There are certain inescapable theatre rules actors must learn early in order to survive. Rule One: all the technical elements in a play never, ever work quite the way you expect. Rule Two: an audience never, ever works quite the way you expect.
My grade 11 drama class was invited to stage a children’s production of The Three Little Pigs. Among the hockey playing actors there were immediate mutinous rumblings about having to appear in public in pink pig suits until I stressed that the company sponsoring the play was providing free all-you-can-eat pizza. Happy “grunts” all around.
Actually, the large forward playing the Big Bad Wolf really got into his role. Behind his fake fur cardboard mask and construction paper fangs, he was doing a credible job of roaring and chasing. (Several small audience members openly panicked every time he appeared.) At the precise moment where the BBW had the three Pigs trapped, theatre Rule Two effectively kicked in.
A little boy, no more than five, jumped to his feet, and clambered on stage. The Wolf, Pigs (and all of us backstage) froze. Finally the Wolf leaned down inquiringly. The boy, in a voice that carried nicely to the rafters, exclaimed “Don’t you touch them pigs!” hauled off and belted the Wolf smack in his pointy nose so hard his entire mask flipped sideways.
The audience was treated, as the curtain mercifully dropped, to the sight of three large Pigs piled on top of a struggling Wolf, who later assured me he wouldn’t have murdered the boy, “just damaged him a little.”
The senior class was staging a docudrama about the Mounties’ heroic 1880’s seizure of the American Fort Whoop-Up. The big scene was to feature a cannon blasting through the papier-maché gates with the ‘mounties’ bravely firing their (prop) carbines while the stalwart defenders furiously fought back. Sadly, Rule One then reared its inevitable head.
Instead of a loud cannon roar, the audience was decidedly startled to hear, instead, a deep Fog Horn pealing out. By the time the sweating sound student could get the tangled tape silenced, it was only to reveal all the attacking Mounties haplessly clicking their prop guns: not a single, solitary gun had actually fired! As epic battles scenes go, a bit of a dud.
The next show, an enterprising actress and her father wheeled in a very small brass canon from off their sail boat. The little gun could not be loaded, fired no objects, and would, they said, only “make a nice bang during the fight.”
The audience was breathlessly thrilling to the exciting attack on Whoop-Up. The red-coated colonel shouted “Fire!” The parent pushed the button on his little sailboat gun.
The stage crew hit the floor. All the ‘mounties’ hit the floor. In fact, several rows of the audience hit the floor. Apparently, no one had considered that our ‘little gun’ had been specifically designed to be heard over very large expanses of open water.
Our brave mounties were still cowering on the floor as a ragged, quivering, white handkerchief slowly appeared over the card-board battlements of Fort Whoop-Up.