Every stage show in America, whether professional or community theatre, has a “final dress rehearsal,” “last tech night,” or “preview night.” Call it what you will, it’s the night before the “official” opening. It’s the last chance to work out any bugs that need attention in lighting, tech, cues, costumes, props, and the like. In most cases, an audience of friends and family is invited. It really helps the cast and crew with timing… i.e. holding for laughs, (hopefully, in the right places, but you’d be surprised by different audiences and different performances) and holding for applause…(again, hopefully at the right places.) By this time, I was increasingly becoming Ruby’s manservant and bodyguard. So, luckily I don’t have a part in this production. I simply had to hand off Ruby to the boy and girl who make their entrance from the “second floor” hall. They would step lively down the stairs into the “living room” (remember, Ruby has had only two weeks rehearsal.) But tonight, there’s magic and excitement in the air. She feels it big time, totally pumped from the surrounding energy and loving every minute of it. Then it struck me. She was now one of them. She was one of the cast and she seemed to know it! “Thanks dad, I’m ready.” How strange it seemed. Thirty-five years in theatre and I wouldn’t be going out on stage tonight. But how wonderful it was to let Ruby carry the torch. Non-pet owners will no doubt blanch at this, but it was like seeing your kid go out there.
“You’re on! Go!” the stage manager whispered breaking every emotional thought. Now it was, “God help us!” During rehearsals, the kids bounded down the stairs with Ruby on a leash. I had just one thing to worry about, the pint size actors being pulled down the stairs too fast and falling, bouncing their little chins off every step all the way down. But tonight, ah, tonight, a whole new set of concerns… Someone, and I honestly can’t remember who, had the bright idea to just let Ruby run down the steps without the leash and when she got to the bottom the kids would call her to the couch. She certainly couldn’t resist.
Not able to see a thing, I held my breath listening intently. Kids’ scrambling down steps- sounds good! Audience says, “Awe!” Sounds even better. Laughter erupts. Wait! There’s not supposed to be laughter….then more laughter. Oh no! Then howls of laughter. Oh, damn! Then it’s obvious the audience can’t contain itself. “What’s going on?” I screamed in a whisper. “I can’t see a thing,” came back from some disembodied voice. For a big guy, I can move pretty fast on occasion… This was one of them! I blasted down the backstage stairs. I actually don’t remember if I even touched them. I raced across the reception area, up the side stairs to the theatre, and peeked out the door onto the stage. There was Ruby on the couch with a gaggle of kids.
So what happened?