All the Below

By Jim Hesselman

In dinner theatre, a "triple threat" performer is rather common these days. But what about a "quadruple threat" an actor who sings, dances and waits on tables!

I fondly recall my first night as a Bamstormer at Derby Dinner Playhouse. I was playing Evil Eye Fleagle in "Li'l Abner." The intense shaking stopped sometime during the ride that evening as I muttered to myself, "I can't do it, I can't do it, I can't do it, "over and over again.

Once the crucial timing involved in how to take care of 30 to 50 customers during 15-minute intermissions and still make it up on stage in time for my entrance was worked out, I started to relax. But another problem hit me that first night which still haunts me every once in a while. I remember thinking, "I've been an actor for five years am I giving up my integrity? And what about the illusion of theatre? How can I be onstage pretending to be someone else one minute and filling a lady's water glass the next?"

As I loaded 'my tray with whipped-cream-smothered desserts, I began to worry about how disappointed my customers were going to be when they found out it was only me up there making them laugh. On the other hand, maybe they'd be so impressed with my incredible ability to do so many things at once, they'd be honored to have me as their Bamstormer. Of course they would. I could already feel my pockets bulging with their tips.

I was on my way, but as I headed toward the table I thought, "I must be humble." They would probably gush and fall all over themselves, but I would exhibit restraint a hint of a smile, a polite "thank you" with a slight bow of the heard, perhaps an autograph. The moment had come. "Well, ladies, ready for your desserts?"

Four gasps gave way to excited smiles of recognition. I was a little embarrassed, but I knew that I could endure the praise, the adulation. I readied my pen to sign their programs. Then, in a split second these lovely "star-struck" ladies had grabbed their desserts from my tray. In the ensuing flurry of spoons clattering and whipped cream flying, the thought crossed my mind, "Have I been upstaged by a strawberry shortcake'?" Perhaps I had been a bit too humble.

"Would you ladies care for anything else?" I asked in disbelief.

"No," they answered.

"Oh, wait," one of them said, fumbling with her program. "We wanted to ask you something." My heart skipped a beat. This was it They wanted my autograph. I knew they had recognized me. After all, I was standing in front of them dressed head to toe in a bright-green costume, make-up running down my face, looking rather like a large, sweaty dill pickle but now it would all be worth it!

"Yes?" I asked, pen in hand.

The sweet lady looked up at me, smiled and said, "Do you know anybody in the show?" Since then, Barnstorming has become second nature and life in general is much easier; floods, hurricanes, rush hour on the bridge a snap. For once you've been a performing waiter or a waiting performer you are ready to handle just about anything!

(Jim Hesselman does all the above at Derby Dinner Playhouse.)