Blue Rinse Matinee
August 27, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
My first summer doing summer theatre taught me a lot about production. We would mount a full length comedy each week. Musicals took two weeks. We worked sixteen hours each day because we not only acted in the plays but we also had to help build sets and do technical work. Imagine memorizing all the lines for a play in seven days. The pressure was very intense and constant. The plays we did were The Apple Tree (A recent Broadway musical of the day), LUV (A current comedy), Stop The World (Another recent Broadway musical), You Know I Can’t Hear You When The Water’s Running (Another contemporary comedy), and Little Mary Sunshine (An Older Operetta). Most theatre companies would take a month to build, rehearse, tech, preview and open each one of these shows, but since it was summer theatre, our task was to get a new show up and running each week. It was a great learning experience that taught me to do high quality work quickly. It taught me to work under constant pressure with limited resources and deliver results. Each of us was hand-picked from a national audition, and most of us went on to full-time careers.
The theatre department at Valparaiso University was a well-oiled machine. Anyone that was a theatre major needed to participate and learn to do everything. If I wasn’t acting in a play, I was building sets and scenery, doing costumes, make-up, or running sound and lights. We needed to be self-sufficient. Gaining all the skills needed to produce paid off throughout my entire career. During the regular school year, we had to work at the theater each night, so we were all used to sixteen hour days. Our group of twenty majors did over twenty productions a year. Sometimes the days seemed endless, but we all learned a lot and gained great confidence. Anyone who has worked in theater or advertising knows that production deadlines must always be met. Hopefully, my studios will produce its 9,000th production before year’s end.
But once the five plays were up and running, we had lots of time off to have fun. Valpo is just a few miles away from the Indiana Dunes National Park. We did shows Wednesday through Saturday. (The theater was closed on Sundays because of the Indiana Liquor Law. Who goes to a play sober? Answer: The Cast.) And sometimes, idle time leads to mischief with actors. It was the summer of 1968. It was a time of peace and love. And Broadway had discovered nudity. Everyone was talking about Hair. You Know I Can’t Hear You When The Water’s Running was three one act plays. The first act of the show was about a producer and a director who were auditioning actors to appear nude in a new play. It was a hot topic. The actor in our show was very much like the part he played – he had no interest in performing nude. The character thought it would be ridiculous to perform nude so he turned the part down and left the director and producer without anyone to play the part. On Broadway, the actor returns, knocks on the door and throws his clothes at the director and producer and from off stage unseen and says: “Look! Ridiculous!” and the lights black out and everyone laughs. Each night the actor in our show did it just like they did it on Broadway and he got a big laugh.
But, the final performance of our production was going to be for a matinee crowd. In theater, matinees are usually filled with little old women who actors refer to as “The Blue Rinse Crowd”. They love theatre, but they are usually a polite, quiet group. They are called the Blue Rinse Crowd because when the house lights dim and the stage lights come on, they gently reflect onto the audience, and a distinct blue aura reflects off all the gray heads of the little old ladies. It is a serene sight that can only be seen from the stage. There were about sixty little old ladies in the audience who looked like angels, and they gently laughed giggled at all the jokes in the right places so we knew they were enjoying the show.
But just as the act was about to end, the actor who played the actor interviewing to play the nude part decided to end the final performance with a surprise. He took off all his clothes backstage and decided to make his final entrance center stage completely nude. When the time came for his entrance, he held his underwear in front of him and as he entered he threw his underwear up in the air and said: “Look! Ridiculous!” Well . . . there was no big laugh as the lights blacked out. There was just a long clammy silence. In fact, it was so quiet in the theater you could hear a pin drop. And then a little old lady broke the silence and breathlessly said: “I think I saw it!” And then the sixty little old ladies and even the cast back stage erupted in laughter.