Send Me Your Horror Stories Yearning to Be Free!

I had a topic for today, but decided to take a different tack. I thought I would have a little reader participation.

If you have ever had a performance before a live audience (or even had patrons come to an art gallery or museum) you have some horror story that you just know you want to share to commiserate with other arts folks who can empathize with you.

Here is your chance, send me your tales (or just add them to the entry by clicking the comments link below) and I will feature them here.

To get things started, I will offer up a couple of my own.

I was running the light board for a production of Vaclav Havel’s Faust play, Temptation. The theatre had a flexible seating configuration so the set of the play was on two levels- the stage and then on the floor in front of the proscenium. The director asked that we remove the guard rails along the front of the seating risers so there would be nothing between the first row and the action but a few feet.

In the middle of the show, a gentleman gets up from the front row, walks on to the playing area, touches one of the actors on the shoulder and says “Excuse me, son.” Thinking that there might be a medical emergency, I prepare to bring the lights up and the stage manager starts to alert the backstage crew that they may have to call an ambulance.

The guy turns to the audience and says “I was once an alcoholic and had back problems until I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and I suggest you do the same,” and then walks quickly out of the theatre while everyone sits there stunned for a moment. (Turns out he did that sort of thing all over town and not because Faust and the Devil were on stage.)

The actors were thrown off and couldn’t remember the lines. Because the actors were on the floor 20 feet out in front of the proscenium, there was no way for the stage crew to feed them lines prompted by the stage manager’s frantic hissing over the communications system.

For some reason, the department chair pro-tem’s girlfriend ended up feeding them the correct line from the audience and the show went on.

I have a bunch of these, but here is one more of my favorites.

We were doing a concert at a former workplace with a female vocalist of some renown. A woman and her boyfriend came in the lobby and even from 15 feet away, I could immediately smell the alcohol. The audiences for our shows were really well behaved so all I did was keep an eye on them. The woman was holding a painting that she wanted to give the performer. This is probably what caused me to miss whatever bottle of alcohol they had secreted upon themselves because they weren’t any more sober at the end of the show.

Artists usually come down to the lobby to see their fans shortly after a performance. However, since Sony had offices nearby, representatives of the performer’s label came to meet her and she stayed in her dressing room.

The drunken woman had approached the stage handed the painting up to the performer at the end of the show. However, she wanted a picture of the singer with herself and the painting. She hadn’t really been annoying so a half-hour after the show ended, I sent the security guy home because there were only about 6-10 fans lingering and I figured I could keep an eye on things.

Boy, was I wrong.

About five minutes later, the drunken couple tries to sneak around the stage door. I send them back the front of the theatre. The rest of the evening is spent with her edging toward the stage door while I am distracted and me glaring/chasing her back.

Finally, I warn the road manager that there might be a stalking situation arising. He pooh-poohs me saying that the singer’s music touches people in such a way that they feel they have an intimate personal connection with her. I don’t chase them away as I had planned.

The drunken couple finally loudly declares that they have waited long enough and walk away down the sidewalk. I suspiciously watch them until they get around the corner. Then I take care of a few things and go back outside to breath in the lovely fresh autumn night air.

It is at this point I hear the drunken shuffling through the leaves made by the couple trying to sneak around the far side of the theatre. I head around to the backstage by the faster route and get there just in time to see the woman jump out from behind a car and scream BOO! at the drummer.

It is at this point the road manager begins to reconsider his pooh-poohing. However, the beneficent performer chose that moment to descend and agree to a photo while I gave a smoldering glare at the couple. Other well-behaved fans came out of the lobby to shower praise on the performance and all ended well.

But the story doesn’t end there!

A year or so after, I just happen to be the one who picks up the phone. The drunken woman has lost the photo and wants us to give her the performer’s address so she can get another one taken of the two of them with her painting.

Good Lord!

So again—lemme share your favorite stories from the trenches.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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