Things By Simon

Glitz, Glamour, and a Side-Stage Bucket

Anyone who’s ever had food poisoning knows it can hit you hard, fast, and unexpectedly. I was suddenly feeling dizzy, nauseous, and was shaking slightly. I wasn’t about to throw up right away, but it felt very much like a possibility in the near future.

I was also about to walk on stage in front of 480 people.

It was halfway through the four-month run at the Hansa Variety Theatre in Hamburg, and for the first time I wasn’t sure whether I’d actually be able to make it through the show. I considered my possibilities. We could abort my act, but that would throw the show out of balance, particularly at such short notice. I could walk on and power through, but that came with a non-zero risk of stage chunder.

Or we could hedge our bets.

I quietly beckoned over Hartmut, the stage manager: “Hey Hartmut. Um. So, there is a possibility that I might be about to throw up soon.”

Unsure as to whether the phrase “throw up” would translate, I mimed appropriately. All the crew speak thoroughly acceptable English, but idioms can be tricky. Whether it was the phrase or my mimed actions, Hartmut immediately grasped the core concept. He looked appropriately concerned.

Not wanting to worry anyone unduly, I continued “I think there’s a 99% chance we’ll be ok. But just in case, for that 1%, is it possible to get an empty bucket at side stage?”

Hartmut procured a bucket. I finished prepping for the show, and went on stage to try and entertain without needing to resort to the bucket option. Luckily the show went ok. Not wonderfully, as I was trembling feverishly and trying to suppress the increasing urge to throw up. But it worked, people applauded, and I managed to keep it together.

By this point the nausea and dizziness had increased significantly. As the other acts continued to do their thing, I spent the remainder of the show sitting on a chair next to a sink, surfing the narrow line between “oh god I’m going to throw up” and “no wait, I think it’s staying down.”

In the end it did stay down, and by the end of the show I was feeling functional enough to get through the finale with no problems.

Showbiz. Sometimes it’s glitz and glamour. Other times it’s sitting at a backstage sink for 45 minutes wondering whether your lunch will reappear for curtain call.




2 Responses

  1. Joanna says:

    I don’t perform nearly as often as you, but on the occasions I do I am *religious* about eating well, washing my hands every 5 seconds, and usually don’t eat anywhere even remotely dodgy.

    At least it was coming up and not going in the other direction, which would’ve been much trickier to make contingency plans for :(

  2. Brendan says:

    Did a musical production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe last year and played Aslan. My son was hit with some sort of gastro after the first show and was OK for the 2nd and final show. I however copped it on the morning of the 2nd show and felt progressively worse as the show approached. I was willing myself to fight it and soldiered on all through the first half of the show when I didn’t have to be on stage. In the 2nd half, my grand entry, complete with big booming solo song, came up and about 5 minutes before it I lost the battle and ran to the bathroom to throw up. There I was hurling like crazy when I heard the music to which I was supposed to enter. I put in some extra effort to try and clear my stomach and then made my way to the stage, the chorus had started singing my opening verse so I entered in time for the first chorus. I was a sweaty trembling mess, but thanks to some quick voice exercises on the way from the bathroom to the stage I managed to get through the song.
    At the end of that first song the Witch and I leave stage for about 4 minutes, she was stunned when we walked calmly off stage and as soon as we hit the wings I was like a man possessed, tearing off my mane and running to the bathroom to continue where I had left off.
    I made it back in time for my cue that time and was on stage until the end of the show. The witch was careful when she stabbed me on the stone table in case she made me throw up again.
    The show essentially ends with Aslan doing a huge monologue, I was standing to one side at the front of the stage trying to stay upright as my legs felt like they were going to give way, the sweat was pouring down my face and pretty much every surface of my body as I was in a hot lion costume, I was fighting the urge to throw up right there on stage, apparently I was very pale and other cast were worried about me fainting, but I got that monologue done and damn me if it wasn’t the best recital of it I’d ever done.

    I hope that’s my one and only story of that kind for the rest of my performing life, I may be proud of getting through it as well as I did, but it was a bloody horrible experience.

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