I’ve more than once appeared in a play or show where disaster could have struck if I’d suddenly fallen ill or had an accident. It’s never happened yet, and I’ve never yet been in a show where the thing had to be cancelled because someone else went AWOL, but there have been some near misses.
In one musical entertainment I played for one of the young girls slipped while walking down the theatre steps in the semi-dark at the beginning of the act, sprained her ankle badly and carried on performing. She struggled through the next performance too (there were only two in all) and even carried on dancing. But after that she needed some recuperation!
On another occasion one of the leading singers in a similar concert-style entertainment pulled out two days before the show was due to go on. She was under enormous stress at the time, and just couldn’t cope with both performing and dealing with the imminent sale of her late husband’s business. Remarkably, a friend of the show’s director stepped in and took over, and did very well. The value of long experience! But if she hadn’t been able to do it, the show would have had to have had a major last minute overhaul.
I see that there are companies now who provide what they call key man insurance. This is in case someone who’s a key player in the business suddenly dies. With small businesses this can be a major crisis. Insurance that covers the death of a key person can keep a business afloat until a long-term rescue has been achieved. I’ve never personally known anyone in the theatre business who died in the middle of a play or show, though I’ve heard of it happening in the wider theatre scene, as when Gertrude Lawrence died while starring in The King and I, and many years later Yul Brynner did the same. And professional shows usually have understudies – that’s their kind of insurance. Businesses never do.