Shelter from the storm

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Southeast Missourian

Cari VanAmburg, left, as Baba Yaga, spoke to Nicholas Cutelli, as Prince Ludwig, during Saturday evening's performance of "Rapunzel" in a lower-level hallway of Grauel Building at Southeast Missouri State University. April 29, 2004

Dear Pat,

Saturday night, DC and I were in the audience watching a production of the children's play "Rapunzel" when the university siren system began wailing. At first, everyone just sat there not wanting to interrupt the play but beginning to worry about the danger behind the sirens. A few parents with children edged toward the exits. When the house lights came up, director Dennis Seyer calmly rose to announce a tornado warning had been issued and asked us to begin walking toward the hallway in the building's bottom floor.

Anyone who has lived in Southeast Missouri awhile has gone to the basement during a tornado watch and has witnessed the uneasy quiet that precedes a real storm. I peeked outside. All was eerily still.

Down in the hallway, the clowns who introduce the scenes in the play, Polly and Penny Patches, tried to keep the children entertained. The adults watched for weather reports on a television and talked about other things.

People are at their best when our normal expectations are crossed up and there's nothing we can do about it. We make jokes and conversation to keep others -- especially children -- and ourselves from being afraid. We rise to occasions.

After an hour, the hallway was getting hot, and things to say were running low. That's when Seyer announced that the cast was going to perform the last scene right there in the middle of the hall.

Children sat on the floor and adults gathered around. Rapunzel, her long blond braid hanging to the floor, the ardently evil and knobby-kneed witch Baba Yaga, and gallant Prince Ludwig all huddled. Seyer calmly gave them instructions. More nervous, the stage manager barked,"Be actors."

Trouper is a term of respect applied to experienced, dependable actors. The student actors were all that. They had no stage and no set, only a box to serve as the tower that imprisons Rapunzel. Instead of recorded sounds, effects were supplied by the mouths and wits of the stage crew.

When Rapunzel held up a bird, they whistled and cooed. When Baba Yaga fell out of the window, they made the sound Wiley Coyote knows too well. Dan Boughton, an actor who appeared in an earlier scene, played a shelf. Marketing manager Perrey Lee had a cameo as a curtain.

It wasn't the show anyone had come to the theater expecting. It was exactly what was called for.

When love broke the spell on Rapunzel at the end, her parents suddenly emerged from the crowd.

"Where are we, Hans?" Elsa asked. "And how did we get here?"

The lines weren't meant to be funny. Down in the hallway, feeling now like the safest place in the world, they figuratively brought down the house.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is the managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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