As an actor, I work for a lot of different companies all over the place. And on the first day of rehearsals, there’s always that awkward company meeting where you all introduce yourselves. Then you get your packet with your schedule, and there are usually a few company rules thrown in there.
There’s always something about being late, usually something about keeping the actor housing clean, and occasionally something strange like no texting while walking, you need to keep your eyes on the ground to look for open manholes….
Hearing a rule like that means someone fell into a manhole. Probably not that long ago.
So, today marks the beginning of a series of the best/worst strange rules I’ve been given.
When I did living history in a mansion in Newport, RI, the cast lived on the third floor of the mansion. On our first day, we were expressly forbidden from drinking on the third floor where we lived and were shown a cabinet where we could store our liquor on the first floor. Because we could drink in the mansion, just not on the third floor where we lived…. Drink downstairs, stagger upstairs. That was the rule.
Our director was used to the blank stares we gave him when he gave us this rule, so he explained why the stagger upstairs rule was in place. There was a skylight in the floor of the third story, which looked down onto the grand staircase. Once upon a time many years before, when actors were still allowed to drink on the third floor, a girl had gotten wasted off her little hiney and had fallen through the skylight in the floor, hitting the banister of the grand staircase with her teeth before shattering half her bones as she hit the ground floor. It was undeniably true as you could see her teeth marks on the banister.
Going into the skylight room had been banned right along with drinking on the third floor. The thought was if you were sober enough to crawl up the stairs to the third floor, you were sober enough not to fall through the sky light.
You might ask how all the actors made it through an eight month contract without taking a peek into the forbidden skylight room. We didn’t. Our very smart director took us to the forbidden room right after he explained the story and had us all look down through the skylight, walk around it, and take pictures of it.
Then he took us all out and shut the door, telling us to never look through it again.
And we didn’t. Maybe because the teeth marks of the girl who fell through were warning enough, but probably because once you know why a rule is a rule, especially if it involves breaking half the bones in your body, you tend to follow the rule. Because some person was dumb enough for the rule to have to be created, and you don’t want to be the next company orientation story.