Many years ago, I worked quite a bit as a wardrobe supervisor for off-Broadway shows here in New York. By far, my favorite place to work was The American Place Theatre on W.46th St. Run by the legendary Wynn Handman, this theatre nurtured the careers of many great actors and playwrights.
In 1991, I worked on a show called States of Shock by Sam Shepard. It was his first play in many years and it starred John Malkovich, Michael Wincott, Isa Thomas, Erica Gimpel, and Steve Nelson. I adored John in particular - his scathing sense of humor, his intellect, and his peculiar vulnerabilities.
In addition to my job in wardrobe, I ran props during the show. One day, we were at places and John said to me, "Uh, do you know what the difference is between an asshole and a movie star? A movie star wouldn't have a hole in his pants." I looked and sure enough, there was a hole on the side seam of John's army pants, starting just below the waistband. I apologized to him for this oversight and offered to fix it. But we were at places, and he didn't want to hold up the show for a hole that was less than one inch long. He went on as scheduled.
Now, the show was one act, and John never left the stage. During the performance, this small and innocent-looking hole in the seam expanded virtually the whole length of his leg, down to his calf! I was in the wings of the stage looking on and absolutely horrified! My good friend was stage managing and could see the tear getting bigger and bigger. Over headset, he basically told me it was nice working with me and good luck in the future - and he was only one-quarter joking.
While John never left the stage, he was supposed to come to the stage-right wing where I happened to sit and deliver the line, "Miss! Oh, Miss!" and snap his fingers to get the attention of the waitress. Upon delivering this line, he was supposed to then return to his restaurant booth. I was so horrified at this tear, I could not look at him. By then the pants were almost completely split down the leg and he was determined to see me squirm. So rather than return to the booth, he stared directly at me, snapping his finger and calling his line repeatedly until I looked at him. Once he had my attention, he proceeded to extend his leg out to me, and with a gesture worthy of the best spokesmodels, waved his hand delicately down the length of the torn pants in full view of the audience! With that, he continued his part in the show.
As he came off-stage at the show's conclusion, I ran to him apologizing for this error of judgement. He seemed genuinely surprised at my concern and told me, "I wouldn't have cared if the pants fell off completely. I'm just glad I wore underwear today."
And I didn't lose my job.