This past weekend, Nahleen and I drove a couple hours east of Los Angeles to the 7th Annual Apple Butter Festival in the Oak Glen community. Located about 5,000 feet up the San Bernadino Mountains, there is a definite New England small town vibe, especially with the changing autumn leaves. (Yes, certain parts of southern California can actually get that cold, if you know where to go. In fact, the area had snow on the ground the following night.)
Amidst all of the apple-themed shops and food, there was also a Wild West style stunt show that we were able to catch. The True West Stunt Team does staged gun play and fisticuffs around a 5-building shanty town set (saloon, bank, jail, etc.).
We were told early on that we were seeing a brand new show. (We were later told that it had been choreographed about 20 minutes prior to us sitting down, which didn’t quite seem to add up right. They had been performing two or three times a day since Friday, and we saw the last show on Saturday. Maybe they do a different show every time?)
Anyway, they had a good start, and it looked like they would be good enough to pull this off. And they would have too. But then Murphy’s law decided to smack everyone upside the head. Just about everyone’s guns failed to fire. So we had people standing on the roof of a buildings where they were supposed to be shot off and fall to their “death”. But no “bullets”.
So at this point, as performers, they had two choices. The first and worst choice would be to stop the show, try to re-set the guns, and start over. If the guns still refused to cooperate, cancel the show. The show is free, so they couldn’t give us our money back. So, they could just apologize, feel bad, and then we’d feel bad for them, and everyone would leave feeling pretty bummed out.
The other alternative would be to just go with it, improvise. And that’s just what they did. They mostly stayed in character, kept trying to fire, laughed at themselves some, and found ways to trip or otherwise plummet to their “deaths” from roofs. It ended up working just fine, and the audience was in on the joke and had a great time. And as we left, the donation bucket was getting plenty of dollars. (The money goes to gun powder, the set and other costs.)
In fact, I would argue that the audience maybe had a better time than if the show went just as planned. We were able to be a part of a special performance that will never be experienced by anyone else, where we were still entertained and impressed by their talents, and also got to see them work and interact in a way others may not see. We were able to be there for them, laugh with them, as they worked through the challenges. And we got to cheer for them when they successfully made it to the end of the show.
Allowing improvisation to take over when the plan fails (and even when it’s working just fine) brings more magic to a show than either the performer or the audience could anticipate. Embrace it and enjoy it because that ride will never happen again.
(And here I thought I was just going to spend the day eating apples.)