3up·stage: to take attention away from (someone or something else, such as another performer)
Full Definition of UPSTAGE
|An actor being upstaged by his sword|
You don't have to stand upstage (toward the back of the stage, forcing the central character, who is supposed to have everyone's attention, to turn toward you. You can fiddle with something, whistle, wiggle - anything to make the audience watch you rather than him.
I have been in various theatre groups over the years, with some really electrifying parts - like the society lady of the 1890s with a drinking problem, whose final appearance involves her staggering from the house with a streamer of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, or the countess in The Sound of Music who uttered the deathless lines "Frau Schraeder is charming, Georg!" I upstaged Captain Von Trapp in that scene by wearing underpants printed with red bicycles. I did not know, then, that spotlights will cut through clothing and highlight things you would not think visible. One of the stage hands asked me, after the scene, why on earth I had bicycles on my panties.
We were cautioned against upstaging each other, and given some examples of what it involved and why the one being upstaged was justified in throttling (usually in plays involving stealthy murder), stabbing (Shakespearean) or shooting (crime drama) the upstager.
Tallulah Bankhead was notorious for her upstaging antics. Two stories illustrate them very well.
Tallulah Bankhead was getting nonsense from an upstart young actress who declared she could upstage Tallulah anytime. "Dahling," said Miss Bankhead, "I can upstage you without even being onstage."
The next night, she set out to prove it.
Tallulah always squabbled with her leading men. One of them had his revenge. She had arranged for a phone to ring on stage during his climactic speech. He tried to ignore it, tried to cover it with a burst of speech. He finally lifted it and managed a limp "Hello?" And then he turned to Tallulah and offered the phone with a smile. "It's for you, Darling!"
Good evening, dear Inspector,
Lovely evening, my dear!
I know this man, my friends -
His name's Inspector Javert!
So don't believe a word he says,
'Cause none of it's true!
This only goes to show what little people can do!
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