I’ve been returning to my passion of acting recently, thanks to my old drama teacher. I saw her in a café and she asked if I was acting. I told her I wasn’t and she sternly told me that was a waste of talent, and then she got me involved in a local theatre company. Earlier this year I did my first ever show with them, which was magnificent. I made some lovely friends. It also resulted in one of the most comically awkward moments I’ve ever had on stage.
One of the scenes I was in I was playing a lady in a baking contest, alongside a chap who is the comic of the cast. He usually turns every part of anything into a joke, which makes for enjoyable rehearsals and fun when running lines, even though the show itself was not a comedy. Our scene was on stage right and mirrored on stage left was another duo that would begin performing when we froze. The dynamic showed two different settings and the parallels between the experiences of the characters. The chap I was in the scene with made it extremely difficult to freeze and keep a straight face.
After much practicing we discovered if we didn’t look at one another’s faces, we were able to keep frozen and expressionless. The scene froze three or so times. First, after I pushed him away. Second, after I looked at him quizzically. Thirdly, after he scurried off the stage to get some eggs. In between those pauses were a few minutes of standing like stone, our last emotion frozen in our limbs and on our faces, waiting for the cue from the other actors to begin our next section.
Two nights in, we went through our first section. He stepped towards me and I, as well rehearsed, placed two hands on his chest and give him a light and dramatic shove. He took a smaller than usual step backwards and I didn’t compensate by retracting my hands further than usual and we froze, as rehearsed. The slight change in delivery meant that instead of there being a gap between us, we found our two bodies an inch closer than normal, and like The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, the tip of my right ring finger was the point at which our bodies met. As our figures slowed to a perfect stillness, my eyes travelled past his in order to look past him to prevent laughter, when both of us shared a moment of mutual understanding that the tip of my finger was separated from his nipple by only a light shirt.
And we froze. Our gazes fixed firmly over each other’s right shoulder, the magnificent truth of that tiny centimetre of physical contact firming slowly under my finger tip, paralysed by convention, the eyes of everyone in the theatre facing us, and only we knew the true weight of the dramatic tension on the stage. The moment our eyes had briefly met, there was this expression of ‘Oh,’ in our eyes. ‘Oh,’ as in ‘oh yes, that really is what we think it is and we both know this is awkward and now we shall have to appreciate the full depths of that awkwardness without anyone else knowing’. And so we stood. Fingertip to awakening nipple. Unable to laugh or break character. Terribly aware of that one point of contact. Both discovering new depths of professionalism as we maintained our composure and controlled the natural urge to laugh and break the tension. I have never felt a stronger urge to laugh whilst being unable to enact it. I could see this light quivering of comical emotion on his face, laced with embarrassed mutual discomfort. It was minutes. Minutes.
When it was our turn to spring back to life we soldiered into our lines, the humour and discomfort giving our performance energy. And then we continued with the rest of the show. It wasn’t mentioned until that evening when the cast and crew went for drinks that it was raised. I can’t recall who brought it up. Possibly me. It was one of us, at least. We had a great laugh about the moment, letting everyone else in the show in on the painful but hilarious situation. I’m sure as an actor, I’ll have many more funny moments in the years to come. Needless to say, it didn’t happen again in that show.
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