Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Stage Manager’s Nightmare (or, The Night The Lights Went Out In Kingston)

by Anne Mooney, Community Theatre Coordinator

We’ve all heard of the “actor’s nightmare”–walking on stage naked, in the wrong play, at the wrong theatre and having forgotten all your lines.  Yes, actors have nightmares…but what would be the Stage Manager’s Nightmare?

Well, Wednesday night at the opening of Theatre Ontario Festival 2013 in Kingston, I think we found out.

It started as such a lovely evening.  The Opening Reception and Ceremonies went off without a hitch.  Mayor Mark Gerretsen brought greetings from the city of Kingston.  Lily Baird, President of the Eastern Ontario Drama League, and Sandie Cond, President of Domino Theatre, welcomed everyone to the region and to the Festival.  Carol Beauchamp, Executive Director of Theatre Ontario, presented Domino Theatre with a framed certificate celebrating the group’s 60th Anniversary.  John P. Kelly regaled us with the same hilarious speech he wrote when he adjudicated the Theatre Ontario Festival in 2008 in North Bay.  One of the crew from Merrickville spontaneously and publicly thanked the crew of Domino Theatre for their assistance during the day.  Domino Theatre are fabulous hosts; the reception was joyous.

Everyone was looking forward to the play.  Theatre Night in Merrickville were on stage with their production of Having Hope at Home by David S. Craig.  There was live music, the set was beautiful, the actors were cooking—literally and metaphorically.  (The props people must be commended—I haven’t seen that much food on stage, including a fully-cooked turkey, in a long time.)

Then it happened.  The Stage Manager’s nightmare.  The lights went out!

The emergency lights came on and the actors continued to the end of the first act.  They were on stage, in shadowy darkness for less than five minutes, but I’m sure it felt like forever.  The stage manager, Bronwen McKnight, told us later that among all the thoughts she was going through, one of the most important was: How is the audience going to know the play is over in the dark?  So she gamely left her booth and started the applause when the scene was over.  The audience erupted in applause for a job well done.

At this point Festival Stage Manager Bob Brooks took charge.  It was announced from the stage that the lights were out in the entire neighbourhood.  Bob went into safety mode—How long would the emergency lights last?  How long would the lights be out?—and calls were made to the city: What do we do with the audience?  Can the show continue?  What do we do if this is a major black out?  What if it’s not?

Theatre Ontario Staff, Domino Theatre Committee Chair Sandra Baird, and Bob made the decision that the show could not go on.  The audience was asked to leave.  The set was left on the stage.  Contingency plans were made by Bob and Bronwen about what to do if there were lights on in the morning, and what to do if there were not.  Also in the mix were members of the crew of Theatre Ensemble who were performing on Thursday.  Decisions made on Wednesday night would affect them as well.

Bob stayed in the theatre, in the dark with some of his crew, hoping the lights would come back on.  The crews of Theatre Night in Merrickville and Theatre Ensemble went back to the hotel to strategize.  Everyone was supportive.  Volunteers were coming out of the woodwork with ideas, offers to help with strikes and setups for the next day, and copious amounts of alcohol.

Luckily, the lights did come back on at the theatre at about 10:30pm.  Theatre Night in Merrickville crew were at the theatre at 6am with a huge crew from Domino Theatre to help with the strike of their set, and Theatre Ensemble was in the house at 8am ready to go.

On reflection, while this incident appeared to be a nightmare at the time, what was really reinforced last night was the strength of the theatre community to overcome adversity, the supportive nature of other theatre groups—including the other competing groups, and the intelligence and quick wits of Stage Managers.


  1. I wasn't able to make it. Heard Sheila Cook's performance as the midwife was outstanding!



    1. On Saturday morning, following the detailed adjudication of "Mending Fences", Theatre Night In Merrickville performed Act 2 in the adjudication room. It gave them some closure for the week.

      Sheila was one of the nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Supporting Role -