There were a few times I was talked into doing some walk-on’s. “Come on Rae, it’ll just be a little thing. You’ll have fun.” Ha!
The first was a non-speaking role as “The Prisoner in the Well” for Man of La Mancha. It started out as a non-speaking role, but soon turned into a soliloquies each nite. I also
got very beat up each nite by the prison guards as they dragged me around by a rope
tied around my wrists, pushed me to the ground and shoved/pulled me up the stairs to
“my death”. I was told I made some in the audience cry with my “moving exit scene”. LOL
The worst part was my getting beat up every nite. And I do mean beat up! I had 3 big guys that played the prison guards. One nite in rehearsal, they were practicing carrying me and I was told to struggle. Struggle I did. I took all 3 of them down! Once we got to Tech Week, the entire thing changed. I would not be “in a well”. Instead I’d be behind the set in a cell so to speak. A guard would come, grab the rope tied around my wrists, and drag me out. The other 2 guards would push me around from behind, as the 1st one, pulled me by the rope. They knocked me to the floor several times before leading me up the wooden stairs. Anyone who works in theatre, is well aware of how stairs are built. They have VERY sharp edges. You can imagine after a week of being shoved to my knees going up these stairs, what my shins and thighs looked like. However, having never being on stage, I didn’t say anything. I figured I was just supposed to do what I was told. My wrists were pretty raw by this time too from the thick hemp rope that I was bound with.
One evening in the dressing room after rehearsal, someone saw my legs and exclaimed, “My God Rae! What happened to you?” I told them it was from being pushed up the stairs. That nite I could barely get my pants on to go home, my legs were so swollen and sore.
They told the Director right away. She asked me why I didn’t say anything sooner. The guards were a little less rough after that, but the damage was done. I ended up wearing knee pads and wrapping my shins in towels from that point on. With every shove up the stairs, tears were very close, my shins were SO sore. I think some of my “last screams before my death” scene were real! This is why my non-speaking role turned into a speaking role. I figured, if I had to get this beat up, I was going to get something out of it all!
THE WALK ON OF ALL WALK ON’S NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN BELIEVE ME I’VE TRIED
The person who was originally cast, quit the show and I was to be, ‘The Ninth Follies Girl’ in Follies. As it was explained to me, “You will be the special Follies girl Rae All eyes will be on you.” I was special that’s for sure but not in a good way! no one could miss me! What started out as my just walking onto the stage from the stage right olio, striking a pose, quickly turned into my nitemare! I was told I’d have a beautiful long dress on, with a cape of some kind to go with it. Grudgingly I decided I could do that. Well, that idea somehow never came to be! Instead, my costume, if you can even call it that ended up as a nude body stocking, with very little draping of see-through gauze material, a large, heavy, albeit beautiful cape, and an enormous, heavy, headdress. It was twice the size of any other headdress worn by anyone. I was transformed into ‘The Ninth Follies Girl’ at least that’s what it said in the program. I say, just the largest peacock to ever have set foot on the Opera House stage! What a way to spend my birthday (Opening Night) of all things!
My role? I use the term very loosely: gracefully, come down an entire flight of stairs to a platform, turn, down a few more stairs to another platform, a few more stairs, and finally, to the stage floor. It may not have been such a problem were I able to walk in heels, go slowwwly down stairs, much like a “wedding march”, holding the cape out to my sides, singing the whole time with the rest of the chorus and not move my head because the headdress would shift and fall off. Which meant, not being able to look at the stairs or hold on to anything as I made my way down the stairs. Graceful? NOT! A look at myself as well as my ‘counterpart’ Judy.
One night the thing got caught on the upper platform while going down the stairs! I had to lean backwards and to the left to unhook it. Because of it’s size, 4 feet tall and 6′ wide, I wasn’t able to get on stage with it on. No….. I had to crouch down, put it through the doorway, then go through the door, put the thing on and adjust it. Oh, did I forget to mention that under the headdress, we wore a pair of cut off pantyhose to keep your hair in check. A lovely look to be sure!! Up the winding stairs up the back of the platform – sideways naturally because my beautiful head adornment wouldn’t fit any other way! The audience was able to see all of this unfortunately! My nickname during that show was, The NBC Peacock! The headdress had been made for someone with a much larger head so it was stuffed with cotton around the inside, but it was always too big for me. it had a tendency to shift on my head just adding to my balancing act.
The other Follie’s girls were always complaining of how hard it was to come down the stairs despite being able to hold onto the railing on the upstage side, were able to look down at the steps, AND were dancers! Not a clod like myself. Their headdresses were as I said, half the size of mine and they all had way more material covering their bodies. I never did hold that cape open quite enough to please the Director. My special spot light never happened either-of which I am thankful for. I didn’t need a spot light to be noticed! Each nite I was petrified and mortified, as I came down those stairs. I was always afraid of loosing count as to what stair I was on, that a heel would catch, my bad knee would go out as it was supporting all of my weight, I’d loose my balance or the head dress would begin to slip a little too much. The whole time, Michael’s (the Director) words echoing in my head, “If any of you ladies falls coming down those stairs, just be sure you do it gracefully.” Oh sure!!!!! Graceful is the last thing I would be!
I hid in the bathroom, locked the door and refused to go on stage Opening Night. I was way too heavy to be seen in front of people in such an outfit. I kept telling Michael that all along. This outfit was definitely better suited for one of the younger, slimmer girls. Rather than cause myself anymore embarrassment, and to spare the audience’s senses; I pulled and stretched what little fabric there was each nite in an attempt to cover myself as much as possible. Michael was so angry with me. I was very hesitant about holding that cape out very far and I never let anyone see me from the right side as there was nothing covering me there! Poor Michael he spent so much time trying to convince me that I looked fine and to make me feel comfortable in his creation. Needless to say, all of his valiant efforts failed.
I was also working crew and was the Property Mistress on this show. This meant after the appearance on stage, I’d change back into my crew blacks, work the show, then change back into this hideous outfit for curtain call! Okay, sorry Michael! The outfit was beautiful as was the headdress, it was the person wearing it that was hideous okay? I don’t think anyone will ever forget this escapade, certainly not me!
The other walk-on’s were small, as promised, thank goodness! I made a brief appearance in “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. NO, not as a “whore”. The entire crew were dressed as cowboys, and I had to be on stage a few times as a fill in. I was also a Nazi in the “Sound of Music”. Had to get all dressed in a Nazi uniform just to run across the stage, yell “Halt”, and then get back into my crew blacks! Those were more my kind of walk ons. They were also the last.
Being on stage, is like a deer in headlights for me. Having to do a scene change that is not a complete black out is mortifying. Or getting caught when the lights come up too soon. That happens more than it should, and usually bending over with my rear end to the audience. I sometimes think those lighting people do that on purpose! In fact, we know they do, scene changes were precise and rehearsed, there usually is no reason for lights to come up early.