A lot of my funny moments come from the time when I was involved in the amateur theatre. Things that went wrong backstage ( or even onstage!) may have caused panic at the time, but they’re the things that everyone laughs about when they look back.
Take Calamity Jane, for example, which I directed with a group of teenagers. Well, there was the night when Calamity’s gun (a starter pistol I’d borrowed from school) refused to go off at the right time to quieten the crowd in the bar scene. She tried it a few times then gave up and yelled ‘Bang!!!’ The crowd went quiet, although they had to work hard to suppress their giggles.
Then there was the night when the lights went out at the end of the song “I can do without you”. Fine, we wanted a blackout, but the lighting man hadn’t realised there was another verse and he’d pulled the switch too soon. Unperturbed, Calamity and Wild Bill carried on singing until the lights came on again.
The missing flag also caused great panic. A procession of characters was coming down the aisle, singing “Take me back to the Black Hills” and the curtains had to be opened just as they reached the steps leading up to the stage. The stage was ready, everyone in their places, then – consternation, the Stars and Stripes flag was missing. One demented director (me!) rushed from side to side, whispering frantically ‘Where’s the flag? Where’s the flag?’ On stage, the actors were harmonising beautifully to the song and at the same time they were turning everything upside down looking for the flag. Two seconds to go and it was found and fastened in place. As the curtains opened, everything was perfect – and no-one could see the director recovering from a nervous breakdown backstage.
In another scene, Calamity brings some flowers back to the cottage. “I’ll put them in this vase,” says Katie and turns to the table. Oops, no vase there! Then there was the bottle of whisky (ginger-ale actually) which rolled off the bar but fortunately didn’t break, the ‘two-legged horse’ (we never could get the hang of making the sound of hoof beats with coconut shells), the ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign which kept falling off the wall, and the time Wild Bill stood on the hem of Calamity’s ballgown, yanking the poor girl backwards.
It’s the funny moments like these that you always remember. After all, ‘There’s no Business like Show Business’ – is there?