06:06:07 pm on
Thursday 18 Jul 2024

Once I was Audrey
AJ Robinson

When you perform on stage, in the live theatre, often there’s a request for you to act in an atypical manner, sometimes downright weird. That can make your performance difficult. It's one thing to play an historic figure, an alien from another world or even be a person of the opposite gender. My question is how to act like a giant carnivorous plant and make it convincing?

I took on the role of four plants in a play.

I faced this exact quandary some years back. I was working in a production of "Little Shop of Horrors." The show has a colorful history.

“Little Shop” was an ultra-low budget 1960 movie by Roger Corman. Supposedly, the script took Charles B Griffith four days to write and filming completed in another four days. It looks it! The film budget was roughly $27,000. Jack Nicholson starred.

From there it was transformed into an off-Broadway musical and then to a hit movie musical. Along the way, changes to fit the intended audience appeared. The final version has a happy conclusion, the stage version not so much and the original split the difference.

In the stage version, there are four plants. The first is a hand puppet, which was easy for me to operate. It sat on a shelf and I just stuck my arm through a hole in the wall to reach it.

The second plant is bigger, but the actor playing Seymour Krelboyne holds and controls it. The third plant was quite the tight fit, especially given my sizable frame. I had to sit inside what was essentially a huge flowerpot, with the "mouth" sections of the planet on top of me. The Audrey plant, named after the girl Seymour has a crush on, Audrey Fulquad, is a Venus flytrap-type of planet. At this point, in the story, things get truly weird.

Audrey talks.

Fortunately, I didn't have to provide the voice. The role was so physical demanding that the simple act of speaking was almost impossible. A voice actor stood offstage, where she spoke and sang into a microphone.

All I had to do was a big "all." I was to move the plant's mouth coordinated with the voice and provide the acting by shifting and moving my body. The latter became quite the physical performance with the fourth and final Audrey plant.

That fourth plant was huge! Sitting inside the massive lower jaw, which sat on the stage, I literally had to put my back into it in order to lift the upper half of the plant to perform. Not only did it have talk and sing, I had to eat the remaining cast members. Yes, eat!

During the finale, the planet gobbles up the real Audrey, Gravis Mushnik and Seymour Krelboyne. Only then does the fourth plant move on with its real goal. That is, world conquest.

The cast returns as saplings of mine and sings the warning song of "Don't Feed the Plants." This number s cut from the film version, as it was thought too much of a downer. A thrilling action sequence, in which Seymour defeats the plant, replaced the cast finale. He and Audrey marry and live happily ever after. In the film versions, as the camera pans across their garden, a new Audrey sapling is grinning in among the flowers, thus, making a sequel possible.

Then the curtain call came. After the chorus and supporting players came out, the main cast took their bows; all the while, the plant sitting center stage. Then Seymour and Audrey would come over and lift the rather large upper jaw of the plant. I would be sitting there, all hot and sweaty, waving to the audience.

It was just about the best workout I ever got.

The show was also a lot of fun. After all, how many people can say they played a giant man-eating plant that could sing?



Combining the gimlet-eye of Philip Roth with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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