Growing up where I did, there wasn’t much theatre. However, during the summer, my town came alive at the outdoor Shakespeare Festival. With four shows per season, a gorgeous location, perfect weather, a familiar and talented repertory company, and the Bard (and others), the Shakespeare Festival was one of the hottest tickets in town. I LOVED it. I remember the first few shows I saw there– A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM,
AS YOU LIKE IT,
SCAPIN, AMADEUS, TWELFTH NIGHT…
It was there that I learned about theatre. And with casts returning season after season, and as I progressed up the training ladder, I came to know both this beautiful place, these stories, and this company.
There were T and K, the fiercest over-40 married couple onstage– Lady M and Hamlet, Lear and Beatrice.
There were D and C, two local actors who had been with the company since the 1970s. Even now, as the company has expanded across the country, these men still work. The town expects it– even if it’s just Boatswain or Porter, they get cheered.
There was S, who played every ingenue, and whose spry, limber body made her a wonderful Shakespearean. Around age 14, after seeing me dance, she began to take an interest in me. When she saw me act, she made getting me into the company a top priority. I had a MAJOR girl crush on her.
And then there was J, who played Romeo and Proteus and Hal. Every acting student my age was in love with him. I was desperate for him.
Both years I was away at boarding school, I would come back home for the summers and apprentice at the Shakespeare Festival. I worked as a PA (although we called ourselves double-ASMs– assistant to the assistant stage managers) on a musical, performed in the pre-show Greenshow, took classes daily, and prepared a final Showcase to be presented on the stage in mid-August. The “first-years,” in addition to everything else presented, each choose and prepare a “splash scene.” You pick a scene from any of the plays at the Festival, learn the lines, blocking, etc. and on the day of the showcase, the actors from the company perform the scene with you (no rehearsal or anything!). I’ve never heard of anything like that anywhere else, but I have to tell you that it was one of the highlights of my LIFE.
(not my production)
My scene was with J, and another older actor from the company, who I’ll call R, from SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER. In the scene, my character has decided to pretend to be a barmaid in order to entice her gentleman visitor (J) who is very shy around upper-class people but very NOT around the lower-class. It’s a super physical scene involving lots of swooping out of his grabs, twirling around his arms, pushing and being pushed onto things, timed steps and ducks, PLUS the character is putting on a fake low-class British accent OVER her natural British accent. At the end of the scene, J’s character leaves and R’s enters– he is my character’s father. Her accent switches back, and she has to pretend to be the good daughter again. I recall all the emotions of the scene, before and after. During the section with J, I remember feeling on top of the world. Adrenaline was pumping faster than I had (or have) ever experienced– I had prepared well so I just soared along with him like it was a dance. I was going full force, and so he did too, and we just FLEW. By the time the other character entered, I was high as a kite, and I recall that when I was supposed to kiss his cheek, I was so energized I literally smashed my face against his. It was probably a major highlight of my theatrical career.
After that, S made her move on my behalf. She told me that I was good enough to be on that stage as a professional actor, and introduced me to the artistic director of the company. He agreed, and everyone decided that in a very short time, I’d be a on that stage for real. At the end of my second summer as an apprentice, the artistic director came up to me in the green room and said, “So, we’re doing The Tempest next year. I want you to play Miranda. The only problem is that you’d have to take your last semester off of school so that you could do the show in Cleveland, because that’s where it’s opening. You’ll get your Equity card. You can get your GED later.” This would have completely floored me if I didn’t already have a sense it was going to happen. I knew that I wanted to graduate and I loved my school. I also knew I didn’t want to live in Idaho forever. I turned it down.
But the next summer, I received a call from the artistic director again. He said, “We have a part for you in The Tempest this summer. Would you be willing to participate?” I already had planned to go home for the summer (my last at home before college), so I enthusiastically said, YES! I was taking over the part of Ariel Double in The Tempest– basically I was made to look like the woman playing Ariel (they chopped off my hair and dyed it dark, drew on tattoos, etc) so that there could be an illusion that Ariel could disappear and reappear very, very quickly. I was really good at the part– as a dancer, I knew how to copy physicality, and as a trained actor, I could mimic her voice. And guess who was playing Ariel? S. And the rest of the cast were all my heroes from growing up on the other side of the stage. I only had a couple of weeks of rehearsal, and then the show opened for a two month run. It was a wonderful experience. I loved being in a professional production, loved being loved by the company and audience, and loved the role. My favorite part was the last moments of the play, when Ariel is set free by Prospero. By this time in the play, it is definitely dark out. I clamber up onto the roof of the dressing room building, which is behind the stage, covered by a hill (it’s the big white long building at left):
Nightly, the actors preparing for curtain call would wave up to me. When she is released, she disappears offstage. I prepared, and when my cue light turned off, I ran across the roof, bursting my arms and chest wide about halfway down– exploding into freedom in silhouette. It was an amazing moment.
After that summer, I knew that I was going to have more decisions to make. Should I keep coming back to the Shakespeare Festival for the summers? Would there be parts for me? I knew that the Festival was changing, becoming less of a rep company, moving shows cross-country, less Shakespeare and more musicals… but it was where I’d grown up and people trusted me. Or should I stay in New York and try my damndest to make it happen here? You, my dear readers, know the choice I made. And here I am.
SO. Skip forward four years. J is in New York. No one else from the Festival is– S tried her hand at NYC last year (I ran into her at yoga!), but she was back with the Festival. No one else had left, either. Except J and I. Over the last couple of years, he and I had developed a kind of moderate Facebook friendship (you know, happy birthdays, a few “likes”, the usual). He had seen one of my shows sophomore years, but had been in and out of town since. Then he became a company member of TACT here in NY. And I started getting emails from him– “hey, send your resume to this guy,” or “oh, might you be free? There’s a part open.” I did, but I wasn’t, but obviously I was thrilled for many reasons (1. He wants to get me into TACT, 2. He thinks I’m good, 3. I’M IN LOVE WITH HIM AND HAVE BEEN SINCE I WAS 8, MAKING THESE OTHER REASONS A BAJILLION TIMES BETTER). A few nights ago, I went to see the show J was in. It was great, and so was he! I stayed after to say hi, and ended up greeting him with… HIS MOTHER. And even more– SHE REMEMBERED ME. ME. And as we all talked, we talked like equals, and friends, and his mom hugged me and told me she was proud of me, and we talked about home, and about the future, and about how he’s trying to get me jobs, and his mom thinks that’s a great idea and…
Maybe you just have to be me to understand the enormity of this. But let me break this all down for those of you who couldn’t bear to read everything I just vomited into the inter-world:
The actor I’ve idolized for fifteen years wants to work with me. And his mom remembers who I am.
That’s pretty goddamn cool.
Happy Sunday, friends. 🙂