Copyright© 2005 by Strickland83. All rights reserved.
I heard about the play from a friend. I had done some acting before, but I was no professional. This was amateur theater. You didn't get paid. Everyone volunteered. It was a lot of fun, though, and you sometimes even got to work with people who really had talent.
I drove downtown to the theater one evening. It was a small theater, an old bank building, I think. It was square and built of tan brick, with white globe lights on either side of the entrance. The sign for the production hadn't been painted yet. When it was ready, the sign would stand on the front porch.
The front porch lights were on and the door was open, but I didn't see anyone else around. Inside the theater, stairs led to the left and right into the theater. I could hear people talking; there were people already here.
The director and producer were looking over papers in seats near the front of the theater. The rest of the occupied seats were taken up by people like me, hoping to get a part. I was given a form to fill out by the producer. I took a seat and looked over the form. It was the usual stuff: name, address, list of experience, whether I could commit to the necessary time, what part I was trying out for. I filled out the form and returned it.
It was after I handed in the form and picked up a copy of the script that I finally looked around at the other people there. They were doing the same thing I was doing - waiting nervously for a chance to perform. Then we would all go home and wait for the phone call. Waiting for that phone call was the worst part. Even if you didn't get the part, it felt good to finally get the call and get the waiting over with.
I looked over the others. I didn't know anyone there. If I got a part, I'd get to know some of these people really well. We'd practically live together for two months, spending all of our free time at the theater either in rehearsal or performances. Everybody was a range of ages, some younger than me and some older. I wondered who would get picked and who would get rejected. I wanted to be a part of this. I really wanted to get a part.
The theater was small, intimate even. The stage extended right up to the first row of seats. The audience sitting in the first row had their feet on the stage. Dark curtains hung over the building's original windows. The only decorations were the signs from past productions which were hung on the walls.
The director stood up and walked to the stage. Facing us, he introduced himself and the producer. He explained about the play and what he expected from the cast. I had heard this before but I tried to pay attention, tried to judge what working for him would be like.
Next was what we had come for. We were called to the stage in groups of two or three to read parts. As I waited patiently for my turn, I enjoyed watching the others perform. I enjoyed theater, whether performing or attending a performance. In time, my name was called.
The main reason was to see how we handled ourselves on the stage, what we looked like, what we sounded like. We didn't necessarily read the parts we hoped to get. In my case, I was known for playing foreigners and my reputation must have preceded me. I was asked to read the part of the Italian. I went for broke and did my best accent. I didn't just speak the part; I became the character. My hand motions, my movements, my facial expressions all matched the character I was portraying. I didn't play the part. I was the character.
When I finished and walked off stage, I noticed that everyone was watching me. I had really made an impression. I hoped I had made as much of an impression on the director.
I was called later to read again. I took it as a good sign that I was asked to read the same part. When it was all over, we were told to expect calls later that night and then we were dismissed. It was late so everybody left pretty quickly. There were definitely a few women I'd like to get to know. I hoped I'd get to work with some of them.
I had given up waiting and was getting ready for bed when my phone rang. My heart leapt when I recognized the booming voice on the line as belonging to the director. He was giving me the part of the foreigner. I was ecstatic. The rest of the call was about the rehearsal schedule.
Two nights later, I was back at the theater. I filed in and took a seat, looking around to see who else had made the cut. I was delighted to see that the young brunette (one of the women who had caught my eye at tryouts) was also there. Before I had a chance to talk to her, the director, George, walked onto the stage.
First, George called each of us by name, telling the others which part each of us was playing. Next scripts were handed out and we sat in chairs on the stage. We read through the play, from beginning to end, just to get familiar with it. I was the only one really in character at that point. The others were just reading. This was normal for an initial read, for most of the actors. When I did a foreign accent, I found it worked best to always think of the play in those terms. I was always in character when I was at the theater.
It took the entire evening to read through the play once. When we had finished, it was time to go home. Walking out, I chatted with my fellow performers. I learned that the brunette who had caught my eye was named Jill. I didn't get to learn much more than that the first night.
We started blocking out the play the next night, actually standing on the part of the stage where the scene would be acted out. Sets weren't constructed yet so we used our imagination. The play was set in an English manor house which had been converted into a small hotel. Jill was the innkeeper's wife and my character was somewhat of a scoundrel.
Jill and I quickly became friends, closer than either of us was to the other performers. That is not to say that we weren't all friends. There was just something more between Jill and me, something magical. Rehearsals continued and we were spending almost all of our free time together at the theater. Between scenes, I learned that Jill was trying to get enough experience to pursue theater professionally. She had graduated from a community college in theater a few years before and she was still hoping for her big break. Sometimes after rehearsal, we would go out to a bar near the theater or find a restaurant still open late for a snack. Many times, those outings ending up with Jill and I talking late into the night.
I found I was looking forward to seeing Jill more than I was looking forward to the theater work. Unfortunately, Jill's passion was the theater. She was sweet and friendly, but it was apparent her one true love was acting. When she performed, she put everything she had into it. The emotions she conveyed with her voice, her expressions, even the way she carried herself, spoke volumes. I found myself watching her not just because I was so infatuated with her but also because of how well she played her part. I was fooling around with acting. It was a hobby for me. For Jill, it really was a passion. She was good - good enough to turn professional.
As our rehearsals progressed and opening night approached (though still a few weeks away), the sets came together. What had been a big grey space was turning into a living room, complete with furniture, a fireplace and a bay window. Doors led off down hallways to what was supposed to be other rooms but which were actually just passageways to the backstage area.
What the audience sees of the stage always looks grand, like this is some great and elegant palace. What the audience doesn't see is the backstage area which is something quite... less. It is small, cramped, usually littered with old props or furniture and not always well lighted. The set gets built and the actors have to deal with whatever is left. Especially in small theaters like this one, a lot of the backstage area is improvised. There was a kind of sitting area with old discarded furniture. A large mirror, too large for the room, leaned against a wall. It was a good place to practice because the mirror was large enough that you could see yourself as the audience would see you. I loved to sit on one of the old sofas and watch Jill practicing while we were both offstage. When she finished, she often caught me watching her and gifted me with an impish smile. When she was practicing, though, she was serious. It was fascinating to watch her perfect her character.
When the set was finished being built, it took up a lot more space than usual. Because the backstage area was already so small, there wasn't room left downstairs for the usual dressing rooms. A compromise was worked out, though. The upstairs area of the stage wasn't being used for this play so makeshift dressing rooms were set up. Perhaps 'dressing rooms' is not the best term. You are probably imagining well-lit counters with chairs and mirrors, a tiled floor and lots of assistants to help the performers get ready. Right.
.... There is more of this story ...