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Trod the Boards

My first time on stage

I have alway loved the acting and the stage. My first play was in kindergarten and I soon became fascinated with acting. A popular children's show here on Sunday would feature a well know community theater group that would present short plays between the cartoons.

 I managed to do two plays in Junior High simply because 98 percent of the other guys considered anyone who wanted to be in a play and not playing or talking about sports to be a "fag." Senior High was a little better, but the drama coach always seemed to cast his favorites in the lead roles. I was offered two roles, both of which I declined because it would mean missing work and I knew I was better than those he had cast.

My involvement with the Jaycee's haunted house project gave me a little taste of theatrics, but I still wanted to be on the stage. Fast forward to 1982, it was not a good year. The haunted house project had been burned to the ground in 1979 and my attempts to join another one did not go well; unlike the one I chaired they were leery of outsiders and it was far to politically correct for me.

 My plans to get engaged went south as my fiancée dumped me, and I spent the Summer drinking myself into a stupor on a daily basis. Finally around Fall I realized I needed to sober up and find something to occupy my time. Karma led me to see an open audition for the play Arsenic and Old Lace.

I had seen this play in High School and the movie version, so was familiar with it, and casting aside all feelings of low self esteem I showed up. Casting calls attract a lot of people, all seemingly wanting the part that you would like. Some had impressive professionally done resumes complete with head shots; all I had was Dracula appearances, being a puppeteer and two plays in junior high to my credit.
Auditions are a long and arduous process. Hopefuls are called up to read the part they desire, and other parts at the request of the director. It is done so the director and producer can come up with what they believe the character should look and sound like. This usually goes on for two afternoons,one on Saturday and the other on Sunday.This time I believe there was only one day because I got the call on Sunday.

The director, Bill C., and the producer, Diane M., had taken a chance on someone with no previous experience and I was awarded the role of Jonathan Brewster, the villian, played in the movie by the late great Boris Karloff. The stage manager and crew had been selected so we were ready to begin.

Next would come rehearsals. Besides learning your own lines, you have to learn the lines of the person you are playing the scene with so you can carry on a conversation. Then there is how and from which side of the stage your character enters and exits, and how and when they move around on stage. It is called BLOCKING, this too has to be learned and remembered.
For me it was going to be a real challenge because at one point I would have to lower a body into a window seat. There was no dummy, but a live person. I would have to side step between the flats with this person in my arms and lower him to the seat. Thank God I was younger and very strong and the man didn't weigh more than 110 pounds. Finally all the props are introduced, and you have to know where they are and when to carry them on and off stage.

After each rehearsal we would retreat to a local piano bar where the senior members of the cast would tell me stories of their stage experiences, and I would relate tales of being on the road. It was a dammed good time.

As the weeks pass the schedule will call for certain parts of an act to be OFF BOOK...Which means just how it sounds — you are up there relying on your memory. Now, there is a BOOK HOLDER, someone who will feed your line if you get stuck, but for the most part you are on your own.. After awhile the book holder is no more and you are REALLY on your own.

There was only one bad moment during the second to final week of rehearsals. The actor playing my sidekick Dr Einstein didn't have anything memorized. Now he had been in a few productions before so it was not like it was his first show. The director blew up with such ferocity that the cast decided that the rehearsal had come to an end and we retreated to the local lounge.

The director arrived a bit later and apologized. He then informed us that he had dismissed the actor playing Dr Einstein, my sidekick, and that he (the director) would take the part of Teddy and the actor playing Teddy would become my sidekick. They only had 2 weeks to memorize everything as Hell Week was coming up fast.

Hell Week, in theater lingo, is running the play from start to finish every night of that week. It usually starts on Sunday of the week that you will open with a double run-through. Sound and lighting are added as the week progresses until finally you reach the FULL DRESS rehearsal, running the show as you would if there was a audience. Sometimes people are invited in to view it, but usually it's the director and the producer. Final notes are given at the end and there is a day's rest before opening night.

Finally opening night arrived and I don't think I had ever more nervous. I got there better than a half hour prior to the start and I still had a devil of a time finding a place to park. I was told we had a full house — every seat was paid for and occupied.

The makeup people went to work on me and I changed into costume. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. There was a ceremonial break-a-leg toast of elderberry wine, which figures into the story line, and then the stage manager called PLACES and the curtain went up shortly there after. I was off stage waiting for my entrance cue, probably one of the longest waits in my life.

After what seemed like hours I got my cue and made my entrance. This was NOTHING like Junior High. There were adults in the audience reacting like adults and not kids. A couple of times we had to wait for the laughter to die down so we could continue the scene; it was a dammed good show. We went out to celebrate and I was on a high that lasted all night. Saturday was a repeat of Friday and I was a lot more comfortable and gave a better show, and so it went for the remainder of the month.

The cast party given on the night of the final performance is a joyous and a sad event. We were celebrating an excellent run and everyone received some great reviews, but we were saddened by the fact the show was ending. It would be three years before I would venture on stage again.

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