|A Picture of Tighty-Whities Underwear|
One of the truly beautiful things about live theater is this: if you have performed in it enough, you have an embarrassing story to tell. I have several, to be honest, but none come close to the one I am about to tell you.
You may be wondering why I am going to tell you this story if it is so embarrassing. I'll tell you why. If you live through these moments in the theater, it is a solid badge of honor that should, nay, must be shared for the commiseration of all who have ever survived similar moments.
After transferring to Bennington College, I decided to take a semester off from acting in a production. I don't know why, really--- I think at the time I was telling myself that I wanted to scope out the lay of the land, see what kind of stuff happened there. Whatever the reason, I desperately missed being a part of it all, and was determined to audition for everything my second semester. The faculty-directed production that semester was Major Barbara by GB Shaw, and there were a few student productions happening as well, including a play called Judith by Howard Barker, which was being directed by a young woman called Vic, who, up until that point, I didn't really know.
The competition amongst the ladies was pretty severe that semester--- from Freshman to Seniors, all the ladies wanted Barbara. And there was truly an embarrassment of riches to choose from. I went to the auditions for Mr. Shaw's show not really knowing it too well, and saw the halls of VAPA chock-full of young ladies wanting to read. Not only that, I could tell they were somewhat particular about who they would be reading with. When it was my turn to read, I did my best, reading the part of Charlie, a supporting role that seemed fun enough, but I can't say I was tremendously invested in it. You see, I had taken a look at Mr. Barker's Judith, a three-character play that was dark and "out there", and represented what I felt I SHOULD be acting in in college (in truth, Major Barbara is certainly something one should be doing in college, too, make no mistake).
Judith was based off the story of Judith, the woman who beheaded the general Holofernes. She was a great heroine of her time. Mr. Barker's script was complex and lyrical, talking about very adult things in a raw, yet philosophical manner. I never pictured myself as the "general" type, but I knew that pickings were slim when it came to guys that semester--- many were going to be used in the faculty production, and it was somewhat rare for people who are cast in the faculty production to be cast in anything else... faculty had first choice, student directors had to deal with what remained.
So, yeah, I wanted to be in Judith because I wanted to be edgy. I'll admit it. I loved dark stuff, primarily watched only independent films, read disturbing plays, etc., and that was that.
At my audition for Judith, I read wtih a few different girls, and then Vic had me, and anoher guy up for the part named Dan (an excellent musician and actor, who I thought for sure would get the part if he wanted it), hold onto a sofa cushion, and said, "Okay, so this cushion is Judith. How would you kill her?" Dan went for it, going wild on that cushion. I was having trouble. I kind of squeezed the cushion some, perhaps in a gesture of strangling. Vic stopped us and said, "Bobby, I get what you're doing, it looks like a kind of strangling, but we're talking about a violent man..." and, I couldn't help it, I interjected and said, "Yeah, I... I just don't think he wants to kill her." Vic said, "okay," and asked me to act like the cushion was an enemy I wanted to kill, so I went wild on it.
I learned later it was the fact that I didn't want to kill Judith that got me the part.
I am making this embarrassing story pretty long, but, hey... why not?
So, it turns out that they wanted me to play Charlie in Major Barbara, and Vic really wanted me to play Holofernes in Judith, but, I wasn't really supposed to do both. But, from my understandiing, Vic wouldn't back down during the casting session, so I wound up doing both parts that semester, though Holofernes was the one I was truly excited about.
Who wouldn't be? I was in the play with two lovely ladies, Sasha (who played Judith's servant) and Jessica (who had been a strong contender for Barbara, but who I was psyched to see got the part of Judith--- and not just because she was pretty, but because she was pretty fierce). I loved everything about the Judith rehearsal process--- picking the play apart, improvising for character building, working the relationship with the characters... we even had a slumber party in the space where we were performing.
(I will note that I also felt very specail that semester being a part of Major Barbara, which turned out to be great fun and very educational...)
Okay, so, to set up the scene leading up to my embarrassing moment. Both Jessica and I had to take our clothes off in that show. Neither of us stripped down completely, but, early on in the show, I took my tunic off and was in a "loincloth" for the rest of the performance. The loincloth was fashioned out of a pair of tighty-whities and some other material. Jessica was wearing a fairly sheer top. It was odd the kind of mutual vulnerability that we were feeling throughout this. I'm glad we went through it together.
About two-thirds of the way through the show, my character was killed, and I spent the last third lying on the ground on my back in my loincloth, waiting to be straddled (I know, weird, huh?), but only after I had been "beheaded".
Yeah, it was strange, but an amazing first show for my college career, because it was LIGHT YEARS away from any show I had ever been in before. It felt like a new beginning.
So, I was proud of this show, proud of all of us involved (including Dan, who, not one to hold a grudge, created some beautiful original music for the show). On the second night, we were to have our biggest audience. The second night was also the night that all of my professors would be there: my acting teachers Janis and Derek, my playwriting professor Gladden, and, as it would turn out, the night my close peers were all coming to see the show.
It was a wonderful performance. I felt pretty on top of it. Felt really connected with Jess and Sasha, started feeling very intense... basically, all was well. You can just feel these connections when you're on stage, can't you? When everything is going right. Nothing can go wrong...
The show ends, I get up in the dark and go behind our set before going out to bow. I'm feeling good, for having been dead the last fifteen minutes or so. Right before we go out to bow, Jess leans over to me and whispers "You've been hanging out since you took your tunic off." I look at her for a moment, puzzled, and then it hits me. I look down, and, sure enough, I was... well... "hanging out" of my loincloth. I did my best to remedy the situation before going out to bow.
Okay, so the photos took place after the second show. I have to confess, during the milling about with professors and so forth, I felt mortified. Many of my pals in the audience mentioned how they had liked the show, and then made plenty of comments about my wardrobe malfunction. Apparently, a flap in the tighty-whities didn't want to stay shut. I could share some of the more colorful comments, but, I want this to be a student-friendly blog, so I shall refrain.
My professor Janis tried to make me feel better: "It looked perfectly natural for the play, Bobby. There's nothing to be embarassed about." My playwriting professor had a different tact: "Hey, Bobby, what are you doing later? Just... hanging out?"
Still, I am glad for the experience of being a part of Judith. It was a great way to start my college experience at Bennington. And I'm glad that my wardrobe malfunction happened, though I cannot possibly begin to describe how much I hated it at the time (I mean, it was hard enough for me to take my shirt off in those days).
The reason I am glad it happened, is because it is a story I have been able to share countless times with people who do their best to outdo it, and wind up falling short.
If you have an embarrassing theater story that tops mine, please feel free to share it in the comments below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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