My dearest and most enduring friendships are with people I met years ago doing theater. I love performing. So maybe it is no surprise that this year I decided to return to community theater. My last stage appearance was about twenty-seven years ago. Theater productions were important, cherished experiences of my former life; before coming to Chicago, marriage, house and children. I don't know that I missed theater really, I never thought I was exceptionally talented, and I've been busy enough in those intervening years.
However, to my delight, I was cast in Oakton Community College's production of FIDDLER OF THE ROOF as Grandma Tzeitl. If you know the play, Grandma makes an appearance in Tevye's "dream" to convince his wife to allow their daughter to marry the man of her choice. If you don't know the show, she's a singing ghost in one scene.
So now I'm back. Back home after weeks of rehearsals and twelve performances. But I am really back from a strange trip through time. Community theater is just as I remembered it, albeit with two notable exceptions: no gay men--oddly, sadly; no drugs--thankfully. Other than that, it was just like old times: frustrating and exhilarating practices, precociously ambitious teenagers, owners of amazing voices, smarty-pants 20-somethings and 20-somethings with extraordinary commitment and focus. I even feel fondly nostalgic for the usual suspects who may or may not make their entrances on time, or bother to memorize their lines. Those of us onstage just hold our collective breath every night! I believe it was Will Shakespeare himself who famously said, "Prithee, pick up your fecking cues!" and Aristophanes who had to threaten the chorus members with the introduction of another main character if they didn't speak their lines in unison.
I remember this as all part of the alluring charm of non-professional theater. Take a diverse group of people, have them spend eight intensive weeks together, then disperse them. I felt exactly as I did at age nineteen, which was a bit alarming when I saw my post-nineteen-year-old face in the bright lights of the dressing room mirror.
One of my castmates leaned over early in a rehearsal while I was scribbling in my score, "You read music?" I nodded, but I was thinking, in my best Tallulah Bankhead/Katharine Hepburn/Sophie Tucker imitation, "Honey, I've been annotating musical theater scores in soft pencil since before Reagan was in office!" It was so great to be back. Magical.
THE LARK by Jean Anouilh