42 THE ACTOR PRINCE
Once upon a time there was a young prince who, from his youth, had always wanted to be an actor. But the king, his father,
felt that if the play's the thing (and it was a flop), the king's son, the prince, would be booed and hissed off the stage, further
discrediting what little was left of the royal family's honor; which was already quite low.
But the prince was persistent in his request, and was finally permitted to enroll in Thespia Drama School, under an assumed
name. The king, however, made one stipulation: the prince could play only those parts in which he was so thoroughly
disguised that no one could possibly recognize who he was.
With this understanding, the young prince enrolled in the school. He learned how to smile sweetly and sickly, how to roll his
eyes both clockwise and counterclockwise, how to grimace in feigned pain, how to cry at the drop of a tear, faint on cue, etc.
In short, he learned all the tricks of the trade, save one.
On the night of his debut in the part of a well-disguised Caliban the Monster in Shakespeare's The Tempest, the young
prince was understandably nervous. So, at the last minute, the director provided him with the last trick of the trade: when
one is nervous, one simply takes one step backwards, stands straight, and speaks his lines with persuasive conviction.
As it came time for the young prince to speak his lines, he became very nervous. He quickly took one step backwards,
then another, and still another. Unfortunately, as a haughty youth the young prince was accustomed to turn his back on people.
Thus, when he took yet another step backwards, he fell heel over head backwards into the orchestra pit. The audience
roared with laughter. It was the best Shakespeare they had seen in years. In the process, however, the prince lost his
disguise; and as he staggered up out of the pit and onto the stage, the audience quickly stopped laughing; for they noticed
that the king and his wife the queen, both of whom were in the audience, were not amused.
The reviews of the play in the morning newspapers made no mention of the unfortunate incident. The prince returned to
court. The honor of the royal family slipped yet another notch. The play was dropped from the repertoire, since it was
difficult to find actors who could fall heel over head backwards into the orchestra pit and successfully complete the
performance. And the director was shot. Thus did everyone live more or less unhappily ever after. Well, not the director.
MORAL: Badly begun is half finished.
© 1998 George J. Seidel