Arts and Culture

Stage Right/Wrong: 'Arborophilia' actor bugs out

You try playing dead with an insect in sight

Editor’s Note: “Stage Write/Stage Wrong” is an occasional 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. 

The comic irony’s certainly not lost on Michael Rebekah Fleischman.

This weekend, she’ll star as part of the cast of Strollers Theatre’s production of “Arborophilia,” a satire in which a judge deals with, among other things, the fact that she has a daughter who’s about to cross political lines to marry a Republican and another who’s fallen hopeless in love with … a tree. A poplar tree, to be specific.

“It’s actually kinda funny,” says Fleischman, who plays the Republican-loving daughter. “If you ask most Madisonians, they’d say they’d rather marry the tree than the Republican.”

Starring in a snappy, sappy satire isn’t the only unusual experience Fleischman’s had in her time as an actor in Madison.  Not by a long shot.


In addition to appearing in several shows with Fermat’s Last Theatre Company, Fleischman spent several years performing with Young Shakespeare Players. In 2010, she played Helena, one of the quartet of star-crossed lovers in the Bard’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It remains one of her favorite shows.

“We had a stellar cast,” she recalls. “Everyone was really into their roles.”

The high point for her was the always hilarious scene in which Demetrius and Lysander are suddenly both in love with her character, much to the chagrin of Hermia, played in this production by Emmaline Friedrichs, who’s had plenty of her own stage adventures.

“We had some stage violence choregraphed,” Fleischman recalls. “The insults were flying. Someone tossed Hermia. The audience was totally into the vibe.”


Bard fans may recall Fleischman’s spirited turn as Miranda in Madison Theatre Guild’s 2016 production of “The Tempest.” She remembers it too—but not for the same reasons you do.

MTG’s production featured several props, including actual wooden logs hauled around the stage by Sean Langenecker’s monstrous Caliban and by Jordan Humpal’s much less monstrous Prince Ferdinand.

Anyone who’s ever carried firewood anywhere knows that sometimes, logs harbor insects.

During the production, there was a point at which Fleischman’s character had to appear to be asleep on stage for a nearly 10-minute stretch. Which would have been fine, except that she was napping near the log pile, and noticed that a large bug had crawled from the logs and onto her skirt.

“Normally, I’m not squeamish about bugs,” Fleischman says. “But in this instance, the top part of my costume was a half blouse that left my stomach exposed, and the thought of that bug crawling onto my stomach really freaked me out. I had to lie there, petrified, for seven to eight  minutes.”

When her cue to wake up arrived, Fleischman sprang to her feet, brushing incessantly at her skirt until she was sure the sizable boxelder bug had fallen to the ground. Luckily, nobody in the audience was, um, bugged by her fastidious response.

“I was very agitated until I got off stage,” she says.

It’s okay, Michael. We would have been, too.  

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for

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