Thursday, October 13, 2016
Today I am grateful for young actresses. Aside for an almost non-existent part in a children’s play when I was a senior in high school, I didn’t perform on stage until 1976.
I never remember the dates when things happen, but I remember this one because it was for the bicentennial celebration and the director of the Sheboygan Community Theater was directing “George M” during his summer down time from the regular season. I noticed an ad in the newspaper for a kick-off party and convinced a friend to go to it with me. We had a blast. She lived in another city and wouldn’t have any interest in acting anyway, but I decided right then and there to audition. And I got in. And it was a nightmare. And it was wonderful. A wonderful nightmare.
The lead playing George M. Cohan sprained his ankle badly. . . and when I wasn’t on stage I was his dresser, pulling spats over that swollen bone with very little care for pain. Only a tight ace bandage made the necessary tap dancing possible.
I was in the chorus and also had a small role singing the song, “Mary’s a Grand Old Name”. Type casting? Not so much, but it sure was fun. I was into it like nothing I had ever done before in my life, including dancing, piano, clarinet, and hanging with friends. It showed. The leads wife, also the choreographer pulled me aside one day and said, “You have something special. Do not ever minimize the roles of background players. A chorus will make or break a show and as good as you are, the eye is naturally drawn to you. You will be a star.” And I am. . .now. . .in life, but not on stage. That was forty years ago, yet I never forgot it. Don’t ask me what I had for lunch.
Another cast member, when we were out tipping a few after a rehearsal, told me that he could tell that the “theater bug” had bitten me. I told him he was full of it. Did I mention it was a nightmare? On top of being a dresser, painting sets and organizing props. . .the company hairdresser had quit, so now I was doing 15 Gibson Girl hairdos before every performance. This was too much work. No way was I EVER doing this again! The director was crazy and half the sets didn’t fit on the stage and broke during dress rehearsal and blah, blah, blah. Thanks, but no thanks.
During the final cast party of a very successful run, the director asked me to try out for the first play of the season at his “real” job. “H.M.S. Pinafore”. Me? Be in another play? No way!
But I got in again. Chorus. Had a blast. . .and yes, dammit, the bug had bitten. Big time! I played a lot of supporting roles and had so much fun. My boys were little and came to every show. I couldn’t wait until they were old enough to be in plays. Hah! They had absolutely no interest at all. Then I was blessed with step kids and although all of them were in maybe one mandatory play, the only one who loved it was my step-son. And he was fantastic, though hasn’t been in anything for years. But no one from my bloodline gave a hoot and for years I felt like odd-mom out.
Then I had grandkids and gained hope with the next generation. The first two grandsons would rather play geek games. Our oldest granddaughter was in one play and very good, but hasn’t done another. The youngest grandson is all about sports, even though his daddy, my son, knows all of the lyrics to “Officer Krupkee” and hates that he does.
Then tonight I talked with the 13 year old granddaughter. “Grandma! You wouldn’t believe how much fun it is to be in “Bye-Bye Birdie”! Oh yes I would! Then she went on and on asking me if I knew this song (of course. . . I sang it into the phone) or that time when all of the girls scream after Birdie? Yup. I know it all.
She was vibrating with excitement. “Next the high school is doing, “Gypsy”. Have you ever heard of it? Are you kidding me? I belted “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, poorly, with a now asthma plagued throat and told her how that was my audition song for years and years. “Oh then you know the character Rose has two daughters, right?” Uh, yeah! “Well I want to audition for Baby June.”
“The one who sings, “Let Me Entertain You”, I said. “Fantastic.” You would be so good as her. First she asked me how I knew all of these shows, then told me how she’s now taking voice lessons and that this is the most fun she’s ever had. She said she hated baseball, soccer, lacrosse and every other sport she tried, but this. . .THIS she loves! I suggested that if she wants to audition for “Gypsy” she should really google the music. . .and play it really LOUD so her daddy can hear it. Let her drive him crazy, now. My work is finished. She did The Music Man last year and maybe next year they’ll take on “West Side Story.” Her daddy can teach her the lyrics.
I’m so happy the theater bug has bitten another young actress! And she’s mine! Finally. Thank you, God. Now please keep the arts in the public schools. Sports are not for everyone. BING! Heartprint!