The Show Must Go On
“The show must go on” is an adage as familiar to those in the world of theatre as spirit gum and curtain calls. Those familiar with having to soldier through any obstacle know, of course, that such a thing is easier said than done. The accounts provided in this story are but a smattering of the many difficulties, losses, and, in some cases, disasters, that befall Off-Off-Broadway productions – and serve as a tribute to all of those who rise above them.
Sometimes, the weather refuses to stay outdoors. Pete Boisvert of the Nosedive Theatre Company reminisced about a time in the spring of 2002 when his company staged a show in the basement of a Hell’s Kitchen church. During a particularly rainy season, the church’s pipes had backed up, flooding the lobby and hallway leading down to theatre. “Luckily the water stopped short of actually going onstage,” Boisvert said. “We immediately grabbed buckets and mops and started to clean up the mess. We got the water under control in fairly short order, but cleaning up all the bilge that had risen from the drainage pipes took us right up until the point at which we had to open the house.” Talk about a close call.
A very similar incident befell the Rising Sun Performance Company in 2004. They were to mount a dual production of The Ghost of Greenbrier County and The Shape of Things after Thanksgiving only to find out that a busted pipe had also flooded their theatre over the holiday weekend. “The ceiling over the house had collapsed, the curtains were water-logged; the space was unusable,” said Executive Director David Anthony. While waiting for the claims adjuster to determine if the theatre might be production-ready in a week’s time, the resourceful Anthony used the telephone to its maximum capacity to try and rally support. “I contacted England, Boston, and an array of people in New York, sometimes simultaneously, using call waiting for clarifying options on the phone while discussing possibilities with theatre managers.” Anthony found two potential host spaces – both out of his company’s price range. Finally, one sympathetic owner relented, and took the money he had, provided that the company would not use the air conditioner.
There was one additional sacrifice made on the part of the company: the Greenbrier cast cut down their performances to three, to ensure that Shape would have a full run. “They helped [the show] ... and I’ll always remember their unwavering sacrifice,” Anthony said.
Many productions, particularly in the low-budget, limited-resource world of Off-Off-Broadway theatre, face compromises and hurdles, but few have had to deal with the shocking loss experienced by Nicu’s Spoon Theater in preparation for its upcoming Elizabeth Rex. Jennifer McNamara was the stage manager. “She was funny, great, anal – all the great Stage Manager things – plus a great human being,” said Stephanie Barton-Farcas, Spoon’s Artistic Director. Tragically, McNamara was struck and killed by a garbage truck while leaving her NBC job on March 5 – the day Rex was scheduled to begin formal rehearsals.
Barton-Farcas was among the very first to hear of the sudden loss, and took on the herculean task of rehearsing a show with a company in mourning. She informed the cast and crew of McNamara’s death, sent condolences to McNamara’s mother and listed a dedication to her in the program. She continued rehearsals and found Oksana Kalent to take on the duties of stage manager. The production manager represented Spoon at a local memorial, and Barton-Farcas says that the entire cast has come together.
“We have a tradition in our company where we place a picture of Nicu (the little boy the company is named for, who passed away in 1996) on each set, somewhere very secret,” she added. “Sadly for this show, we have a picture taped beside him, of our lovely Jennifer.”
The recent loss of McNamara is a sobering reminder of just how severe circumstances can become in the face of putting together a show. The brave company at the Spoon Theater stands as a testament to the resilience of all involved, and though loss of property and performance space is nowhere near as heartbreaking, the perseverance of companies like the Nosedive and Rising Sun also serve as a reminder of the secret battles often waged just to get to opening night. Theatrical runs open and close, but as the life of McNamara demonstrates, the memories of those involved who we have met, loved and lost will last forever.