I love theatre because no matter what happens, people muddle through and the audience has no idea.
This weekend I was tech-ing a student show. I managed the stage crew on deck with set changes and basically acted as assistant stage manager. I reminded them of roles for each set change, and cued them through each scene. They are great kids, but sometimes it’s tiring being the only person who knows what’s going on. I feel like they only care when I voice a cue; the rest of the time they are socializing with people backstage. It’s amateur, and it’s why high schoolers like to be in musicals. They get a chance to flirt and hang out.
But right after a set change, a fight scene went wrong, and an actor landed head first on the edge of a chair, and crawled offstage. He had no more lines in the scene, and I didn’t see what happened, being engaged with cueing a special effect. Suddenly I heard whispers, “Get Christina, get Christina – he’s bleeding.” When I got to him, blood was dripping down his face, off his chin and onto the floor.
Miraculously, I did not panic. As a first aider and technician, this appeared to be the worst injury I had personally dealt with. It is terrifying to see a teenager so hurt and so in pain. He looked so young! Moreover, all around him were horrified faces of equally young and uncertain stage crew and cast members. I vaguely thought, How is it possible I am the adult in this situation? They don’t even know how young I am! I am not a doctor. I am not an adult. I have no idea what I’m doing!
I sent stage crew to get the first aid kit, the director, the boy’s cell phone and the technical director, while I inspected the wound. It was almost impossible to see the actual cut through his hair and the blood. The lava was boiling over the volcano and there was no way I could get to the bottom. As first aid materials arrived I began tearing open various packages, not really knowing what to search for (I really wish they spent more time on ’emergency scenarios’ and bandaging in first aid classes. I understand that CPR is important, but I’ve practiced it five million times, and the likelihood of the injury before me was far greater than ever having to perform CPR). By the time his parents were arriving I was beginning to bandage his head, WWII-like. I was fairly certain he wouldn’t need stitches or a hospital, only rest. It felt like almost no time at all.
I’m writing, today, however, because of the pride I felt – not for not panicking – but for my students. One of them had taken over my job, and they had gotten three scenes later without delay or destruction. They all had bug eyes when I came back to the stage. “Don’t ever leave us again!” But why? I thought. You did everything perfectly without me and I couldn’t be happier! You actually listen! You actually care! The show went on! Theatre is awesome!
I let/made them run the rest of the show. I gave few reminders and fewer orders, and I intend to repeat this with upcoming shows.
And the boy – he didn’t go home. His parents were in the audience, and he persuaded them to let him do his shortly upcoming solo tap dance, and subsequently the rest of the show. He had a (more tidily dressed) bandage on his head for the rest of the night, and was in killer pain every time he danced, but he was laughing. The audience members I spoke to afterwards hadn’t even noticed his new head-wound costume acquisition. I love theatre.