I have often said ruefully that the theatre is a bitch goddess. A goddess because men and women all over the world, myself included, have passionately dedicated their lives trying to know her and win her favour. This surely is worship and while probably of the graven persuasion it ufortunately does not guarantee results. Sometimes the goddess is benevolent and the worshipper’s work is exalted. But sometimes with no logic, the goddess will, despite talent and dedication, turn her back and leave you in the mud of humiliation, infamy and failure. And there is no formula or success for winning her favour: no record of past achievement, no million dollar budget, no star studded cast that can assure her favour. The goddess can appear in the lowliest forty seat basement studio or in the Festival Theatre at Stratford. It is one of her (many) appeals. Whatever your budget or talent or experience you can be sure of one thing. The goddess may appear and if she appears your performance or production will be touched by the divine and your audience will experience something wonderful. Or she may be a bitch and fuck you over.
Nowhere was the capricious nature of the goddess more apparent than with the Theatre Night in Merickville production of “Having Hope at Home”. TNM is a small community theatre in a small town on the banks of the Rideau River and and yet they won Best Production including Best Actress and other accolades in the Eastern Ontario Drama League annual play fest. Apparently the audience response was so hot, the laughter so loud that it threatened to derail the performers’ concentration. The adjudicator said she had never seen such a response. The goddess had reached down and blessed their efforts.
Six months later the company was invited to remount the production at the Ontario Drama League finals at the Domino Theatre in Kingston. Everyone had reason to hope (fervently hope) that that success would be repeated. Attracted by that success, the playwright would be driving from Toronto to see the performance with his Gemini award winning actress wife! For the young actress playing the lead role it must have been an Olympic moment. When would she have a role like this again? When would glory be so close? They had one chance to kick it across the footlights, one performance to deliver the goods… and then the goddess, literally, pulled the plug. Ten minutes before intermission there was a power failure. The actors continued to a distracted audience under dim emergency lights. At intermission, I fully expected the power would be restored and the show would go on. No. The power failure was major. We were told we had to leave the theatre immediately. They yelled at us. “Leave the theatre. Now!”. No Act Two. No standing ovation. No party in the lobby. No happy audience faces. Nothing for the company but the immediate essential work of putting on a brave face to choruses of “Oh you must be so disappointed”.
And where was the goddess? Not there, that’s for sure. Was she happy to have caused this mischief? No. The goddess didn’t give a fuck. The goddess had forgotten they were even alive.
When I dropped out of University to become a professional actor I left three scholarships and a position on student council. I was bright, hard working, articulate and I thought that I could be a success at any straight job. But the theatre… here was something that demanded more than intelligence and hard work. It required something ineffable. Something I was not sure I had. Success in the theatre wasn’t a sure thing and that attracted me and it still does forty-three years later. During that time I have felt the goddess’s caress and her cut but I remain steadfastly in her thrall. Let us pray.