One thing I miss…
Not that I was this huge actor-type, but I spent a few years acting in plays and musicals. I don’t get to talk about it very much—I suppose there’s not much interest in the stage outside of actors.
But I was there, in high school, community theater, college.
I’ve said, in the few instances where I’ve told a story or two, that being on stage was the hardest thing I’ve ever loved. Especially in community theater, where the actors also built the sets. It was great.
I’d go out and audition for these shows, and sometimes make it, sometimes not. When I scored a part, I’d have to begin rehearsal. The production’s complexity dictated how long it would take before the first show. There’d be mountains to do. Musicals had a whole other element—learning the music.
Which was interesting for me, not knowing how to read music. I have…well, had a good ear. I could pick out how a part went after a couple of times. And, mind you, that’s not just a jingle, but a full-on part to a song, with rests, key changes, emphases and lyrics that have to be woven into the ensemble.
I can’t tell you how many evenings I spent pining away in the large, echoing chambers of empty theaters. Learning blocking, taking it from page 32, visualizing the set parts not yet built, all of it.
And the friendships. Wow! I’d get pretty close to a lot of people. Sometimes there would be regulars that were in every show, sometimes not. Sometimes there’d be fights—well, a lot of times there’d be fights, but that’s part of the business, tiffs and all that.
I’d hammer, nail, paint, sand, move, yell, sing and dance for weeks and weeks, all leading up to the big night.
I tell you what. There’s nothing like the calm before a show, the anticipation is electric. Especially when you can see the dimly-lit faces of a packed house. The orchestra begins tuning and I would know it was close. There, in the darkness, off stage, we’d all be waiting. I’d stand in the wings, behind some ropes, with my eyes closed, trying to breathe in the energy.
We’d all be dead quiet, going over our lines and parts in our minds. I’d always get sleepy, for some reason. I guess it was how I reacted to the stress. There’s a lot of waiting before a show starts. Everybody would have to be in makeup and costume sometimes hours beforehand. Up until that point, we’d all be in the back rooms, trying not to get too rowdy to muss our garb. In the final moments, the tension would build and build.
And then it would begin. The curtain raises, the lights fire up and the first notes march along. With the lights, it’s easy to see across stage to the opposite wing and everybody who’s congregated there.
There’d be a lot of doubt. It’s difficult to convey all that goes through a man’s mind when in some manner of tights or fantastic costume, hair done up, mic pinned and on; as he’s about to come face to face with several hundred people. It was at once both terrifying and wonderful.
And there’d be this strange dance I would do with the energy of an audience. After a lot of shows, when it came for my line, I could tell when I had coaxed a laugh or fallen flat. There’s a whole art to leading a huge group of strangers to laugh or cry, clap or sigh. Sometimes I could feel it like a thickness to the air, as strange as that sounds.
And so, there I was, for a time. For all the incredible amount of work that it required, I miss it.