Wednesday, July 06, 2005


We're midway through an 8-week run, and things are going well from an appreciation standpoint — audiences are enjoying it, spreading the word, and we keep having to show up at the theatre to film promos, do interviews and whatnot.

The only bump in the road so far (and it's a big one) is that one of our cast keeps getting sick and missing performances. In the world of Chicago Theatre, understudies are few and usually found only in the largest, most prestigious venues (primarily because it's a crappy job and hardly worth doing even for union scale; more on that some other time). In this particular case, what's been happening is the producers have been sending a non-actor onstage with a script, and they've been reading the part during the show. The audience is notified beforehand and given the option to take a raincheck, but — surprisingly — most people have stayed for the performance anyway, and things have seemingly turned out well, all things considered.

Still, at this point, 25% of our scheduled performances have either been done without a full cast or — in the case of the first weekend — cancelled entirely. I am, of course, concerned about my sick fellow cast member, but past a certain point our performances stop being a heroic story about "the show must go on" and just become plain unprofessional and bad business. A case in point this last week was when one particular ticketholder, hearing that there was going to be a non-actor non-understudy reading the role, angrily demanded her money back and left because this particular performance WAS her raincheck — she'd come once before, been told there would be an emergency put-in, and had decided she'd rather come back later and see the whole (presumably healthy) cast. Well, it was 3 weeks later and the same sh** was still happening, so she left in a huff. It would be a lot easier to dismiss this as an isolated incident, or toss it off as more her problem than ours, if it weren't for the fact that this particular patron was an employee of HotTix, and in a position to recommend shows to all their patrons. (HotTix, for those who don't know, is Chicago's version of Broadway's TKTS — you can get last-minute tickets to a variety of shows, and they do a brisk business with tourists).

That incident alone probably cost the producers a substantial amount of money and, possibly, affected the long-term viability of the show (the producers wanting to turn it into a franchise of sorts).

All sorts of lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is that it's called Show "Business" for a reason (something actors today are told much more than they were when I started, but which they probably often don't truly understand). Another aspect is that it's a cautionary tale about how your actions have an impact on others. The producers are just as much to blame for not taking corrective action on this sooner, but — even if this is an entirely uncontrollable sickness that manifests itself without warning (fully deserving of my sympathy and understanding) — I'm still a little miffed that this actor didn't realize that they were, in a word, undependable (or at least potentially so), so that better back-up measures could be put in place. As it is, their sudden realizations that they can't go on (it's always sudden, happening moments before curtain or even between acts) create a situation that is unfair to the audience, unfair to the person who has to walk on in their place, unfair to the producers, and unfair to their fellow cast members.

And, unfortunately, it makes me think less of them as a person, rather than garnering my sympathy. I even find myself wondering about the authenticity of these attacks since, outwardly at least, they do not seem to be making an effort to follow their doctor's advice. Also, when an attack comes upon them, they make no effort to treat their supposed symptoms — they just decide it's over and throw in the towel.

So yeah, I'm concerned about this person, but I also think there comes a point when you have to cut through the backstage drama in order to ensure the onstage drama can continue.


Story said...

Evan -

It's good to find your blog! I just started up acting in Chicago and it's very informative to read yours. Please keep it coming!

I'm at

Evan said...

Same to you, Story. Always glad to meet another Chicago thespian blogger. Busy now, but I'll take a spin by your blog from time to time and see how you're doing.

James said...

Very happy to read this blog. I'm not really a "blogger", but an equity actor working in chicago, and I like checking out your experiences in this insane gig that we do. Please keep it up