Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Final act

Last night, this year’s Moving Arts one-act festival closed. Afterward I hung around ’til 1:30 in the morning with a few other people and dismantled the set flats for pickup and storage the next morning. I was sad to see the festival close, especially because I was proud of so much of the work, including the three plays I was most closely involved with: one that I wrote, and two that I directed. (I wrote a scene for the event at the Natural History Museum, too, but never got to see it. I hear it was good.) But while I was sad to see it close, another side of me wasn’t sorry at all. To give you an idea why, I share my Halloween costume this year:


This was our 15th annual one-act festival, so I think at this point we know how to do such events. But we had so many problems it’s like we were cursed:

  • an actor in one of my plays was hospitalized with a heart infection
  • another actor was hospitalized after passing out in a bus
  • the understudy I cast to take over for actor #1, above, suddenly came down so ill he was laid up with an IV drip
  • another actor almost broke her wrist because a flat was moved into a position it didn’t belong, blocking her entrance in the dark
  • another actor slipped and fell outside on the cement — twice
  • the lead in my play was in a car accident just prior to opening
  • a supporting actor in one I directed was in a car crash and hospitalized with a concussion

You might (somehow!) chalk that up to actor problems, but we had major ongoing tech problems, too.

  • At the end of an 8-hour cue-to-cue rehearsal in which all the light and sound cues were programmed, they mysteriously disappeared. All of them had to be reprogrammed, which added nine hours onto the day. (I said, “I won’t be here at 2 a.m.” And wound up leaving at 1:56 a.m.)
  • Some nights the stage lights would seize, stranding the actors in the dim lights set for scene change. After this happened a second time, the tech crew spent an entire day checking every cord and cable and instrument and all the impressive buttons and levers on all the tech equipment, but couldn’t duplicate the problem.
  • One night prior to opening when we’re getting our press photos taken, it starts to rain. Water starts to drip onto the stage floor. Our producer wisely puts down a bucket and a towel. Naturally, in all the press photos for my play, the bucket and towel are front and center. Later someone Photoshops them out (but not before we nickname them Mr. Bucket and his sidekick, Towelly). But more editing is necessary later, because the actor on the left is one of those who wind up hospitalized.
  • Props and set pieces and costumes would mysteriously vanish. One night the bottle of Rolling Rock so emblematic of my lead character’s small-town truck-mechanic milieu was gone, substituted quickly with a PBS-subscriber Heineken someone helpfully located. Another night the prop baby openly referenced in one play couldn’t be located, so the woman playing its mother had to mime carrying a baby. When the mother shared her distress about the baby, her fellow actor helpfully chimed in, “But Mom — the baby isn’t even there!”
  • Previously, I shared the story of  the incredible professionalism of an actor who went on for one of those hospitalized actors, off-book, with no rehearsal, and who was absolutely terrific in his performance.  What I didn’t share at that time was the rest of the story. The play starts and I’m sitting in the house and I’m just blown away by how great this actor is — in fact, by how great all three cast members are. I’m very proud of this play and them and my work directing it, and I’m enjoying the stark lighting that I wanted, and then… I start to hear something. It sounds like… music. In Spanish. Like a Mexican radio station, slightly not tuned in. I pull out my iPhone and text the board op in the booth:  “Why is there music on stage?” I get a text back:  “I don’t know. It’s not coming from the booth.” In other words, she doesn’t show it and she can’t hear it. My actors, including the understudy who has taken over, bravely soldier on, but everyone in the theatre is well aware of this music now, and of course, it’s the night that we’ve got a critic from one of the more important papers. I sit there and seethe.I don’t know who, but someone must die. And so I go down the mental list of suspects and as I pick through that list scratching off one name after another because really none of them is to blame, I start to realize that it’s even worse than I’d imagined:  There is no one to blame. No one.

No one is responsible for the out-of-tune Mexican radio station providing lively background for what should be the searing drama about a passenger getting beaten to death on a commercial airliner. No one is to blame for the vanishing props and the tumbling actors and the car crashes and the deadly airborne toxins and the wandering electrical shorts and on and on. We’ve done a festival for 15 years, and many of the people involved in this festival have been involved in many of those years. No, we’re just somehow… cursed.

My friend Trey blamed his play “Move”:  “This is the last time I write a play with a ghost in it.” My wife picks up this theme and says that a la “Macbeth,” which theatre people superstitiously call “The Scottish Play,” Trey’s play should now be referred to as “The Motion Play.” That was funny — but whatever ghost might have been the root cause plagued all the plays in all three evenings.

The night of the Mexican radio broadcast, I figured that somehow the equipment in the booth had become a receiver. This can happen. (It never happened again, and no, we never figured out how it happened that once.)  But once I realized there was no one to blame, I did the smart thing after that night’s show ended:  I gave up. Uncharacteristic, I know, but it’s one thing to struggle against oneself or others, it’s another to shake your fist at the sky. We had surmounted every possible torment and soldiered on, and no amount of testing and retesting and trial and error had been able to replicate any of the tech problems — they simply happened or didn’t. So I gave in and guzzled wine in the courtyard with about 20 other Moving Artists and we all laughed and laughed great rolling waves of laughter, the cascading eruptions of people who’ve been electrocuted but lived. The only thing left to befall us would be a meteorite crashing from the sky, and if that was going to happen, well, there was no stopping that either. So we all just gave in and gave up.

And after that we never had another tech problem.


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