An actor’s nightmare

Breeda Kelly Miller on stage in Mrs. Kelly's Journey Home

By Breeda Kelly Miller

Have you ever wondered what was going on behind the curtain as you sit in a theater and await the show to begin? Well, I’m here to spill the tea, though my mother might consider that to be sacrilegious. My one-woman show, Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home has been a wild ride and every day brings new surprises, most of them wonderful. Here’s the scoop.

Before the show
We arrive at the theater about 2 hours prior to showtime. We do a tech rehearsal and double-check all the props and the stage set, as well as make sure the slides and music are all working. I put on a bit of stage makeup – not too much as this is not a glam show, just enough to make sure I don’t look too washed out with the stage lights. It doesn’t take very long and my costume is very simple, black pants, black top, black loafers and a sage green cardigan that doesn’t confuse the audience when I switch characters on stage. The tea is made and poured into the pots on stage.

Backstage
The theater doors open about half an hour prior to showtime and I sit backstage (right behind the curtain) and wait. I can hear the buzz of the crowd, their laughter, and their chats. We play some delightful Irish traditional music courtesy of JoHn Kennedy and his band Kennedy’s Kitchen while the theater fills. At this time my stomach is doing a few somersaults and I have a lot of nervous energy. That’s my cue to calm myself, I often use EFT (tapping) to get centered and focused, and then I do the most important thing. I call upon my mom and dad to be with me on stage. To lift me up and be at my side. I know they won’t let me fail and I feel their presence.

Showtime!
The lights go out in the theater and the haunting ancient tune of The Parting Glass begins to play. The audience is still. Then from behind the curtain, I begin to speak. I pull back the curtain and walk on stage, into the light. From then on, it’s a high-wire act with no net. I pray that my memory is in full gear and that I won’t forget any really important bits. The story is not chronological and I switch between four characters, as well as a few interesting cameo appearances from my Auntie Mae, Granny Kelly, and Father Will. No costume changes, just a few accessories, my voice, posture, and gestures. It works.

Then it happened

However, there was a recent experience with an audience member that nearly left me speechless. The show had just begun and I was in character as narrator. A cell phone rang in the audience and I quipped, “That better be the Holy Spirit calling”, the audience laughed and I went on. At that point, I was switching into character as Mrs. Kelly and leading up to an early very poignant moment in the script. Well, instead of turning off their phone, this fella decided it would be a good idea to take the call. He proceeded to have a bit of chat and explained that he wouldn’t be available for about two hours…I am on stage, trying to stay focused, in character, and remember my lines. At this moment another audience member chastises this guy and says loudly, “What the hell is wrong with you?”. He ended the call, and I paused and kept going. It’s an actor’s nightmare. The good news is that it didn’t trip me up and the rest of the performance went off without a hitch.

Dont be that person
So, the next time you are in a theater waiting for the show to begin, please remember to turn off your phone or at least silence it. And if it does ring, just shut if off quickly, the performers will be eternally grateful.

And some great news
In other wonderful news, I received this notification,
Breeda Kelly Miller is a 2021-2022 Wilde Award Winner for Best One Person Show, Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home from EncoreMichigan, Michigan’s leading theatre news organization. So there’s that. I’m looking forward to the path that Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home will take me on in 2023, it’s so exciting.

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