Actor to Offstage Prompter: “Line…!?!”

It’s a calendar month since they closed down Broadway, and I have been thinking about Death. If that’s too morbid for your taste, you may want to skip this one.

The great sorrow in the present crisis is that the terminally ill are dying alone without comfort of friends or loved ones. So amidst all this terrible tragedy, appalling inconvenience, and ongoing uncertainty, I have wondered lately, occasionally, about a good last line, albeit that if one were about to cross the rainbow bridge, there’s every chance that no one would hear anything you might say…

Nevertheless, as an actor it would simply be embarrassing to arrive at the final moment and have to ask for a prompt. And with the current global challenge, including the prospect of death – the possibility at least, should you happen to inhale the wrong person’s sneeze – doing what Doctor Johnson back in the 18th century said said it did (focus the mind) – what an opportunity to get something down on paper.

Coming up with words that might endure in anyone’s memory more than an hour or two is a tricky proposition though. A sample of some very witty utterances already made includes:

“It’s been a long time since I had champagne.” Anton Checkov – Russian playwright

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“This is where the fun begins.” Ben Travers – British playwright

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“On the contrary.” Henrik Ibsen – Norwegian playwright

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Last words can be very telling in terms of the speaker’s character. A person of high moral probity might say, along with Socrates, “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius, will you remember to pay the debt?”

With an eye to a laugh, “This is no way to live.” Groucho Marx

Somewhat dissatisfied with the set, “I knew it! I knew it! Born in a hotel room and, goddamn it, dying in a hotel room.” Eugene O’ Neill – American playwright.

Do you agree with me that Death is the great taboo these days? Where once no one dared mention sex in polite society, or in some cases money, these days to talk about death at a dinner party is to be struck off future invitations.

And that can be no surprise when the prevailing culture, in America at least, takes the view that death is optional, and that with a reverse-mortgage and the right medication (notwithstanding those side-effects given in husky voice-over against bucolic scenes of happy family barbecues in television commercials). This is madness, the idea that the inevitable appointment with the “fell sergeant” can be indefinitely postponed, defies all logic, experience and evidence.

But we seldom talk about the universal leveler with each other, let along how best to go about it. Many of us find it deeply upsetting even to think about it. But how is it sensible to go fearful or ignorant to that which awaits us all?

If one were looking for advice, albeit of a markedly sombre tone, there’s the Duke’s speech to Claudio Act 3, scene 1 of Measure For Measure which begins, “Be absolute for death, and either death or life shall thereby be the sweeter…”

Or there’s Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, On Death and Dying

Or there are Dr Peter Fenwick’s youtube videos.

And although I certainly have no empirical proof, apart from the vivid memories of loved ones who’ve gone before, I tend to agree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s assessment, “Change of clothes.” One hopes.

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Talking of metaphysicians who flirt with the intangible: there’s at least one of Nostradamus’s prophesies that was correct in every detail. On his deathbed he said, “Tomorrow, at sunrise, I shall no longer be here.”

And for an epitaph what could be better than Spike Milligan’s“I told you I was ill.” engraved on his tombstone.

Returning to the problem of the last line. If one were minded to die with one eye on publication, I offer a few generic options here, mainly for actors:

“The Great Stage Manager in the sky is calling places (beginners/UK)”

“If I’d had just one more rehearsal, I’d be playing this differently.”

“How about a round (of applause) on this exit?”

12 thoughts on “Actor to Offstage Prompter: “Line…!?!”

  1. Conolly, Alan

    Thanks Collin. How is Mum?

