"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Couple More Steps

I had, briefly, the brilliant idea to write 39 posts on this blog about my experiences helping bring The 39 Steps to the stage. As much as I dislike math, I do like numbers and I sort of thought that would get me writing more regularly. But the last exercise to help me write regularly was an attempt at a Blog Challenge to put up a post for each letter of the alphabet in the month of April. It took me over a year to write 27 (yes, 27. I did two "I" posts. I'm an over-achiever) blog posts. I'm not thinking 39 in a couple months was very realistic. Aside from that, I'm always nervous writing publicly about a play I'm involved in (heh, I say "always" like I've done this more than a couple times) because I'm afraid that in my enthusiasm and excitement, I'll write something I shouldn't or give away something that would be better kept a surprise. So while this isn't going to be the last update from the world of 1935 Britain, I'm not going to turn this into a play diary. But this blog is about what makes me happy, basically, and last weekend saw some small steps forward for the play and one bigger step for myself, and that made me happy.

Saturday we (my family along with Director Jen and her dad, Jonathan, who is building sets/props for the show) visited  the Historic Amuzu Theatre to have a look around. I've been fascinated by this building since we moved here so I was really happy to get to poke around the whole place. The Amuzu was a movie theater begun by the current owner's father, but it's since been remodeled into a venue for live shows. It has a stage and the balcony houses lights and tech equipment. To say it's a bit cramped backstage is a huge understatement, but this show has a cast of four and minimal sets, so it won't present much of a problem. I'm not going to say this is the ideal theater space for any show, but it will work very well for THIS show, we think.

I'm not going to give away Jen's ideas for staging the show, but the fact that the stage features two "balconies" is going to be perfect. We spent an hour or so poking all around (that was mostly me) and measuring things (mostly Jonathan and John) and taking pictures (all the little shots of the Amuzu you see on this post are Lisa's work) and imagining how the show could be brought to life in this space (that was mostly Jen, who is a flat-out genius at that). It was a great morning, getting to indulge my curiosity about the interior of one of my favorite landmarks while watching my friend go into Imagineer mode. Jen's the closest thing to Walt Disney I'm ever likely to meet and I love being there to see how she works through ideas and starts bringing a show to life. Then, when we got home and I downloaded all of Lisa's pictures, I was reminded once again what a treasure she is and what a great eye she has. She shot that place so well, it actually led to me putting a little blurb about our trip on the show's website. Just because I HAD to use a few of her photos.

Also on Saturday morning, Jen shared a bit of news that led to Sunday's fun. The show was cast after auditions the week before, but one of the four actors had second thoughts and backed out before the first rehearsal, scheduled for Sunday. This was to be a "read-thru" of the script. That is just what it sounds like, the actors read the script aloud, each reading his part. It's fun. Jen wasn't too worried, she said. She'd already contacted a couple people and was putting a last minute call out on Facebook with the idea of carrying on with the scheduled read-thru and turning it into a sort of audition if need be. I volunteered to read the missing guy's part if it came to that and no
one showed to try out on short notice.
I guess the idea was already started in my head. I'd had a lot of fun watching the auditions and actually found for the first time being around theater stuff that I wanted to be taking part in what the actors were doing. It was a series of improvisational games followed by readings of parts of the script. I'd read the script twice already before the auditions and found myself thinking about how I'd do it if it were me up there trying out. Not that I wanted to be IN the show, mind you, just that I thought it'd be fun to get to act out this stuff. So, when it looked like Jen might need a warm body to read, I jumped at the chance.

Then, while running errands and walking around Walmart of all things, I got to thinking. That really did look like fun, the acting thing. It seemed, for the first time, accessible to even me. There was no singing or dancing. It was a lot of lines, but maybe I could memorize that. No, I could never do that on a stage, in front of people. Well, maybe. I just don't know. I sent Jen a message reiterating my offer to help read. She read between the lines I guess and understood and said what I couldn't bring myself to say, "Unless you're ready to make your stage debut...." 

Was I? I don't know. I knew for a fact that the guys she contacted to try out would be great and if they showed I was out, I said. Another volunteer responded to her call and said he'd come out. I didn't know his acting background and figured if he was as new to this as I, I would go ahead and read for the part with him. Jen told me whatever else happened, she'd give me a chance to read. I guess she understood what was going on in my head, she's been through this herself as an actor and seen many others go through it as a director. And she gets me
Sunday came and I surprised myself by not being nervous at all. I was happy, really happy. I was imagining my friends and family coming to the show. I was imagining being one of a small cast and all the camaraderie that I figure goes with that. I had myself convinced  it was totally doable for me to remember all the lines. I was excited and happy and looking forward to three o'clock. Then, while I drove to Adrian and Jen's office where the rehearsal was to take place, it hit me. I had been asked that morning to stand up in church and sort of wave "hi" to the congregation as I was introduced as a member of a new committee, and I hated it. It made me nervous and uncomfortable. What the Hell was I thinking volunteering to get up and ACT in front of an audience at a real show that people expected to be very good? I'd freeze and embarrass myself, embarrass the other actors, embarrass Jen. What sort of friend was I to put everyone in that position?  And if I did get the role, that would mean I wouldn't be stage manger, something I've been looking forward to all year. I loved stage managing Wizard, but I was one of three and this time I would be flying solo on a show that presents some real interesting challenges. That, and I love being Jen's helper, part of her production team.


When I got to the office, I saw that the other volunteer, Dan, had come out and I resolved to take Jen aside and tell her I was out as far as trying out. Let Dan have it, good or bad Jen would make him work. But I didn't. I went ahead as planned and read for the part like I wanted it. And if Dan hadn't been as great as he was, and Jen thought I would be right, I'd have done it. Really I would. And that surprised me about myself. I gotta say, I'm proud of me.

As it turned out, everything went about as perfectly as we could have hoped. Before we started, Jen announced I'd be reading for the part, but that she was a bit upset by the possibility of losing me as her stage manager (something that truly never occurred to me, I figured I was very replaceable). Dan and I and the rest of the cast had a really great time with the script. Dan was perfect for the part, he has acting experience and can flip between truly wonderful accents with ease. I know everyone saw that, so after we were finished and it looked like Jen wasn't going to say it, I did. I would be happy to stay stage manager. And I meant it.

The Cast: (l-r) Ryan Joyce, Adrian Iapalucci, Liz Cervantes and Dan Gedman
So, Dan got his chance to return to the stage, Jen found a perfect Clown One and kept her stage manager and didn't have to tell her friend "no, I would rather use the other guy," and I got my chance to audition for a part in a play along with a real actor. And while Dan was clearly much better for the part, and obviously more experienced in acting in general, I didn't embarrass myself at all. It wasn't like "isn't it cute, Jeff tried," not at all. I did well, and I think better than "for a first try" well. It was soooooooo much fun, too! It was every bit as much fun as it looked, I gotta say. 

Big thanks to Lisa for humoring all my crazy ideas and supporting me even though she knows it's going to mean a lot of nights away from home. Big thanks to Adrian and Liz and Ryan and especially Dan for welcoming the rookie and making me feel like I belonged there. And Big Thanks to Jen for understanding, for encouraging and for once again showing me a new door to open. This acting door hasn't been flung wide open by any means, but it has been left ajar. And that is huge for me.



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