Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fly on the Wall

As part off the promotion for my show here in Rochester, I participated in an event called Theatre Rocs. It is an event that is held at the regional theatre to promote and expose the general public to all the shows that are performing in the area. Rochester seems to have an abundance of theatrical choices. I would say more than Los Angeles on any given day.
Each theatre company gets four minutes to present a slice of the shows that are currently performing at their venue. This year there are 22 participants including DCT which is my org. I made some notes as I was sitting in the green room with all the actors getting ready to take the stage. Most of them know each other and I was the curiosity hanging back and observing.
Of course I am not used to shows that have this many cast members, at least non wooden ones. I have played this theatre before and the setting was familiar but not this backstage frenzy. There is a common thread that connects theatre people who ordinarily might never come together. The movie "Waiting for Guffman" is perhaps the paradigm for the types of people who populate community theatre. That was a movie and this is real life but you can recast it by just looking around.
There are 14 people all dressed in the same black outfits. Some wear the design well while others look as though they are on wide screen mode of an HD television. They will sing the finale to Company. One man near my age is walking around with a prosthetic bullet hole in his head dripping red blood. It is a good makeup job even by movie standards. He is running lines with a friend but I do not recognize the play.
Several people are in costumes that look like wizard Komonos. Just as the people in black, some wear it better than others. There is a cast of all ages that seem to be dressed as extras for a reshoot of Little House on the Prairie. In various other costumes and make up are the usual blond ingenues and festive boys and, of course, me in a suit holding what will become a talking tennis ball.
We are at this moment all linked in anticipation of performing for a large crowd that has assembled up stairs. Everyone expresses their excitement in different ways from over the top flamboyance to stark terror. I see both in there faces and mannerisms. Stage fright/excitement is not confined to age, some of the older actors are much more terrified than their younger cast mates. Other seasoned actors and actresses are quoting other shows and remembering other audiences with equal amounts of joy and resentment usually with the younger actors hanging on every word. These seasoned pros seem to seek me out more than the rest to see if my audience stories are similar. Of course they are, I perhaps have had more experiences with different types of audiences, but the memories are the same. There are good shows and bad shows and good audiences and bad audiences but you hope the two never come together on the same night.
Some of the performers seek me out to ask about the Tony. What was it like to get it, did I know, did I plan my speech, where do I keep the trophy at my house? I am delighted to be a minor representative of the American Theatre Wing and give them my best remembrances. The Tony Award is my validation into a closed community of theatre performers. It is my passport to be allowed to participate in their world. But when the chips are down we are all the same, we have to entertain the same people with what we do. All of us will face the same audience tonight. The playing field is level, there are no do overs, no retakes, no grading on a curve; it is just us and the audience. I am no sure if I have the advantage taking the stage alone or not. What ever happens, I am the only one to blame or praise. There are no other real actors to lift me up if I fall but none to steal the thunder if I don't. I am just as excited to get out there as anyone in the green room, only difference is I have had years to work on my poker face so as not to let my emotions show either way.
There is a trend in this economic time to disregard the contributions the arts give us as a society. It is the first budget item to be eliminated in favor of any other need, even sports. But the arts are the heart and soul of a people. With out this softer look at who we are we only have the harsh black and white editorials of the pundits who deal mostly in fear and sadness not hope and joy. If the bean counters could only see it through my eyes tonight. This is a community of thespians come together in a common goal. Tomorrow we will all be competing for the same audience but tonight we are united with the same desire to entertain. Each person participating, each audience member and each person who is responsible for producing and presenting this event came together; Setting aside all politics, races, ethnics, religion and experience, we united in one common goal and made it work. If that is not a lesson the world needs to see more of I don't know what is.
As you were,

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