That moment that (almost) every theatergoer dreads finally happened to me at a Saturday matinee of Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, the second production from the tyro theater company New Haarlem Arts Theatre: I was pulled up on stage by a performer.
Friends and my more dedicated readers (assuming those two categories are not the same) will immediately understand just how grave this was. I have a near phobia regarding audience participation. I spent most of Hair in hysterics that I would have to interact with the performers in some way. I studiously stared in the opposite direction as the singing aliens of Voca Peoplewandered up and down past my aisle seat. But, raised to be polite in person to a self-defeating extent, I could not refuse Nathaly Lopez’s request to join her on stage during her performance of “Come On in My Kitchen.”
Lopez first requested the services of an older man sitting across the aisle from me, not realizing that he had a bum leg. Stymied, she turned to me. “I’m not sloppy seconds,” I warned. Undeterred—and desperate, as she later laughingly told me—Lopez insisted that she had liked me from the first. What followed was a blur of pounding heart and stage fright, but I recall having to sway with Lopez from side to side (the only dance move of which I am capable), before standing alone on stage while she got down and dirty with another cast member. Eventually, she returned to my shaky embrace (I dimly recall hamming it up and flashing shit-eating grins out at the audience to mitigate my awkwardness) before she and I exited upstage center.
“Thank you so much,” she whispered in the wings. “There weren’t any other men on that side of the theater, and I would have looked like an idiot without you.” Pleased to have been of service, despite my antipathy, I assured her that it was fine. To my surprise, I’d even had a little fun up on stage instead of staying rooted to my seat. Not that I’d ever want to go through that again. But, if my first genuine moment of audience participation had to happen—and at the rate at which I attend the theater, I’m surprised it has taken this long—I’m glad it was at least a relatively benign moment during a good song and with a friendly actress. But please, I plead, never again!
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