Embarrassing Migraine – “The Show Must Go On!”

This was one Migraine that could be described many way. At the time, it was horrifyingly embarrassing. Now, I can look back on it and laugh a bit.

This was in the days before my Migraines became chronic, so I dared to do many things that I’d never think of now, including community theatre. It was Sunday, and we had a matinee of a comedy called Lo and Behold. I was playing the ghost of a southern belle named Honeychile “Honey” Wainwright. The big problem was that I got up that morning with a truly nasty Migraine. As is the situation in many community theatres, we didn’t have understudies, so if I didn’t do the matinee, it would have to be cancelled.

When the time came, a fellow cast member picked me up, and off to the theatre we went. This was in the pre-triptan days, so all I had to take for Migraines was acetaminophen with codeine, which was doing nothing whatsoever. I managed to get into makeup and costume and, the worst part, the wig, which made my head hurt worse. Got through all of that with only one vomit break.

The stage manager, Marge, was watching me, and I could just hear the, “Oh, crap!” running through her mind. She was going to be responsible for whatever happened onstage that day. The director came in, and his only comment was no help at all – “Don’t throw up on the dress.” Gee, thanks.

Just before time for the show to start, Marge gathered the cast in the green room to talk to us. She told me to get offstage and go to the stage right offstage area if I were going to vomit. She told the case to ad-lib if I left the stage unexpectedly. Then it was curtain time.

This might be a good time to describe my first entrance. There was a large portrait over the fireplace. On cue, the lighting dimmed, the painting slid to the side, and I stepped through onto the fireplace mantel. Now, I don’t like heights in the first place. Secondly, I was wearing a big hoop skirt, which didn’t help. Add a Migraine to the equation, and I was terrified that we were going to have a disaster. We didn’t, but the cast member who helped me down did whisper, “please don’t puke on my head.”

At this point, I can’t remember if I had to leave the stage two times or three to be sick, but I’m still amazed that nobody in the audience caught on that anything was wrong. I don’t remember what I said either, but I made up something and went offstage. Once I got there, someone held a big trash can in front of me. Another person grabbed the hoop from behind and held my skirt back, another held my wig back, and yet another was there with tissues and a tube of lipstick so I could wipe my mouth and fix my lipstick before I went back on. The cast just kept talking until I got back, and we picked up where we left off.

Nobody else in the cast or crew had Migraines, but everyone was so considerate, and we were definitely a team. After the curtain call, when the curtain closed, I sat down in the middle of the stage in tears. The stage lights had been so bright and had hurt for so long. It was such a relief to have them turned off. When I got downstairs to the makeup and dressing room area, someone had turned off some of the lights, and people were waiting to help me change clothes and get all that makeup off.

At the time, I found the afternoon horrifying. It was embarrassing, and I didn’t know how I was going to get through the afternoon. Now I think how comical the backstage scene must have been as I came tearing around the corner in that costume and everyone started grabbing my skirt and hair and holding a trash can under my mouth.

Well, they do say, “The show must go on!”

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