Hollywood Theatre Story: They All Left

This is but one Hollywood theatre story from a compendium of same found in the first volume of my memoir trilogy, Three Stages. (It’s actually two stories.) My fifteen year career as an actor was filled with hilarious happenings and misadventures on and off stage. The second of these (true, I’m not making this up) stories is the second most bizarre of them all.

A brief excerpt:

“Later that spring [1961] an old Whittier College friend, Art Seidelman, was directing a Hollywood Area Theatre (West Coast version of Off-Broadway) production of Christopher Fry’s A Sleep of Prisoners and he hired me to play the role I had done when we did the play in college. It was well reviewed but it was a difficult play, very serious and allegorical and we didn’t do sellout business. One rainy night only four people showed up, the same number as the cast. Before we began the stage manager offered them the option of a rain check or we would do the performance. They chose the latter and after the show the eight of us went out for coffee and discussed the play.

“That same season I did another H. A. T. show that Art acted in and also produced: Aeschylus’ Agamemnon a Greek tragedy. This show was a tragedy in more ways than one. The ‘director’ (in quotes because this guy was totally incompetent) was a nut case who fancied himself to be avant-garde and did things to this play that no doubt had poor Aeschylus rolling in his grave. His only good idea was to have all the Greek Chorus portions sung by me accompanied by a lute player. The rest of his ideas were absurd and suffice it to say he utterly destroyed the play.

“We were performing in a small (99 seat) theater near UCLA and our first act audiences averaged twenty-five or thirty. The second act usually had less than half those numbers. One Sunday evening when I went out to sing the opening of act two and my eyes adjusted to the light I realized that no one, not a single person besides the usher, was left in the auditorium. The Lutenist began playing Never on Sunday and I walked off the stage saying, ‘There’s nobody out there.’ The stage manager, an artsy-fartsy type, yelled at me to go back on stage and I reiterated the absence of witnesses to this abomination. He threatened to bring me up on charges of un-professionalism with Actors’ Equity and I told him to go right ahead. Finally Art intervened and we all went home. I’ve been in many shows where audience members walked out but never before or since had we lost the entire crowd.”

Every professional actor has many funny theatre stories and I have heard scores of them but so far no pro to whom I’ve related this event ever had the entire audience leave the theater. There is another singular tale about the star of a show quitting in mid-performance – the aforementioned most bizarre – but for that one you’ll need to read Three Stages.


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