Editor’s Note – As most of you know, as a little challenge to myself, I’ve spent the last year in my run-up to that dreaded 40th Birthday (June 6, 2012) writing 40 posts that say something about my life – or more specifically, how I got to be the guy I am today. Most of these are original pieces crafted in the past year but some are old posts that I’ve dusted off, added some new material and reprinted once again. This is one of those. After all – I wrote all of this once before. Lightning ain’t gonna’ strike twice, people. So, the point of this piece is to pay tribute to Gateway, the Community Theater group I’ve been part of since 2008. This was written way back when I was a rookie – with nary a clue of what to do – which is exactly how I ended up missing my mark and getting punched out for real on stage. I’ve tried to make it light and funny but there can be no doubt; when that fist landed it made its impact. I knew at that moment that this was EXACTLY what I’ve wanted to do for such a long, long time!!! So glad I didn’t duck. Enjoy!!!
If I ever go to war, I know exactly who I want in my fox hole.
That’s right, the legendary actor who thrilled audiences and blitzkrieged Broadway with his iconic turn as the Phantom of the Opera. Granted, I’ve never seen the show and the last Playbill I paged through was for The Backyardigans: Tales of the Mighty Knights – ON ICE!!!, but if there is one thing I’ve learned from my recent experience on stage, it’s those actors can really kick some ass.
As you all know and thus far have chosen to ignore (based solely on the middling response to my recent e-mail announcement of ticket availability), I am making my long-awaited return center stage in the Gateway Players’ production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. For those who saw my initial e-mail and granted Yahoo authorization to label me SPAM, I’ve got you now. Read no further lest you want to learn that you can pre-purchase tickets ($10 a pop) through me by e-mailing email@example.com. Performances run October 17, 18, 24 and 25th at 7:30 p.m. at the Gateway Theater in Southbridge, MA (111 Main Street). There is also a special Sunday matinee on October 19th at 2:00 p.m. EST.
But that’s not what this is all about. No, we’re here to talk about the rough and tumble world of community theater. A hard-scrabble existence where performers tip-toe along a razor’s edge, looking to raise their voice just enough to entertain the cheap seats but not so loud as to attract unnecessary attention from their supposed brothers-in-arms. At least that’s the real world I spied last Thursday night when one errant punch ripped through the fabric of existence, shattering the fairy-tale image I had of this theater company and revealing the true heart of darkness that beats within.
One errant punch that broadsided my jaw and left me shaken, stirred and ready for next weekend’s UFC tryouts.
This is all true mind you so if you thought that by signing up for tickets, you were in for a boring night at the THE-EAHHH-TAHHH, well you are so very mistaken, my friend. We’re talking a performance so unpredictable that at any moment, the fists could fly and you could finally witness my demise. Who had October 17 through the 25th in the Ed Humphries Dead Pool?
Anyway, here’s the unvarnished truth. Last Thursday night, we were rehearsing Act II. As I have described in the past, I make a number of appearances in the play – some carry extended sequences of dialogue where others are merely walk-on moments. In these instances, as Aide Warren, I’m expected to stroll through the scene, glare at the patients whom I carry deep disdain for, move them around if the scene calls for it and leave. I’m Miss Ratched’s right hand man so I (and Aide Williams) are usually playing the part of “harbinger of doom”. We’re her muscle. Her stormtroopers. Her Cerberus and Erebus. (Hey, how did I hear laughter in type?)
Act I seems to be the Act in which I really get to act. I’ve got 31 lines total and the bulk of those are said in the first half. I’m the 2nd person to speak on stage and I feature in a couple of memorable scenes. If you’re an Ed fan, Act I is the one you want to see.
If you pledge allegiance to the other camp and desire to see me torn limb from limb, then Act II is where the action’s at. In Act II, McMurphy (the lead) and I get into a scrape during a group meeting scene. I won’t spoil the scene, suffice it to say that things escalate quickly and jabs get thrown.
This is where we found ourselves last Thursday – trying to fine-tune a pantomime of punches to make it look raw and visceral to the audience. The problem is, neither McMurphy (Chris Morse) or I (Ed Humphries) wanted to hurt the other guy. So we sort of dialed things down a notch – pulling punches and swinging away at half-speed. The director, the other actors and the cleaning lady all said we looked like pansies. We had to step it up and really make with the melee. Throw those punches like we really wanted to kill each other. If we needed inspiration, we were to visualize something we despised. I dialed up Dane Cook and went to work.
We begin when McMurphy trips me as I make a beeline for another inmate. Some words are exchanged and then it’s Thunderdome. As scripted, McMurphy is supposed to throw one drowsy punch my way, which is easily dodged and then I level him with a gutt-shot. The problem is, my character needs to end the fight with my back to another principal character. The way the staging was working, one dodged punch was putting me in the exact opposite position. So, we performed an unauthorized rewrite and added two punches. Don’t bother contacting the author. He’s gonna’ have his hands full with the tap-dancing penguins we appended to the climax.
