Life on the road can be a little disorienting. Everything you were worried about back home is temporarily suspended. Haven’t been to the dentist in two years? Haven’t filed your taxes in three? Wanted by the police for a series of public nudity charges? Head out onto the road and put it all on hold for two or three months!
When you’re out there on the road your only responsibility is to be in the hotel lobby at the appointed call. From there you get in a van and tune out. You don’t so much as need to worry about where you’re going to have lunch. If you’re hungry, just grab a sandwich from the place you’ve stopped for gas. Or a bag of Doritos and a two litre bottle of Diet Coke. Or a Red Bull and a pack of cigarettes. You know, whatever floats your boat.
You arrive at the theatre, drop your bag off in the dressing room and go to the green room to look at pictures of cats on the internet until you’re called to the stage to check the spacing on what is inevitably going to be a stage that’s too shallow or too narrow or not a stage at all, just a bunch of risers loosely stacked on top of each other in an arena. Once you’re done, back to the cats until catering arrives. After the show it’s back to the hotel to repeat it all the next day.
But the human mind does not appear to be designed to adjust well to such a responsibility-free existence. Inevitably it will invent some bullshit upon which it dwells until it drives itself absolutely turd-flinging crazy.
One day, a few weeks into my tour, the fan in my Head broke. This small, underpowered fan was the only thing, so I believed, that kept me from dying of heat stroke in that bear costume. It sucked precious fresh air into the head for me to breathe and prevented my hair from bursting into flames. It was an absolutely necessary part of my survival, and I didn’t notice that it broke until near the end of the show.
Though in all likelihood the fan had been not been operating for the entirety of the second act, I started panicking. I could feel the sweat collecting on my scalp. The air felt close, with a dwindling percentage of oxygen in each lungful. By the time the curtain fell I ripped the head off, gasping for air. I ran into the wings, to notify our technician of this catastrophe.
She looked at me with deadened, exhausted eyes and told me she’d look into it after they got the set packed into the truck. I went back to the hotel where I got drunk on rye from the liquor store and ginger ale from the vending machine, regaling my colleagues with the tale of my broken fan, and how it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me ever in a million zillion years and that I almost died and it was the worst. And they agreed that broken fans were the worst. Ever.
The next day we went through the same hotel/van/gas station/van/theatre/greenroom-with-cats-on-the-internet routine. The houselights went down, the music started pumping and I put on my Head. But wait! Where was that familiar hum that promised fresh air and comfort? The fan was still broken! I ripped the head off and ran to the technician who was busy sewing a costume needed in the second act that had been damaged in transit somehow.
“My fan! My fan!” I cried out, “You didn’t fix it!”
“I put new batteries in last night,” she said without looking up from her work.
“It doesn’t need batteries, it’s broken!”
“I’ll look at it during intermission.”
Intermission! That meant I had to endure an entire hour (well, closer to 45 minutes) of utter agony! This was the worst! The worst ever! EVER!
Brave soul that I am, I admitted there was nothing to be done but go forth and do the best I could given the circumstances. I went out there and gave an entirely lackluster performance, for which I congratulated myself for surviving, knowing I had bravely taken one for the team.
But after intermission the fan still refused to budge. The technician informed me that a wire was loose and needed to be soldered back into place. She could fix it, but not until the next day. I would just have to make do.
Make do! This was an outrage! Did she not know how I suffered? Did she not know that this was the worst ever!? Ever in a million zillion years!!
I plodded through the second act, desperate to preserve enough energy to make it through without dying from dehydration, or suffocation, or spontaneous combustion. I slammed the head down on the prop table and stormed out to the van where I was driven back to the hotel to get drunk with bottles of gin and ginger ale, where I again related to the sympathetic audience of my cast-mates how the company was lucky I was such a consummate professional. And they agreed that the company was lucky and that broken fans were the worst ever.
As a great deal of distance needed to be covered the following day, the company decided to fly the cast to our next destination instead of taking the van. We needed to be well rested after all. The crew, meanwhile, drove the van and truck over night across the Rockies in mid-February.
Our flight was the worst ever, by the way.
We landed in Calgary and had lots of time for naps and internet cat pictures before the truck arrived, eight hours behind schedule as they were stuck on a snowed-out mountain road for the entire night. They madly scrambled to get the set unloaded from the truck and set up on time for the show that evening.
Unwilling to leave anything to chance I found our beleaguered technician madly distributing props from their cases to the respective sides backstage. I enquired about my fan, and she assured me, she would get to it. I was not confident.
Nevertheless while we were eating our catering in the greenroom, there she was; sandwich in one hand, soldering gun in the other, fixing my fan.
When I immersed myself in the Head I could hear the hum that I’d been missing for the last few days. I marched on stage emboldened by the knowledge that I would be performing cool and refreshed and with plenty of good old O2!
But something happened by the middle of the first act. I was hot as balls again. I was certain my fan must have shorted out again, but when I listened, I could hear it going. It was then that I actually thought back to every show I’d done up until the point my fan broke and realized that I was always short of breath and always sweating like a water balloon made of burlap. The fan helped… but only a little.
And I’d made my exhausted, stressed out technician fix it while she ate a sandwich. No one should have to solder fans into bear heads while eating sandwiches. Sandwich-eating time should be sacred. But she did it without complaining, because it needed to get done.
I had lost perspective and, like a dead star, started sucking everything else into my crazy. I felt so bad about the sandwich/soldering that I helped the crew load the set into the truck for a couple shows until they asked me to stop getting in their way. Hooray for being useless! Hooray for being an actor!