As we gear up for The Music Man, I am reminded of a not-so-auguste moment in the history of community theatre in Kanab.  

On August 7, 2004, I played trumpet in the orchestra for Annie Get Your Gun.   Late that night, after the following events occurred, I posted the following article to our family website.  Remember, as with Dave Barry, I am not making any of this up.

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It is midnight Friday nite.  A good time to add an item to this website.

As you may or may not know, in Kanab there is a local tradition of putting on a community musical every two years.  Two years ago, it was Teddy and Alice, a little known musical about Theodore Roosevelt and his daughter Alice.  Two years before that, it was The Wizard of Oz, in which Jolene, my sweetheart, was the wicked witch.  

This year it is Annie Get Your Gun. A local gal, back from dance and drama at BYU for her freshman year, Lindsey Willis, is playing Annie, and doing an incredibly good job.

Each summer when the musical comes up, I decline to try out for a part and say instead, no, I want to play trumpet. So, for each of the three above musicals, I have played trumpet. As a whole, there does seem to be a modest pattern of improvement from one musical to the next.   But I digress.

Annie is a love story between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, and also a competition between the two as to who is the better marksperson. In both the first and second acts, there is a shooting competition between Annie and Frank. There is one missed shot in the first, and many missed shots in the second.

Kortney Stirland, our faithful and long-suffering conductor, pulled me aside and invited me to join what I shall now call “The Rubber Chicken Conspiracy.” The plan being, unbeknownst to cast and crew, on one or more of the missed shots, a rubber chicken would fly skyward from the orchestra, then fall in front of the audience as if just shot, creating a moment of additional humor.

Kortney stressed my participation in the conspiracy must remain unknown so all would be surprised.   He used the term “steal the show.”

I was unable to find a rubber chicken, but family members of Kortney’s, en route to see the musical from areas of actual civilization, were able to purchase two rubber chickens, which were surreptitiously given to me at the start of the musical.

Now, one more element requires explanation: This year the orchestra is not located in the pit area in front of the stage.   This year, that area is occupied by a runway so that certain actions can take place right in the audience’s lap.  Instead, the orchestra is set up on a wing of the stage to the audience’s right.  

Kortney conducts directly facing the orchestra, meaning the cast has only a side view of him,. This means we have pretty good seats from which to enjoy the show.  But back to the conspiracy.

On being given the chickens, I pulled out my Gerber and carefully cut away their packaging so as to be fully ready. I hefted one so as to gauge its weight, the objective being not some modest toss, but an arching, skyward flight so the rubber chicken would fall from the sky as if truly shot. 

I decided I should throw the chicken like a dart so it would seem truer in flight; not a tumbling, disoriented chicken, but a veritable winged Icarus.

I have had little life experience throwing rubber chickens, which explains what happened next.

The competition is going on, Annie and Frank are trading shots, and the orchestra is playing. I select the moment, wind up and throw – and hit Kortney squarely in the face with the rubber chicken.

Kortney later explained he did not know he had been hit in the face with a rubber chicken. We had not coordinated precisely the moment at which the conspiracy would be launched. Since I had some discretion, for all he knew – well, he really didn’t have a clue.

Did I mention when I hit him in the face, Kortney’s glasses fell off? Did I mention he can’t see without his glasses? Did I mention just after the launching of the conspiracy, there was a grand trumpet fanfare in proclamation of Annie’s victory in the competition? Did I mention the fanfare was omitted from this particular performance because the trumpet player was laughing so hard, he was incapable of playing? Did I mention the trumpet player found himself in this condition off and on for the remainder of Act I?

It is important to know the orchestra was not in on the conspiracy, which explains why, as Kortney is now bent over in the dark groping for his glasses, the first violinist keeps asking,   “aren’t we supposed to be playing?”  He had missed the fact his conductor had just been hit in the face with a rubber chicken.

You should also know the conspiracy was not to be daunted by one small indiscretion such as this. The most important question of the moment was, how much of the conspiracy had gotten out to cast or audience. So, during the entire act, I did a little polling, and as best as I could discern, only a little confusion had been observed, not the cause. Since secrecy had been preserved, the question became whether the object of the conspiracy could be realized in Act II?

Oh, but wait, I must explain the physics involved in my direct hit on Kortney’s face. Rubber chickens are, well, made of rubber.   As I now know, they are not capable of being thrown like a baseball, or a dart.  Tossing underhand by the hind legs seems to be the preferred technique, since on being squeezed with the calculated force required for an arching trajectory, they collapse and fold, in this particular case, the head of the chicken ending up in the same location as the chicken’s butt just as it leaves one’s hand, which accounts for the lack of trajectory and the impact on Kortney’s face.

In concluding the story, the task of chicken launch was wisely delegated to another who had a better angle and could even stand up unobserved if necessary for the shooting scene in Act II.   

His inherent chicken throwing instincts are better than mine, since he achieved successful launch, a high arching trajectory, narrowly-missing audience members near the front row.   And yes, the sight of flying rubber chickens falling from the sky as if shot, did create laughter, and rave reviews from the cast.

The conspiracy is still afoot, and I’m still in on the caper, despite my ineptitude of a few hours ago. I understand the plan for tomorrow night is not a modest two chickens, but a wide assortment of stuffed animals, one on each shot. I think a stuffed hippo would be perfect and am looking.                    

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Today, I have to add there never were any flying hippos.  The conspiracy was discovered and quelled by another faithful and long suffering soul, Linda Alderman, who, on uncovering the conspiracy, denounced it as totally unacceptable, in which verdict Kortney and I humbly acquiesced.  

But I shall never forget the stunned – what just happened to me – look on Kortney’s face as his glasses fell off following rubber chicken impact. He stayed like that for a few seconds as things processed. Eventually he bent over, groped for his glasses, and also found the rubber chicken.   

Only in community theatre – and only in Kanab.