I've heard every play has its bumps and bruises and it's all normal. I believed it, until September 1st, 2018. I know what you might be thinking. I'm not being dramatic. This was one of the worst production ever put on. Theater is supposed to be smooth and flawless, not jarring and dangerous. Everything was great until opening night. I might as well tell you the story from the beginning.
Well, not the beginning. After the show was cast, it was time to get to work. It was months of brutal, tiring work, but we were all pitching in some way or another. We became friends. First, it was dinner together after rehearsal, then it became parties on Saturday nights, until we had inside jokes with everybody. We were a little army and having these relationships made rehearsals better, made us as actors better. We all poured our sweat and tears into this show. Seriously, there were tears.
Judy, who played Dorothy, got dumped by her boyfriend during their two year anniversary date and wouldn't get out of bed, let alone rehearsal. So all the girls piled into a van and drove to her apartment. Clara, who played Aunt Em, led the band, bringing the cookies and nail polish. We huddled in Judy's living room gossiping about Hollywood, the rest of the cast, and rumors that the director cheated on his wife and she was leaving him to move to Hawaii (turns out it was just a rumor spread by the costume designer because he wouldn't let her make Dorothy's dress pink). And you know what? Judy came to rehearsal the next morning with a smile on her face and a date scheduled the next week.
Of course our friendship wasn't perfect. Once, Ray, who played the Scarecrow and the prankster on set, hid behind a prop during the Tin Man's big song. Ray jumped out to scare him, causing Jack to trip and fall on his back, which caused him to get stuck in his costume and require four people to help him up. Granted, it was very funny to watch and we all had our moments.
Opening night was one of the best moments. We were all basking in the glow of accomplishment. Bert, the Cowardly Lion, was stress eating donuts, Frank, the Wizard, was doing card tricks, Clara was straightening her wig, Bessie, who played Glinda, was spinning in her frilly pink dress, and Charley, who played Uncle Henry, was tap dancing (even though he does not tap dance in the play). Jack, Judy, and I were subtly peaking through the curtains, watching people file into their seats. It was so surreal. We worked hard on this show, and now we got to share it with the world.
"Now, try your best to hate me," I said as I put on my black hat. I was starting to sweat and ruin the paint that I had been covered in not long ago.
Jack and Judy nodded, still looking into the crowd. "Yeah, I know. It is hard to hate me when I'm this fabulous." Using my palm, I flipped my hair over my shoulder in a dramatic flare.
"Guys! Away from the curtain! We don't want anyone to see you!" Victor, the director who was rumored to have cheated on his wife, stomped toward us and scowled. His very presence was intimidating. We scurried away and I went to join Tap Dancing Charley.
The stress was starting to get to me but just a look around and I could tell I was not alone. Charley stopped his tap dancing and was chugging water, Bessie was tucking paper towels in her armpits, Clara was still straightening her wig, Frank was chucking his cards in the trash, and Bert was now munching celery. I stood there awkwardly, looking around.
"Places people! Places!" Head Stage Manager, Patty, was buzzing around with her clipboard and earpiece. "Ten minutes till curtain!"
The Makeup Artist, May, took one look at me and tugged me to her station. "Margaret, sweety, you're ruining your paint. Stop sweating." She handed me two cold water bottles from the fridge, which I tucked under my arms. It did little to calm the onslaught of worse case scenarios popping into my head. The scenarios I concocted weren't the usual 'I forgot my lines, what do I do?' and more of 'What if somebody dies in the audience? Do I continue like nothing happened or do I rush off stage and call an ambulance?'
"Sorry," I mumbled, "This is my first bug theater show."
"Oh, honey, if you weren't good enough, you wouldn't have been cast." She started to apply the nice cold paint in places it was fading.
"I never thought of it like that."
"Well, I've been in this business for almost a decade and you're not the first terrified actress." She finished her work, yanked me out of the chair, and shoved me toward the stage. "Now, get out there and show people what you can do."
"But I'm not in this scene," I said though she had already turned away.
"Margaret, what the heck are you doing on stage?" Patty waved me away urgently.
Victor, in his black suit and combed hair, walked in front of the curtain with a microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to tonight's production of The Wizard of Oz. I'm the director, Victor Fleming, and I hope you enjoy yourself. I know that our Dorothy is a great actress because she is about to bring the house down." I rolled my eyes as the audience lamely chuckled. "Without further adieu, The Wizard Of Oz!"
As he walked off stage, the curtain rose to Dorothy sitting in her living room with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. The set consisted of a couch, rocking chair, coffee table, a rug, and several bookshelves.
"I don't understand," Dorothy says, clutching Toto in her lap.
"Miss Gulch is u'set 'cause Toto keeps gettin' inta her garden and chasing her chickens," explained Aunt Em.
"Toto ne'er did an'thing wrong!"