So, I went from having to dodge one punch to two – essentially doubling down on the danger. No problem, I said. I come from the Mean Streets of Rockland, MA meaning I know how to give and take a beating. Growing up, if I wasn’t perched in front of the tube watching Blair discover The Facts of Life then I was lurking in a treehouse punching the clown, beating the bishop or pummeling the sea horse. I know how to handle myself. (Wait a minute, I finally figured out what Fight Club is all about!)
So we worked for a few moments on the fight. McMurphy would toss jabs left and right and I would reach deep down into my gooey cerebral cortex and dredge up a mental image of Little Mac taking on Soda Popinski.
Dodge UP. Dodge UP. Duck DOWN. Duck DOWN. Stick LEFT. Move RIGHT. Stick LEFT. Move RIGHT. Punch B. Hit A. SELECT. START. Even if he knocked the life out of me, I had 99 more to go.
We had the dodges down, but the director thought I really had to throw myself into the jab to McMurphy’s midsection. Instead of simply firing a shot at him from a standing position, he thought it would look better if I just lunged forward – pushing my fist deep into his belly. That would allow me to pull my punch (and not really kill the guy) while also injecting some more fury into the scene. It sounded good to the two of us, so we added the move to our repertoire and prayed that our director didn’t grow up addicted to Mortal Kombat II. It’s been awhile since I busted out a Fatality.
With that done, we decided to move on with the scene. The director started giving some instructions and said we would start the scene from the lunge. McMurphy was having a little sidebar with another actor who was telling him to really put some mustard into his punches – that from his perspective, we had the timing right but needed more power. His famous last words were:
“Don’t worry. He’ll dodge it.”
The director yells action. McMurphy gets ready to take it from the top and locks the mammoth pistons he calls arms into place. I prepare to start from mid-scene and get myself pumped to lunge and punch with Thor’s Hammer (that would be my right arm, punks!!!)
McMurphy tosses fuel in the furnace – gears crank, fire and smoke bellow and his fist rockets forward causing the air to ripple in its wake. My eyes are on Thor. On my word, he unleashes hell, charging towards McMurphy with one thought on its mind (“Steal his Kidney”).
After taking one last, lingering glance at that beautiful appendage, my eyes lift just in time to see Chris’s fist on fast approach with my mug. Klaxons blare in my head while neurons jump ship. The world gets all Matrixy. Time slows to a crawl. My life flashes before my eyes and surprisingly each image is presented with commercial interruption. Ahhh, my kingdom for DVR!!!! I yell to myself – “Pull Up!” PULL UP!!!!” With milliseconds to spare, my chin begins its achingly slow ascent skyward. It’s too little, too late. An asteroid the size of Texas slams into my jaw and I quickly realize that not even a team of drunken oil riggers could have averted this tragedy. Not when we’re off book.
The world grows dark. There is no sound aside from a hushed ruffling – like pterodactyl wings in a darkened closet that quickly grows to a constant whisper. In the distance I see a pinprick of light. Wind whooshes all around me, searching for golden locks to blow in the breeze before resigning itself to my arm hair. I’m carried on this current, propelled through the diminishing shadows as the light source grows larger and more vibrant. Along the way, phantasms step forth from the inky darkness, ghosts from my past offering me the secrets of the universe. All mine if I’ll just linger a little longer.
Jack Bauer tells me there’s no master plan, they’re just making it up as they go along. The Cigarette Smoking Man acknowledges The X-Files should have ended after Season 6. Sipowicz admits he never should have shown his ass.
I realize quickly, I’ve got to get a life. I’ve got to get busy living – not get busy dying. I choose life and immediately I am thrust back through the darkness and awaken on the stage.
“I’m back. I’M ALIVE!!!”, I shout. My pointer finger starts swinging like a Geiger counter – picking out my fellow thespians one-by-one. “And you were there. AND YOU WERE THERE. And you. AND YOU!!!”
I quickly realize my proof of life has gone unnoticed. They’re seven pages ahead, working out the kinks in the big morgue scene. I scout the area in hot pursuit of the day’s call sheet. Next to Aide Warren, my name has been crossed out and replaced with – JANITOR or MANNEQUIN. Oh my God, my big break – erased in the blink of an eye. Then I scan further down the list and spy something that eases the sum of all my fears.
Come see Ed Humphries as Cadaver #3 in the Gateway Players’ production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Performances run October 17, 18, 24 and 25th at 7:30 p.m. at the Gateway Theater in Southbridge, MA (111 Main Street), as well as a special Sunday matinee on October 19th at 2:00 p.m. EST. Advanced tickets can be arranged by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The nice thing about the afterlife – Free Wi-Fi.