Murphy's Law is for Amateurs

Monday, February 28, 2011

Murphy's Law says, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." For speakers, this usually means the microphone will screech or the audio-visual equipment won't work or the airplane that is scheduled to arrive two hours before your talk will be delayed for three. For actors and actresses, it may be something as simple as a wig flying off in the middle of a scene.

Roland and I went to see a regional theater production of Annie on Saturday night. Professional actors played Miss Hannigan and Oliver Warbucks, but the rest of the cast were amateurs.

In one scene, Oliver Warbuck's secretary, Grace, has just brought Annie to the billionaire's mansion and introduced her to the servants. As they sing and dance "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," one of the male servants picks Annie up and swings her around. On Saturday night her wig flew off, revealing blond hair hugging the girl's scalp. Not one of the dozen or so people on stage stepped out of position to retrieve the red hair that had come to rest in a conspicuous spot.

Annie hardly missed a beat as she continued singing and dancing. And that's just what she should have done. She wasn't in a good position to retrieve the wig, and the audience didn't expect that from a child, anyway. Annie acted like a professional.

But the others on stage acted like the amateurs they were. Grace probably could have retrieved the wig the most naturally, but almost any of the servants could have broken rank, danced over gracefully and picked up the wig, and waltzed over to return it to Annie. That person would have departed from his or her scripted role, but the interruption would have been shorter and more welcome than the prolonged period where Annie looked like a scalped Indian.

Then Oliver Warbucks came on stage, noticed the wig, and picked it up. He said, "I believe this belongs to you," placed it on Annie's head, and smoothed it down. Yes, it was a departure from the script, but it brought the biggest applause of the evening.

That's the difference between being an amateur and being a professional. Professionals experience Murphy's Law, too, but they don't let it paralyze them. The professional speaker learns how to project his or her voice without a microphone, designs a presentation that is enhanced by but does not rely on audio-visuals, and leaves earlier in anticipation of flight delays. The professional actor expects the unexpected and learns how to ad lib.

If one of the amateurs on stage had taken a risk and stepped out of the script for a moment, the audience would have applauded. Would the director have yelled at him or her for it? Maybe, but probably not.

Life is like that, too. Sometimes we have to step out of the script and take a risk to help others.

Even if we don't get any applause.


The picture is from my high-school senior play. I am the old maid on the left. Although I don't remember anything going wrong, I was a true amateur at the time and would never have taken a risk if it had.


Caroline said...

Kathryn, how true! I could just imagine that scene. Don't you think some of us enjoy seeing/experiencing that glimpse of realism, the moment when faced w/a choice, we do the unexpected, altho not the "right"?


Loree Huebner said...

Kathryn, I'm so tickled to find your blog! I really miss coming out on Saturdays to the group, but I work EVERY single Saturday. I keep up with things from Gordon's emails.

Great post. Everyone can ad lib...some much better than others. It’s like you said, “the difference between being an amateur and being a professional.” Life gives us choices. When we see someone floundering, do we let them drown or throw them a life preserver? I'm a firm believer in the life preserver.

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