Let’s introduce the hero of our story, Michael Cotey.  Here he is during Combat 19 up on stage alone.  Look at the confidence, the poise that young man possesses.  Well it’s all about to disappear.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the look of abject fear.  At this point, most of our audience didn’t know anything was wrong, but every actor in the house (and there were a lot of them) knew that things were going very, very wrong for our hero.

This is what until now has been known as the Actor’s Nightmare.  We actually have horrifying dreams of being up on stage and forgetting everything.  And anyone who has made a career in the theatre has had a taste of this on stage.  Sometimes it’s just a word that eludes you, sometimes it’s not even that, it’s just a flubbed word.  It can erase your confidence in a heartbeat.  But the nightmare is that you are on stage alone in front of a packed house, alone, with no one to save you, and you forget everything.  Anyone who saw this live as I did, will never forget it. 

And before you start taking me to task, Michael asked me to post these pictures.  It will forever be one of his favorite stories, and if you know Michael at all, his confidence is doing just fine.

Eventually, of course, things straightened out.  Here’s Brian Roloff rolling onto stage and rolling a little ahead in the script to get things moving again.

And there’s Michael returning to the stage with script in hand.

When life gives you lemons…

I always tell our Combatants that we have the most supportive audience in the world.  When things go wrong, and they always do, hang on because that audience will lift you right up and set you back on your feet which is exactly what they did for Michael.

Here’s Michael telling it in his own words:

Michael Cotey-It’s often said that on the Saturday night Combat, all bets are off. I can certainly attest to that. I knew I was in for it when I got handed a script by Tony Wood and it felt heavy. Now I may be wrong about this, but no script at Combat should ever have the ability to weigh your hand down. Many things crossed my mind, all filled with expletives and dread.  

The subject of Tony’s play was Virginity and the location was a Competitive Food Eating Contest. The play started with my character delivering a full page monologue to the audience in a “Masterpiece Theatre” style, which would then abruptly shift into an eating contest. For the entire day I drilled that monologue. For every time I nailed it, there were a dozen times I failed hideously. Waiting backstage in the dark before our piece, I have never been so completely nervous. I now know what it feels like to have my heart beat so hard that it feels like is going to pop out of my chest like I’m in a scene from Alien. But the music started, I put my game face on and I walked out onto the stage like king shit ready to conquer this bad boy.

I stepped into my spotlight, alone on stage. I said my first and second line. Then a laugh line. And then… 

Nothing. Clean slate. Like a newborn baby boy. I stopped and took a moment, a moment that became nearly 2 minutes of deafening silence. Two things: first, I’m fully aware that when people say an awkward moment lasted a minute or two, it really only lasted about 10 or 15 seconds, 30 tops. Check the tape. This was at minimum 2 minutes of complete silence. Second, I know deafening silence is a cliche, but I’ve never experienced silence like this before. It was so silent that the sound of a camera shutter was loud in a room of over 100 people. Then an audible gasp, “Oh no,” indicating someone grasped that this wasn’t some stroke of Combat genius. Someone shouted “We love you!” and got the crowd cheering which was great, but ultimately not my next  line. Then Fletch, God bless his heart, tried to prompt me from the back of the house resulting in an aborted attempt on my part to maintain the piece. Finally, the only thing I could appropriately say was, “Well, this is embarrassing.” 

I was trying to figure out how I could either die where I stood or make my  escape when I realized that the play was moving on. Brian Roloff, dressed as a nerd/virgin rolled on stage. I thought, “Ok, good, dialogue. This I can do.” Brian was swinging this Dollar Store plastic battle axe, which, mind you, he’s been swinging around all day. By some freak of accident, the axe shattered in mid-swing, undoubtedly over the copious amount of dead air I had filled the stage with.  

But the crowd was eating this up, which is the beauty of Combat. We are here to support each other. We do Combat with full knowledge of the challenge, and it can be terrifying, but that’s why we do it. We can/will fail and fail big, but at the end of the day we are still surrounded by a group of our friends and colleagues that truly love each other regardless of how bad we bomb. I feel I can honestly say that because I bombed.  I bombed like Hiroshima AND Nagasaki, and yet this wonderfully generous group of people spent the evening buying me drinks and relaying their favorite Combat horror stories. 

So that’s my Combat moment. I would never wish a similar moment on anybody, but at the 20-year anniversary of Combat, if somebody else writes in the program that they bombed and Fletch tells them they “pulled a Cotey,” I will proudly smile.

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And that’s the new term; Pulling a Cotey, or Going Cotey or Getting Coteyed.  And there but for the grace of the theatre gods we all go.

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