Around the same time as Arsenic and Old Lace made its debut in New York, Disney came out with the animated movie, Pinocchio. My favorite song from that soundtrack is “An Actor’s Life for Me.” The villain, Honest John, sings it to tempt the wooden boy into a caravan with these words:
An actor’s life for me!
Hi-Diddle-Dee-Doo, you sleep ‘til after two
You promenade with a big cigar
You tour the world in a private car
You dine on chicken and caviar
An actor’s life for me!”
Well, Pinocchio, I can’t say that’s been my experience exactly.
As I write this, I’m sitting backstage at the William Glesby Centre. It’s an all-day technical rehearsal for Arsenic and Old Lace, which generally means a lot of sitting around and waiting, especially for those of us with smaller parts. But such is the price of stardom.
The set is almost complete. It’s the first time we’ve worked with the walls and doors, the lights, sound effects, and microphones.
10:30 a.m. The cast members not currently on stage are enjoying the comfortable new furniture the Prairie Players recently purchased for the “green room.” Most stay engaged with some kind of electronic device. One is calmly reading. Some are pacing, still working on lines, or having their hair done, like me. Occasionally we make too much noise and get shushed by the stage manager, Myrna.
11:00. I’m summoned from the dressing room with my hair half done for a sound check. With a cast of 14, the check takes a long time. Something’s wrong with my mike, so they find me another and once it’s working, I return to my hairdresser, Maureen.
12:00. We’re in Act II and I’m testing out a pair of slippery bedroom slippers that look like the 1939 era. When I get in a tussle with the villain, (played by Tyrone Taylor) I lose one of the slippers—which is funny, but a little unnerving. After Tyrone throws me down the cellar stairs, he remains in character, grabs the slipper, and tosses it down the stairs after me. I put it back on. When I return to the stage through the cellar door and dash for my fiancé (played by Kevin Hamm), into whose arms I am supposed to run, the slippers lose their grip on me and I nearly body slam poor Kevin right out the door. This is followed by a fit of giggles and I’m very glad this isn’t the actual show. We’ll find different slippers.
12:30 p.m. I am between scenes, so I find the salad I brought wedged under one of the bright make-up lights in the dressing room. The container feels warm. Uh oh. Good thing I didn’t bring ice cream.
1:00 p.m. It seems this play has been going on forever.
1:30 p.m. We finally reach the end and Stephanie walks us through the plan for our curtain call. It takes three tries, but we finally do it to her satisfaction. Preston Meier, who appears only in the first 15 minutes of the play, must wait around each night so he can take his bow with us. I can only imagine the mischief he’ll get into while he waits.
2:00 p.m. We run through the entire play without stopping. We’re to consider it “a show” which means we plow through no matter what happens.
After curtain call, each of us is assigned a job for closing night. No hired help here! After taking our final bows, we’ll all need to pitch in to get our set down, furniture, props and costumes put away or carted off to wherever they belong.
4:30 p.m. We go our separate ways until tomorrow, tired but happy.