April 2013, Echo Players. Memory of Water was my first real play. I had taken some acting and improv classes before this. I also had done some teaching and a form of stand up perfoming. But this was my first real play, on stage, with lights, and lines, and costumes, and everything. It was a wonderful experience.
How I got into it was odd. I was at a farmers market when I met my friend Gordon. I knew he was involved with theatre but not much more then that. He asked me if I was interested in acting. I think I had mentioned some interest in the past. He was directing this play, Memory of Water, and was having trouble casting it. He just could not find any men to audition. I said sure I'd come out, I figured it would be a fun evening even if nothing came of it. It turned out that he cast me. I had to figure out how to learn lines, and get used to hitting my marks, and everything. I had picked up some basics studying at The Guthrey Theatre and the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, but this was a whole higher level. The experience was wonderful. Everyone else was so supportive. They all were vastly more experienced than I was and could roll with the punches. I think I learned a lot more from them than I did in my classes. Two things stand out in my mind:
One was during rehearsal. In the first scene I came in through the window, half frozen from walking from town in the winter. The idea is that during intermission I took a shower and in the second act I come back into the bedroom wearing only a towel to change. It turned out the bedroom was full of people having an argument while I was trying to get my clothes and get out of there. During rehearsal Gordon asked me if I would run the scene in just a towell. No underwear. It was to make me understand the feeling of discomfort the charactor had. I told him, "Acting is not my area of expertise. It's yours so if you think I should try it, I will." It made a difference. I wore underwear for the real on stage productions, but the times I didn't in rehearsal helped me get my head in the charactor. Gordon was also the one who helped me develop him by telling me he was upper crust and was observing this family like Jane Goodall observed the chimps. That helped me to understand the understated arrogance of the charactor. Gordon was a great director.
The second incident happened in that same scene. At one point Catherin is trying to open a music box and is having a meltdown. Her sisters were standing by the bed watching her. The way it was blocked was that at a particular point they would sit down, Catherine would stand, then she would furiously throw the music box. It would sail all the way across the stage and hit on the far wall. Catherine then would go into complete hysterical meltdown mode, has a long sobbing speach, and runs out of the room. This worked perfectly every night, but one. One night, they were slow to sit, and Catherine didn't stand, so when she threw the box it hit Vickie on the head. Catherine had gone into meltdown and was unaware of this. This gave Vickie and the rest of us a chance to recover. I was so impressed by the way nobody missed a line, everything went off exactly as scripted. That was where I learned what really professional actors are made of. Vickie actually was on set for the rest of the scene, including two very emotional, drunken arguments. She was flawlwss. I also want to commend the backstage crew. When, some twenty minutes later Vickie finally came off, they met her with an icepack they had jury rigged.
A couple of other things stick in my mind. The time my cousin was at a production. It was just before the funeral scene. Catherine came in wearing a black skirt that was really way too short. She asked "Does this look all right?" my cousin from the middle of the audiance yelled "Oh hell yes," loud enough for the whole theatre to hear. I didn't crack a smile, but I could have throttled him. Another was during rehearsal when I felt the scene was going too fast. I tried slowing my responses a bit to pace it better but ended doing a William Shatner impression. We had a good laugh about that. Lastly the time in act one. One charactors husband enters. I walk over and introduce myselg, "Hi, I'm Peter." One time though I walked over, extended my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Doug." We froze for a second and then carried on as if nothing happened. Had a good laugh about that afterwards.
This was also a Festival play. A month after it closed we got to do one more show at the Nanaimo Theatre Group theatre in Nanaimo for the Central Island Region. We went into the production fairly confident. the show was solid. We all were very comfortable with the charactors. We were ready. The next day we met with the adjudicator for his analyses. It was clear he had never even read, let alone seen the play before. He kept questioning why we did this or that, and Gortdon kept saying, "That's in the script". He pretty much trashed everything we did. He even had a couple of us up to do a couple of scenes and said we should have done this in some other way. However in every case his other way was something we had discussed, and rejected for solid plot reasons. It would have caused trouble elsewhere in the play. He just had no understanding of the play and trashed our production because of it. This was where I came to understand Gortdon's dislike of theatre competitions. How can you put art in competition when it's all subjective? I'll take the audiance's reaction. Sold out nearly every night in the run. Peoplecame back to see it multiple times. Ovations every night. That's what really counts.
All in all though it was a wonderful experience and because it was so much fun I kept acting. I've enjoyed the plays I've done later too, but you always remember your first.