My Actor’s Nightmare
This is a dream I had in high school. I’d had actor’s nightmares before this, of course — and I’ve had many others since. But this one was astonishing in its duration and complexity. Also, even as I was dreaming it, I thought it was hilarious.
It begins with our whole cast and crew crammed onto a coach bus as we speed across a vast empty parking lot toward a sports stadium. Out the windows, we can see other coach buses converging on the stadium. We yell to the driver to go faster as we run lines.
We are part of a cross-country competition in which different theater companies race to be the first to arrive at a location, set up, and stage a play. Then we strike as quickly as we can, get back on the bus, and hit the road for the next location, which is sometimes several days’ drive away.
The dream jump cuts to the interior of the stadium. We are running up and down stark concrete corridors, pushing costume racks, carrying carpeted blocks and other set pieces, frantically trying to find our dressing room. We’ve been assigned a room, but the numbering system doesn’t make sense. Each room we look in is a cluttered storage closet or a utility space full of pipes and mysterious, bizarre equipment.
Another jump cut. Now we’re on stage: the performance has begun. The houselights are on, so we can see the packed audience under the glare, watching us disinterestedly. Whenever it’s not their line, actors slip offstage to the green room to get fitted for their costumes, or to scavenge for necessary props. The stage manager is studying a fuse box as the lighting designer is puzzling over the light board, pushing dimmers up and down to see what, if anything, happens. The crew is building the set around us, so we’re shouting our lines over the constant din of hammers, drills, and the occasional circular saw.
Sometimes I’m an actor, sometimes I’m in the crew, but in the final scenes of the dream before I wake up, I’m one of the playwrights. We’re crowded into the green room beside the seamstresses at their sewing machines. We’re writing the play as it happens: brainstorming, jotting notes, and banging away at large manual typewriters. When someone finishes a page, they pull it out of the typewriter and run to the copying machine. When the copies come out, someone else grabs the sheets and runs out into the house. Weaving between the members of the orchestra (who are crammed in the space between the front row and the stage, sight-reading music they’ve never seen before), the runner then feeds the sheets up to the actors, who pass the script out as surreptiously as they can while carrying on the performance.
I remember I woke up laughing. I was relieved it was only a dream but I was sorry I didn’t know how things turned out. How, for example, did anyone actually win this competition? As with any actor’s nightmare, however, it was both worse and better than some acting experiences I had in waking life.