Noises Off begins previews Dec. 17 at the American Airlines Theatre. The show infamously chronicles the backstage chaos (and hilarity) that ensues during performances of Nothing On. Sometimes, though, things can go awry, and the unexpected happens in front of an audience. It's the beauty of live theatre. Broadway vets share onstage blunders that caused them to break character.
I remember at summer stock — my very first job ever — we were eating the obligatory cold cuts and [one of the actresses] made a gesture with her fork. She had speared a baloney and a piece of it was flying like a saucer. It twirled off the fork and landed on her head. I remember that to this day, which is a 50-year memory. Things like that are obvious, but little things that are ineffable can really send you around the bend, and it's the worst feeling in the world. It's a terrible, terrible feeling. I was in Butley with Alan Bates and Hayward Morse and there was a moment when they did something and cracked themselves up. Both were downstage of me because I had just entered and they both turned up to me, with their faces wreathed in tears and laughter, to turn away from the audience...I prided myself. I just turned to steel and looked at them. Like, "You bad children!" I held my ground, I remember how hard it was.
Sometimes there's just something about a phrase or a moment that will set a couple of you off and it's just ridiculously funny. You can't erase that. During a production of The Foreigner, it took the other actress and I probably a week-and-a-half to stop laughing whenever my character said: "Well of course there's Ezzard Purkeypile…" There was something about that that was always so absurd. Rachel Dratch
Have I ever not? My most famous one is the Debbie Downer one [from "SNL"] where we all started laughing really hard. That is the one that I am most known for in terms of a breakdown. We got the giggles and then we just couldn't recover for the whole scene. I kept having to say these serious things and every time it was coming back at me, I lost it. On "SNL" we would try not to [break character], because it's kind of a cheap trick — it gets the audience on your side. So you really try not to, but there are times when I really couldn't and many others couldn't help themselves.
Watch the "SNL" clip below in which Dratch and fellow comedians Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler and Lindsay Lohan can't help but giggle throughout the skit.
Oh my god, I'm Jackie Hoffman! That’s why nobody hires me. In Hairspray there were 20,000 times. [For example] When Bruce Vilanch's skirt fell down and I just talked to the audience and said: "It's like Janet Jackson at the Superbowl." Stuff like that. If the piece allows, I break — if something just has to be called out. But the moment has to be right, you don't want to just abandon the piece and you don't want to compromise the integrity of it. Renée Fleming
We did all laugh [on] opening night [for Living on Love]. There were just moments that were too intense. Because Guido's character and my character are so big, it lends itself to everything kind of escalating to a point where it's very hard to maintain composure. Oh yes...The first couple performances in Williamstown were impossible to get through. Anna Chlumsky
I was really lucky to not break at all during You Can't Take It With You. It's the same thing that goes on in "Veep." If you feel like it's happening, you just have to remind yourself: "My character would not be amused right now." And I am lucky enough to have a character who would not be amused by some seriously funny things. Scott Robertson
There were times in Damn Yankees with Jerry Lewis. A few times, we would do things where we literally couldn't go on. He did this incredible thing where he threw the cane up in the air and kept telling jokes and he just wouldn't stop. He would go on for 15-20 minutes...He would stop the show.