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Stage Rage

“I‘m sorry we ruined your evening,” the giddy woman said to the theater critic.

“And I’m sorry you‘re such a moron,” I replied, watching her brow tighten a bit. The setting was Santa Monica’s Powerhouse theater, where my wife and I had been watching a play. Or rather, had tried to watch it, because the couple in front of us were talking, laughing and getting up from their seats throughout the entire performance. Were they loaded or merely rude? It was hard to tell -- they looked like the most pleasant 30-ish couple ever to step out of a J. Crew catalog. One thing I didn‘t tell the woman after the show was that I’d spent the last few minutes wistfully measuring the distance between my paratrooper boot and the back of her male friend‘s head. It was scary to consider how close I’d come to completely losing it -- in a theater, of all places. Later, I spoke to a few people who actually live in and by the theater, about stage rage. Here are their stories.

* * *

I lost it when the Fabulous Monsters were here putting up The Importance of Being Earnest. It was midnight, the day before opening, and they had been due to leave at 11 -- they were way behind. We were all exhausted, and I told them they had to get out. A conspiratorial session between the company members followed, during which someone came in and told me they‘d seen my dog taken away by some kids. Then [their director] Robert Prior said, “You must let us stay, you can’t throw us out.” I ranted at him in near-psychotic tones for I don‘t know how long -- I think I lost consciousness at one point. He looked like a sad child. “Nobody has ever spoken to me like that,” he said, and quietly walked away. I don’t take personal responsibility for losing my temper; it‘s something due to my genetic endowment and the territory of theater. The show went up and became a hit.

--Richard Kaye, owner, Glaxa Studios

My director told the writer to his face, “Your material is shit, crap.” The writer, who’d used all his life savings to put on the show, began crying. I heard this and screamed at the director at great lengths, but I didn‘t fire him, even though he totally went against the playwright’s wishes, rewriting the script with the actors. The reviews slammed his direction, and I had to give up all my producer‘s points to keep the playwright from leaving. But the vindication of the writing came when the show moved to New York. Screaming is fully allowed in these kinds of situations, because you can’t kill people, that‘s against the law. It’s called expressing yourself.

--Leigh Fortier, producer

I was performing in Jim Pickett‘s Dream Man at the Skylight on a Sunday afternoon. There was a huge sign on the door: DO NOT ENTER, PERFORMANCE IN PROGRESS. I was halfway through the show when I began to hear someone knocking on the stage door. The knocking grew louder, and so I spoke my lines louder. My heart was beating, and the adrenaline was going wacko, and finally I stopped and told the audience to wait a minute. I walked offstage and through the dressing room, opened that door and uttered every profanity: “Are you fucking blind? Can’t you read the sign?” Then I went back to the performance.

--Michael Kearns, actor-director

This was considered the Cat Fight of Downtown. We were doing Mayhem at Mayfield Mall, and it was a huge production of drive-in drama, where people watched the show from their cars and the sound came through their radios -- they‘d honk or flash their lights for applause. I was a producer, actor and publicist for the play, and a week before we opened, the costume designer came up with the idea of having me, somewhere in Act 2, strip down to a Wonder Woman costume. On the night we were to try this out, we had three TV camera crews, NPR and two local critics there. Then, during the pre-show music, the executive producer tells me that one of the actresses, who hadn’t previously been informed of the change, was refusing to go on if I did this, and there was no understudy available that night. I told him it wasn‘t her call to make. But after the show had been held up 45 minutes, I finally promised one of the two directors that I wouldn’t do it. I blew up under the stage, though: “I want this taken care of! I want this issue addressed! I want her out!”

 

During intermission, I went backstage and found my props, which had been preset, all tossed about. This other actress then shoved me aside -- which she did again, onstage during the show. I have never hit anyone, and have not been able to physically respond to being hit -- all I can do is react verbally. So during the blackout before the curtain call, I stripped down to the costume and, when the lights came on, received applause -- as Wonder Woman. I don‘t pick the fights, but I definitely set them off!

