Last night's Hootenanny is still echoing in my head. Early in the evening, Kevin Kelly sat in with mandolin for a few rounds of song and on break, two comics wandered by and gave us a taste of their craftiness. Then The Doctor, his nephew, Jesse, Colin, Robbie and I managed our best Bachata and Merengue before The Doctor's family and Willie took over. A dance floor was made of the dirt and loose wood on the garden ground. Traci's Mac and Cheese, Nash's lentil soup and Israeli cous cous sated the Pot Lucky. Even Pee Wee at the end of the night had a guitar out and sang a few verses.
I set up the instruments under the portico next to Willie's Bodega because after a week of rain in Central Park, my nerves could not handle getting rained out. The night before, 12th Night was cancelled for rain - it was the ONLY night in a week and a half of rain when we didn't manage to do the show.
The way it works at the Delacorte is this: even on rainy nights, management can wait as late as 8:45 to start the show and still have the audience out of the Park by midnight, which is city law. This factors into rain delays, too - every night, our 8p.m. show has 45 minutes in its back pocket to give to the rain.
It was still raining at 8:45 on Sunday when Audra, Annie, Raul and Julie walked out onstage to tell the audience that we had to cancel.
"Couldn't you just start and then stop if you had to," asked one man in the audience.
Backstage, Brian Gold, one of our Production Assistants, had water drops on his glasses and was drying himself off after tending to Stage Right during the rain that started at 7:35 and had not let up. "What people don't realize is the amount of work it takes to make a show happen," he said. I hate to think about the disappointment of a cancellation after waiting in line all day for tickets. It would make it hard to appreciate the factors involved in doing Shakespeare In The Park for free. These matters range from insurance to health and city laws, spot operators in high towers exposed to the elements, not to mention the megafolly of trying to negotiate with Mo' Nature on a minute to minute basis.
By now everyone in cast and crew has learned that iPhone and online weather reports are not trustworthy indications of whether our show will go on. Last week, before our second night of rain, Annie had been sick, and with dark skies at 7:30, she thought for sure the night would be called. "There are going to be six people out there," she said, walking from wigs. "I know three of them," I offered. Actually, I knew six, and I was feeling very responsible to them for the rain that was sure to fall.
But even if our performance could have been called on account of low attendance, this was Queens night. Earlier in the day, Shakespeare Festival had passed out tickets in the borough and Queens had shown up with their rain gear, dressed for a football game. They weren't going anywhere. At 8:05 p.m. drizzle fell on the guy from the Queens Borough President’s Office as he made a quick speech relating Joe Papp's vision for Free Shakespeare to Queens being the most ethnically diverse area in the world. There was some clever wordplay using “Twelfth Night” and “thirteenth night of June”, and then he ended with, “Let’s hope this rain stops.”
That night the rain delay came earlier in the play, during Jay O Sanders’ and Julie White’s first moments in Act 1 Scene 3. Their energy was barely buckling under the downpour when the round and assuring voice of Production Manager Steve Kaus came ver the God mic to halt the scene. The audience cheered when Julie stuck her hands out, huge raindrops exploding in her skyward palms, and shook her head as if to say, “What? We’re stopping for this?”
It seemed miraculous that night when, shortly after 11:30, we made it to the end of the performance.
"I learned my lesson," Annie said later.' The show will always go on."
But there she was, this past Sunday at 8:45p.m., onstage with the rest of the principals and an umbrella, trying to make the audience feel alright about the bad news.
"There actually is no nudity in Act 2," she joked. "That was last summer."
As Sunday's rain shower continued and it grew closer to the time that the show would have to be called off, the cast had loosened up backstage. "We're going to do two shows tonight," announced Hamish Linklater. "A midnight show!" replied David Pittu. Zach Villa stepped into a jam session in our dressing room and played a song he had written that sounded like John Mayer writing an early Springsteen epic. Stark Sands described the odd experience of wearing the brown contact lenses he was given to make him more twinning with Annie. "I have MacKenzie Phillips AND Bonnie Franklin in the audience," pouted Pittu.
Hamish looked at the backstage doppler and Herb said he got a call from people south of us who were slammed by rain. Both reported dismal prospects. Every few minutes, Kaus the Production Manager made an announcement from his cinderblock stage manager's office. When he did, the cast gathered in the hall between the dressing rooms to listen. At one point, Kaus reported that things had cleared up and Pittu walked to the Vom entrance and back to tell Kaus he was wrong. "I'm not going to believe you anymore," proclaimed Pittu. Grinning, Kaus walked to the Vom entrance and back. "I guess it picked up again."
We had endured such a wet performance the night before that when we'd arrived, Kaus had set up a table of baked goods backstage with the note" OK...maybe it WAS more than just a mist. - Kaus" At 8:45p.m. on Sunday night, I am certain Kaus was looking at the sky still wondering if we could pull it off when the clock ran out. Finally, he came over the p.a. with the final call, asking some of the actors to come to the stage to make the official announcement.
"Ya'll should know," said Julie White to the audience, " that most nights we will do the play when it's raining like this, so come back some night when its raining. You can walk right in!"
I felt for Steve and Hamish and others who had family in to see the show. Traci was there, too, but having seen the show last week, she took the opportunity of the rain delay to explore Shakespeare Garden and Belvedere Castle for the first time. She was deep in enchantment mode when we met back up to walk with everyone for drinks that hardly seemed earned.
I was glad for Brian and everyone else who would relish the night off after such an intense week. It was nice thinking of Herb getting an early start with his drive out of town, listening to Chris Layer's cd as he rode.
But it hurt to walk out of the park at 9:30 on Sunday night behind some of the people who had come to see the play. A slow moving portly woman in front of us and another before her in an electric wheelchair both had their Shakespeare In The Park rain ponchos on, the printed skulls upon them looking like a sick joke. It didn't help that in the time it took to walk from the Delacorte to Central Park West, the need for umbrellas was gone and it never rained for the rest of the night.