Bored by Broadway
Soon after I arrived in New York City from England, I found myself auditioning for a part in a play called Stanley on Broadway with the Royal National Theater. The director was John Caird, who directed Les Miserables, and the cast were serious British actors whom I admired enormously. I was auditioning for the only […]
Soon after I arrived in New York City from England, I found myself auditioning for a part in a play called Stanley on Broadway with the Royal National Theater. The director was John Caird, who directed Les Miserables, and the cast were serious British actors whom I admired enormously.
I was auditioning for the only comic role in the play. When I got to the audition, I discovered, to my alarm, that the character in the script was supposed to be “buxom.” Now, I have great legs, but buxom I have never been.
You know that fight-or-flight feeling – when your adrenaline is running wildly and you know you have to do something fast? I ran into the bathroom and stuffed the cardigan I was wearing under my bra and T-shirt. I came out of the bathroom looking more buxom than Dolly Parton. Miraculously, I got the part.
The idea of being on Broadway was much more fun than actually being on Broadway. The rehearsal period was fun, because we were experimenting and changing and creating things. Once the play went into performance, though, I found myself enduring four months of abject boredom.
When you’re on Broadway, they’re paying you to deliver the same lines every night – you can’t change the lines to make them funnier, or you’ll be fired.
Plus, if your character is supposed to be able to pick things up and put them down without difficulty, you’d better get over any logistical challenges you may have of your own.
I was playing Elsie the maid, and part of her job was to tidy up after the other characters and take a plastic but realistic looking “baby'” on and off stage. The concentration required to remember every entrance and exit – and keep the tray and cups and saucers in the right place – was torture for me. I remember John Caird saying, at the end of one note session, “Alison, it would be better if you picked the baby up carefully rather than dragging it off stage, upside down, by one leg.”
I managed it – and people laughed every night – and I never missed a cue. But at the end of each performance, I’d head up to the Comic Strip feeling like I’d been let out of jail. In stand-up comedy you can change your lines every night if you want – you’re not going to piss off the writer, because you are the writer.
As a stand-up comic you can improvise, and it’s exciting and risky because every crowd is different. While people will probably find your take on life hilarious most of the time, even Dave Chapelle has nights when no one laughs.
I’ve never met an in-the-box stand-up comedian. I think it’s a great career choice for folks with ADHD. Why? Because you can say whatever you want, as long as you can figure out a way to make it funny.
If you spill your glass of water on your shirt, trip over the microphone cord, or get distracted in the middle of your act by a ringing phone, and – on impulse – answer the call for that audience member in an Australian accent, that’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK, because all that your job requires you to do is to be funny.
I quit classical acting for writing and performing my own material after my experience on Broadway. While I have great respect for actors who can bear to say the same lines night after night after night, I’d rather do laundry.
Updated on May 28, 2021