Sunday, February 28, 2010

Theatre is community.

Community theatre brings up mental images of "has beens" thinking they are "are's" Those (in my case) that snatched leading roles in that grand thing we call high school theatre and were bound for the stage college-ward and inevitably Broadway. And instead, somehow end up on a creaky, wooden floor in a a make-shift stage, an undercroft of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. Tracing the pattern of what took me from such aspirations to the same hole were sort of similar to my route trying to get tho the place. Sure, I've been there 68 times before but surprise, surprise, I got a little turned around trying to find I-5 Northbound. After a saving grace call to Eli I made it to the show with ten minutes to spare. I'm meeting Clinton at The Bert Mann Theatre for the NorthEnd Players rendition of "Heaven Can Wait." On facebook last night's opening performance was all abuzz as the granddaughter of the original playwright was in attendance with the Oscar in hand. I get to make a "cameo" as a former NorthEnd player walking across the stage. Oh the glory. A feeling of homeostasis fills me as I am ushered backstage. Tape outlines on the prop table, a little white dog, Mitzi, greets me, friends faces illuminate to see me. I delight seeing them in suspenders, low-cut house wife dresses, netted hats. Many I don't know share positive energy with me, smiling and weaving in a rushed, soft shoe manner so as not to break the illusion of folks back stage. "How are the babies?" "Are they here tonight?" "When are you due?"
I smile thinking of the t-shirts Shannon Tappana and I swore we'd get around to making-"Drama is life, the rest is just details" we were so much more intelligent and classier because we snatched this ever so unoriginal quote from bonehead sports motif shirts with full knowledge of the irony. Or so we thought. That cave of a theatre at Sohi with its secret staircases, inner ceiling passages only trespassible by those Mission Impossible minded preferably wearing camouflage, carrying Snapple lids for Morse code communication once in the asbestos abyss. There's a magic having blinding lights shine upon you opening night and being unable to see the faces beneath but feeling their heavy presence. Maybe its what it feels like to be blind. A text in a softbound script. Your very own script. The more warped and notated it becomes the more legitimate its life. Warmth surrounds me when I think of the actors who opened their hearts with me. Together we learned who we were and how we fit together in this little old world. When I flubbed the line announcing the murderer the dazzling Delores Biggs announces her instead, you learn how to compensate, to keep dignity to the underlying message. An energy is shared, a family you become. Helping each other with make-up, using Cassie's hair powder for a definite age increaser was a good bet, suggesting costume options-vetoing the vinyl coat choice, laughing, backstage pranks. Attacked with the smell of rotting tuna from the heater chambers we retaliate as Women (hear us roar) snatching the boys clothing and replacing with women's undergarments. Developing camaraderie with folks you probably wouldn't have become friends with without the stage. Feeling an inkling of what it means to love vicariously through characters you nurture. Truth, whatever that is, is unveiled. It is some kind of visceral resonance that makes you feel a little more whole. Spinning in a blue velvet stage curtain you feel mischievous, royal and a seeker of life. The actor with a Jewish last name probably in his nineties whose credits mention New York City community theatre (where I imagine the competition was a little more fierce) is vibrant and delightful. Ms. Thompson is radiant in her bad girl role. The ingenue whose credits mentioned she was 18 (I would have sworn she was 40) was not your typical pretty face and evoked anything but innocence and youth nor did her immature acting but I was touched to read in the program of her other bit parts in plays and her delight in playing this role. "Her favorite thus far." That's what's so great about it. In community theatre, everybody gets a chance to be something they likely never get a chance to be in life or in stage. The journey she made probably meant the world to her. And the lead male-should have been cut and muscular since he was a boxer and in nothing but skin and shorts much of the show-instead had no tone, much excess and rocked back and forth on his feet incessantly. Enough to convince me he was battling The Rain Man's disease but just had a case of nerves. The messenger with his great, carrying theatrical voice and presence and the maid who was hauntingly similar to the last role I had seen her in are all up there together, mixing it all up to create something a little broken, sort of disjointed, sometimes stirring, timing ok and timing slow, energy vibrant but heart 100%.

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