Packing Peanuts in the Pit
Musicians have nightmares where they’re on stage trying to produce sounds from an instrument they don’t know how to play. I had a dream that was an especially cruel version of this.
I’m in a theater pit, supposed to be playing a banjo part. It’s bad enough I’ve never picked up a damned banjo in my life, but to make things worse, instead of a banjo, I have a green plastic garbage bag filled with styrofoam peanuts (which oddly are colored orange like circus peanut candy). It’s the dress rehearsal, and I’m able to coax a few pitches out. (Shake a bag of these peanuts, listen to the rustling squeaky sound they make. Now imagine there’s a pitch spectrum you can extract from that rustling, so it sounds like some kind of ghostly gargling melody.) The packing peanut pitches sometimes, but not always, go with the harmony, but I’m playing softly so the conductor can’t really hear the mistakes. As I strum the garbage bag, tears develop and peanuts drop out, but I can still get it to sound.
I somehow manage to get through the rehearsal. We open. (I have no idea what the hell play it was supposed to be). Suddenly, an actor or M.C. on stage points to me in the pit, and a spotlight illuminates me. There’s a very awkward pause–I’m supposed to speak a line, and everyone is waiting for me to deliver it. I wing it and stand up, face the audience, hold my arm out wide in a gesture of welcome, and loudly announce, “Damen und Herren, die Dreigoschenoper!”
I soon discover that wasn’t right, because the actors are glaring at me, but the audience doesn’t catch on. I play through the first act on my styrofoam peanut bag, and I make horrendous mistakes, and the peanuts fall left and right out of the bag.
At intermission, the director, who happens to be Des Macanuff, comes up to speak to me backstage. Now, I did two shows with MacAnuff in the early ’90s, and at that time he was a brilliant, creative guy, fun and pleasant enough to be around when everything worked for him; but when he didn’t getting what he wanted, let’s just say the dude had a major temper.
So here comes Des. I’m waiting to get a new asshole torn, and he’s very somber, but not at all mean. He says matter-of-factly, but with a definite hint of irritation in his voice, “Christian, it’s not working. You’re not even playing a banjo, and that’s what you were hired to do.”
I try to convince him that I can do the part, but Des shakes his head and tells me that he has to let me finish the show tonight, because it’s too late to get a ringer, but I’m not working there ever again. I’m happy that Des isn’t screaming at me; I agree that I need to quit, but I’m also deathly ashamed that I couldn’t play the part and I’ve embarrassed him and ruined the show for everyone involved.