Ernie the Earthworm.
That was my very first part. I was five years old, and the show was at Northgate Baptist Church on Summit Drive right off of Rutherford Road, and we were directed by the kind hearted Mr. Bob.
The second I walked on that stage, which was really just the alter, and started singing about dirt, or whatever Ernie the Earthworm sang about, I was hooked.
For the next 36 years, I’ve dedicated my life to this art. I have performed in every conceivable fashion. I’ve done plays, stand up, opera. I’ve done solo shows, improv, film, television. I’ve played myself, I’ve played Hamlet, I’ve played Peaseblossom. I’ve played men and women, gay and straight, old and young and never, NEVER, from the spring of 1983 onward have I ever called line during a performance.
Until… last night.
For those who don’t know, calling line is when you can’t remember what you say next. You say the word “line” and the stage manager prompts you and you keep going.
Calling line happens every day in the every theatre around the world. Usually during rehearsal. I said it last night with about 30 people in the audience.
I felt it coming. There was a moment about five minutes into the show when I had a panic. I thought I had skipped a giant section. I hadn’t, but for about five seconds I was convinced that I had left out a major part of the show.
It’s difficult to describe the mental state of performing. A part of me is present and in the moment, and another part of me is one step ahead. It’s like surfing. I think. I’ve never surfed. But I imagine when you’re surfing you are reacting to what the water is giving you, while at the same time staying
ahead of the wave. So thinking I had skipped a section got me feeling like the wave was catching up to me.
And then, about five minutes after that, my mind went blank. I had no clue what I was supposed to say next. I repeated the line I had just said, hoping that muscle memory would kick my brain into gear.
So I was left with a choice. Either sit there and fumble for what I was supposed to say, or just look up to the stage manager, and ask for the next line.
So that’s what I did.
Part of the magic of Every Brilliant Thing is that the audience is literally part of the show. We’re all in the light, we’re all on stage, they even shout things out during the performance. We’re not trying to hide the fact that we are doing a play. So if there was ever a show in which to call line, this would be it.
But still, forgetting your words, calling line, it’s the cardinal sin of performing. It’s why people fear being on stage. It’s the actors nightmare. And I did have a moment of panic. But in reality, it wasn’t that bad. The show continued and it wound up being a great night in the theatre.
I probably have the cancer to thank for being so zen. It puts things like calling line during a performance into perspective. I’ve spent the past three years hearing insane news, doing things I never thought I could, and I’m still here. Still happy. Still doing my thing. The truth is, whatever happens, I can handle it. We all can.
That being said…we have another show tomorrow night. If you need me between now and then, I’ll be reading my script.