What happens when one of your lead actors takes ill, and there is no one to step into the role?
If you’re Halifax’s Neptune Theatre, the answer came from the company’s front-of-house as box office clerk Ian Gilmore found himself stepping in to perform the role of the Narrator in its current production of The Rocky Horror Show when the original actor fell ill.
“It was Tuesday around noon, and I had already been at work in the box office for about two and a half hours when Jeremy [artistic director Jeremy Webb] walked in and said he could use my help with something,” says Gilmore. “I followed him into his office, and when he closed the door, I knew something had happened.”
Explaining that one of the cast members had taken ill, Webb asked him if he would step into the role. “There was this moment of it hanging in the air of what this entailed and eventually I’m like, sure, why not?,” says Gilmore.
With only a few hours to himself before showtime, Gilmore printed off the script and began to prepare. “I started highlighting all of the lines and trying to cram as much as possible into my brain,” he says. “At two o’clock, the musical director Avery Jean Brennan came in, and we had a music rehearsal for about an hour in the basement.”
With the rest of the cast now arrived, a quick rehearsal helped mark his character’s stage directions. “And suddenly it was the half-hour, and I was on stage,” he says.
A master at memorizing lines, a skill developed over his years as an actor, Gilmore was off-book, albeit with some help from a “cheat sheet” prepared by stage management, when the curtain rose. It was a crutch he would only need for his first performance as he came in the following night with everything memorized.
“One of my claims to fame was my ability to learn scripts really, really fast,” he says. “I retained things like a sponge when I was younger, and I could absorb choreography, lines and stage directions.”
That skill has served Gilmore well, stepping into other shows at the last minute over the years, including a concert performance of The Rocky Horror Show in Vancouver shortly after graduating from theatre school in Victoria.
“I had just finished studying the show in school and got a call from the director who had lost their Frank ‘N’ Furter a week before the it was to open, and I suddenly found myself in the show,” he says.
The Narrator has never been on my radar as a role to really look at. So when all of this went down, it was one of the few roles that I was not even remotely familiar with.
Gilmore has also directed and choreographed The Rocky Horror Show, but he never expected to step into this particular role despite his familiarity with the musical.
“The Narrator has never been on my radar as a role to really look at,” he says. “So when all of this went down, it was one of the few roles that I was not even remotely familiar with.”
Based on Facebook and Instagram reactions from audience members, it would appear Gilmore nailed it.
“That post meant the world to me,” he says. “The cast and the theatre community have been very supportive, but the remarks from all the people who saw me in the show and who owe me nothing moved me so much. I could not be more grateful for the uploading of support from the general public.”
As for whether Gilmore will have an opportunity to perform again before the end of the run, he’s hoping it won’t be necessary but is prepared to step in if required.
“The possibility is always there, but sweet Jesus, I hope I don’t have to,” he says with a laugh. “But for the sake of the theatre, the show and those wonderful people on stage and backstage, I would definitely do it again in whatever role they needed.”
The Neptune Theatre production of The Rocky Horror Show continues, sans Gilmore, at Fountain Hall through June 26. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.