Monday, December 19, 2011

Little Shop of Upstaging

I'm dogsitting with my sister's Golden Retriever, Jack, and have hung out with my friend Stefan for a couple of days. I miss Stef. Back in my late twenties, he hove into view as one of the huge cadre of work-study students in the library at the Baptist college where I worked. I didn't particularly like him at first because he could be a little whiny and a lot lazy when the mood took him. I recruited him to the academic team, and got to know him a little better. By my last semester there, we were cast together in a show. We were in the ensemble opener together, and each had a vocal feature in the same four-person number in the second act.

The student director for this show, Steven, took an immediate dislike to several of us whom he considered 'lily white' and 'useless'. Stefan, another friend called Cee, and I were voted "most likely to still be virgins" by the 'cool kids' in the cast...something that made Stefan angry but enraged Cee, an old-school Southern gentleman who was offended not only for himself, but also on my behalf. Even bringing it up (and it's been oh, almost twelve years ago now) in his presence sends him off into an angry diatribe to this day. It was Little Shop of Horrors, by the way. I was a hooker and Stef and Cee were bums in the opening act.

What Steven had failed to consider was that I was caught directly behind him in the spotlight during his vocal feature in "Skid Row". After the "Cast Virgins" incident, I decided to upstage him during his own number. As a director, he gave us little, if any, direction at all. I planned my moment carefully and didn't let anyone in on it until the night of the open full-dress rehearsal. They put the spot on him, and right over his shoulder, I pretended to chew gum, roll my eyes, yawn, adjust my stockings, and play with my hair. I could see his shoulders tensing because he couldn't figure out why the audience was laughing at him- it was a dramatic moment for his character- and he couldn't turn around to see what was going on behind him. I was so far back in the set that nobody could do it inconspicuously...ergo, he was ignorant of the fact until he saw the video footage several days after we closed and the set was struck.

As we watched the playback, the camera zoomed in on the hooker in question, eliciting a howl of anger from him. His sister was the videographer, and I'd drawn her attention from him to me. The shot corrected quickly, focusing back on Steven, but the damage was done. For every night of the run, I'd gotten a good laugh out of the crowd while he strutted and mugged, doing a poor imitation of Rick Moranis's film version of Seymour. Unpleasant realization dawned and he rounded on me, spluttering: "You, you did that on purpose!" I gave him a sickeningly sweet smile and said, "Tallulah Bankhead once glued the bottom of a glass that she proceeded to set on the edge of a cocktail table just before she left the stage. The audience was so busy staring at it that they ignored the rest of the scene."

He opened his mouth and closed it, setting his lips in a thin line of disgust. Without another word, he rose and stalked out of the theatre professor's office and didn't come back.

His acting career hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, he's basically sitting on his butt in his little hometown doing not much of anything important. Meanwhile, the Virginal Three are: a professional actor, an attorney, and a full professor...yeah, we're a bunch of losers, all right. *smirk*

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