience and energy was high. Witty one-liners were flying about the stage, and the audience was loving the show. And then he did it again. Same spot, different word, just as bad. I groaned.

As soon as intermission hit, my stage manager rushed out to get me. “You better come backstage, quick. Everyone is freaking out.”

I took a deep breath, smiled and headed behind the curtain. Several veterans were loitering as far away from the source of the drama as possible. These are kids who started drama with me as young as thirteen and were now about to graduate. They’d been in seven or eight shows each and knew they needed to stay focused. Poseidon and Zeus were among them. 

Further down the line some of the female cast were not as composed. Mascara was running down the cheeks of at least five faces. Aphrodite, an emotional creature even in real life, was crying her eyes out. “Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay,” I repeated.

“But… but he’s ruined the show!”

“It’ll be fine. The show must go on.”

“But what if you get fired?!” This brought a wave of wails from a couple of nearby girls. “What if they cancel drama?!” More wailing.

“Everybody breathe.” I demonstrated. “Put your game face on. Smile. Because -”

“The show must go on,” a chorus of wobbly voices finished for me.

“That’s right. Now go fix your mascara and be ready for the best second act yet.”

The final stop on my backstage tour was to find the cause of all the extra drama. I found Hermes lounging with a couple of others, smiling as if nothing had happened. I was grateful that he hadn’t internalized the ‘yelling at’ he’d received from Aphrodite. I needed him to be in good form for Act Two. Still, it irked that he didn’t seem phased by what he had done. I wondered if he had decided to go with ‘Method Acting’ in order to better get into character. (The “Method’ is a form of acting which encourages actors to ‘become’ their characters in order to increase believability.) As the god of mischief as well as the messenger god, perhaps Hermes was taking this to heart. I kept our conversation short and low-key, expressing my dismay but focusing more on the fact that he could not, under any circumstances, do it again.

Act Two commenced and went off without a hitch. No one in the audience had any idea that just minutes before a major time bomb had just been diffused backstage. The mascara was repaired and each and every actor performed with the kind of believability worthy of a Tony. I was so proud. 

In many ways, I feel like a mother to these kids. We become very close over the course of the months it takes to put together a production. Just like my biological children, they aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, disappoint, and even make me angry on occasion - but there is a bond that develops within the group that is difficult to put into words. I have students from fifteen years ago who still contact me and thank me for the positive memories and self-confidence they learned through drama. I feel so fortunate to get to impact their lives in this way. Even the Hermes of the bunch – although his chances of ever appearing on stage again are pretty much nil.

This article was originally published in April 2014 'Bookfun' Magazine.

Tracy Krauss is a best-selling and award winning author, as well as a playwright, artist and teacher. Originally from a small prairie town, Tracy received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Sask. with majors in Art, and minors in History and English. She teaches High School English, Drama and Art – all things she is passionate about. Apart from her many personal creative pursuits, she also leads worship at her local church. She and her husband, an ordained minister, have lived in many remote and unique places in Canada's north. They raised four children and were active advocates of the homeschooling movement for many years. They currently reside in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC, known for its many waterfalls.Visit her website for more:


Peter Black said...

Tracy, I don't envy the position you found yourself in, there. Wow, talk about backstage drama!
Hilarious in some respects, but serious in a bunch of others. This and other posts reflecting your playwriting, drama producing and teaching, warm my heart, since son number three (Jerome) teaches and is involved in drama.
He'll be leaving the classroom for a while, as he has received an appointment as Consultant for the Arts with Niagara School Board. ~~+~~

Tracy Krauss said...

Thanks for that encouragement Peter.

Donna Mann said...

Such a tender relationship you have with your class - good directing.

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