Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Acting in the Moment (of Uncertainty), Part Three
The night the lights went out.
Scripps Ranch Theatre's new play program, "Out on a Limb," had its inaugural opening last Friday. Led by Producer/Program Director Robert May, actors did full productions of three one-act plays..
"The theater seats 118," says May, "and we had over 100 in attendance - for a NEW PLAY program!"
The first two went smoothly. The third, Liza Kirazian's On Air, would begin around 9:55. During intermission, May went outside. A member of the Scripps Ranch board ran up: "SDG&E's shutting power down at 10:15. Have to fix a transformer."
"But we need until about 10:45!" said May. "Can't they delay?"
"Nope. Done deal."
The theater is part of the campus of Alliant International University, which was having a problem with underground power lines. On Tuesday, they turned them off for eight hours.
As he paced toward an adjacent building, May's mind raced. He took several deep breaths, looked at the people milling around, and made a decision. He ran back into the theater and asked DaNae Steele,the lighting designer, and Deepti Kingra, the stage manager, where the flashlights were.
"The best theater stories I've ever heard have been when some unforeseen obstacle had to be overcome and people were thrilled to say 'I was there when...'
"I was willing to finish the show with flashlights, if necessary."
Ten minutes before curtain, as the stage manager alerted the actors, May gave the audience an impromptu speech.
"We told you this was live, local theater. We didn't expect it to be quite so live and local." He explained the situation, adding that he didn't think SDG&E would shut off power in a room full of people. "But if they do, we have some flashlights and some of you have iPhones that put off light."
He invited any uncomfortable people to leave. When no one did, he said "we're going to finish this damn show, so let's get going!"
He sat in the back row with Steele. Both brought flashlights just in case. Ten minutes into the reading, the board member snuck in, thumbs up: "you're good till 10:45!"
The play is based on Liza Kirazian's father, a literature professor who taught during the Vietnam era. The most intense scene begins with the professor - played by Jeffrey Jones - reading a letter from a former student, who is dying in Vietnam. Then a student who got a bad grade on an essay confronts the professor with a gun. If he fails the class, he's drafted.
As the scene began, the air conditioning suddenly stopped. Then the lights flickered and died. Only the EXIT signs stayed on as the room began to warm up.
May and Steele ran to the front of the stage and flash-lit the actors.
"It's actually effective lighting for this type of scene," says May," who was in "absolute theater heaven - a feeling of risk and accomplishment and pride and ensemble, ofj belonging that just floods over you."
He also noticed a "heightened sense of adventure and enjoyment' in Jeffrey Jones. "He's really doing this and it's working well."
Jones, who had a similar adventure this year in Cygnet's A Behanding in Spokane, thrives on these moments.
He heard the generator go "pop." Then the room went pitch black, followed by a collective gasp. All he saw were "just light beams in a canopy of darkness." So, he says, "we just do it, laughing at whoever, whatever - surrendering to it all."
He was supposed to receive two phone calls. But how could he with the power off?
"Wait. I know. I'll call them!
When the student pulled the gun, Jones sat still with it pressed to his temple. "Perfect timing, so perfect it should be put into the script."
"I had control by simply letting all these new elements allow themselves to enter."
About eight or nine minutes later, the air conditioning kicked back on, followed by the lights, slowly.
As May and Steele backed away from the stage, he felt "a sadness that we couldn't finish the show with flashlights. But all was back to 'normal.' The show ended, the audience loved the evening and now can say 'I remember a show at SRT when...'"
More like this:
- The rebirth of Cardiff's own Jonathan Jones — Sept. 7, 2009
- Before It Was the Gaslamp: Downtown's Grindhouse Row (updated 8-22-09) — July 23, 2008
- Before It Was The Gaslamp: Illustrated Sequel — May 1, 2008
- Before It Was The Gaslamp: Illustrated Sequel — March 23, 2008
- Before It Was The Gaslamp: PS — Sept. 4, 2007