Wednesday, October 19, 2011

All the World's a Stage

Shakespeare may have been writing about my life when he wrote "all the world's a stage." About a year ago a friend nagged me mercilessly encouraged me to audition for a play he was stage managing. The play was Wit, a Pulitzer prize-winner about an English professor who's dying of cancer. I didn't expect to get a part, even though the story hit pretty close to home, minus the cancer, knock wood. Just auditioning, I thought, would stretch me enough. It was a step, something I'd never done, something that scared me more than a little, and if I just did the audition, I could cross it off my bucket list. So I did it .... and it was fun!

All we did was cold readings from the script and hell, I can read. And I can act. I do it in real life all the time, so that night, I acted like an actress. The scariest part was when the director, Matthew, asked me to read for the lead, a monster of a part and one I certainly wasn't ready for. He told me later if I'd had any experience, he really might have given me the part. Thank you, Jesus, he didn't. But he did give me several small ensemble parts, much to my surprise, and so a diva was born I made my entry into the community theater world. 


As soon as Wit was over, I auditioned for Octette Bridge Club. I wrote about that last week here.  Lil was a much bigger part, lots of lines and, although it wasn't a musical, I had to sing and play the piano. My addiction deepened. It wasn't just the time on stage because I'm not really a diva. I've been working one small step at a time through a severe performance phobia for years, so I'm not always sure I even like the time on stage. It's the community, the working together to bring about the production, and the feeling of belonging that has spilled into every area of my life in the past year. I've met dozens of new friends, and only one of them has turned out to be the shallow, fake stereotype you might expect of theatre people. I rarely go out these days without running into at least one person I know from the theater world and sharing a moment. It's....well, shit. Anything I would say about that would be too mushy for Reticula to write. I love these people, man!

Octette Bridge Club

And now? Well, now I'm involved in two plays at the same time: "Master Harold" ... and the boys  and Scrooge. And with both of them, I'm crossing another experience off my unwritten bucket list.*

I'm not acting in "Master Harold" ... and the boys. I'm the stage manager, and Matthew, who gave me my big break in Wit, is the director. When he asked me to do it, I reminded him that I'm somewhere below a neophyte, but he said he was fine with that. He said he's a teaching director and he knew I could manage a stage. So I said, "Sure. I'll do it." Because that's what I do. I say yes and then I fake my way through situations like this in total ignorance. I had no idea what a stage manager does, because it's been radically different in each of the plays--yes, all two of them--I've been in. But I said yes because sometimes I just say yes and let the consequences roll.

And it's been a great experience: four gay guys and me putting together a powerful play on racism and relationships in 1950 South Africa. I'm not sure what stage managers normally do, but Matthew has involved me in every aspect of the play. I've given stage directions, talked about character development and story arc (that part I'm not faking), taught choreography, posted rehearsal times on our FB wall ... and one of these days Matthew will step back and the play will be mine. He'll show up for opening night and that's it. He gives a lot of responsibility to his stage manager, and I've learned a hell of a lot in the past few weeks. He also says I should direct my own show someday, but I think I'm fine just playing a supporting role. And I can cross stage manager off my bucket list--not that I knew it was on there when I said I'd do it.

A couple of weeks ago I also auditioned for Scrooge. I wasn't sure I would audition; in fact, I thought I would chicken out. The phobia. I didn't want to have to do the singing part of the audition.** I've done one musical audition for A Piece of My Heart, and I didn't get the part. But I got to play my guitar for that one; I was doing something I do in real life. I didn't even really prepare for it because it was the morning after opening night for Octette. Besides I knew I wasn't really right for the part, so I didn't expect to get it. The Scrooge audition required a musical theater number, and I've never done musical theater, so I was going to chicken out.

But as we were leaving our rehearsal, Matthew said, "You should audition. There aren't many women in there." I said, "No, I don't have a song." "Just sing 'Happy Birthday,'" he said, and then he went up to the table and asked the woman manning it if it was too late for me to audition. She handed me a clipboard and I did what I do. I followed Miss Serendipity right into that audition.

I stood in front of the director, music director, stage manager, producer and all the other auditioners and I sang horribly. No, really, it was bad. I decided to sing "Cry," a song I sang to my kids as I rocked them and that I now sing to my granddaughter. And I started it, but the music director said he wanted to hear my high register. So instead of switching to Mozart or something soprano-ish, I just bumped "Cry" up a few whole steps and warbled and shook through the entire song. I was blazing with embarassment when it was over, but I stayed for the cold reading too .... and I got a part! A real part with a name and lines and everything. My very first musical, after all these years as a musician. Cross another one off my bucket list.

