It was a Dark and Stormy Night…
Before I say anything else, I need to say thanks. Nothing that happened Saturday in any way diminishes the admiration and appreciation I have for the extraordinary people who did so much to pull together a Halloween show and make it a magical experience for children. On its best night, live theatre is a tightrope act — one stumble can mean disaster. That’s the challenge and the curse and the thing that makes it such a terrifying and wonderful thrillride.
But it’s one thing to battle the forces of time and technology, and another to square off with Mother Nature. The ultimate diva will not be upstaged. That was the case Saturday night when she literally stole the show with a clap of thunder and a curtain of rain.
We’d planned on doing eight, alternating performances that evening. Four of them were a new version of the Halloween perennial The Witch Helga Show, and the other four were a new mini-play based on my book How to Make Friends and Monsters. The shows would occupy the children’s stage which was just one attraction in a massive, outdoor event called The Grapeyard put on by the city of Grapevine. The Halloween-themed production is a nightmare and I mean that as a huge compliment. A small army of planners, designers, technicians, actors, builders, make-up artists, costumers and effects specialists spend months getting ready to transform a peaceful campground into a twisted, monster-filled Disneyland. I was lucky enough to be on-hand while they were setting up things like the haunted trails, the zombie shooting gallery, the music-and-light show and the hayride through ghoul country. Very few visitors got to see them all since, shortly after 7 p.m., lightning appeared over the lake (which, for what it’s worth, was a spectacular effect!) and the crowd was sent to the exits.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed for the kids and for all the people who worked so hard only to see the night end too soon. But, for myself, I just feel lucky. We squeezed in two performances before the rain fell — one Helga show, one Monsters show. I got to see them staged. That’s enough. If you were there, you know we had some technical issues: a video effect didn’t run, an audio effect didn’t stop running, mysterious red lights in the woods were mysteriously absent. And even though those momentary lapses made me want to bite through my bottom lip at the time, I barely remember them now. What I do remember is a feeling of immense pride in the actors on stage as they covered every flaw, laughed off every miscue and pushed through like troopers. Sure, I’d have loved for the shows to be perfect — and I have no doubt the effects would have been fixed by the second performance. But I also loved the shows the way they were, warts and all. The truth is, I even loved the storm.
It’s all theatre — the good, the bad and the ugly. A show isn’t just what happens between the opening and closing of a curtain. A show is writing lines, and re-writing those lines, and collecting props, and setting lights, and recording sounds, and building sets, and getting wardrobe, and meeting actors, and holding rehearsals. A show is tramping through a pitch-dark, thigh-high briar thicket at 3 in the morning to set a projector in just the right location to make a single, eerie effect. I got to be a part of that experience and watch as a lot of great, talented individuals brought to life something that used to be inside my head. I’m grateful to the city of Grapevine for giving me that opportunity and I’m deeply indebted to the cast and crew that made it happen.
As for the audience, thanks for laughing in the right places, for smiling through our growing pains, and for being the icing on this cake of many layers. It was a rainy day — but from it, very good things will grow.
See you again next year.