Editor’s Note: “Stage Write/Stage Wrong” is a continuing series by Madison Magazine theater reviewer Aaron R. Conklin about those occasions when live performances do not go entirely according to the stage directions. Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive dropped lines, stumbles and misbehaving props, but it's the confident ones who are willing to relive and share those experiences with us.
This weekend and next, March 10-12 and 17-19, Michael Huftile will star in “The Bed,” his third production with Theater LILA. (In the previous two, 2015’s “The Suitcase Dreams” and 2016’s ”Trash," he’s teamed with Michael Herold to play a pair of sad clowns.) While he says he enjoys working with LILA, two of his most memorable stage stories come from his time with American Players Theater, where his wife, Carey Cannon, is associate artistic director.
The summer of 2008 was a difficult and emotional one for Spring Green and for APT. Historic levels of rain led to massive flooding that devastated parts of the town, causing many residents to lose their homes. While the theater itself wasn’t damaged by the flooding, many of the season-opening preview performances were washed out, leading the company’s first preview production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to occur on what was supposed to be the show’s opening night. And naturally, stormy weather was again in the forecast.
Huftile had a dream casting in that show—he played Oberon, king of the fairies—opposite his real-life spouse, Carey Cannon, playing Titania. As he strode down the theater’s Hanamichi aisle (that’s the central aisle the actors often use for speedy entrances and exits) to speak the lines in his entrance scene, Cannon was on the main stage bridge.
In the scene, Titania and Oberon argue, and, as the winds began to pick up and dark storm clouds began to hover above, Cannon’s Titania begins to talk about never meeting on hill or forest “to dance our ringlets to the whistling wind.” And how the winds have called up “contagious fogs, which, falling in the land/Have every pelting river made so proud/That they have overborne their continents.”
“Basically, what she was saying was what was happening around us,” Huftile recalls. “Her back was to the whole weather thing, but I got one of the neatest views I’ve ever had of her.”
Huftile thinks Cannon might have been slightly less aware of the gravity of the tableaux. “She was like the rest of the audience. I think she was more interested in getting out of there before we got tons of water dumped on us.”
Weapons, blood and bodies were flying at the conclusion of APT’s 2012 production of “Troilus and Cressida,” a show in which Huftile played Ajax, the Greek warrior whose brawn outstripped his brains by a fairly wide margin.
One of the final scenes called for Huftile to take out a ton of Trojan soldiers, everyone from Marcus Truschinski to Tim Gittings—well, the characters they were playing, anyway.
One problem. After the first mighty swing, Huftile’s long spear splintered in the middle and began to break. Since he knew he couldn’t convincingly complete his death-dealing fight choreography with his bare hands, Huftile opted to improvise.
“I broke the spear across my knee and tossed the butt end toward a stage hand to take backstage,” recalls Huftile. “Then I took the pointed end and kept piling up the bodies.”
The audience might not have realized there was a problem, but Huftile’s co-stars certainly did.
“The other actors were looking at me like, ‘Your spear is not as long as it used to be,’” Huftile recalls. “I just gave them each a knowing look that said, ‘Everything’s fine. I’ll just be killing you with a much smaller weapon.’”
Aaron R. Conklin covers the Madison theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.