Some days you have no damn luck.
My show, Voice of Authority, is about a string of those days when the US Department of Justice comes after me for $19 million. True story. And the song that serves as the core theme of the show is: No damn luck today.
On opening night at the FRIGID New York Festival, the plan is to interrupt that song at the top of the show with a ringing telephone, because there is always someone in the audience who doesn’t turn off their phone despite the announcement, right?
In an ideal world, I’m interrupted during the first verse. I stop, accuse the audience of making things very awkward, and then realize the ringing phone is mine.
Oh! That’s my lawyer, I have to take this. Sorry.
In the real world of opening night, however, the sound cue never comes and I get to the end of the song, which is a surprise I didn’t see coming. I find myself thinking, “I’m gonna have to improv my way around this plot point.”
Which is what I start to do. I’m almost there and boom, there’s my sound cue – classic iPhone ringtone. And it’s loud enough to drown out a jet.
WHOSE PHONE IS THAT?!!
So what do I do now? That is literally what I’m thinking as it happens.
It also happens to be what I’m thinking when I get hit with the $19 million lawsuit. So in a way, I guess theater is a lot like real life. Something goes very wrong, what were your priorities suddenly seem a lot less pressing, and this newfound crisis owns all of your focus.
Sounds awful, right? Except for one thing: You are now 100 percent present.
Some people pay their gurus a lot of money to get that way, and some people pay their lawyers.
When you get it into your head to do something like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Fringe staff is pretty good about getting you to ask yourself, why are you doing this? If you can’t answer the question, you’re not ready.
Aside from the various ways I want to advance my career and my work, my reason for doing this is to become a better artist. A better actor. A better performer. A better writer. Doing a show for 22 days (with only one day off) in front of people who don’t know you will do that and more.
My five shows at FRIGID are just the beginning of that road, and it’s one that has started off bumpy. But we live for moments like this whether we like it or not, because now we have to make a choice, and if we can find the courage to make a bold one, it might take us somewhere we’ve never been before.
I’m in the FRIGID audience at the Kraine Theater watching David Carl and Katie Hartman in their hysterically funny David and Katie Get Remarried. Katie — whose character is needy, narcissist, and biting — is singing a song she wrote about David after a breakup so she can forget him forever. She’s at the emotional peak, about to break free, and David’s keyboard stand collapses, crashing to the floor. Katie stops dead, robbed of her climax, and stares at the audience. David looks her direction with what I read as genuine fear.
In the seats we hold our breath and the tension is excruciating. We’re mostly certain this is a real problem and not a staged one, and now we can’t look away. What are they going to do?
What they do is never leave character. They grab this moment and milk it for all it’s worth. David is on the floor with his keyboard looking like a naughty five year old caught with a broken heirloom. Katie is forcing a smile that burns like the fires of hell.
And we’re still holding our breath.
Until she slowly turns her head his way. We see the fear on his face grow and we’re witnessing theatrical perfection. This stage relationship has become so real and we are all invested in it. All Katie has to do now is throw away line about ruining the climax of the song and the audience comes to pieces.
People on the street could probably hear the laughter outside the building.
So what did I do when my sound cue went wrong? Did I get through it? Absolutely. Did I stay in character? Mostly, but I’ll admit to letting my frustration with tech throw me off my game. Did I handle it as well as Katie and David? Absolutely not. But that’s what I’m working toward, and it’s why I’m taking this show to Edinburgh.
To learn. From what others do. From what I do. To embrace the unknown. To remember to have fun. To go somewhere I’ve never been.
Dean Temple’s comedy solo show Voice of Authority, a true story
about getting sued by the US Dept of Justice for $19 million and saved
by the choreographer of the Metropolitan Opera, will be at 59E59 Theaters in NYC Jul 17–21, and at Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Fringe Aug 2–24. Follow him on Twitter @deantemple, Instagram @thatdeantemple, and follow the show on facebook.com/deantemplevoa