You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, just as the lights are about to go down? The electricity you feel when you get yourself situated in your chair awaiting a performance? My boss attributes this feeling to the synapses in your brain becoming heightened, getting ready to focus on the multitude of stimuli you’re about to see on the stage.
And while this may be true (studies have shown that mentally stimulating activity such as going to the theatre can help with brain development), I also suspect that ASF comes in to play for many.
I hadn’t felt comfortable talking about this malady from which I suffer until it came to a head recently at a production of Compulsion at the Public Theater.
I found myself walking up three flights of stairs to the Public’s Martinson Hall on top of the theatre’s Lafayette Street home (which is currently under renovation). My friend muttered to me, “Boy, this is a lot of stairs.” “Yeah,” I said, feeling my condition starting to act up.
It is at this time in the theatergoing process when someone who suffers from chronic ASF starts going through an obsessive checklist of actions that must be completed in order to prevent a full-blown ASF attack.
1. Secure all personal objects (hats, gloves, sweaters, etc.).
2. Put cell phone on silent.
3. Stow all personal items securely under your seat so as to not block the pathway of fellow audience members.
4. Secondary cell-phone check.
5. Arrange all outerwear into just such a position whereas it does not flow onto the seat of the stranger next to you and yet, it is accessible should it get too cold in the theatre.
6. Third cell-phone check — this time not trusting that the silent mode is functioning property, so you just turn it off.
7. Check all exits in the event of a bathroom emergency.
8. Final phone check where you just take the battery out — that way you know with 110 percent certainty that your phone will not go off.
As I run through items 1-4 on my OCD-ASF checklist, I arrive at number five just as Hal Prince saunters into the theatre.
“Ooh, Hal Prince!” exclaims my guest as the 21-time Tony winner walks closer and closer to our row. Sure enough, he plops down in front of us, obstructing my formerly unobstructed path to the facilities.
It’s now 7:57 PM. And the debate about No. 7 begins. A pre-show sprint to the restroom or not? The internal debate begins. It goes something like this:
Blake #1: Should I go?
Blake #2: Well, regularly, you just might have the time, but this is up three flights of stairs, and under renovation! Surely you won’t have time.
Blake #1: Oh, just go already!
Blake #2: Well, you did just go ten minutes ago at the restaurant. You’ll be fine.
Blake #1: No you won’t! Remember those people stuck on the A train during the snowstorm? They thought they have a short train ride to sit through before getting to use the bathroom and bam! Stuck for 8 hours!
Just as the clock strikes 7:59, the lights go dim and star Mandy Patinkin walks onto the stage.
Damn! Out of time.
Now, all I can do is try not to think about the fact that if I need make an exit, I’ll have to ask a living legend to quietly move his keister in order for me to make an emergency pit stop. Not to mention the fact that this theatre is so small that I’d have to walk right past another legend in his own right, Mandy Patinkin! Surely he’d see me and I’d be exiled from the theatre community faster than you can say, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
The whispered “um, excuse me, I’m sorry, can I get past you? So sorry!” contortion dance one has to do to climb over people in a dark theatre to use the bathroom mid-act is second only to the unexpected phone ring in a list of "most annoying theatre interruptions" perpetrated by a fellow theatergoer.
Thankfully, Patinkin delivered, and I’m swept away in the drama on stage. 75 minutes go by, and I hardly remember what I was worried about in the first place. The stage lights dim, the audience erupts into applause and the house lights go on signaling it’s time for intermission.
I jump out of my seat, slipping past Mr. Prince on the way to the lavatory.
I know I don’t really have to go, but with ASF, you can never be too sure.