All The World's A Stage
February 07, 2012
I entered the community theater world just a few years ago. My previous experience with the stage consisted of a starring role in my kindergarten skit and a major part in a fourth grade Christmas show. Oh, and I can’t leave out my performance as an extra in Brecht’s "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" when I was in the seventh grade. Just to let you know, Brecht was not a hit in Texas City, TX.
I began my adult acting career when a colleague of my husband pushed me to audition for Harvey at the Leavenworth Performing Arts Center. I had a bag full of excuses - I can’t right now, I don’t have the time, I’m just getting over strep throat!!!! Undeterred, my husband shoved me out the door, basically saying, "Now or never."
Lo and behold, I was given the role of Myrtle Mae. Granted. I was a little long in the tooth for that character, but the director was desperate, and I looked a lot like the woman playing Myrtle’s mom. The director conveniently ignored the too-small difference in age between us, relying on the actor’s best tool - stage makeup - to add realism.
Now here we are five years later, and I’m still involved with the River City Community Players, an eclectic group started in the 1970s. We hold performances in a 1930s building that originally housed a movie theater. It’s an old, musty, dusty place and said to be haunted, but I can’t really speak to that. I do know for a fact, pigeons roost in the rafters. One came down and fluttered around during a performance. I’m not sure what was more distracting: the pigeon or our prop lady who tried to chase it away. Where she thought it would go when she chased it is unclear.
In my time there, I’ve played a number of roles: from 70 year old ladies to psychic real estate agents and from White Rabbit to Pappy. Though I’ll tell you, nothing takes you down on the womanly arts scale than gluing on a fake beard and prancing around as a little old man. After one performance, I greeted an audience member who exclaimed, "Oh, my gosh - You’re a GIRL." As tough as that is on the ego, I guess that means I did my part well.
Over time, I’ve learned that improvising is important when things go wrong. There’s no rewind, there’s no yelling "CUT!" You just have to move on. One time, I was standing in the wings with my props awaiting my cue. Suddenly I realized that my castmates, apparently suffering from an attack of nerves, had skipped four pages of dialogue. From then on, when the curtain came up, I never left my entrance point. I never knew when I might need to run on.
In one play, I was supposed to stand on a platform, raise my arms, and try to invoke a ghost. After I called his name, thunder was going to roll and church bells were going to chime. So I raised my arms, intoned the name, and stared at the ceiling in what I hoped was a convincingly dramatic way annnnnddd… nothing.
All I heard was an electronic buzz.. The sound system had shorted out.
Finally, another cast stepped in and saved me by making up a line. I was especially thankful because I am no good at thinking on the fly. I would have stood there with my arms raised and my mouth open until the cows came home.
Through all of this, I’ve learned that theater is a team sport. From the stage hands to the actors, everyone has a job to do. It’s time consuming and takes a lot of focus. I’m amazed by some of the productions we’ve been able to stage on a shoestring with only volunteers. So, the next time you go to a theater, remember there’s a lot more going on backstage than you see onstage. Or perhaps, you might like to start your own acting adventure. Here are a few titles that might help you on your way:
Musicals!: Directing School and Community Theatre by Robert Boland
Freeing the Actor by Eric Morris
Get the Callback : the Art of Auditioning for Musical Theatre by Jonathan Flom
Platte City Branch