As someone who has been involved with local theatres since the age of seven, I can verify that theatre truly does shape a person, in more ways than one. Over the past eleven years, I have gained experiences and created memories that will forever be part of who I am both on the stage and off the stage. I’m going to take you on a trip down memory lane and recall what a few key shows meant to me or the lesson that they taught me, starting at the Yellow Brick Road.
My very first show was The Wizard of Oz. This experience started off a bit weird because I did not even go to the official auditions. My mother was signing me up for one of the acting classes at the theater and the director asked if I wanted to audition for the show, but since the auditions were actually the next night, and we lived almost an hour away, he decided to let me just audition while we were there. I sang “Reflection” from Mulan, which I had been competing with in the vocal categories of dance competitions that year. I was cast as a principle munchkin and I had a few lines, one of which was to sneeze and then blame it on my sinuses, which funnily enough kind of foreshadowed my sinus surgery that I had to have when I was seventeen. I was the only one in my class at school who did this kind of thing, so my teacher convinced the principal to take the entire second grade to go see it during one of the shows that were specifically for field trips. I can’t recall anything this show taught me because I was pretty young, but it definitely instilled in me a passion for performing on stage as an actress, and not just a dancer, singer, and pianist.
The next show that sticks out to me would be the second time I was in Annie. This time was at a different theater. My parents had grown unhappy with the original one because of the increasing cast fees and the fact that the director would double cast the entire cast, not just the leads, so I was only able to be in half of the shows. My new theatre was a lot smaller, actually provided costumes to the cast instead of having to make them, and did not have any cast fees. I was ten going on eleven at the time, and I noticed a difference as soon as I stepped foot into the building. Everyone was very welcoming and kind, and they actually took time to get to know me a little during my audition instead of just allotting me thirty seconds. I got a callback for the part of Annie, but unfortunately the role went to a girl a bit older than me and I was cast as Kate, for which I was still very grateful and excited about. This show with that particular group of girls was so much fun, and even though there was a little preteen drama, a lot of us are still in touch even today. This show taught me that you don’t have to just stay at one theater all your life, but it is alright to have one that will always feel like home.
The next show is Murder on Center Stage. It was my first straight play other than the small ones my acting classes had put on. The theatre has a teen/young adult program called Explorer’s Post, which is chartered through the Boy Scouts and only people between the ages fourteen and twenty-one can participate. Therefore, this show was completely teenagers, including the director and tech people. We did have adult supervision, of course. This show is about college theatre kids who get locked in the theater all night. Spoiler alert: there is no actual murder in this show and I was disappointed when I found out. I played a character named Alice, who had a crush on one of the guys, but he didn’t like her back (story of my life). This show taught me that it’s okay to be imperfect. There was not a single time where there were no mess ups. I knocked over a chair one night because my jacket got caught on it as I stood, one guy fell too far upstage and hit his head on the ladder that was part of the set, and one guy even accidentally revealed the fake murder because he said his lines out of order. It also taught me that having a small cast (there were nine people in the show) is really fun, but it is also more challenging because it is harder to cover up mistakes.
Next, I want to talk about Cats. This was an interesting experience because we had to change a lot due to unforeseen circumstances. First, we had to get a new Old Deuteronomy because of scheduling conflicts. Second, our Rumpleteazer was basically kicked out of the show so someone else played her. Then, our Demeter broke her leg, and this is where it gets tricky. I played Demeter in Act 1 and another girl played Demeter in Act 2, but only the other girl was named that in the program; I was technically playing Tantomile. The absolute strangest thing to happen was that our Skimbleshanks quit a week and a half before opening night so the guy who played Munkustrap just sang the song in third person point of view instead of actually having someone play Skimbleshanks. This show pushed every limit I had. I was a dancer, so I was used to heavy dancing but nothing of this caliber. While I was at rehearsal or during performances, I had an immense amount of energy but as soon as I got home, I would crash for a few minutes before getting right back up because I was balancing this show with not only several Honors classes, but also my other extracurricular activities. I actually had to leave my dance recital after my last dance and go straight to a show. This show taught me that as a performer I need to be flexible and versatile because you never know what may happen and when you may need to step up and replace someone.
Right after Cats, Explorer’s Post put on a production of Snoopy. I was originally cast as the understudy for Peppermint Patty. Because I lived so far away and my mother expressed concern that I would have to go to all the rehearsals but only be in one show (I wasn’t old enough to drive yet so she had to take me), our director offered for me to be the stage manager instead, which I gladly accepted. Fast forward to opening night: the headsets the director and I were using broke and the walkie talkies didn’t work either. This resulted in us texting each other about cues. This show taught me that things don’t always go as planned and that being back stage can be just as fun as being on stage.
The last show I want to talk about is Willy Wonka, another Explorer’s Post production. This was my last show because senior year of high school and freshman year of college didn’t allow me any time to be in any shows. I played Mrs. Gloop, and it was a challenging role for me because I am an alto and her parts lean more towards soprano. Also, I’m a bit introverted and I had never had to play a very dynamic character before. so I had a hard time being as loud and dramatic as I needed to be, especially at first. I also learned about the joy of quick changes. We all played children in “Candyman” and then I had to run into the costume workshop, which was right offstage and completely change costumes. I had to put on a “fat suit” that had the stomach padding removed so it was really just huge breasts and a huge butt, and I also had to put in three hairpieces because our director decided that I didn’t have enough hair. This show brought out a confidence in me that I didn’t know that I had before, and it will always be one of my favorite experiences.
In conclusion, community theatre is so unique because not only is it accessible to more people than Broadway or West End it is something you can immerse yourself into. If you haven’t already been involved with community theatre, I highly suggest that you do so; it is never too late. The friendships and memories you will create are so special and they really allow you to discover new aspects of yourself, other people, and the world around you.