The Show Must Go On

Well, I missed my first show ever last week. In all the years I have been doing this, I have never not done a show. Through minor injuries and illnesses and anything else life has thrown at me, I always made curtain, and I always got it done.

I guess life finally figured out what it needed to throw at me to knock me down: A Kidney Stone.

Yep, that little 9MM rock has brought me to my knees.

Claire Brownell and Cody Nickell in Ken Ludwig's THE GAME'S AFOOT

Claire Brownell and Cody Nickell in Ken Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT

But this blog is not going to be about the stone, or the pain or the procedure that I am currently recovering from. I will tell you that I am fine and on the way to recovery and that if you can avoid it, don’t get a kidney stone. Seriously, don’t do it. Make a different choice.

Okay, so what is this post going to be about then if not the gory details of the last week?

It is going to be about teamwork and true collaboration.

So often in these blog posts I write about collaboration being one of the things that drives me to work in the theatre. Through all the ups and downs in this crazy business, the idea of a group of people working towards a common goal has kept me coming back over and over again. But rarely have I had as good an opportunity to watch that concept at work from the outside in as I did over the last few weeks.

I might add at this point that Gulfshore Playhouse has never had an understudy go on before. The institution has never had an understudy period. So this was an historic moment for both institution and me. When Kristen Coury was brought up to speed with all the information we had at the time (which was just that I had this stone, not sure yet what was going to happen), she jumped into action mode.

That night was our first preview for The Game’s Afoot. In attendance was Jeff Binder, one of Kristen’s recent collaborators. Jeff was in the cast of our World Premiere production of The God Game. Jeff was still in town, having not returned to New York yet, and Kristen asked him that night if he would be willing to understudy the part of William Gillette. Jeff said yes (you will have to get his side of the story to see if this was the best decision he ever made in his life).

So Jeff left the theatre that night with a copy of the script in hand and we began the process of incorporating an understudy into the show. We had understudy rehearsals, in which Jeff shadowed me as I did the show, with me explaining the big and little stuff that went into my performance as Gillette, from where I move on stage to when I remove a certain prop from my pocket. All this while I am reassuring Jeff that he is never, ever going to actually have to go on. After all, I’ve never missed a show in my life…

Meanwhile, the cast and I are doing the show each night, getting more into the groove, finding the group dynamic, solidifying our performances, having a blast.

Then we have another understudy rehearsal where I shadow Jeff, walking behind him as he does Gillette with the rest of the cast. Correcting this mistake, offering a bit of advice here or there. But let me tell you, it was during that rehearsal that I knew if I went down, if I had to miss a show, Jeff would do the job, and he would do it well. The other thing I realized during that run, and this is where I will get back to my point about collaboration, is that the cast and crew was ready to embrace and help and bring Jeff right into the fold. This group of people who had been collaborating together for weeks, threw their doors wide open and welcomed in this new collaborator, this new teammate. I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief, even though I knew that he would never have to go on, because I have never missed a show in my life…

Then we got more info from the doctors about the stone (which we had lovingly taken to calling The Bullet or The Spiky Ball), and it became clear that a procedure was going to have to happen sooner than later, and that meant that Jeff was definitely going to have to go on. So we threw it into high gear, and Jeff and Linda (our inestimable Stage Manager who piloted this understudy ship with confidence and ease) met and ran through the play, with Linda playing all the other parts.

So plans were in place. I would have a procedure, Jeff would go on for a few days during my recovery, and that would be that.

But of course the stone had other plans.

Claire Brownell and Jeffrey Binder in Ken Ludwig's THE GAME'S AFOOT

Claire Brownell and Jeffrey Binder in Ken Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT

Four days before the procedure, the stone began its descent. Coincidentally, that afternoon was the next understudy rehearsal in which Jeff was going to do the whole show in costume, with all props and lights and everything. A final dress rehearsal, as it were. So I called Kristen and then Linda and said, I don’t think I am gonna make it. I think I am going to miss the show tonight…

But the show has to go on. So this group of collaborators, this ad-hoc team, put their game faces on and they did that dress rehearsal and then that night they did that show. And the laughs were there and the show was there and the applause was there and William Gillette and his band of brothers and sisters were there.

And it broke my heart not to be there. I can never again say that I have never missed a show. But that is the very least of why my heart broke. I wasn’t with my team. I wasn’t with my collaborators. That thing I take so much pride in, that collaboration, that common goal, was happening without me. But then I took a step back and realized how cool that was. I realized that there couldn’t be a truer testament to the idea of collaboration than what had just happened. ‘Cause it’s not about me. It is about the show, it is about the common goal.  And that goal was achieved. The show must go on…

2 thoughts on “The Show Must Go On

  1. Cody, Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, emotions. You really are part of a great team! Hope you are feeling much better.

  2. Cody — First of all, I hope you’re feeling much, much better! Second — I’ve had to go on as an understudy on two separate occasions. both with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. It is a truly terrifying experience, but the support you get from people is truly unbelievable, and it is, as you say, a true testament to the bond that forms between collaborators in the theatre. All that being said, I hope you never have to miss another show!

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