Each year our high school put on a drama, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, and then a musical, such as L’il Abner. In my senior year, the musical was “Anna and the King of Siam.” I was lucky enough to get the role of Anna. That show was especially bittersweet for me as it was the last show I would take part in.
The last night of the play when we all took our bows, many of us burst into tears, knowing that we would be long gone from school and the plays, off to college and other adventures. But something special happened on that last night for me.
Francis Cleveland (son of the late great president Cleveland), who put on all the summer plays in Tamworth, NH, was getting ready to start rehearsals for summer. He was in the process of looking for a likely candidate for an ingenue (a young girl or young woman) to round off his summer players.
He happened to come to our high school for that last show. After we took our last bows at the end of the show, he introduced himself to me and asked if I would be interested in summer stock. Would I! I had loved being in plays in school, and just the thought of being able to act all summer long was a dream come true. By this time, my parents were on stage with me, and Francis introduced himself and told them that he was interested in me joining the other players. They were on board with it, and Francis had one more question for me; he asked if I was planning on being an actor as a career. I told him that no, I loved being in plays, but I wanted a “real life.” He smiled and shook my hand and said, “good; you’re hired!”
That summer was the absolute best one of my life. I was on my own, I had my own room at the Tamworth Inn, and the other players were very kind and accepting of me. I had a few lead roles, which were a lot of fun. But just being on stage with other players was heaven on earth for me.
Being in a play is like falling in love. Like a new romance, you start with the hand-holding and passionate kissing stage; which, translated into being in a play means learning your lines, getting your blocking down pat from the director so you know where you are supposed to be at all times when you are on stage. You even find yourself memorizing everyone else’s lines, just so you can be sure of your cues, and understand how the other characters react to your character.
Then you move on to the ‘am I really in love or just kidding myself’ stage. You get all your lines memorized and work hard to be the best and most believeable character you can be. In doing so, you begin to BE that person. You start looking at the world through their eyes, their experiences, their interactions and relationships with the other characters in the play. You slowly realize that you are only part of the play, even if you are a main character. The play becomes a second family; you know who you are and who everyone else is, and how you all fit together.
Now comes the real test of love: opening night on stage with everyone in costume, and a full house out front. Your stomach turns as you hear the orchestra tuning up, and you know that it won’t be long until the overture starts. The final notes are played, the audience applauds and the curtain goes up, and the show begins.
In seconds, you know whether or not you are going to completely blow it, or trust in that cellular memory of all those rehearsals and memorizing lines before you slept. You take a breath, clear your head, and take that first step into the light. The funny line always got applause, and then you realize that you and everyone else on stage is spot-on and ready to make the magic happen.
Before you know it, the play is over. You are being hugged and are hugging your second “play family” members, knowing that you did a good performance and, better yet–-that the play went off without a hitch.
That is the magic of acting.