"Now, now, Dorothy, ya need to teach that dog how ta behave," Uncle Henry grumbled.
I zoned out and scanned the audience for my parents. It wasn't hard to find them; they had insisted on sitting in the front row. I managed to persuade the Box Office Director to move my two free tickets to the front.
With all the people in the theater, it never looked so big. Suddenly, I felt sick.
"Dorothy, that is not up for negotiation!" Uncle Henry stormed out of the "room" at the same moment I tripped over a prop candlestick on my way to the trash can. There was a loud thunk as the candlestick connected with Charley's head. He crashed to the ground (off the stage luckily) causing Aunt Em to whip her head around to see what had happened.
Her mouth squished into a horrified 'o'. "Henry! Be careful! This is why we can't have nice things!" Clara is a quick thinker, and it's a good thing too because the audience chuckled as we drag an unconscious Charley further backstage.
"What the heck happened?" Victor whisper-shrieked.
"I tripped over a candlestick and it hit him," I said sheepishly, hanging my head. Just my luck.
"You! Get him an ice pack!" Victor pointed at Patty, who rushed off.
Bessie came over and bent down. "Look at the bump on his head. He won't be able to go back on stage. He probably has a concussion."
"Great," Victor muttered.
I snapped my head up, an idea forming in my mind. "Victor… you look the most like Charley. Get into his spare costume and play his part."
He considered, then shook his head. "Absolutely not. I don't even know his lines."
"You're the director! You know generality of his his lines are! And he's in the next scene. So unless you want your show to get bad reviews for not making any sense, get dressed and get on stage!" I waved my hands around wildly.
The next scene was clunky and awkward but better than it would have been without an Uncle Henry. Watching that scene, I thought the worst of it was over, that we had gotten over that bump and bruise. But how wrong I was.
Before I knew it, Dorothy's house crashed down in Oz and it was my turn but the knots in my stomach kept twisting and twisting. Clara gave me an encouraging thumbs up that didn't help at all, though it's the thought that counts. Taking a deep breath in, I walked down the steps that led under the stage where a trapdoor was.
I waited silently, listening for my cue. Climbing up on the ladder, I pushed the door, fully prepared to emerge on stage and be scary. But it wouldn't budge. What the heck? I kept pushing and pushing. Someone must have been standing on the trapdoor. This had happened once before. John, one of the children playing a munchkin, accidentally stood on the door. He must be the one on it now.
Faintly, I heard the confusion on stage and tried to push again. No budge. Push. No budge. This time I threw all of my weight into the door, expecting it to open enough for John to move away. Instead, I came flying out and tumbled on stage into the confusion. I was a little confused myself.
I sat there dumbly for a while, then hopped to my feet as the munchkins realized this was the part where they scream. Shaking myself of shock, I switched to my brooding, scary self and stalked over to the house and the fake legs of the Wicked Witch of the East.
"Who killed my sister?" I croaked as I walked toward Glinda and Dorothy. "Who killed the Witch of the East? Was it you?" I pointed a green finger at Dorothy.
She looked frightened as she whispered, "No. It was an accident. I didn't mean to kill an'body."
"Well, my little pretty, I can cause accidents too!"
"Aren't you forgetting the ruby slippers?" Glinda asked, her voice lilting and sweet.
"The slippers? Yes," I walked back to the house. "There gone! The ruby slippers! What have you done with them?" I walked back over to Glinda and Dorothy. So much back and forth. "Give them back to me or I'll—"
"It's too late," Glinda interjected, "there they are and there they'll stay." She pointed her wand at Dorothy's feet where the ruby slippers had been put on while I distracted the audience. It's a simple trick.
Dorothy gasped and twirled her foot around, admiring the slippers.
"Give me my slippers back!"
"It's too late, you have no power here. Now go before someone drops a house on you too," Glinda laughed.
"I'll get you, my pretty, and you're little dog too." I walked over to the other trapdoor and stomped my foot, falling through it onto a padded platform. Getting up, I straightened my costume and walked quietly up the stairs and backstage, where I got several good jobs, thumbs ups, and pats on the back.
I rushed to the bathroom where I threw up in the toilet.
"What a pretty little dog," I stuffed the stuffed dog into the basket and turned toward Dorothy, "And you. It's so kind of you to visit me in my loneliness."
"What are ya gonna do with my dog? Give 'im back to me!" Dorothy clutched a tissue in her hand and sniffed.
"All in good time, my little pretty," I crooned, "All in good time."
"Oh please give me back my dog!"
"Certainly, certainly, when you give me those slippers."
Dorothy shook her head. "But the Good Witch of the North told me not ta."
"Very well," I turned to the monkey on my left, "Throw that basket in the river and drown him!"
"No, no, no! Here, ya can have these slippers! Just give me back Toto!"
"That's a good little girl. I knew you'd see reason." I bent down to grab the slippers but yanked my hand back, feigning shocked and yelped.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Can I still have my dog?"
