They always involve dropped lines and missed props and mistakes that can't be covered and an audience full of people laughing at you, or worse, silence.
And then, of course, there's the dream where you are called to fill in a part at the last minute. For me, that part is always, always Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Not sure why. I haven't played the part (yet!) but I should legitimately have it memorized. I've known the movie since I was about four and the Broadway show for at least the last fifteen years. But no matter how well I know the words, in my dreams I always forget them. "Little town it's a . . . " . . . blank. Nothing.
Every actor I've ever talked to has dreams like this. No one is immune. Some people dream about forgetting locker combinations and getting late to class, I dream about costume malfunctions and missing broomsticks or eyelashes falling off.
I can now safely say with complete honesty that filling in for a part you haven't rehearsed for is just as terrifying as it is in dreams and twice as awkward.
Last week I had the opportunity to fill in for a part in the musical at the school where I teach. By virtue of the fact that I assistant directed the show and can still pass for fifteen, when an actress fell sick I was called upon called upon approximately four hours before showtime to learn the lines, choreography and music. Good thing I'd been to most of the rehearsals, right?
Oh, and did I mention that one of the costumes I had to wear involved a corset and bloomers (and, consequently, students wanting to take pictures of me in said costume?) And slapping another character?
Good thing I still have my job!
Several of the cast members asked me after the performance if I had fun. I think they were surprised (and a little confused) when I said that I hadn't. Filling in for a part you haven't rehearsed is stressful! It's why you rehearse to begin with - so when the performance comes you've memorized the lines and blocking so that you can think about character instead of where you need to be and when. It's easier to have fun when you aren't worried about the semantics of performance. The second night I performed it was much less stressful and more fun.
I can honestly say, though, that I hope never to have to do that again. I'd infinitely rather prepare.