What do you do when you are injured or ill and you have no understudy?

In community theater this issue comes up.

If you are in the ensemble, chances are they can reblock around you or adjust what you are doing to accommodate your injury or illness.

And if you’re a lead? 

I have only had one performance canceled because of a person’s illness – and that was because we were a small group and she was the pianist for the show.  She developed a migraine, took her meds wrong, and it resulted in her worshiping the porcelain goddess for many hours.  Show canceled.

I have been in emergency rehearsals when a cast member died in a car accident, and we had to bring back another performer to fill in.  I fucked up my knee between two performances, and had to use a cane to get through the second show.  I have scratched my head and cut off the very tip of my finger during performances, causing copious bleeding.  I did a show with a piece of metal that got lodged in the end of my shoe and in my toe.  I have performed with a fever over 100 degrees – more than once.  I have performed when I could barely speak, much less sing.  I’ve done a performance with a guy who had hurt his back and was so looped out on painkillers, we had to literally move him around onstage.  I was present at a professional performance when an onstage battle of staffs went wrong and the lead caught the end of a broken wooden staff right in the face.  I have done shows where we had to readjust everything for someone who couldn’t get to the performance. I did a show where some cast members showed up and then refused to go on! The last show I was in, there was a virus that went through our cast like wildfire and at least 3 of us were in varying degrees of illness/recovery at the same time.

Shit happens.

That’s the joy (and the curse) of doing live theater.

Sometimes, you are fortunate enough to have someone who is familiar with the role who can fill in – sometimes, that person has to carry a script onstage with them. 

What you do, is you get through it as best you can.

Bandage it, wrap it up tight, ice it, take something for pain – and make whatever adjustments are possible to deal with the situation. 

The biggest thing is don’t panic. Nobody panic. This is when everyone has to keep calm and figure things out in an orderly fashion. Who can (and should) do what? And then do it.

You’re theater people for fuck’s sake. This is what you are here for.

If you have to, acknowledge it to the audience.  Make a joke about it or have a preshow announcement. 

Remember, the audience is on your side.  They want to be entertained, and if you can’t hide your infirmity from them; they may feel sorry that you aren’t feeling well, but they will also be rooting for you and appreciating your effort. 

And please, don’t play Mary Martyr.  If you don’t have to perform – let the injury heal, get over the illness.  If you’re on vocal rest, shut the fuck up.  Nobody is going to thank you for coming unnecessarily to rehearsals and getting everyone else sick.  Or for you insisting on running stuff that is only going to acerbate your injury when you should be sitting it out.  As Dolly Parton says, get off the cross Mary, somebody needs the wood. 

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