Coping with a cancellation – a rant

Has anyone else here had a theater performance cancelled at the very last minute? It happend to me yesterday, and I’m still a bit upset over it.

A bit of background: My mother and I usually subscribe to one theater group per season — it’s become a rather important ritual in our life. I usually spend Saturdays at her place helping her with various things, but this is a time we can spend together just to do something cultural, for fun.

We had been subscribing to the Atlantic Theater for several years, but this year, for several reasons, we decided to give them a year off and instead chose a small company called the Abingdon Theatre, which was putting on three plays that looked interesting. We enjoyed their first production (“Blame in on Beckett”) and I was looking forward to the next one, called “Lost on the Natchez Trace,” a two-man play about a confrontation between a slave auctioneer and a runaway slave.

Now, understand, my mother is a woman “of a certain age” (she doesn’t like people to know her age, and I’ll respect that) and lives in Nassau County, and so going into the city for a play isn’t a casual thing. She goes to the LIRR train station the day before to pick up a round-trip ticket, then on the day drives to the station, takes the train in, and I meet her at the theatre; afterwards, we go back to the station and I wait with her until her train is announced.

So. We get to the theatre, meet, go up in the elevator, and are greeting by a woman who tells us that the performance has been cancelled.

Excuse me?

It seems that one of the two performers called in sick 20 minutes earlier and that they don’t have any stand-ins for the two-man performance, so it’s been cancelled. They’ll be happy to reschedule us. Even for this evening’s performance if we like.

Now, I understand that people do get ill, often at the most inconvenient times — but not to have any stand-ins? “We can’t afford it,” says the woman.  

The tiny lobby was filled with people (it was a matinee, after all) trying to figure out how to handle the situation, many of whom were older people for whom rescheduling a trip to a theatre was not a smal thing.

When we got to the box office, the young women there asked if we’d like to come to the evening perfomance. Obviously that was out of the question; my mother couldn’t spend five hours hanging around Manhattan and then go at night. But I was curious. “What are the chances of that being cancelled?” I asked.

“Oh, he’ll be there,” one said confidently. Which made me even more annoyed; if the actor was down with food poisoning or some such and was puking his guts out, how could they be sure he’d be ready for the evening performance? Or if he was simply hungover or tired or whatever — then why was this performance being cancelled?

And how could any theatre company not have understudies? As Jim said later, even if they have to have somebody standing there with a script in their hand, they should have somebody there to pick up the slack. Hell, I would have been happy if they had apologized and said they were going to do a reading of the play for those who couldn’t (or chose not to) reschedule — it wouldn’t have had the full drama of the production, but at least we would have seen a performance.

My mother and I ended up going to see a movie. (We saw Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliffe, which was actually a nicely old-fashioned ghost story.) We took an alternate date in two weeks. However, I’m not sure if I want to go. I really wanted to see this play, but I also have a lot of things I need to help my mom with. It’s hard to put aside another Saturday.

And how much do I want to take the chance that we’re going to show up and be told that we’ve gone through all that trouble for nothing — again?

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