Yesterday when I was listening to the Ford’s Theater park ranger giving his “The Night Lincoln Was Shot” speech, I started thinking about the last time I worked at Ford’s. In 1998 I appeared in their annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” adapted and directed by David Bell. David had directed his own work a number of times for Ford’s (in fact, the following year he would turn over directing duties to a protege) and it was clearly pretty old hat for him. I was playing the dual roles of Mrs. Fezziwig and Mrs. Dilber (Scrooge’s housekeeper).
We rehearsed in a conference room at a nearby hotel, and didn’t move into the theatre until tech week. All went fine until we started previews. I had some business in the Christmas Future sequence where I had to enter from stage left in the dark and strike a match, then blow it out as the lights came up and the scene progressed. I had a big box of matches and they’d lit just fine all through rehearsals and tech. During the first preview, though, something went wrong. I walked onstage, lit the match, held it aloft and…phhtt, it went out. It didn’t gutter or fizzle; it just went out, as if the flame had been snuffed by thumb and forefinger. I shrugged it off as one of those things and continued with the scene.
The next night, I stepped onstage from the left wing, struck my match, held it up and…phhtt, the same thing happened. It was both puzzling and annoying. During notes the next day, David said, “Hey, Donna, what’s with the match scene? Do we need to get you a new box of matches?” I said no, the matches were working just fine but they wouldn’t stay lit. “It’s not like I’m in a draft or anything,” I said. “The flame doesn’t flicker. It just goes out.”
David said “Hmm,” and thought for a second. Then he threw up his hands. “Oh, I know. You’re in the Booth spot.”
“I’m in the what?” I replied.
“The Booth spot. Where he landed when he jumped out of the Lincoln box. Don’t come so far downstage when you light the match and you’ll be okay.” He was so matter-of-fact about it that I was startled.
That evening I came onstage for the match-lighting scene with a certain trepidation. I did not move downstage as usual. I took a deep breath and struck the match. It flared up brightly – and remained burning until I blew it out. Through the rest of the run, it never went out again.