Jeff Kearney for Fine Arts Center Theatre Company
A tightwire, a prop and set piece for the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College's current production of the musical Barnum
, stretches across the center's stage, measuring 3 feet high and about 20 feet across, with mats below in case of any unfortunate falls. Toward the end of act one, it functions as a bridge for lead actor Gil Brady, who has been training with tightwire since he was cast in the role of P.T. Barnum months ago — some training in his home of New York City, and some with local clown and Millibo Art Theatre director Jim Jackson.
Brady had taken to it like a duck to water, but on May 23, the night of Barnum
's final dress rehearsal, he faltered. Though he dismounted the tightwire twice without incident, the third time proved unlucky, and he fell.
“Quite frankly, I didn't know that he had done any damage,” says the FAC’s director of performing arts Scott RC Levy. “And I had said, you know, ‘Let's try that again tomorrow. Why don't you just go to the end of the tightwire and finish the song.’ And he did it, and we didn't know anything was wrong.”
Brady completed the rest of the dress rehearsal from a chair, but a trip to the emergency room later confirmed he had fractured his leg. Considering the role requires both a great deal of dancing and the aforementioned tightwire scene, this posed problems for the FAC’s theater company.
No one would have blamed Brady if he had called it quits, nor the theater company if they had postponed the opening of the show. But the team behind Barnum
pulled together some creative solutions — and quickly.
“After a very sleepless night that night, and being in communication with the rest of my creative team,” Levy says, “I'd say probably at noon on Thursday [the day after the dress rehearsal], we had developed sort of a plan A-through-H scenario.”
They spent three hours that afternoon running through the play once more, with Nathan Halvorson, associate director of performing arts and show choreographer, performing the dance sequences; and ensemble member Mark Alpert taking to the tightwire.
And, hey, it actually worked out pretty well. They've been performing with that configuration since May 24. Meanwhile, Brady continues to sing and act in his role — in a period-appropriate wheelchair no less. If you're wondering where they got a period-appropriate wheelchair with less than 24-hours notice: The FAC just so happened to have such a prop in storage.
“Oh, yeah, well, the FDR wheelchair for Annie
comes in handy for all sorts of things,” Levy says with a chuckle.
But does this new configuration affect the play at all? Levy says yes, but in unexpectedly positive ways.
“I think that it adds another layer to the story,” he says. “You know, in many ways in Barnum,
it's Barnum telling the story of his life, almost like a memory piece. And so him now being on the outside of some of the scenes and sort of watching this other actor portraying him actually makes the show take on a different level. … Some people have even reported to me that, had they not known that what was going on, they would have thought this is how Barnum
is supposed to be.”
Maybe these circumstances can’t be considered a “happy accident,” but a mix of ingenuity and dedication has cushioned the blow. The FAC, Brady and Barnum
have pulled off the theatrical equivalent of a death-defying tightwire act.
runs Wednesdays through Sundays, through June 16. Details below.