One Thousand Words on Hostage Situations

One of my very favorite things in a movies and television shows is a hostage situation.

I don’t mean the type where a guy goes nuts and holds his ex-wife hostage in their old apartment. I like the ones where a group of robbers walk into a bank but can’t get out before the police arrive so they take everyone hostage.

I would never want to experience a hostage situation in real life, but in fiction they are just about the perfect scenario.

First, you know who the good guys and bad guys are. It’s clear from the start that you want to hostages to live and the crooks to go to jail. But there’s some wiggle room just to keep things interesting. For instance, one of the hostage-takers has a heart of gold and one of the hostages is such a jerk that you’re actually wishing that they kill him first.

And then there’s the obvious conflict the situation creates. They say conflict makes a story interesting. You can’t get a bigger conflict than a hostage situation. You’ve got guns, innocent victims and cops.

There’s always the added tension of some sort of deadline too. It doesn’t matter if the cops give the hostage-takers a deadline or vice versa as long as the clock is ticking down towards a big climax.

But what I like best of all is that the extreme crisis of being a hostage always brings out a character’s true colors. The person who seemed so nice before being taken hostage turns out to be the one who jumps in back of the baby’s stroller to avoid being shot. And the quiet one steps up and becomes a leader.

When I watch hostage movies, I often wonder which person I would be in that situation.

Would I be the crier? I hope not. The crier is so annoying. It’s not helpful to snivel and sniffle. Everyone is scared, but they’re not all crying.

Plus the crier usually ends up getting killed first because everyone is sick of the tears.

But unfortunately I’ve been quicker to cry since I turned forty. I tear up over the stupidest things and can’t seem to control it. It’s very frustrating.

If I cry over books and cute puppies, it’s not unreasonable to assume that I’d cry if I was taken hostage. Especially if I couldn’t say good bye to my loved ones.

But then again, not wanting to get killed is a great motivation to not cry, so maybe I could restrain the tears.

Perhaps I’d be the person who gets sick or has a medical emergency. There’s always one of those… a pregnant woman who goes into premature labor, a guy with diabetes and no insulin, someone gets wounded when the crooks take them hostage and is going to bleed out.

I honestly don’t think that would be me. I don’t have a serious illness, rarely get sick and don’t take medication. And I know I wouldn’t be the pregnant lady.

I also don’t think I would be the idiot who fakes a medical problem to get out of the bank. I’m not that stupid or brave. And I’m certainly not that good of an actress. I’d get caught in the lie and killed for sure.

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be the hothead. That’s the guy (why is it always a guy?) who tries to get everyone stirred up, saying things like, “Come on, we can take these assholes. There are only three of them and fifteen of us!” And then he gets pissed off when no one wants to go along with his half baked scheme for hitting the hostage-takers over the head with a shoe and stealing their guns, so he tries it on his own with disastrous results.

These guys are the ones that get shot second, after the annoying criers. Let’s face it, one guy with a shoe never beats three guys with guns.

I wouldn’t be the hothead because, although I do get angry, I rarely let my anger show. I tend to get very quiet and internalize it instead. And I’m not violent. I don’t fight my way out of situations.

Like everyone else in the world, I’d like to think that I’d become the leader. The one person to stay calm and reasonable. The one who the other hostages look to for comfort and guidance.

I actually have a little bit of a chance at this one because I’m a problem solver. It’s my theater training. In any theater job, small (at least compared to being taken hostage) crisis are going to pop up. A prop is going to go missing, a lamp is going to blow at an inopportune time, a sound cue won’t work. You deal with it and move on.

I was once stage managing a show when an actor walked onstage without a prop that was integral to the plot. I was backstage with one of my childhood theater mentors who I had always thought was incredibly composed. You couldn’t ruffle the guy.

But when he saw that he prop wasn’t onstage, he lost it. He kept saying, “He doesn’t have the tea tray! He doesn’t have the tea tray!”

I thought I was going to have to slap him.

But instead, I walked to the other side of the stage, got the tea tray, brought it back and handed it to the next actor who was entering the scene. Problem solved.

I know that being taken hostage doesn’t compare to a missing tea tray, but experiences like that might serve me well in the situation. I just might end up being the leader.

But if I’m not the leader, than I’d be the quiet one. The one who does what’s she’s told, stays out of the way and ends up on the cutting room floor when the movie is made.

It may be boring, but at least the quiet one makes it out alive.

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