“Friends, Romans … yikes!”

JAMES MASON as Marcus Brutus in the 1953 film production of “Julius Caesar” (MGM).

It was a dark and scary night.

Studies have indicated that, next to death, the thing that people fear the most is getting up in front of a group to speak. That fear applies, I think to people whether speaking to a fourth grade classroom to do a book report, or making a PowerPoint presentation in front of The Boss from Corporate.

Further imagine having to do this, or something much more complicated, several times a week up on stage in front of a bunch of total strangers.

Which brings us to why I admire the folks at One More Productions, who are beginning their 2021-2021 season of musical theater with “A Chorus Line” at the Gem Theatre on Main Street in Garden Grove on Sept. 9.

Many years ago, when fire has just been invented and Abraham Lincoln was in law school, I did some school plays. My debut was in sixth grade, playing Marcus Brutus in a production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

In my mind, I was one of the great 11-year-old Shakespearean actors. Being cast as Brutus, my role came with the bonus of getting to wield a plastic sword and ventilate Caesar in the famous “Et tu, Brutus?” scene.

This was at Lampson – now Ralston – Intermediate School in Garden Grove and all was going well until the “Ghost of Caesar” scene. As you may remember, the ghost of Julius appears to Brutus in his tent before the big battle with Marc Anthony for the purpose of talking some smack.

It’s night – in theory – and the only light in the auditorium (other than a few weak footlights) is the candle Brutus/me is holding. My line was, “How ill the taper burns!”  But in pronouncing that short sentence, my enunciation was so done with such gusto that I accidentally blew the candle out.

The stage, then, was almost completely dark.  So there I was with this dead “taper” as The Ghost (Ron Zajec, who was later a teacher and athletic director at Garden Grove High, then a high school vice principal) shuffled forward, draped in a gauzy cheesecloth shroud.

It was a minor miracle that one or more of us didn’t step off the stage and crash to the auditorium floor, or, at the very least, fumble our lines. Once we made it off the stage in one piece, I resolved to do subsequent performances with a flashlight.

Such mishaps are what separate stage acting from movie and TV art. In those two latter categories, you can stop, restart, edit, dub, loop, etc. to cover stumbles. In live stage performances – even among the preteen set – you are all on your own. There’s no director to yell cut, no opportunity to ask “line” (unless you want to disgrace yourself).

Live stage theater is like working the high wire without a net. Local theater is also an endangered species, so the fact that the Gem is still operating as a high quality theatrical house is something of a miracle as well.

So here’s a suggestion. Take a break from live-streaming all your amusement. Buy a ticket and watch real live people do real acting, dancing, etc. without the crutch of CGI or 15 takes and retakes.

You may leave with new admiration for those relying only on their own courage, skill, ego, and a candle.

Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” is posted on alternative weeks, trading places with “Usually Reliable Sources.” For ticket and other information about “A Chorus Line,” go to www.onemoreproductions.com .






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