#TBT Toil and trouble, you got that right!

Sometimes, as an actor, you can’t help it, you’re cast in a stinker. And there’s nothing you can do about it but make the best of it. Sometimes the best friendships are made from being trapped in a terrible project where you have no control and shared humiliation is the main bonding ingredient. In grad school, several of us were roped into a project along these lines. A directing student, for his thesis, did a half-hour version of Macbeth. (There was a time limit on thesis projects. Most of us did one or two scenes from a play, or a one-act. This guy edited freakin’ Macbeth down into half an hour. The project never should have been approved.) There were other changes he made, mainly that there were no longer three witches, but five. Never mind the fact that THREE is such a symbolically powerful number, stretching down through the ages, three has connotations of magic and witchery … but again, never mind. Five witches. Okay.

I had the mistfortune of being cast as one of the five witches. The concept of the witches was extremely general. We were basically just generalized wild banshees. (I saw Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth at BAM, and the introduction of the witches – as combat nurses, assisting in surgery – before revealing who they really were – gives me goosebumps as I write this.) Anyway, the whole thing was a mess. And so we survived the best way we knew how: by merging into one hilarious being who took none of it seriously – EXCEPT for making our makeup as outlandish as possible (for no discernible reason. From the look of us, you would think the concept of the witches was “GENE SIMMONS.”) Maybe we were trying to hide our identities.

We were dressed in rags, but there was something about mine that screamed “Chairperson of a Women’s Studies Department at a Small Liberal Arts College in Vermont.” I kept saying that, or doing impromptu lectures on the patriarchy, as everyone – smearing Gene Simmons makeup on at the mirrors – cackled.

Our makeup had no purpose and it got more outrageous with every performance. For us, the WHOLE THING was about the makeup.

At one point, we all had to enter the stage, holding huge sticks, which we would slam on the floor as we stalked around in a circle. We were all so disenchanted by the experience that every single thing we had to do on stage struck us as HILARIOUS, and so there were many dangerous moments when we would make eye contact with one another, as we stalked around in a circle … and laughter would start bubbling up, bringing on waves of panic that we wouldn’t be able to get our lines out. If we started guffawing onstage, we’d never stop. We lived in fear of it.

Notice I keep saying “we”. We merged into one collective grumpy being.

I am sure we were incredibly obnoxious. But I’m sorry, the whole idea of the project was a travesty. If you were going to do a half-hour Macbeth, then at least make it FUNNY. Or do a PARODY. Don’t just present a Cliffs Notes version and say “There. I hope you were moved to horror and tears by what we just did.”

The backstage shenanigans were legendary. We were so into ourselves – into our makeup – and our costumes – that we actually forgot what show we were actually doing. Our preparations had nothing to do with the actual play. Our preparations were like “Let me try to give myself big black eyes tonight, just to see what it looks like.”

Then we would sneak “scarily” down the stairs from the dressing room and take pictures of each other. One time, we were so into our photo shoot that we were collectively late for our entrance with the stomping sticks. We were so busy posing on the stairs that we forgot to listen for our cues. Very bad behavior.

I was reading William Shirer’s tome at the time. It would have been better to be reading The Female Eunuch, or something, considering my position as head of the Women’s Studies Department.

While it’s never fun to be in a terrible embarrassing play, creating fun backstage – just so you can survive it – IS the experience. It’s all I really remember. The HILARITY of the five witches, writhing around on the stairs, posing for the camera, all while the music onstage vamped, and the audience sat, waiting for us to appear.

The real action was going on backstage.

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2 Responses to #TBT Toil and trouble, you got that right!

  1. Jessie says:

    This is hysterical!

    • sheila says:

      still one of my favorite memories. at a certain point, showing “respect” to the process, etc., went out the window.

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