News Column

Local actors' most embarrassing moments

June 7, 2013


June 07--One is named after a distinguished actress, Antoinette Perry.

The other is named after an ugly ceramic dude in a sombrero.

Not surprisingly, you want a Tony Award, and don't want a Gay Ranchero.

On Sunday night, Broadway will extol its own during the 67th annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.

Winning dramatis personae will take home medallions, mounted on pedestals, with the masks of comedy and tragedy engraved on one side and a portrait of Antoinette "Toni" Perry, a prominent early leader of the American Theatre Wing, which presents the Tony Awards, on the other.

The Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, meanwhile, has been bestowing its own honor since 2006: The Gay Ranchero, for onstage flubs or embarrassing moments.

According to Karyl Lynn Burns, the theater's founder and producing artistic director, actor Joseph Fuqua purchased the statuette (pictured at bottom right), printed with "The Gay Ranchero" at the base, at a thrift store and "started awarding it to unsuspecting newbies when they made a mistake" during a production of "Man of La Mancha."

Since then, it is presented to anyone who makes a mistake onstage.

"People always want to get rid of it once it appears on their dressing room table," Burns said, "so they listen carefully, and if someone makes any kind of mistake, it travels to the table of the new owner."

Burns said one of her favorite Rubicon embarrassing moments was during "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" when actor Joe Spano "skipped about a page-and-a-half of dialogue (at the end of a long eight- or nine-show week). It was the section where George 'kills' their imagined baby, after which Martha is supposed to scream in anguish and fall on the ground. Essentially, Joe forgot to kill the baby, so I just came to the moment and screamed for no reason. Joe received The Gay Ranchero."

All theater actors, at some point, want to either scream, hide or evaporate when something unexpectedly unnerving or humiliating happens onstage.

We asked Ventura County theater people to share their most embarrassing onstage moments.

We award Gay Rancheros -- and pity -- to them all.


My favorite non-Rubicon embarrassing moment was at an international thespian conference in high school. I was in "George M!" playing George M. Cohan's first wife, who sings as she walks up the stairs twirling an umbrella when she leaves George. We had trucked our set there and the crew forgot to install the escape staircase.

I got to the top of the stairs and a group of stagehands about 25 feet below was whispering, "Jump, jump." I thought about going back down the stairs, but she was supposed to be leaving him -- it wasn't like she could just change her mind.

So I jumped, the umbrella inverted, and from the audience I'm sure it looked like a bad "Mary Poppins" imitation.


In 1997, at the Ojai Art Center Theater, I played the lead of Harlequin in a comedy by George Herman titled "A Company of Wayward Saints."

In the second act, Harlequin, lamenting the cost of weddings, sings and plays the guitar. I'm strumming away, singing "Marriages are made in Heaven / Of promises made on Earth" -- and hear loud snoring from the audience.

I nearly lost my place, but kept singing, "If, when the bills are totaled / The father of the bride ..."

I looked across the audience to my left where the nasally noise was traveling from, obliterating my sweet song.

I spotted a man with his chin on his chest, asleep -- my dad.

"Then everyone's satisfied."


The troupe was a summer stock college repertory company performing at Fallon House Theatre in Columbia, Calif. The show was "Halfway Up the Tree" and I was opening the show with an experienced college senior. The curtain went up -- and so did she. The actor playing my husband wasn't supposed to come on for eight minutes. I started saying everything I could think of to give my stage mate cues to her lines -- no luck. So I babbled like an idiot until my "husband" waltzed through the front door as if nothing had happened.


In 2005, at Conejo Players Theatre, I was playing Grace Hoylard, owner of the diner in "Bus Stop." The show ends with Grace alone on stage. She takes a moment to reflect, then exits downstage through a door. One night the doorknob did not turn and I was stuck on stage. Pure panic.

I was told later that I stomped my foot. I do not remember doing this, but it's a good thing I did, because that stomp apparently shook something in the door and on my next attempt to turn the knob it worked.


My favorite "actor's nightmare" story comes from a production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in Nebraska. I was playing Pseudolis, who is onstage for everything except two songs. After the opening number, I ran offstage, where I normally had about three minutes off. As I exited, I ran into a rigging pipe that was hanging lower than normal and got knocked out cold. I came to a few minutes later and ran onstage. I thought I was fine, until the conductor told me at intermission that the song I sang was missing an entire verse. The orchestra was madly flipping pages while the conductor called out measure numbers so they could keep up with me.


