While my motivation to tour had always been either the lure of a steady paycheck or fun destinations, there were those for whom the prime motivation to get out on the road was to escape the burdens of their normal life. Worries about booking a dental check-up, or filing your taxes, or returning that movie to Blockbuster which you haven’t gotten around to in six years, are set aside for the weeks or months you’re out on the road. After all, there’s nothing you can do about them, so why worry? Just pop open a bottle of wine in the green room while you wait for the road manager to count up the merchandise proceeds before heading out to the next town. Before you know it, worries about dental health and tax obligations vanish along with the Blockbuster store itself.
But the problem with the kind of people who are running off to join the proverbial circus is that while they escape the stresses of actually dealing with their lives, they are introduced to a series of new stresses unique to that lifestyle. You sleep in a different bed each night. You spend every waking hour with the same eight to ten people. You spend months away from your significant other.
Though I’ve hung up my giant bear head for good, my wife still does quite a bit of touring. Of the last nine months, we’ve spent three and a half in the same city. I’m so used to sleeping alone that the last time she had a stop in Toronto, I quite nearly shat myself in panic when I got up in the middle of the night to take a piss and realized there was someone in my bed. After I screamed like a little girl, we had a good laugh about it at my expense. The subsequent realization about what it implied about our relationship was a little less hilarious.
One of the most obvious cases of a person who just needed to stop touring to deal with her shit was Rabbit. She did about three tours too many, two of which I was on to witness her downward spiral.
We were booked to go on an epic tour of French-speaking Europe. People fought like crazy to get put on it. But the beginning of that tour was incredibly weird. Rabbit, along with two other women in the cast had ended long term relationships days before the tour was to depart. And on this tour, we spent close to a third of the nights sleeping in a big double decker tour bus, which meant that for the first couple weeks you could always hear at least one person sobbing inside their bunk over the hum of the bus’s engine.
Rabbit was justifiably upset. A breakup with someone you believed you were going to be spending the rest of your life with is a pretty nasty shock. But, we all thought, here we are touring France, Belgium and Switzerland. Surely if anything could get her out of this funk, three months of gourmet food and fine wine should do the trick, despite all the cheese-induced-constipation.
But she was unrelentingly miserable. Some of the more dutiful members of the cast took turns taking her out with them as they explored some of the most beautiful cities in the world. Every day I grabbed my wife and we shot out of the tour bus like champagne corks. Me and the missus got married only weeks before the tour and I was not going to let anyone’s negativity ruin our working honeymoon.
The next time I worked with Rabbit was over a year later. And that year had not been kind to her. An ill-conceived showmance1 with a much younger castmate had left her worse off than ever. The ensuing mid-tour breakup made for awkwardness of unparalleled magnitude. She finished that tour to come home to some family difficulties that propelled her right back onto the road in The Show About the Rat.
Rabbit knew she was not in the best emotional place. But none of the self-help books she devoured, or the positive affirmations she affirmed, or the yoga she… yoga’d… seemed to be of any benefit.
(As a side note, Rabbit was a certified yoga instructor. The more certified yoga instructors I meet, the more I believe that there must be some kind of required degree of emotional instability before they certify you. Like Mensa for crazy people.)
Anyway, Rabbit got worse and worse as each day of this particularly gruelling tour passed. I’ve complained in this column about The Show About the Rat already. It was a miserable experience even for those of us in usually healthy mental states. Rabbit had a rabid hatred towards our marathon sessions of van Trivial Pursuit. It wasn’t because the game was particularly rowdy or disruptive that she hated it. It was because we were enjoying ourselves so much on what should have been miserable drive days.
Rabbit got worse and worse until our final show in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan2 where she disappeared in the middle of the performance. She wasn’t in the wings. She wasn’t in the dressing room. She wasn’t in the green room.
Those of us who’d been tracking her emotional descent thought she’d finally snapped. Some thought she must have gone to her dressing room after her previous scene, packed up her costume and just taken off. But her bags and street clothes were all there.
And that’s when I got really worried. A part of me knew that she hadn’t gone that far—that a person wouldn’t up and kill themselves in the middle of a kid’s show. Maybe in the middle of a Chekhov. After all, most of the characters kill themselves by the end—and that’s in his comedies. But surely not in The Show About the Rat.
But there was still a nagging doubt. The second the curtain dropped for intermission, I ran through all the bathrooms and storage rooms and rehearsal halls in the basement of the theatre. But she was nowhere to be found.
The cast quickly put together some contingency plans for the second act—re-blocking songs and reassigning lines of dialogue, while I, with my basically non-existent role, continued scouring the building. It was in my third sweep of the basement that I heard a faint knocking at a door that lead to a stairway fire exit from the basement.
Poor Rabbit had not snapped. She’d merely zigged where she should have zagged.
The theatre had no backstage crossover. So if you exited stage left and needed to re-enter stage right, you had to go down some stairs through a labyrinthine basement, then back up to stage level. Rabbit took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of a locked fire escape door. The only way she could have gotten herself backstage from there would have been to go out the fire escape, around the block to the rear of the theatre and into the stage door. As all she was wearing was a black unitard, and as it was minus ten billion degrees outside, the average temperature in Saskatchewan in February, this was not a viable option.
Up until Rabbit’s Moose Javian vanishing act, most of the cast had grown pretty dismissive of her perpetual gloom. Throughout the tour we complained to each other that she just needed to cheer the fuck up. I spent our European tour actively avoiding having to deal with her. I was annoyed with people who I saw as “coddling” or “enabling” her.
It was only when I feared she may have gone over the edge that I realized what a judgemental asshole I’d been. Over the years I’ve had my share of failures and frustrations. I know you can’t just cheer the fuck up. You need someone love and support you, while at the same time challenging you not to wallow in your own misery. You need to know someone pretty well to walk this fine line, to love without coddling and challenge without judging, and I never bothered to get to know Rabbit well enough to do that.
That was Rabbit’s final tour, thank God. In the intervening two years, I have heard reports, which I sincerely hope are accurate, that she is in a much better place. I’m just glad she waited at that door for someone to find her. She probably would have frozen to death before she made it to the stage door. And freezing to death in a black unitard on the streets of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is an unacceptable way for any human being to die.
1 Show + Romance = Showmance. A “don’t shit where you eat” situation if ever there was one.
2 Which is coincidentally my hometown. If you’re ever driving across the Canadian prairies, there’s a really nice mineral spa in town. Trust me, you’ll need the break. Driving across the Canadian prairies you’re liable to lose your mind from the monotony.