I am an actor, writer, and director, and have been since 1990. To that end, I have a veritable shit ton of horror stories from the stage. In fact, I could probably write a very amusing novel about a 2003 production of Lee Blessing's Fortinbras, a play that is now considered cursed by virtually everyone involved in that show. We had actors quitting. We had to do rewrites to compensate for the fact that some of the events on stage were simply not possible because the theatre building we were working in turned out to be decrepit.
Seriously, with this one show, I have a million of them.
I'll share this story. And I pick it because recently the company I work for had a thirtieth anniversary party and the company members were asked at said party to share their horror stories. About six different actors involved in the show all simultaneously stood up, ready to share this story. So it's a horror story that haunts everyone involved.
How familiar are you with Fortinbras? The play begins where Hamlet ends. Hamlet dies, Fortinbras arrives to take his rightful place as the king of Denmark. However, he has a few things to deal with. Namely, the fact that Castle Elsinore is haunted big time. And one of the biggest moments in the show concerns Hamlet, who is now dead. And trapped inside a television.
So we have to have a functioning television on stage. I sequestered my actor into an actor bathroom and broadcast him live every night. A good portion of the play deals with the fact that no one in the play knows what the television is. To them, it's a "magic box of pictures". But the TV has to work or we can't see Hamlet's face. And the TV is supposed to be magic. We took great pains to position the TV so that no cords extending to outlets on the wall could be seen. It's a blackout for the scene change. My actors push the TV on stage. When the lights come up, we're supposed to see the two characters contemplating the "magic box". Horatio is supposed to turn the TV on and reveal the gaping eye of Hamlet.
As the actors moved the TV onto stage, somehow they unplugged the television. So when Horatio goes to turn the power on, he gets nothing. The actor playing Horatio actually says, "Shit." Not a commonplace word in the days of Hamlet. After a few minutes of awkward silence, the actor playing the other character (I'm blanking on his name, partially because it was two characters combined into one due to an actor quitting) decides that he pretty much has no choice other than to plug the TV back in. So he begins improvising a speech about the "strange tail" extending from the back of the "magic box." More improv is created because he can't find the outlet to plug it in. So now I'm the light booth contemplating my suicide because I have two actors on stage fumbling around with a cord in hand, trying to get the TV plugged in so that the play can continue. This takes a good two to three minutes because they actually have to move a background set piece to get to the outlet.
Once they find the outlet and get the set piece back in place, the set piece in question decides that it doesn't want to stay up anymore. So one actor positions himself to lean against it so that it will quit falling while the actor playing Horatio is busy fumbling with the control pad buttons. The picture comes in. The picture reveals an actor (Hamlet) with a very confused look on his face. He's been in the bathroom for five minutes trying to figure out why no one is responding to his lines. The actor playing Horatio tries desperately to get Hamlet back on track. Hamlet is, of course, unsure of what he's supposed to be doing. There is a long awkward pause before the actor playing Horatio walks off stage. Another pause. The following is clearly heard through the microphone on the camera (accompanied, of course, by animated reactions from Hamlet):
HAMLET: What are you doing in here?
HORATIO (off screen): Go back.
HORATIO (off screen): Go back.
HAMLET: To where?
HORATIO (off screen): The beginning.
HAMLET: Of what?
HORATIO (off screen): The scene.
HORATIO (off screen): Just go back.
HAMLET: What the fuck is going on out there?
HORATIO (strangely, on screen): I'll tell you later. Just go back.
HORATIO (off screen): Go. Back.
Another pause. Hamlet turns, casually, back to the camera, and starts his monologue.
So now I have one actor one stage reacting to the television, totally trying to play off the last five minutes never happened. The actor playing Horatio returns to the stage just in time to deliver his lines.
They finish the scene.
However, just before the TV is turned off, the actor playing Hamlet is seen to turn to an as yet unknown-actor and loudly proclaim, "What the fuck was that?" There's an indiscernible nonsense. Hamlet says, "You're fucking kidd...". The two actors on stage had the presence of mind by this point to shut the TV off, interrupting the actor playing Hamlet's tirade.
So at this point, I'm in the light booth so panicked that I'm not even paying attention anymore. The two actors are left in silence for almost a full minute before another actor runs into the booth to remind that we're all waiting for a blackout.
In the blackout, a stagehand moved a chair agianst the set piece, so that it could remain up without falling.
W.C. Fields once said that you should never work with animals or children. You should also never work with a functioning television. Until the day I die, I will never forget this.
Bring on the dogs and children! Dogs and children do not come unplugged.
If you want more Fortinbras stories, I've got 'em. That play is cursed in my mind.