"No! Fool that I am. I should have remembered. Those slippers will never come off, as long as you're alive. But that's not what's worrying me, it's how to do it. These things must be done delicately or you hurt the spell."
Suddenly, Dorothy yelled, "Run, Toto! Run!"
I whipped my head around to see the stuffed animal yanked out of the basket and out the "window" pulled by a string. I turned to the monkey and yelled at him to get the dog.
When I scurried toward the door, I tripped on the wood table at the center of the set and went flying. I fell into the door frame prop, snapping it in half. Me and the prop went tumbling toward the ground. Crap!
The only thing I could do was army crawl off stage, dragging half of the door with me. Dorothy stood there, stunned, not quite sure what to do. Soon, she gathered her wits and raced to where it was and pretended to bang on the invisibly closed door. Some of the audience chuckled and others whispered, confused.
My cheeks heated as I realized what I had done. Tears started to come down my face, thinking that I had just ruined the show. The Wicked Witch of the West does not cry! I scolded. Bert came up to me and gave me a big hug.
"Until the time that I return, the Scarecrow, by virtue with his highly superior brain, will rule in my place." The Wizard and Dorothy were crowded into a balloon, with Ozians surrounding them. I watched from backstage.
"He will be assisted by the Tin Man and his magnificent heart and the Lion by virtue of his courage." Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion gave mock bows. Toto, again pulled by the invisible string, went flying from Dorothy's arms. She called out and exited the balloon to chase after him, when delirious Charley got up from the couch behind me, he bumped into the person reeling Toto in, and attempted to go on stage.
Toto stopped in the middle of the set and Dorothy tripped over him. Victor ran over, trying to pin Charley down and keep him from going any further. I ran to get the string and continued pulling Toto in, but the string was wrapped around Dorothy's foot and when I pulled the string, I also pulled her.
"Victor, do you want me to pull Dorothy in with Toto or leave them?"
"Pull… in," Victor forced out while keeping Charley back. I yanked on the string, hoping it wouldn't snap, and started reeling them in. Dorothy slid across the stage and I struggled to pull her in a way that didn't show off her underwear. The other actors on stage stood there and watched.
"Balloon!" Victor motioned to the stage crew to pull the lever that caused the balloon to rise up.
After the Wizard snapped out of his trance, he recited, "This is a highly irregular—um—procedure. I'm afraid this is ruining my exit."
Judy, from backstage shouted, "Don't go without me! Come back! Come back!"
"I can't come back! I don't know how it works! Goodbye folks!" The balloon rose from sight. Getting the string off her leg, Dorothy raced back on stage to stand with her friends.
"Oh, no, I'll never get home."
"Stay with us then, Dorothy. We love you," the Lion took her hand and squeezed it. "We don't want you to go."
"That's very kind of you but this ain't Kansas. An' Auntie Em will be wondering where I am by now." Dorothy started to cry.
I heard a grunt from next to me and saw that Victor was still wrestling Charley. Frank, who had exited the balloon in the rafters and rushed down the stairs, came to help. Not sure what to do, I grabbed Charley's feet. He kicked and squirmed but I held him tightly.
When he stilled, I let go. Victor and Frank loosened their grip as well. I turned back to watch the rest of the show, but Charley spazzed, his legs shooting out and sweeping my feet from under me.
I started to fall and tried to grope the wall for a hold. Wrapping my fingers around cold metal I attempted to steady myself, but the cold metal I grasped was a lever. Not only did I fall on my butt in a way that would leave a bruise for weeks, I also pulled the lever down that controlled the balloon.
"Now click your heels three—" Glinda started. The balloon crashed down onto the stage, splintering it.
Everyone jumped; the stage crew, the actors, the audience, Victor, Frank, Charley, me. When the shock of what happened cleared, Victory turned to me. "Margaret!" I didn't hear him. I was staring at the balloon that had crashed through the stage. There was no fixing the show now.
Judy, who stood, staring at the balloon, turned around to the audience. "Well, I guess Dorothy's stuck in Oz," she declared with a shrug. Everyone laughed, including me. The actors got the hint and started lining up on stage. I stood next to Judy and as we bowed, she squeezed my hand and I squeezed hers.
Bang! We all spun around to see the balloon crash down into the lower level, rattling the stage. It was that rattle that brought the rest of the set down and the Emerald City collapsed around us. First it was the background, then the foreground, then the props, until the whole stage was in ruin.
And from that ruin, still-delirious Charley stumbled over it all to join our line up. I couldn't help the laugh that burbled from me. It was a chuckle at first, until it became a cackle, and then I was on my knees laughing so hard I couldn't breathe.
Like a chain reaction, the people around me started laughing, then the crew, then the audience. How did this all go so horribly wrong? This is all my fault, I thought vaguely.