Even the Great Detective cleans restroomsPublished 9:15am Friday, March 15, 2013
Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling
“The play is afoot, Watson. And it is a . . . challenging one.”
Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fictional heroes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the “Great Detective” solving crimes from his sitting room at 221b Baker Street and London were among the first I read.
This winter I turned this admiration inside out when I got to pretend I was Holmes in a play. For two months (including eight performances before audiences), I had the opportunity to speak many of the great lines I’ve read over and over again: The game’s afoot, Watson! Elementary, my dear Watson. You know my methods, Watson.
And because it was a play about Sherlock Holmes (featuring “the woman” Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty), becoming him also meant I became the main character in the play. Make your own deductions; how could there be a story about the world’s one and only private consulting detective in which he is not the main character?
What does it mean to be the main character in a play, the actor with the most lines, with the most time on stage, the most attention from the audience? It is weird. It required so much work that it was often hard for me to recognize a time when I relaxed and truly enjoyed myself — until the party after the final performance.
Being any character in a play requires immense amounts of energy, self-discipline and the understanding of friends and family (with whom you are suddenly unable to spend much time). As part of a circle of other people (with the support of director, stage manager and the tech crew), each actor works to persuade the people sitting in the chairs that they are no longer in those chairs but have been transported somewhere else. All of the actors are important, no matter how few the lines or short the appearance on stage.
I have had tiny and medium-sized roles in the past, so in the play about Holmes responsibilities expanded. And, as the main character, there might be an expectation of special status. Main characters in movies and TV shows become “stars” after all, with appearances on talk shows and pictures in the fine magazines for sale at the checkout aisle at the grocery story.
So a person might think this would also be true in community theater: My own dressing room, for example, or a personal assistant to make sure my props and the bits and pieces of my costume changes are accounted for and ready when I need them. But when you are the main character in a community theater production, you are most definitely not a star, nor are you treated like one by anybody.
Lest there be any skeptics in the audience, here’s a story. I arrive an hour early at the theater on a performance night (because that’s when the person with the car was able to get me there). I head to the bathroom and discover that the facility (or at least the fixtures within it) was unusable, clearly in need of a thorough cleansing. I’ll spare you all a more detailed description.
What am I supposed to do? There’s nobody else in the building except for the volunteers in the box office. I am not about to ask them to clean this bathroom. I don’t even want to talk about what I found in the bathroom. So, two hours before appearing as the Great Detective on stage, I get down on my knees, scrub brush, cleanser in my hands and bucket at my side, and clean the commodes and the sink.
Ninety minutes later, bathroom at least usable if not cleaned to an ideal state, I was in costume, on stage, turning myself into Sherlock Holmes. Isn’t life grand?
David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.