Last Sunday was the closing matinee of Woman and Scarecrow at Solas Nua. Dan Pruksarnukul, casting czar of Arena Stage, came to see it and waited for me afterwards. When I was done washing off the blood and feathers (don't ask) and rinsing my costume out, I said hello. He congratulated me on the show and asked if we could speak.
As soon as the words "Carla Harting" and "bike" came out of his mouth, I knew what was coming. I had seen Carla a few times at Tunnicliffe's, and we had talked about how the show was going. I was planning to see her in it. I had auditioned for the role, and was
looking forward to seeing the play. I was so sorry to hear that Carla had been injured: it sounded awful, but she was in good hands at GW hospital, with cast members keeping her company.
Naturally, I said I'd do it. How could I not? I have loved Karen Zacarias ever since I met her a few years ago and I care about her play, I admire Molly Smith and the work that Arena is doing, Carla is a friend of mine who was originally from here so we've known each
other for many years, and my husband generously offered to shoulder the burden of domestic chores and children - thank you, Michael! When my children, Henry and Vivian, heard that I would be paid to do this, they said "Do it!" (I keep telling them actors don't make any money). Frankly, I didn't think it was possible to truly effect a replacement. But I'm a good sight reader, so I thought at least the show could limp along with one actor on book. And I would give it my best shot.
Susan White, the stage manager extraordinaire, came to my house that night to deliver a script and talk over our strategy. She said I should ask for whatever I needed to help me do this, and we would plan on my doing the show Tuesday night with book in hand, no
pressure to get off book until I was ready. I would be given a "handler", the amazing Jenna, who would accompany me everywhere except actually onstage, telling me where to go next, what clothes to wear, handing me the lines for the next scene, a glass of water, a tissue, the works. Tuesday afternoon the cast would rehearse with me from noon till five so we could all get used to this strange situation. I suggested she and I go through the play together onstage all day Monday, repeating each scene until I had a sense of it. There would also be some fittings with the costume department. And that's what Monday was. From ten am till eight pm, with breaks for tea and lunch and fittings (some of the pants worn by the more svelte Carla were deemed "too aggressive" on me, according to Steve, so the costume guys went shopping). Sue and I did the Olivia bits over and over, till it started to stick. Everyone was so welcoming, so focussed, so calm. At the end of the day I went to visit Carla, who is amazing, and whose sense of humor was intact even though her tibia was not. Got home late and heard a message from Molly, thanking me for stepping in.
Tuesday I got a close-up look at the incredible team at Arena, and the meticulous planning that had gone into making this transition as seamless as possible. The cast and crew is the most generous, supportive group of people you could imagine, and everyone was
patient and helpful. Of the cast, I knew Michael (for many years) and Lise and the two young women, Katie and Maddy, who play the valets (in a nice gender-bending period costume I adore); I was meeting Steve, Lindsey and David for the first time; Molly and Karen were also there. They were all so concerned about Carla, and all so committed to the play. We went through it until it felt solid, Molly directed me and gave adjustments so I would be on the right track, we worked out the intricate backstage journeys, scrapped the costume changes for Olivia, figured out the best way to hold the script, broke for dinner.
Tuesday night we did the show. And felt like rock stars, got a standing ovation from the audience, and thought this was actually doable. Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday I would meet with Sue before the show and go through all the scenes with her. Thursday I got the script out of my hand except for the two speeches where Olivia is addressing the audience and can have notes without it looking odd. I got notes from Sue every day, and from Molly when she saw the show again on Saturday. Meanwhile, the cast is making meals for Carla, visiting, plumping pillows, keeping her company. Sunday night Sue gave a champagne toast in the Green Room after the show.
It has been an incredible week of learning and leaning on each other, of patience and generosity, of willingness to play and take risks. And we are successful: the show is up and running, not limping, toward its closing a week away. I have never experienced anything quite like it; everyone is wearing a halo as far as I am concerned. I hope they are all very proud of what we have done. I am looking forward to next week.