Touring with The Show About the Rat was probably one of my most miserable professional experiences. The show was extremely popular which meant doing at least two shows a day in most cities, and the schedule was tightly packed. Show, show, drive, sleep. Show, show, drive, sleep. Show, show, drive, sleep. The booker who’d built the schedule counted days with only a four-hour drive as a day off. This person had obviously never had to sit in a van for at least four hours every day for twenty five days in a row.
The misery caused by this gruelling itinerary was compounded by personal problems many members of the cast were going through. Sheep had decided to go on this tour as an escape from the maelstrom of family and relationship issues that had been plaguing her for over a year. She could regularly be found crying in her dressing room. Or hotel room. Or the van. Or on stage.
Cat and Rat, a couple, had decided to go on a crazy person diet that required all meals to be eaten before 6 PM, and restricted them from eating any catering, restaurant food, and partaking in the lifeblood of any tour, alcohol. This meant that they had to travel with a suitcase filled with over 60 pounds of kitchen equipment and food, and that they couldn’t go out to any bars or hotel room parties. Rat even refused to go out for Cat’s birthday, so that he wouldn’t have to face the temptation to break his diet. That’s when you know your diet is a crazy person diet—when you refuse to go out for your girlfriend’s birthday to keep at it.
Octopus had been experiencing a great deal of career success outside of touring children’s theatre, and as such regretted accepting the tour to begin with.
Shooting Star was dancing on a foot injury that required surgery, and Dusteroo was still recovering from a severe back injury. The head of Rat’s costume was designed too heavy and was causing him a great deal of neck pain. I sprained my shoulder trying to lift Cat and Rat’s fully stocked kitchen/pantry/suitcase into the van.
I also started to develop the Stump Complex from my ridiculously simple and unrewarding role in the show, and so sought to fill my life with purpose through writing—which meant spending most free time by myself.
It all added up to a fragmented and isolated cast that grew increasingly miserable with each passing day. Even those with normally sunny dispositions were sullen and bitchy by day twenty five, which was when we finally got our first real day off.
There was one day, near the end of the our twenty five day marathon, that stands out in my memory as the one ray of sunshine from this tour, even though it was during a twelve hour drive day. It was the day of the nine-hour Trivial Pursuit marathon.
There are a lot of ways to kill time on a drive day. I always start each tour with the best intentions of using the time to get some writing or reading done. But once the van starts moving, all hopes of productivity get tossed aside. Looking at a page or word processor while driving across the mountains in the middle of winter is a recipe for instant pukesville. I can watch TV or movies on my laptop for a few hours as long as the roads aren’t too bad. My wife can fall asleep pretty easily in the van, but I’ve never mastered the art of sleeping while cramped in a moving vehicle. I usually spend a lot of time listening to music and staring out the window until my nausea has abated enough to watch another episode of whatever show I’m power watching at the time.
I found the almost thirty-year-old edition of Trivial Pursuit at a used clothing store. I convinced a couple other people to play a heavily modified, board-less version of the game (that I called The Ultimate Trivial Pursuit Championship) while we drove from somewhere in the southern Canadian prairies up to somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.
We started the game with two teams—split up by rows in our fifteen passenger van. Each team was given a few minutes to answer all the questions on a single card, after which the other team could steal the questions for points. I didn’t expect the game to last more than an hour, but eventually everyone joined the game (except Sheep who was too busy hating life) and the game went on and on and on.
We finally had to end the game after the tenth hour when it became too dark to read the cards. Everyone who participated was amazed at how quickly the day had passed.
From this point on, most of the cast seemed to make a more concerted effort to spend time together outside of when we were obliged to be together in the van or in the dressing room. I eased up on how much writing I was expecting myself to accomplish, and embraced how ridiculous my role in the show was. Cat eased up some of her dietary restrictions (though Rat maintained his diet and misery until the end of tour).
The irony is that when you start to feel like you need to get away from the people you work with, the problem may be that you aren’t actually spending enough time together at all. You just have to choose to be together and invest emotionally in that time.