Last summer I was performing in Tuacahn Center for the Arts' 2012 shows, "Hairspray" and "Aladdin." The two productions alternated nightly, and took place in a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater built into the red rocks of Utah. In "Hairspray" I played the slightly dorky, gum-chewing Penny Pingleton, Tracy Turnblad's best friend.

During one performance, Tracy and I were dancing when my spastic moves and enthusiastic lip-syncing catapulted the piece of gum I was chewing out of my mouth and onto the stage floor. I gazed at that piece of gum amid the red rock dust, reasoned that a little dirt never really hurt anyone, and placed it right back into my mouth.

It happened three more times at this one performance, and each time I began chewing the gum again. After the show, a guy from the tech crew told me that in the afternoon they had been training a new camel for "Aladdin" that got nervous and had diarrhea all over the stage floor. "We sprayed it off," he said, "but because of the angle of the stage, it kind of all dripped back and dried there."


In 2004, during a Cabrillo Music Theatre performance of "Annie," which I also produced, I was to perform for one scene as Harold Ickes, and although I had my mic in place, I did not have my mic pack. This of course rendered my mic inoperable.

The stage manager feverishly gestured to other actors to follow me closely so I could be heard on their mics. I added to the disaster by skipping two pages of dialogue, which was especially troublesome in a scene meticulously underscored with orchestra. Oy.


When I was a senior in high school, I played Aunt Eller in our school's production of "Oklahoma!" At the final performance, the actress playing Laurie evidently forgot which way the door to our house opened. When she finished fighting with Curly, she stormed toward the house and opened the door the wrong way, pulling it completely off its hinges. That left me standing on the porch holding the door up.

My next line was somehow perfectly timed. To Curly, my line was, "She likes you -- quite a lot!"


I got my first big role out of college playing Gypsy Rose Lee in "Gypsy" at Cabrillo Music Theatre. In Act 1, I played the tomboy Louise who turns into the famous stripper in Act 2. There's a scene where Mama Rose gives Louise a little lamb for her 16th birthday. Hence the song "Little Lamb."

Our production opened in December of 1998; lambs are born in the spring. So we got the closest thing to a lamb as possible: a sheep. We had two teenage girls and their 65-pound pet sheep in a diaper with a little pink bow on the top.

On opening night, I held the sheep's leash close to me so I could sing my beautiful ballad. I had a microphone on my forehead because the theater was so big. All of a sudden the sheep began to "BAAAA" ... right into my microphone! Just when I thought the song couldn't get any worse, the sheep began to lower its back hips into a squat position. Little brown pellets of sheep poop started rolling out of the diaper and onto the floor.


I was playing the title role in "The Mikado" with the Ventura County Gilbert & Sullivan Repertoire Company. The Mikado makes a grand entrance in Act 2 before breaking out in a silly song. I am not the most graceful dancer, and found it even harder than usual to parade around in the low-rise Japanese-style slippers I was wearing.

One night, one of the slippers flew off my foot. Debbie Price, in the ensemble, had the presence of mind to retrieve the slipper. She stayed in character as a subservient citizen and brought the errant footwear back to her sovereign with appropriate submissiveness.

I don't remember how the slipper actually got back on my foot. I doubt it was an elegant moment. The costume designer made sure to add support straps to the slippers before the next performance. No one in the audience ever asked why the ruler of this mythical, timeless version of Japan was wearing Goldtoe socks.


I was 17, playing Fagin in a teen production of "Oliver." In the middle of my big solo, "Reviewing the Situation," I was supposed to run away. I ran around the stage, gathering handkerchiefs from clotheslines, and was supposed to take them to the fireplace in the center of the stage.

At one show, I grabbed the handkerchiefs and, as I turned quickly away, my foot landed wrong on a platform, and I fell over, onto the fireplace. I put out my arms to break my fall and, of course, since the fireplace was stage scenery and not real, it flipped out of place, revealing the backside to the audience.

Everyone gasped. Thank goodness, I managed to stay in character. I said, "The old place isn't what it used to be." This got a laugh and bought me enough time to put the set back into place.

Mistakes happen. At Cabrillo, I always remind everyone that there are no "perfect performances" -- and it's what happens after the mistake that really counts.


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