So now I'm working on two plays at once. And let me tell you what that looks like. "Master Harold" ... and the boys rehearsals Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights from 6:30-9:30. Scrooge vocal rehearsal today at noon because I'm missing the ones scheduled for Monday and Wednesday, and then a two-hour choreography rehearsal tonight. And another choreography Thursday night. It's a lot. And it's so much fun!

Choreography! I love dancing, but I've never done choreography before. We worked on one song for two hours, and I could have stayed and done it another two. Not true of my male partners. The first one only made it through half of the rehearsal and had to sit out the rest. The second one was grabbing his knees before we were done. (This is a whole other post, the problem of men my age not being able to keep up with me. Yes, that sounds arrogant, but it's a fact. And kind of a problem. Think anything you want about that and it's probably exactly what I mean.) OK, it wasn't my fault this time that my partners couldn't keep up. I wondered what I would do for exercise once it was too cold to ride my bike ...... now I know.

And here's the reticulation of these two plays. Matthew directed me in Wit and now I'm stage managing with him. The Scrooge director is the Octette director's daughter. And he is in the cast, along with another of my sisters from Octette. And one of the other ensemble members from Wit is also in the cast, singing soprano with me, as is my friend, the Wit stage manager. The wife of the director who didn't cast me in A Piece of My Heart  has a part. And I'm sure before it's over, I'll notice other connections.

This is a rather dry recitation, a resume if you will, of my theater experience. I have stories, interesting experiences, but when I'm in a play, it takes a lot of time. I don't get a chance to write much. Even as I write tonight, it's almost 3:00am and I've got 20+ conferences to do with students tomorrow. But I'm going to try to be better at writing short snippets and sharing them now that I've set the stage.

Next act....bed.

* It's kind of pathetic, but I don't really have a bucket list. I could probably write an entire post about my lack of bucket list, and maybe I will. Someone once asked me, after telling me a few things on his, what was on my list and I couldn't come up with one thing to tell him. But I do follow Miss Serendipity and often I retroactively add experiences to my bucket list. I learned a long time ago not to want anything too much, not to ask for what I want, and that lesson is still being reinforced today so .... I don't have a bucket list. I don't expect to get what I ask for. But I do know when something that should be there has been crossed off. Maybe someday I'll meet somebody who helps me believe in the bucket list..... Maybe that should be the first entry on my list.

** People who know me will probably be puzzled by this. It's true though. This phobia exists and I do battle with it as often as possible.


  1. Oh, Carol - I know exactly what you mean about the theatre-as-community! I acted as a child and teen in many productions. At 15, when I moved from the children's theatre to working at one which did grown-up plays, there were few parts for me. So I did props, lights, asst stage manager...anything to be part of creating the show. I loved that camaraderie. You go, grrrrl!

  2. Oh and I also have a memorable singing audition -- it was for Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Everyone was singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and I didn't know it. Also, I was 12 and the rest of 'em were 20-somethings. The director said "Sing anything, sing Row Row Row Your Boat."

    So I did. The worst rendition of the song ever. This was when I discovered I have no musical aptitude, especially for singing.But I did it. 12 yo me was plucky and had spunk, it was before jr. high whittled my self-confidence to a toothpick.

    Oddly, I got the part. I played Dorothy for the weekday performances, the young woman who could sing worked and could only do the weekends. They cut out all the Dorothy solos on weekdays.

    Oops. Sorry for writing a whole blog post in your comments.

  3. I'm so inspired by this. Regular person somehow becomes a theater type person. Theater people intimidate the crap out of me.

    Maybe when my kids are a little older I'll be brave enough to attempt it. I really enjoyed reading this.

  4. 'Zann, I love comments. Write as many blog posts as you like.

    I didn't do any theater when I was younger. A really humiliating experience when I was about 4 and a worse audition experience when I was 14 locked my phobia in for a long time. I've been whittling away at it for 20 years now. In some ways I wish I'd been doing it all along, but I also love doing something new. I like the unjaded part of a new love.

  5. Sue, I've met some people with intimidating talent, but none of them are personally intimidating -- and I'm certainly not! As a musician, I'm used to lots of people having more talent and experience than I. But it's not really a bad thing to be the new kid with no expectations to fulfill.

    You should absolutely do it whenever you're ready. My son was in his first opera when he was 7 and spent his teen years doing one play after another. I just drove him. Now it's my turn. The only thing I wish is that we could do a play together someday.