Some of my students have told me that one of the greatest challenges of a stage actor is learning people’s character names. I mean, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Names can be so very hard, and we all remember the time when you can remember the thing that went on in a play or episode of something, but you can’t remember who was actually involved. Oh, it’s the one with the guy who collapses the chandelier and falls in love with the French lady! Names are hard, I tell you. I’ve been in thousands of plays and it gets me every time. I’m thinking perhaps we need some, I don’t know, custom badges for stage actors? They’d have to be subtle.
I’m astonished no one has thought of this before. Just think how many on-stage gaffes could’ve been avoided if people were wearing little tags on their costumes, perhaps those that could only be seen up close. I remember one production of Rococo and Maisonette, where the main lovers forgot each other’s names. Rococo ad-libbed a line about his lover whispering her name to him in soft tones, but she just didn’t get it and asked her lover what was wrong. Then they got into a completely improvised argument about commitment and the whole play kind of derailed from there. I mean, it’s been awhile since I’ve read the original script, but I think they were supposed to dramatically die in each other’s arms at the end with anguished declarations of love and passion, not file for divorce and get into an intense legal battle over who got to keep the summer home in Verona. Sure, it was the greatest piece of improvisation I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t what the audience came to see.
And so, when I see the finished costumes for my upcoming play, I’ll be making additions. Specifically, I’ll find some company name badges and subtly add them to the lapels, possibly even the scenery, so that there’s no excuse. I won’t have my play derailed by forgetfulness!