The voice on the other end of the line said, “would you be in Follies this year?” I felt the word slip between my lips before I could even think about it much…”yes.”
Two moments after that the doubts and fears started to creep out of the crevices where they’ve been safely hiding for the past six years. Yes, six. It’s been that long since I’ve really been IN a play like this. I’ve done lots of theater kinds of things. I’ve even performed — but those were my own shows of my own making. This was returning to the world of rehearsals, directors, fellow actors. Returning to being on stage with others looking at me, evaluating me, making judgments about me, my ability, my talent, my writing and performing and general overall just being me. In other words: The Works.
Six years ago I left Touchstone Theatre to pursue other pastures. Now Touchstone wanted me back, at least for this one show. Was I ready? The answer is: YES!
This experience of returning has been quite something. Or other. There was the first day of rehearsal when every idea put forth sounds hilarious — and the jam session we held on the second day of rehearsal made me almost burst with joy at the amazing talent all around.
There was the day I felt so old because basically I could be most of the rest of the cast’s mother. What I found funny, or meaningful, probably seemed old-fashioned to some of them. There were jokes that I just didn’t understand.
There was the day when folks began talking about their training. And I felt underwhelmed about my own. I’ve sent my own daughter off to NYU to be trained by some of the best in the country in the art and craft of theater, meanwhile surreptitiously hiding my own little BA in “Communication Arts” behind my back. There was the founder of the company with his MFA, two with training at distinguished European institutions, one with training in reputable theater training program and one still in college. And me.
Then, finally, came the day when it finally dawned on me that the age and lack of training didn’t mean there wasn’t experience. Twenty years of theater and performing work is training in its own right. My clown, Little Red, emerged the year I had help from fellow actors at Touchstone in some of the very basics of clowning: Being completely open and honest at all times, responding to everything. There is no pretense in clowning. It’s as close to channeling the divine as an actor can get.
A brand new character, named Agnes Chundlebatch (the last name stolen from someone in England whose name scrolled by on a BBC production) emerged this year after trying on a costume. NOTE: A great way to develop a new character is NOT intellectually. A great way to develop a new character is to find a costume that strikes your fancy, putting it on, and discovering who emerges. The intellectual part comes later. First rule of creating a new character: HAVE FUN.
I get to channel my inner diva for this show. Rarely does one get the opportunity to actually play up being a diva for all its worth. “Get more violent!” was a note I was given. I’m being given permission for this. Watch out world. NOTE: when playing a diva character, be sure to keep the diva on the stage and do not allow her to take over back stage too, as alluring as the temptation might be.
So – I’m the old lady of the bunch. But that’s not a bad thing. The years of experience have paid off. All those years of storytelling have led me not to fear the audience. In fact, those years of storytelling have led me to embrace them in a way I never dared when I was a newbie out of college fresh on the professional stage. Playfulness is something you can only achieve (I believe) when you finally feel totally at home in yourself. It’s taken longer than I might have liked, but I’m getting there.
And I’m grateful to have this opportunity.
“Five minutes to curtain.” Thank you five minutes.