A stagehand handed me a big, black lump of coal backstage one night. Wait …it wasn’t a lump of coal.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s Nana’s nose,” the techie said walking away chuckling.
The actor playing the family dog, Nana, in Peter Pan wore a full-fur Saint Bernard suit complete with a mascot-style head that compromised his vision. He had just sideswiped his wheeled doghouse sending it rolling across the stage and slicing his nose off in the process. It looked like someone had taken an eraser to the poor dog’s face. I plugged in the hot glue gun and glued the nose right back on.
I did over a hundred performances of the original 1904 play version of Peter Pan (not the more famous musical version). Our Peter was a young adult male actor, yet his understudy was a versatile young woman who was hired to cover the roles of both Peter Pan and Wendy Darling. What are the odds that both actors would be unable to do the show at the same time?
Peter collapsed a lung on a hike during his day off and was in the hospital. The gender-bending understudy went on for a few shows. Then Wendy twisted her ankle badly during Act One. It looked broken. There was no way she would be able to finish the performance that night.
The stage manager remembered that the understudy for Mrs. Darling worked in the lobby of the theatre as a barista. The actress wasn’t age appropriate for the role of a teenage girl and certainly didn’t possess any Wendy-like qualities. In fact, she was kind of “butch” to even play Mrs. Darling. But she knew the play a little bit and she was the best we could do. The woman was relieved of coffee duty and sent backstage to take over the role of Wendy Darling and finish Act Two of the performance.
We took a very long intermission. A discreet and vague curtain speech was made to the impatient audience. I started doing ringlets with a curling iron in Mrs.-Darling-now-Wendy’s fried blond hair in private room while the stage manager tried to negotiate the costume off Wendy #1. The young actress was in pain, but really wanted to finish the show.
“Do we have another Wendy nightgown?” the stage manager whispered.
It took some harsh convincing, but Wendy #1 was stripped of her costume and it was rushed to me to put on the Wendy #2. I noticed that Barista-Wendy has a few tattoos on her arms and legs.
“Do you want me to cover them up,” I asked the stage manager.
There was no time.
I always wondered if the kids in the audience that night were traumatized by the shift in Wendy Darling. I know I was. In the span of thirty minutes, we went from a dewy, innocent Wendy to horsey, punk-rock Wendy who had to carry around the script.
Again, this was the non-musical play, which had a whole different vibe. I watched the understudy Peter and Barista-Wendy #2 finish the show from the wings and couldn’t help but enjoy the lesbian overtones not found in any other production. We did this cartoony The L Word version of Peter Pan until the Wendy #1’s ankle and the Peter # 1’s lungs were healed.
More Peter Pan shit hit the fan later in the run.
Peter Pan starts with the Darling children and Peter in the family nursery while the pirates and lost boys would getting dressed backstage. One Tuesday evening, a confused Mr. Smee found me in my office.
“My costume’s too tight,” he announced.
The pirate Cookson was standing right behind him.
Then the confused lost boy, Curley, walked in.
“This doesn’t fit me anymore,” the child announced.
It became obvious to me as a long line gathered that the dry cleaner had fucked up BIG TIME. Anything wool that had been dry-cleaned had dramatically shrank and didn’t fit. My assistant didn’t notice when she put the costumes away in the dressing rooms.
The show had already started and was moving forward like a speeding locomotive. We were minutes away from the lost boys and pirate’s first entrance in Neverland. I took a deep breath and ran to costume storage to grab an armful of peasant costume. I didn’t even take anything off the hanger or look to see what I had. Everyone gathered around me to re-costume the show while the show was going on.
“You, Starkey, give your shirt to Curley. Curley, try on this coat.”
“Tootles, try on Noodler’s pants! Doesn’t fit? Give them to one of the twins!”
“Vest. Vest. Vest. Vest. WE NEED ANOTHER VEST!”
Clothing was maniacally being tossed like a Black Friday sale at WalMart as I heard Peter and the Darling children start to fly around the stage. The goal was to get everyone covered up in something. Anything. NOW!
I watched one of the twins, crying, being dragged like a rag doll and pushed onstage by a stagehand. Panicked or not, the show must go on. All the pirates and lost boys made their entrance on time and fully clothed (sort of). I proudly took a peek in the wings to see what I managed to accomplish.
The pirate Bill Jukes was wearing his personal sweatshirt tied around his neck to contain the yards of ruffles in the ratty poet shirt he was wearing. The shirt was from a Chekhov play.
Lost boy Slightly’s pants were way too big and he was wearing them inside out. He couldn’t figure out how to put his hands in the pockets.
The twins didn’t remotely match. One of them was wearing nothing but his Underoos and a plaid skirt as a long cape …it was Eliza Doolittle’s flower seller’s skirt from the Pygmalion we did years ago.
Not to be outdone, the other twin’s costume hadn’t shrunk at all, but he just tied the legs of a pair of pants around his neck for fun.
You can’t win them all. But everyone said the lines in the script.
“What the fuck just happened?” the stage manager asked me after the show that night. There was no time for her to inquire about the costume nightmare while she was busy calling all the light and sound cues for the performance.
I told her the ugly story.
Her daily show report distributed to the staff the next day kindly read:
…Everyone started coming out in costumes I had never seen before for Act Two. Neverland and the pirate ship looked like Grapes of Wrath collided with Christmas Carol. Kudos to the dressers for getting everyone dressed, but can someone from production please address this problem before the next performance…
The costumes for Peter Pan were re-created more sanely the next afternoon and the theatre settled out of court with the dry cleaner a few months later.