The Shapiro Files

Monday, May 11, 2009

Live Theater, Real-Time Disasters

A theater friend of mine recently posted a fun blog entry about how mistakes during a live performance can actually enhance the experience of seeing a show. It reminds the audience that something real is happening right in front of them, something that everyone is participating in--audience and cast alike.

While I've experienced my share of mishaps on stage, my time as a music director and pit musician was especially full of such unexpected challenges that could only happen in live theater. For example, there was the time when the nearly 50-pound digital piano I was playing slipped off its stand and ended up in my lap while I was simultaneously playing and conducting. The audience that night got to enjoy a rather surprising "cluster chord" noise coming out of the pit and a momentarily missing 1st trumpet, who left his station to rescue me.

Then there was the time I was conducting Secret Garden in Boston and during one of the quietest, most emotional moments, my second keyboardist accidentally hit the wrong button on his control panel and a Techno beat came blaring out of his amp. I could barely make it through the rest of the act due to my uncontrollable (albeit pit-appropriate-quiet) laughing.

Another favorite memory was when I doing a performance of JC Superstar in Davis and the music director/drummer/producer (ya gotta love community theater) had to deal with a mid-show technical issue and wasn't able to make it back to the pit before the next number, which happened to be in the rather unusual 7/8 time signature. Just as we were about to start the song sans-drums, much to my surprise, one of the actors suddenly appeared behind the drum kit and played the whole song in 4/4.

And finally, I should probably share at least one acting-related story. During a performance of Last Night of Ballyhoo, I was in the dressing room when fellow cast member Anne burst in with a look of panic on her face and declared, "They're ad-libbing!" She was referring to the actors on stage who had resorted to making up lines because someone was late on their entrance. I told Anne that I thought perhaps she was the one who was late. After a beat, she bolted out of the dressing room.

Moments like these remind me why there's nothing quite like live theater.


  • That's why I love improv. Every "mistake" is a gift to the performers and audience.

    By Anonymous David Scott, at 5/13/2009 5:36 PM  

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