VP’s Fly Recalls the Night of the Actor and the Spider

Watching the fly struggling to free itself from the hairspray holding down Vice President Mike Pence’s white locks during Wednesday’s VP debate took me back about 25 or so years to Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Tori and I spent many happy weekends watching the shows at the cultural mecca. Because I worked for a newspaper I was able to get tickets for the opening weekend of the season and the summer season, a great perk.

OSF’s Elizabethan Theater has an outdoor stage with a canopy over it – two or three stories high. I don’t remember what show the following event took place in, other than it was Shakespeare, or who the actor was. But I remember this le it wasyesterday, and probably always will.

An actor was onstage alone, not one of the lead characters, standing between the two support columns, which were 10 or so feet on either side of him. As he went into his monologue a hush descended over the audience – not because of the oratorical skills of the actor, but because, from the top of the canopy, a spider was slowly descending directly toward the speaker.

No, you normally wouldn’t be able to see the insect from any great distance, of course not. But a) it appeared to be a fairly good-sized spider and b) by chance – the placement of the lighting instruments, the spot where the actor stood and the place where the spider started his descent, the perfectly lit web was a bright silver streak, getting longer and longer, and at its end was a small black creature, perfectly illuminated, dropping closer and closer to the actor.

We held our breath.And by we I mean the entire audience. At the Elizabethan you often see bats flitting in and out of the lights, but this was better. The whole thing took a more than a minute,, with the actor declaiming below, unaware of the approaching arachnid.

The spider landed on what I recall was a large, sort of turban-like hat the actor was wearing, his web describing a a silver trail from the canopy to the actor’s head. After a brief pause, just long enough to appreciate what you had just seen, maybe a three count, the actor finished his monologue and turned sharply on his heel, exiting straight upstage.

And that bright silver thread snapped and vanished.

I always wondered if anyone ever told the actor about it, if anyone in the company had seen it and told him, “Dude! You won’t believe what just happened!” And if so, I wonder if it affected in any way the actor’s behavior during the run of the show. Did he approach the monologue with any trepidation? Did he step just a tiny bit forward or backward? Or did he just decide, “Screw it. It’s an outdoor theater, Mother Nature happens.”

It’s not quite as amazing as a fly stealing the attention of an audience of, say 40 or 50 million people and becoming a perfect metaphor for the current administration (flies are drawn to shit) but for those in the audience, it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.