Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nov 6: Last Show and Strike

This afternoon's matinee was the final performance of "Master Harold"...and the boys. The audience gave standing ovations all three shows, and I wasn't surprised. These actors had to handle a difficult script (lots of lines and several monologues) and perform a couple of unexpected, cruel acts on stage. Here are three snippets that stood out this weekend, now that I don't have to worry about spoilers.

1. We had a small audience at our final dress rehearsal. Although we're often still polishing even at the final rehearsal, the performance feels so much different in front of an audience than it does in an empty house, we almost always invite friends. Halfway through the play, the actor who played Sam, the South African man who stands in as a surrogate father to Hally (Master Harold), had to show his bare ass during one scene. Right before, Hally, in a fit of meanness, tells the two men a racist joke* his father tells him. And Sam responds by pulling down his pants and showing Hally his ass for about 90 seconds. It's not a funny scene, nor does the audience expect it to happen. I did though .... except Thursday night when Sam's new boxer shorts fell straight to the floor and suddenly he was showing more than just his ass. I was in the stage right wing facing him, trying desperately not to burst out laughing. A wardrobe malfunction, indeed. Sorry, I didn't take a photo. No flash photography allowed.**

As I said, the bare-ass scene wasn't funny. All of our audiences laughed at certain parts of the show that were endearing or silly, but overall this play is tense and serious. And yet last night's audience--and I have to admit, at least 17 of them were friends of mine who may have sipped some wine with dinner--got so into the play, they actually laughed, and a few clapped and cheered, when Sam showed Hally his ass. I think it was rather disconcerting for the actor who played Sam to bare his ass and hear people start laughing and cheering. It's a nice ass but none of us expected that.

2. One of the most shocking scenes in "Master Harold"...and the boys happens shortly after the ass-bearing when Hally quietly says, "Sam," and then walks across the stage and spits in his face. The actor who played Hally struggled with having to actually spit in Sam's face, but it's in the script and it's important to the story arc and tension. So the final week of rehearsals he had to stop faking it and really spit. We joked about how he would desperately save up saliva so he could get a good loogie. Every time we were able to see a good spray of spit hit Sam's face, but at last night's show he spit the biggest glob ever. It left big white blobs of saliva dripping in Sam's hair and gleaming under the hot lights.

After the show, Hally the actor and I were laughing about how awful that spit looked (and yet how perfect). The conversation went something like this:

H: Oh my god, I couldn't believe how big that loogie was. It looked like I jizzed in Sam's hair. I can't believe it looked like jizz shot from my mouth.
Me: Can't all gay men jizz from their mouths?
H: Yes, of course we can. We jizz from both heads.
Me: Your next Facebook status update: I just jizzed from my mouth.
H: I don't think I want to explain that to my boyfriend. He doesn't know yet.
(Section censored and deleted.)

I learn something new every day.

3. In another scene, Hally throws a bottle of brandy into the kitchen, which is only indicated by a door with a set-back wall on the set. Because he wasn't allowed to throw and break a real glass bottle,  we had to come up with an alternative. The easiest and best solution is to buy sugar bottles, but they cost almost $30 each, we needed at least four, and we didn't have a budget for this play. Anything we bought, the director paid for. So the director painted the inside of a plastic bottle brown and glued a cork in it, and the props person made a crash bucket: a lidded 5-gallon bucket full of glass. I was to make the crash sound when Hally threw the bottle, and we enlisted The Diplomat to help me back stage and catch the bottle.

The first time we tried the bottle throw, it hit the wall and ricocheted several times around my head. I was ducking and bobbing while I dumped the crash bucket. The bottle finally skidded along the floor, lost its cork and sprayed brown paint all over the floor. Not a huge fail, but not quite right either.

So The Diplomat went to work on it for Friday night's show. He tried to find something to add weight to the bottom, and finally ended up putting in some thick glue, and then gluing the cork back in. This time when Hally threw the bottle, it hit the curtain, the cork came out and thick white glue sprayed everywhere. Nope.

I said now that the glue was in there, we needed something to soak it up and keep it there. We didn't have sand, so I asked The Diplomat to bring in some kitty litter. He rigged it with the litter and glued the cork in again. It had just the right heft. We were sure we'd nailed it this time. Saturday night when Hally threw the bottle, it hit the wall, the cork came out and kitty litter shot out into my face. This time it hurt! And got in my mouth. I actually swallowed some. I've done a lot of crazy shit in my life, but this is the first time I've swallowed kitty litter. Another fail. And I started to get the feeling that bottle was fucking with me.

I don't know what The Diplomat did to the bottle today. I didn't ask. It was on the stage, plugged with a cork when I did the final check. This time the scene started, I carefully picked up the crash bucket and waited, cringing and squinting, just out of sight of the audience. It was the final performance so all the actors had upped the intensity of their performances. Hally delivered his line and I watched his shadow arm wind up ....... He threw the bottle hard, I tossed the crash bucket over, and the bottle fell just inside the kitchen door, crumpled as if a huge hand had crushed it. It didn't hit a damn thing this time, just plopped to the ground defeated. The Diplomat and I covered our mouths and ran into the back laughing. Win!

Strike: After the final performance, we don't just gather up our belongings and drag our tired asses home. No, we still have to strike the stage. That means we have to take down the entire set: walls, doors, lights, furniture, props, everything. Most of the props go in the "box," the big garage behind the theater. It's packed with furniture and props from years of plays. Almost anything that could be used for a play is stored in there: books, utensils, tables, couches, wall art, dishes, coffee pots, a big old cash register, stairs, an old wicker wheelchair (that we borrowed for Octette). It looks like an episode of Hoarders, minus the rat shit. The wall sections go into another big shed so they can be painted or wallpapered and used again.

Everybody stays and helps. Depending on the set it can take half an hour or several hours. Ours took  a little less than two. And when we were done, the stage looked like we hadn't even been there. All those weeks of rehearsals and after three short shows, it was all over.

There's always a feeling of let-down for a few days after a show ends. And yet, I've got a blocking rehearsal for Scrooge tomorrow night right there on the same stage. I'm moving on again .... but I'm going to miss those guys. Master Harold and The Men.

* "It's not fair, is it, Hally?....What, chum?....A nigger's arse." Hally explains that it's a pun because "fair means both light in colour and to be just and decent."
** Another pun! Get it?


  1. I did get it! And thought you oh-so-clever!
    I also wanted to say I think 90 seconds is a VERY long time to be onstage with your ass showing.

  2. He says, "Have a good look...real Basuto ass..." This actor doesn't rush anything. He knows how to lob a bomb at the audience.

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  4. You were quite helpful. And you may not have caught, but you did play with the bottle a lot.

  5. I saw the play on Saturday. I left that night very moved by what I saw -- not only the outstanding acting -- but the subject matter got to me because I was struck with how racism continues to this day. Will we ever learn?

  6. Probably we'll just keep dancing and flying kites.