--Tamar Fortgang,

co-founder, Zoo District

I’m the kind of person who blows her top in nontraditional ways. Last May, we put on an elaborate, splashy reading designed to attract investors. I had asked an actor to play a certain action. “I need you to be more self-involved than maybe you‘d be in real life,” I said. He disagreed. “No, I won’t be doing that,” he said. “Well,” I told him, “let‘s just try, let’s see where that scene takes us.” “I will not do it,” he said back. “I disagree, it‘s only a reading.” I left the room, went to my office, got a legal pad and wrote him a scathing letter about how closed-minded and unprofessional he was, and how afraid of allowing his character to be something less than desirable. I got my Rolodex, wrote the actor’s address on the envelope, stamped it, put it in my bag, took it home and burned it. Later, after the investor reading took place, this actor put his arm around me and said, “You know, you‘re pretty good. If I said or did anything in rehearsal, chalk it up to my not having my coffee fix in five or six hours.”

--Sue Hamilton,

producing artistic director,

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

One time in Warsaw, I was directing a rock opera involving a live band, a huge cast, sound equipment that the ancient national theater had seldom if ever used -- and two translators. We were sailing along just fine, I thought. But then came the tech rehearsals. The days and nights dragged on. The band were punks spitting out their opinions. The cast was frazzled, stopping everything to whine and complain. No technician ever agreed with the guy he was working with, and these guys would stop everything cold and argue and argue and argue. My translators were babbling away as I spoke, embarrassed by their own people and softening, I suspected, the stupidity of what was really being said. Finally someone said something (at least reported to me in English) so mulish and stupid that I snapped.

I began to bellow. HOW DARE THEY!! STUPID,a SELFISH, FUCKHEADS!! WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY TRYING TO DO, RUIN THEIR OWN FUCKING THEATER???!!! DEAL WITH ONE ANOTHER FOR CHRISSAKES, GET SOMETHING THE FUCK DONE, DON’T BE SUCH A BUNCH OF SELFISH ASSHOLES!!! WORK FOR THE PLAY, FOR EACH OTHER, FOR SOMETHING ASIDE FROM THIS BULLSHIT!!!!!! Words to that effect.

Of course I was also hurling myself around the stage. Picking up and throwing things down. Grabbing people. Finally I had no voice left, I had blown my cords. Silence from the crowded stage. Then, when I could focus my blurred vision again, I saw faces with bright eyes and composed, confident expressions. Sometimes even the trace of a smile. They slowly began to go back to work. Quietly.

--David Schweizer, director

I was rehearsing a Fassbinder play that called for a male actor to drop his pants in a scene with a woman he was supposed to simulate sex with. The actor kept saying he would do this, but every evening he wouldn‘t. Then, finally, during one rehearsal he went to the bathroom, came back and said he was ready to do the scene. But when he dropped his pants he was wearing a sock on his dick. The entire cast was staring at him -- it was the most ridiculous thing to see. I was really upset and started screaming at him -- my language is really bad when I’m upset. I don‘t like to yell at actors, but I’m a tough director to work with -- I am very precise.

--Frederique Michel,

artistic director, City Garage

Nothing quite prepared us for the call we got last August to introduce Rage Against the Machine at the DNC protest rally at the LAPD-provided holding pen adjacent to the house that Shaq built. Rage? “Hell yeah,” we said. “Great,” they said, “and by the way, get a lawyer.” What? “The shit may come down.” So there we are with 9,000 to 13,000 protesters, with an additional 500 hardcore, frothing mosh-pit experts throwing glass bottles at each other. But in our hearts we know we have to step out there, grab the mike, be a clown for the revolution and remind the folks why we were there in the first place. An hour later, Rage over, Ozomatli is coming on next, vibe still good, some kids are making woo with a cyclone fence, and the cops are getting itchy. I make my way down to the LAPD commander backstage; people are pleading with this Robert Duvall character from Apocalypse Now not to pull the plug. The commander just glazes over and declares the whole event an unlawful assembly. My man Will Dog from Ozo throws his bass down hard on the stage. The concert organizers are now pleading with General Custer to reconsider; he refuses and gives nearly 15,000 heads 20 minutes to clear out of a relatively small area. I am screaming at no one in particular, pissed, confused and full of rage, people are going to be killed out here while Gray Davis smiles down on us from the Staples Center outdoor Jumbotron. A black LAPD lieutenant grabs my arm, I figure that lawyer will come in handy now, but the lieutenant is apologetic and reminds me not to forget my bike, which he locked for me at some point with the plastic handcuffs. I thank him. It‘s a weird moment. “Run,” he tells me. And all we could do was follow Ozo out in the street, out into the night of rubber bullets and smoke.

 

--Richard Montoya, Culture Clash#

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