Saturday, November 28, 2009

What to Do When You Have No Power?

Posted by Bruce Miller
About three or four times a year we lose power at Hanover Tavern on a show night, causing the cancellation of a performance. Last night was the first time we’ve ever had to pull the plug on an Opening Night. Bus Stop by William Inge is now set for a delayed debut this evening at eight.

Power at Hanover Courthouse is a sometimes thing. Years ago, Barksdale co-founder Muriel McAuley, an avid student of ancient cultures, explained it this way.

Thor (not the Marvel Comics superhero but the ancient Germanic god of thunder, lightning and electricity) flew in his chariot over Hanover on the first of August, 1953. As all you scholars of ancient Germanic mythology remember, Thor’s chariot is powered by two billy goats named Toothnasher and Toothgrinder. As all you scholars of Richmond theatre history remember, August 1, 1953, was the day the six NYC actors who co-founded Barksdale Theatre moved into the Tavern.

The goats looked down as they flew over these hallowed grounds and noticed two sows being dumped unceremoniously into the back yard of the historic property. The two porcine princesses were named Sheba (after the titular pet in William Inge’s first Broadway hit, Come Back Little Sheba) and Tallulah (after the celebrated star who, in Souvenir, laughed so hard during Florence Foster Jenkins’ legendary recital at Carnegie Hall that she had to be carried out of the theatre by friends). Or was that Greta Garbo? Hmmm.

Anyway, the ever optimistic co-founders of Barksdale had acquired two piglets weeks before actually purchasing the Tavern, sure that their dream would soon be a reality. They planned for the pigs to be a thrifty way to “take care of the garbage and provide meat.” However, between the dates of piglet purchase and hog transport, the two sows had grown to 70 lbs each.

On August 1, the pigs were chauffeured to the Tavern by co-founders Muriel McAuley and Pat Sharp. (Pat would play Cherie in the Tavern's 1958 production of Bus Stop.) Quoting from Muriel’s book, Going On … Barksdale Theatre, The First 31 Years: “Until you’ve driven 30 miles with two trussed up, screaming, crapping pigs in the back of an overheated station wagon, you’ve missed one of life’s unique moments.”

Toothnasher and Toothgrinder apparently looked down, saw, heard and smelled the roly-poly garbage disposals, and collapsed in laughter. They knew full well that the co-founders should have foregone the purchase of pigs for the far more sensible choice of goats. This moment of hilarity caused the chariot to jolt, and in retribution, Thor sent a bolt of lighting thundering down onto an unsuspecting Hanover.

Along with the lighting came a curse, which has been buzzing and sizzling along the power grid ever since.

Our policy is this. If the electricity has been out for at least two hours, and it continues to be out three hours prior to showtime, we will cancel the show. It’s the only way we have a prayer of reaching the majority of ticket holders, all of whom we try to call within 30 minutes of the decision to cancel.

Last night’s call turned out to be a good one. As of this morning at 8 a.m., power had returned to the community of Hanover Courthouse, but there was still no power in the Tavern. As of this writing, I'm pleased to report that everything is finally back up and running.

Cancellation policies have not always been so practical. I remember performing in Old Wives’ Tale at the Tavern, three decades ago almost to the day. It was a fun vampire mystery comedy written by former Richmonder Ed Sala and directed and designed by Pete. I co-starred with the late Carol Chittum, the late Will Keys, the late Anne Goodwyn, and the very much still with us Glenn Crone.

One night the power went out in the Tavern during dinner. Rather than cancel the show, Pete, Nancy and Muriel asked every table to carry their hurricane-globed candle with them into the theatre. The candles were placed around the perimeter of the stage, and we performed the entire show in candlelight. Nancy sat to the side and hummed the incidental music and Pete made all the sound effects (wind, thunder crashes etc) by mouth.

It was one of the most fun and exciting performances I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of. But in these more practical days of fire marshals and liability litigation, it will never happen again.

Now that the lights are back on, I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went to see Bus Stop on Sunday matinee, after our original tickets were canceled on Friday. My husband and I both loved it. It was so nice to see an "old fashioned" play. Clean and sweet and homespun. Thanks for reviving a classic. We had a lot of fun.

Barbara Fischer