Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When the Show Absolutely Must Go On!

(PHOTO: Alan Mitchell/Sarah Borkowski & Paul D. Niemi in Shakespeare in Hollywood)

We live our lives from day to day, quietly pushing thoughts of bad things happening to the back of our minds. They seem improbable--almost the stuff of which television shows or films are made. Then they suddenly happen, only to bring us back to the reality of the improbable. Sometimes, it's incredible just how prepared we are for these occurences.

I lived in New York City for twelve years, and I was faced with the improbable only twice--September 11, 2001, and the time I walked head on into a mugging. A young woman had attacked an elderly Asian woman at Flushing Main Street in a small park between two buildings. I turned the corner mid-attack, only to see numerous onlookers who, at that moment, suffered from big eyes, drooling mouths and a lack of emotional strength to do anything about what they were witnessing. Immediately disgusted by these peoples' lack of involvement in putting a stop to the attack, I approached the picture window of the McDonald's to my left. After getting the attention of an employee mopping the floor, I formed the words, in Spanish, as if I were lip-syncing, "Llame la policia" ( Call the police). She signaled that she would call them immediately. Shortly after, adrenaline kicked-in and I walked right up to the attacker, grabbed her arms and tried to free the victim's purse from her. In the interim, a large Black man, came up behind her and grabbed her as well, ensuring that she would hold still. I finally won control of the purse and handed it to the stunned elderly woman who muttered something to me in Korean. Once she had it back, I began to walk away--heart pounding outside my chest--knowing that I had done the right thing, risking my own well-being for someone else. I had always wondered what I would do in just that situation, and I found the answer without delay--fascinating! That really tested my metal.

It's been no secret that I have been getting fully involved in the theatre world of Albuquerque, New Mexico--most recently in a production of Ken Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood at the Albuquerque Little Theatre. This past Saturday evening, my metal was tested, yet again, and, with all humility, I am so proud of myself for how I handled myself.

It was the second to the last scene--just before I had a quick change to finish out the show. With about two minutes to spare, I raced from the stage through the wings heading for my changing area behind the scenes. While I noticed some cast members lingering to the side of the stage, I decided that I would navigate around them. The moment I began to sprint, one cast member, who is responsible for bringing his prop onstage with him, decided at the last minute to relocate to the wings. In the darkness of a scene change, he lifted the sharp-edged prop and struck my face just below the eyebrow. I could feel wetness in the dark and was stunned to discover, when I got to a mirror, that I was profusely bleeding. We were having difficultly getting it to stop. By this time, it was all over my white shirt, my hands and face. I ran to one of the stage crew and told her they needed to stop the show because without me, the play could not end. Thanks to some quick thinking on the part of my castmates, lines were given that helped to delay the end. After we got the blood contained, the wound bandaged, I insisted on finishing the show, to the dismay of the stage manager, who wanted to have me taken away in an ambulance. I was fine, and was concerned that the audience wouldn't get its money's worth if we didn't finish the play. Without changing, I threw on my cape over my bloody shirt, and with streams of dried blood on my face and hands, found myself back onstage with my co-star with whom I resumed the show. As I was speaking, I could hear murmurs from the audience as they tried to sort out in which part of the play my character got injured. We all made it work, and, in the end, many audience members thought it was all part of the show. The theatrical credo "the show must go on" was instilled in me when I was just a teen and has stuck with me since. In twenty years of performing, I've never had an accident, but always wondered how I would react in such a situation. The experience was very calming, and I was so proud and impressed by by castmates' ability to improvise and stay in control as well. It was at that moment when this community theatre production became a professional show!

The most inspiring part of the experience is that I gained the respect of my fellow actors. On top of that, the wound is healing nicely in spite of not having medical attention. I'm even looking forward to four more performances as we round-out our run this weekend. If you're in Albuquerque or Santa Fe this week, please stop by to see this hilarious play. I can almost guarantee there won't be blood. After all, this is a comedy and I think we all have had enough drama for one week!

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