There is nothing harder to deal with than when you get the giggles onstage.
I am pretty good about not breaking character.
Here are some of my tricks of the trade:
Pain. Bite the inside of your mouth – better have a mouthful of blood than break character! Dig your nails into your hand or some other body part. Pinch yourself. Things aren’t so funny when you have pain.
If I think looking the other person in the eye is going to make me laugh, I look at them right between their eyebrows. To the audience it looks like you are looking them in the eye, but you are actually avoiding that horrible moment when two people are giggly and catch each others’ eye – there is no coming back from that.
If possible, deep breaths, close eyes (or not) and just find a deep moment of calm and quiet. (This only works for me if I don’t catch somebody else’s eye afterwards.)
I have only totally broken down once.
I was doing the Fischer Troupe in Frankenmuth; and we had a skit about an old-fashioned (the show was a Gay 90’s theme) school room. I was the school teacher.
We did the summer shows for literally months. And we would all get a little bored and try to find ways to keep ourselves amused.
I would sometimes put things on the desks – like a naked picture and the label scratch and sniff.
This time, what started the whole thing, Jeff Haas stood up to answer a question. Unbeknownst to all of us (including Jeff) his seat folded closed behind him. He did his joke, and went to sit down – only he just ended up sliding down behind his desk until he was out of sight.
Okay. I can deal. Just keep going. But I knew I was on the precipice. Because, fuck, it was funny seeing Jeff just slowly disappear like that.
Then either Richard Neff pulled on his straw hat or Tom Fielding pulled it for him and the front tore and Richard now looked like he had a straw crow’s beak over his face.
I didn’t see the tear, I just turned around to speak with Richard – and I’m face to face with Richard crow-face Neff.
I tried. I really, really tried. But I just couldn’t.
I lost it.
I had to turn upstage and just stand there with my shoulders shaking with laughter, until I could finally get it under control.
I was finally able to turn around – and continue.
I kept my eyes firmly away from everyone onstage.
And everyone else onstage was sitting as stiff as they could, trying to hold in their laughter.
It was the only time, we had a complete melt down like that onstage.
So if you break onstage, don’t beat yourself up. Do the best you can.
It happens to everyone.
Even crabby old me.