You may have heard of the Actor’s Nightmare. You dream that you’re about to go onstage, but there is a problem. Perhaps you don’t know your lines, or have on the wrong costume, or no costume at all. Maybe you don’t know what part you’re to play or even what play is being put on. Everyone else is calm, and you’re terrified.
Christopher Durang even wrote a short play called The Actor’s Nightmare.
I’ve only been in a few dozen shows, but every so often I have that nightmare. I’ve even had the nightmare years after doing a show. Last night I had a new wrinkle.
My old theatre company, Altoona Community Theatre, staged a short version of Elephant’s Graveyard as a performance entry for the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theatre (PACT) Festival last month. They won seven of twelve awards in Philadelphia and are taking the show to the Eastern States Theatre Association’s regional competition ESTAFest2013 (Rome, NY, April 19 to 21). I hadn’t been able to see it, but last weekend, when I was to be in town to see my daughter, they were performing it with two other shorts as part of Things Unseen’s season at the Church in the Middle of the Block.
Some people I knew in ACT are also in Things Unseen, whose mandate is to present challenging plays. I had already taken my daughter to see Oleanna, about sexual harassment, and Stop Kiss, about a lesbian romance marred by an assault, so I planned to bring her. When I got to town, though, no one else thought that was a good idea. I was told that she had read about the true story behind the play, in which the appalling decision is made to hang an elephant, and probably couldn’t handle seeing it on stage. She keeps a lot of pets, and has a great deal of empathy for animals. I thought the play would be worthwhile, but I wasn’t sure what sort of emotional buttons the play might be pushing, so we stayed home.
Last night, back in the city, I had this dream where I was somehow dropped off in downtown Altoona, walking around with all this baggage hanging off of me. Suddenly a door opens and the cast of the play spills out, carrying the set and props along with them. My friends from the show are shaking my hand, smiling broadly and thanking me for coming, and waiting for me to say how much I enjoyed the show. And I’m trying to decide if I should lie and get myself in deeper, or admit the awful truth and watch their faces fall.
Why can’t I dream about monsters like ordinary people?