Brace yourself, I’m venturing out onto the stage
In the interest of keeping my brain fresh and pliable, I decided to try new things. Venture into the areas of my gray matter that are pristine and untouched as new-fallen snow. Go boldly where none of my neural synapses have gone before!
No, I didn’t take a math class. Don’t be ridiculous. I want my brain to joyfully embrace new things, not shrink into the corner and silently weep.
I tried out for a play.
To be honest, it wasn’t the first time I’d done that. Many, many years ago, I auditioned for the Winters Theatre Company‘s all-female production of “The Odd Couple” on a whim. To my sheer horror, I was offered a part, and went into full-blown panic mode and declined. I had a shy streak back then. That shy streak has since disappeared along with my waistline.
Although I’ve not been on stage, I’ve been in front of it for nearly 24 years reviewing local plays. I’m always impressed with the sheer amount of words people can memorize. I’m skeptical about my own memorization skills, however — another good reason for me to stay on the reviewer’s side of the stage. Besides reviews, I also routinely get promotional material for local theater companies for publishing in the Winters Express, as I did from WTC director Anita Ahuja about the upcoming play, “Calendar Girls,” alerting me about press releases and photos and whatnot.
Calendar Girls! How fun! I replied, and told Anita how much I love this story. (It’s a true story about some proper British middle-aged ladies who posed nude for a calendar to raise money for a good cause. Of course, their bits and pieces were artfully hidden with flowers and whatnot, but they really went Full Monty. The calendar was a wild success, and the story became a movie and now it’s become a play.) I also blurted out that if I were ever to be in a play, this would be the perfect one for me. (Well, except for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” because I’m certain I could channel Martha.) I was surprised when Anita responded that she was hoping I’d try out.
Awww, how sweet! She extended me an offer just to be courteous. I of course declined and pulled the safety blanket of “No, no, a thousand times no, my work schedule, my massage schedule, it’s simply impossible, blah, blah, blah” up over my head. She told me the rehearsal times, however, and technically, I could make it –massage schedule and all. But I’d be oily and lavendery most of the time.
I poked my nose out from under the blanket.
Then I emphasized my complete lack of experience. She said it didn’t matter — seeing new people on stage makes it fun.
“How about reading the script and then decide.”
I peeked out from under the blanket with one eye.
I extended one paw hesitantly and in it she placed a script
“Just read it, see if some parts appeal to you, and come to the reading.”
Well, okay then. A “reading.” That’s not nearly as intimidating as an “audition.” It’s just reading. No big whoop. And so, I went, sitting down at a big table with a big group, and was overjoyed to discover that I didn’t know any of them except one or two. Better yet — none of them know me! Oh joy! No erroneous preconceptions, no challenges about this or that outrageous thing I wrote, no fervent discussions about whatever tempest is brewing in our little teapot town… nothing. I was totally invisible. I could exhale.
We took turns reading parts and at the end of the evening, I was amazed by how relaxing it was. I wasn’t expecting that. I thanked Anita for inviting me, expecting a courtesy “Thanks for playing” email, but she offered me a part. Wowsers. There were others with far more experience than me, but I guess that doesn’t say much given that my level of experience is zero. But seriously, this cast is impressive and experienced.
And then there’s me.
From an actor’s perspective, I was raised by wolves. I don’t know the first thing about being onstage. I can say the lines well enough now, but what do I do when I’m not speaking? What if my mind goes blank? What if the person who speaks before me flubs her line — do I wait? Keep going? Help her out? I haven’t a clue. Total newbie. Well, sure, I was in a couple of Theresa Foster’s zany musicals many years ago, but that wasn’t acting — that was orchestrated madness. And besides, I was in a tomato costume most of the time. You can’t take things too seriously when you’re a tomato.
But, rehearsal by rehearsal, I’m learning to do this onstage thing. And, in case you’re trembling with dread, relax. Anita’s very wise — she didn’t give me a nudie part. She wants people to actually show up. I have a small, amusing part and even if I botch it, it won’t matter much. I’m a relatively insignificant cog… and I can scarcely articulate how wonderful that is. For once, I’m not in charge of anything. I don’t have to make any decisions, or nag people to do their jobs or wrangle interpersonal drama. I just show up and do what I’m told. It’s not acting — it’s stress-reduction therapy!
Meanwhile, the others must tackle a massive amount of quickly-timed dialogue and memorize all all those lines. When did plays start having so many words? But they’re doing it, and it’s really cool watching the play take shape. We’re in crunch time now because the play opens Friday. Even though I’ve heard the lines about 10 million times now, I can’t wait to see it coalesce into a finished performance.
Curious to see how it turned out? “Calendar Girls” plays the next three weekends at the Winters Community Center. I’m certainly impressed. I hope you will be too. At the very least, you’ll have a good time and see what our great little theater company can do.
(For tickets or more information, go to winterstheatre.org)