What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stranger

Conductor Down! August 12, 2015

When I was a freshman in college, I was cast in an operetta. Not as a singer, as a dancer. A male dancer. You see, when the music department had cast the show, they hadn’t bothered to cast any men for the big cancan scene. By the time they asked the dance department for a few boys, there were no boys left to be had. So, being a girl with broad shoulders, I was cast as a male dancer in my first college show. It was also the first time I ever performed on stage with my husband.

A lot of the story isn’t interesting. I had to learn to do coffee grinders and a half-a-hand stand. I wore a bow and slicked my hair back.

No. The interesting part was the conductor. It was a university, so most of the pit were music majors. But the conductor played the piano. It was a fine arrangement that you see in a lot of regional theatres that can’t afford to have a person just to use the baton.

The problem was that this conductor was a raging alcoholic. It was to the point that if you walked past his office, you could smell the liquor stench coming under his door. During one ill fated performance, he was particularly wasted. During the middle of the giant cancan number when people were kicking at each other’s faces, the drunken conductor fell backwards off his piano bench and proceeded to conduct from the floor!

There was no more piano. The tempo was not right. And all those poor student musicians had no idea what the hell they were supposed to do when the conductor fell off his bench. The dancers were trying to figure out what tempo to follow, the singers were giggling, and it turned into an extravaganza worthy of Waiting for Guffman.

Thankfully, no one was hurt, including the conductor, and he did eventually sober up.  But I will never forget his little arms flailing in the air as he laid on his back like a struggling cockroach.


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