How to Do Bad Theatre

My Real Memoir

I’d just turned 13, and was mad about acting. So much so that my career as a soon-to-be movie star was beginning to overshadow my career as a beloved bestselling author. After all, I’d been in a play and, with my lunchtime beatnik poet routine, had made an audience of highly-discerning junior high school students snort-laugh their prefabricated potatoes.

In other words, I was a professional!

And so, for my birthday, Mom of Mommandad fame had bought me season tickets for Melodyland (across the street from Disneyland), the largest theatre-in-the-round ever built!

Which sounds impressive—if you don’t know that theatres-in-the-round are supposed to be small. Or at least small enough that, with fewer rows on each side, everyone is near the stage. But at 3200 seats, Melodyland managed to keep most of the audience far away…and looking at the actors’ backs. Why do I say that? Because…

The big challenge with theatre-in-the-round is that, at any given moment only 1/4th of the audience is looking at the actors from the front; everyone else has back or side views. The solution is for the director to find reasons to keep moving the actors around, so that everyone in the audience can see at least someone from the front. It takes a skilled and seasoned director to do this. But in a giant theatre-in-the-round it’s basically a dramaturgical Kobayashi Maru test — a no-win scenario.

Add to that the fact that, in order to generate maximum moolah, Melodyland tended to cast aging movie stars in lead roles, and then throw their shows together with a handful of rehearsals. I saw the great character actor Joe E. Brown in Harvey, a play he’d made famous decades earlier. Less than a year from retirement, he shuffled around delivering punchlines like someone reciting a grocery list.

But my first and greatest lesson in How to do Bad Theatre was Heaven Can Wait, starring and directed by western movie bad guy Jack Palance, who was terribly miscast in the leading role, and had no clue how to direct a play—much less one in-the-round.

So it would have been bad theatre anyway. But the pièce de résistance came when two of the lead actors were replaced at the last minute by stand-ins who didn’t know their lines or blocking (where to go on that giant circular stage) or, apparently, what the show was about.

They carried their scripts, and even then got repeatedly lost, whispering, “What page are we on?” Finally, several of the more seasoned actors cursed colorfully, threw up their hands in disgust, and walked off-stage.

The lights were brought up for a quick, unscheduled “intermission,” and then, unbelievably, the never-ending train-wreck resumed! During which time, all but the most masochistic (or sadistic?) audience members went to the box office and demanded refunds.

Within a few years, Melodyland’s rep forced them to stop doing plays and become what they sounded like, a concert venue (I saw some great artists there). Not long after that, they sold the property to a church congregation, but still did concerts featuring artists I was friends with (my comedy act included). They even had a high school which my future sister-in-law attended. So I have lots of Melodyland memories. But mostly I remember it as the place that taught me…

How do bad theatre.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to How to Do Bad Theatre

  1. Pingback: How I Almost Became a Man of the World at Age 13 | Mitch Teemley

  2. Hey, ya never know…It could have resulted in a cult following!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That does sound like bad theater! Speaking of bad theater, I saw an aging Betsy Palmer (of Friday the 13th fame) miscast as the lead in “A Doll’s House” in a tiny theater-in-the-round somewhere in Massachusetts. It was weird.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. rwfrohlich says:

    The fill in actors reading from scripts reminds me of my brief stage experience during a youth group play. Each year we put on a two night performance using popular songs and a loosely written script. We sold tickets to the congregation to raise money for summer camp. I was chosen to sing a duet, probably because my voice had made it through an early puberty. Anyway, in the middle of a soulful rendition of “Three Coins in a Fountain”, I forgot my line. My partner, a girl with a genuinely opera quality voice, tried desperately to cover, and somehow I got back on track a few measures later. Didn’t sing in public again until I joined a choir at age fifty.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Is that a true story? Well, obviously it is but it is so outrageous that I wish it were not! 😦 Now, where is my time machine as I want to go see the Mamas and Papas supported by Simon and Garfunkel for two dollars!! 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  6. atimetoshare.me says:

    Love these memories of yours❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a blessing your parents were for encouraging your passions!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. pastorpete51 says:

    Oh, my goodness. I did one season in a musical with our local theater, was way – way off Broadway (I was just in the chorus) but I could never imagine anyone reading from the script on stage. Too funny Mitch! I also love the crowd yawning in your photo. Looks like they are listening to a long speech by a boring politician they agree with but hate to listen to. Have a great week!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    We definitely get a lot of no nos in life. See what is done wrong and don’t repeat.

    Thank you, Gary

    Liked by 2 people

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