When I was younger I was the Associate Producer for several years under Marty Wiviott at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera. There we would produce five large-scale musicals a year and perform them for three week runs at the huge 3,000 seat theater in Long Beach, CA. And we really had a blast doing them!
One year we were producing The Merry Widow. It was a light operetta starring Ann Blythe, Ed Evanko and a huge cast. Actually, it had a cast of about 40 actors, an orchestra of 30 musicians and a stage crew of at least 25 stage hands. So it literally was a production with over a hundred artists.
As I said, it was a piece of fluff show and during one of the last run thrus the Director turned to Marty and me and said “you know what this show needs? A balloon drop during the final number.” We agreed wholeheartedly and I went to work with Gerry Griffin, our amazing Technical Director to make that happen for the next night’s dress rehearsal.
Gerry worked his usual magic and rigged up a huge fabric sleeve in the fly loft above the stage and filled it to the brim with red balloons. When it came time in the final number, the balloon drop worked flawlessly and a huge shower of red balloons fell onto the stage. The problem was that the hall’s air conditioning system pulled all of the balloons downstage and they fell directly into the orchestra pit. At the time we didn’t think much of that detail and congratulated ourselves for such a great end to the performance.
Well the happiness came to a screeching halt when the show ended and Steven Smith, our terrific Musical Director and Conductor came onto the stage and started screaming “who was responsible for the balloons?” Being the good soldier that I am, I stepped up to Steven and said it was me.
Steven was blowing a gasket. We stood onstage a few inches apart while he screamed, and I do mean screamed, at me how irresponsible it was for us to do that without warning the orchestra. He went on and on. His point was the musicians were all concentrating on reading their music and playing their instruments when all of a sudden a shower of objects started to fall on their heads. They were all scared to death.
While I did not appreciate Steven screaming at me, I stayed calm and conceded that he had a good point and I apologized deeply for what happened. Eventually Steven calmed down but it was one of those scenes out of a movie where we were standing onstage with Steve screaming at me and everyone on the crew kind of slinking back into the shadows.
But the crew got the last laugh because the next day when everyone showed up for the performance and Steven went to his dressing room, when he opened the door it was filled floor to ceiling with red balloons. Being a good sport Steven laughed it off. Good job, Gerry Griffin!