I’ve been involved with community theater for four seasons now, and although it’s pretty much what you think, it’s also quite a lot of what you might not expect. People generally feel that actors in theater are very brave, and think they could never attempt to play a role on the stage. What’s actually the case is that after six weeks of saying the same lines over and over, and standing in the same places with the same people night after night, and having the same cues from lights, sound and music… well you really can’t help but say anything else but what you have been given to say. Kind of like Pavlov’s dog. And one night, the audience appears, and you really don’t even think about it too much, because people have been sitting in the rehearsal hall watching (and sometimes not watching) your antics for over a month, and it really doesn’t bother you anymore.
No really, that’s all it is. It’s amazing how easy it is to be someone else, when someone has written it all out for you. What you say, where you move, how you act, what you wear… all these things have been decided for you. Of course you do bring a certain flavor to the character, and can “draw outside the lines” if the director is okay with that. That’s part of the great fun of theater, to interpret your character and see how much you can develop them and make them interesting for the audience. Your character might do all sorts of things you would never do, but under the guise of all the makeup, the costume, props and scenery, you can lose yourself in the character in a way that would never work in the real world. And that’s the real blessing of theater.
I came to theater because it looked like a lot of fun. The people on stage seemed to be really enjoying themselves and each other, and I thought, “I really have to try that sometime”. And one day the opportunity came. There were auditions announced for Beauty and the Beast. I thought, “Hey, I could be a dancing fork! How hard can that be?” and talked my coworker into coming along with me. It was a bit scary, the auditions. But after warming up with a very welcoming group of people, I forced myself to stand alone on the stage and sing “Happy Birthday” to show my range, and learned a few steps to show I could dance. A few days later, I got a call telling me I was going to be “some sort of utensil” in the show. I was thrilled!
Rehearsals soon began, and every night I was immersed in song, dance and laughter amongst wonderful new friends. I was in the greatest mood for over a month, because I was having such a grand time. And while it was work, it was amazing to fall in love with a wonderful story and have the opportunity to share it with the community. Soon it was opening night and I had a lot of nervousness. But once the show got started, that all went away and it was just an awesome experience. As we sang the final number, I saw the audience rise to their feet as they applauded. I was so happy in that moment it took my breath away, and I couldn’t keep singing because I was tearing up. It was at that moment I realized I wanted to do this for absolutely ever.
What was really wonderful was a year later when I was going through a difficult time, theater was my salvation. It was an escape from reality for awhile, but it was also a wonderful support system. Here people didn’t shy away from sharing problems, it was encouraged, and the drama embraced. It was something I sorely needed, and it has bouyed me and many others through tough times.
Over the years I have played a variety of roles, and each one has taught me something. When you say certain lines again and again, they take on deeper meanings and become a part of you. You see how writers handle different situations and in trying to understand your character, you also try to understand if that’s part of you, if it’s not, or if it should be. Some lines can be hard to recite, because they remind you of a time or situation in your life that wasn’t so great. Reliving it onstage as someone else can give a very strange perspective, but it can also help you understand something in a way you hadn’t considered before. It’s a very interesting process.
A friend of mine that was dealing with the fallout from a divorce was seeing a counselor who suggested he try community theater as an outlet for what he was going through. He too, was amazed at the therapeutic benefits from the theater experience and has continued to participate in many shows. Occasionally we discuss our characters and how deeply we relate to the situations they find themselves in. Sometimes I wonder if the audience realizes just how much a role can affect the person playing it.
If you have ever considered theater, you shouldn’t hesitate. It’s everything you think, and a whole lot more. It’s a world of fantasy, but behind that fantasy is another world of sillyness, fun and laughter, surrounded with support and encouragement from sometimes the most unlikely sources. For me, theater is a panacea – and I hope for you as well, should you decide to check it out. Some of your best friends are the people involved with community theater… you just don’t know it yet.