    ALAN CONOLLY
    Life Member of the Law Society of NSW
    Senior Partner
    A R Conolly & Company
    Office address: Level 29 Chifley Tower, 2 Chifley Square, Sydney NSW 2000
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    Limited Liability by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation

    Reply
  2. SUSAN CORRADO

    Love this!! Hope you are safe and healthy – and this is not a “heads up” announcement 🤗❤️
    Much Love,
    Susan

    Reply
  3. Bill Lafferty

    Very well written my friend ,,, We are all hunkered down at Roberts home in Dobbs Ferry ,, They had a few cases of the virus at Atria where we were ,,, been here 15 days ,, There on lockdown at atria on the Hudson ,, 75 next month,, so I have been thinking of what I want on my absolutely magnificent tombstone “ here lies bill lafferty ,, show me your boobs “ ,,,, Well it probably , sadly ,won’t happen ,, But it would be funny 😄 So sorry your show shut down ,,, I thought it would reopen in two months ,,, Our love to Trish ,,,

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth Dimon

    Colin: Every time I read your blog I love you all the more. In this last year I became a “death doula” and I KNOW people see me coming at parties and move away because for awhile during my studies, it was pretty much what I DID talk about. But I believe it’s important and man, we just don’t want to do it. For anyone looking to have the conversation though, go to “5 Wishes”. It’s a great help in starting this conversation with yourself and with your loved ones. Because it will indeed happen to each and every one of us. I can guarantee you.

    Reply
  5. Terence Clarke

    Dear Colin, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to leave a Comment on your blog, so the audience is reduced to one:

    Goethe: Mehr licht! (More light!) Wilde: ‘Either that wallpaper has to go or I will’ (or something like that) Gertrude Stein: ‘What is the answer?’ Those gathered by her bedside thought this a suitable exit line. But then, after a time, ‘What is the question?’, upon which she expired.

    I’ve not had word from you or Trish about *A Hard God *or *A Happy and Holy Occasion* Perhaps neither of you cared for either.

    Bestest in dark days, and love, to you both, Terry

    On Tue, 14 Apr 2020 at 2:31 am, McPhillamyActorBlog wrote:

    > Colin McPhillamy posted: “It’s a calendar month since they closed down > Broadway, and I have been thinking about Death. If that’s too morbid for > your taste, you may want to skip this one. The great sorrow in the present > crisis is that the terminally ill are dying alone without com” >

    Reply
  6. Barbara McCulloh

    > >> Conversations in the Time of Corona: >> The Lavender I thought was lost. >> Dear Friends, >> I used to write letters. I liked the time and pace of letters, the beautiful stationery and pens. Through a series of serendipitous incidents, and the shift to Corona Time, I have recently been back in contact with a long lost friend. Not that I never thought of the person over the years, and wondered about his path; neither of us knows exactly how or why we lost touch. I think it was more than just growing up and moving forward…but that’s another story. For now, I thought I’d write to you about another, connected, reconnection. >> This storyletter is about a Little Lavender Plant that I was sure was gone, along with his two siblings. The Trio was planted in a pretty spot, but as the seasons went on, they got too much water, too little sun, too much attention from the birds, and too little respect from the squirrels. I tried to rescue the Sisters and moved them to better locations; but the damage seemed to have been done, and they didn’t survive. I held no hope for the Lavender Left Behind. He disappeared. >> Spring has arrived a month early this year at the River House, along with my isolation, and as the days continue without human contact, the flow of my time is dictated by the tide of the river, the rise of the moon, the feeding times of the wildlife, and the greening of my garden, that sometimes seems to grow as I stare. I’m wondering if this is how Thoreau found his peace: We adjust, we settle in, we slow down, observe and listen in seemingly new ways. We really listen to others on phone calls, but also to ourselves, our hearts and instincts. And it’s wonderful. >> I’ve discovered as I’m physically disconnected from other humans, for uncounted days now, I don’t feel as alone as I did before. It feels as if the Virus has affected my heart: As I sit quietly, I can actually feel my heart opening and softening, slowing down. In an odd way, I feel more connected. I truly think about the people I love more, and those I remember with love, and somehow, I think I’m finding a silver lining. >> So yesterday, when I found the Little Lavender Plant, unexpectedly struggling to come into the sun, and grow again in his original home, I was elated! I found a planter in the shed, repotted, fertilized and moved Sir Lavender to prime real estate. We’ll see, but I have renewed hope. For many things. Somehow the urge to reach out to old friends, renew friendship, and repot gives me hope. >> As does the Lavender Plant. >> We’ll see. Stay well, my Friends. Thanks for listening. >> With love and hope, until next time, >> Barbara >

    Reply

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