Johnny was a professional. He was always on time for call, he always hit his mark, and he never forgot his lines. He was reliable and a darn good actor. As soon as that curtain went up, he could take command of the stage, step up to support his co-stars, or disappear into the background like a chameleon. He was a rock. Before the curtain went up, however, was another story entirely.
To say that Johnny got a bit nervous before the show would be like saying the maiden voyage of the Titanic was unsuccessful. Johnny didn’t just get nervous. He had a complete mental and physical breakdown. It usually started with an acute case of the hiccups. Then, there was nausea and often vertigo. Most common, though, were the nosebleeds.
Opening nights were often a case of nervousness in the theatre. Johnny’s nerves were affected by opening nights, closing nights, even matinees. The anticipation of one particular closing night performance had set Johnny back with a severe headache. This would soon give way to vomiting, and a nosebleed could not be far behind.
Johnny had locked himself in one of the bathroom stalls, which was being closely guarded by his co-star Wendy, who had gotten used to his pre-show panics. The Stage Manager was not taking it nearly as well.
“What is he doing in there?”
Wendy shrugged, “Praying to the porcelain god, last I checked.” Just then, they heard the sound of the toilet flushing, but Johnny did not emerge from the stall.
“Johnny, you only have ten minutes till curtain,” the stage manager cried, pounding on the stall door.
Wendy immediately stopped her. “Don’t do that. You’ll only make it worse.”
“Do you want some Pepto Bismol or something?” the stage manager said in a badly veiled attempt to be calm.
Finally, a muffled, nasal voice penetrated the door, “No thanks, I’m better now. Just trying to stop a nosebleed.”
Johnny was known for his sensitivity to violence, roughness, or even mild aggression. How he managed to make it as an actor may never be understood, but acts of sudden violence around him often contributed to his nosebleeds. Minutes earlier, he had been nursing his headache in the dressing room when Eric and Parker engaged in another one of their pre-show fights, causing Johnny’s sudden nosebleed and kicking his nausea into high gear.
This is not to say that it was much of a fight, though, since Eric and Parker were always fighting. It didn’t take much for Johnny. Even a friendly shove or slap set him off.
Worried, the stage manager questioned Wendy about how serious this current case really was. Wendy assured her that this happened all the time. “You know Johnny, he can get a nosebleed at the drop of a hat.” Indeed, often during costume changes, Parker would drop his hat on the counter in front of Johnny just to see if it caused a nosebleed. It always did.
Now that it was crunch time, the stage manager needed to get control of the situation, but she knew as much as anyone that Johnny’s nervous ticks, though incontrollable, were at least predictable. Sure enough, before she had to do anything, the stall door swung open to reveal Johnny, still on the floor, holding a wad of tissues to his nose.
“You’re not going to throw up again, are you?” the stage manager asked in a hopeful voice.
“No,” Johnny said, “I’m just a little light headed, so better safe than sorry.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to go on?” she asked again.
“He’ll be fine,” Wendy assured the stage manager, who was glad to have an excuse to panic elsewhere. Seeing the S.M. gone, Wendy turned back to supporting Johnny. “You will be fine, right?”
“Oh yeah, still plenty of time before places,” Johnny said, followed by a hiccup.
“Sweetie, you’re a wreck tonight,” Wendy said, prompting another hiccup. “Sorry.”
Johnny tried to respond, but the hiccups had taken over again. Wendy knew Johnny well enough to be familiar with Johnny’s usual problems prior to a show, a closing night one at that, but this was unusual even for Johnny. Still, she did her best to pump him up. “Hey, at least your nosebleed is gone, right?”
“Am I really that bad?” Johnny asked.
“No,” Wendy lied unsuccessfully. “Well… yes, but you’ll pull through. You always do. How do you do that by the way?”
“Well, you’re always nervous before a show—”
“You can say it.” Hiccup. “I’m a complete nutcase.”
“No matter how bad you are, you always come together for the show. How do you do it? Sometimes, I feel like I’m a complete wreck through both acts, including intermission.”
Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t really have any place until the show starts. I mean, you have the girls, Eric and Parker have—” Johnny was reminded of Eric and Parker’s ongoing vendetta and struggled to suppress another nosebleed, “—well, each other. I’ve never really been able to control my backstage jitters, but once the curtain goes up, I guess I just forget about them. I mean, you guys are counting on me out there. There’s no time to worry.”
Wendy smiled at the thought until another hiccup escaped Johnny. “Well, you don’t have any time to worry now. And you know what? You always have a place with us before the show.” Wendy gave Johnny a kiss on the cheek and left him with a confident nod.
Johnny forgot himself and was fine for just that moment until he started to dwell on the kiss Wendy had given him. His reflexes sharp, he immediately threw his head back as his nose started to bleed again.
All Stories by Peter Di Cicco