As it turned out, a career in acting wasn’t for me.
Many, many miles ago, I was cast in an outdoor play that was an adaptation of sorts of the Camelot legend. It was ambitiously produced and performed by a ragtag cast and crew of earnest theatah types aching to put on a show in an outdoor nature preserve in Puget Sound.
And so we did.
My role was Lancelot: swordplay, horseback riding, bravado, romance, tunic, tights – the whole deal. I dove into the role with gusto.
The event consisted of scenes played out over many acres of terrain. The audience were led along paths by guides, who extolled the virtues of the flora and landscape along the way. The actors would interrupt their leisurely strolls by acting out scenes. Once completed, we would scurry off to another spot up the trail and prepare for the next scene.
My climactic scene toward the end of the show consisted of a showdown with the evil Mordred, my nemesis. The scene called for taunting and threatening dialogue between the two of us and a fight with broadswords.
The idea of acting with broadswords had great appeal to me. I loved the fight training and choreography sessions. I practiced all the time. I took my broadsword home with me and to work, where I then practiced with it walking down the streets of Seattle on my way to rehearsal. I really got into it.
As we progressed through rehearsals, my comfort level with the weapon increased tenfold. I began to add flourishes to my scenes, where I would whip the sword around my waist, sling it overhead or windmill it from hand to hand.
This was profoundly stupid.
Mordred and I commenced our conflict, broadswords raised and ready. Threatening dialogue flew back and forth. I whipped my broadsword around and over my head in a showy display of bravado and menace.
And suddenly, where once there was a man wearing tights and wielding a broadsword, there was now only a man in tights.
The sword was gone. Aloft.
In moments like these when time stands still, you have time to think. Shock. Horror. Disbelief, oh yes. Curiosity. All quite immediate. Then one’s thoughts turn aspirational. I embraced the wonder of “just where the hell did that sword go?” and immediately wished for it to land straight upon my head.
It did not.
Alas and forsooth, all the information I needed to know about the departed sword’s trajectory were played out in vivid detail on Mordred’s face.
As the recently unencumbered broadsword rapidly departed my grip, taking flight over the field and through my self esteem, Mordred’s jaw dropped to his chest. His suddenly sizable eyes tracked the unexpected flying object in a slow upward arc and then down again some unknown distance behind my frozen statue.
His angry eyes locked on mine. Eons passed.
Despite my intense desire to instantly vaporize, I came to. I dropped my arms (previously frozen overhead) into a Jack Dempsey-ish fighter pose and yelled, “C’mon!”
How he kept a straight face, I’ll never know.
Mordred wheeled away from me toward the audience. Ever the pro, he began reciting lines that would have been directed toward the actor that used to be me, plus probably improvised a few more while he bought time. I don’t know for sure. I have to admit that I broke character at that point and panic-ran back to the possible landing spots of the world’s slipperiest broadsword.
Did they use the “F” word in medieval times? Repeatedly, in long multi-syllabic whispers? I made an acting choice in that moment and decided that they did.
I recall finding the sword. Everything after that point is a blur. Evidence suggests that we completed the play that day, but I have no recollection of any such fate.
If you find it inconceivable that anyone thought the scene went according to plan, then we’re in agreement. If, however, one person in that audience was taken in by the crimes-against-acting-and-manhood before them, then we did our jobs. Or maybe just one audience member was staring off in another direction at the landscape and missed the lowest point of my theatrical life.
I’d like to think so.