“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
– Thornton Wilder
I am an actor. I’ve been acting for as far back as my memory goes. From my 3-year-old debut in my grandmother’s church play to my professional acting gig as Glinda at the Land of Oz, and all of the many, many community theatre performances in between, acting has always been a huge part of my life.
And now finally, after 30+ years in the theatre, I’ve done something that I have never done before.
I’ve crossed over to the ‘dark side.’
I am ashamed to say that it has taken me this long to finally see what it feels like to not be in the spotlight. I was recently offered the opportunity to be the stage manager for Ashe County Little Theatre’s upcoming performance of Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon. Since February, we have been working on a show that will open this weekend, April 8-10, at the Ashe Civic Center and run for only three performances.
Now, this idea of working for months on something that people will only see for a few hours is not new to me. As an actor, I’ve done this many times. But I always knew that it would culminate with all that ‘thunderous’ applause as I humbly bowed to my adoring audience. You know – the icing on that well-earned cake. A successful show, a stroked ego, and then off to work on the next one. Everybody wins!
But the thing I am certain that I didn’t notice – didn’t appreciate – was the group of people sitting in the dark while I basked in all this post-show limelight.
Until now. Until I became one of them.
My husband is the sound tech for our theatre. One time, during the run of one of our shows, he said something to me that really resonated.
“If I’m doing my job right, you won’t notice me.”
At the time that he said that – back in my oblivious actor days – I thought that sounded ridiculous. Why would you pour your heart and soul (not to mention time and energy) into something that you hope no one even notices? Why on Earth would you want to be the background music (literally)? What is the point?
Ah. Now I get it.
There is so much more to what happens in a theatrical show than what you, as the audience, sees. I have developed a level of appreciation for what happens back here on the dark side, an appreciation I would have never known had it not been for this experience. And what a shame it took me so many years to be able to say this.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the actors don’t work hard, too. They do. Really. But as the stage manager for this show, I have been able to see the show in a new perspective. Rather than focusing on my particular role in the process, as I did as an actor, I have the ability to now see the show as a whole. I see all the working parts that make it come alive and realize how lost we would be without even the tiniest of them.
In other words, I now have the ability to see the things that my loving husband pointed out that “shouldn’t” be seen. And once your eyes are open to something like that, you can’t go back.
So with that said, I hope you’ll join me as I take the time to give a little appreciation to all of the pieces of this little puzzle we’ve created together.
First, there’s the director, Jim. Jim has taught me so much through this process. My job was supposed to be to help him, but he has definitely been the one to help me instead. Taking a chance on a self-absorbed actor to be your right-hand man was a pretty big risk if you ask me. But I’m glad he took it. Thank you for believing in me and casting such a fantastic show. The lessons I’ve learned are invaluable.
Then, there’s the producer and costumer, Rebecca. Rebecca has a constant helpful nature. She is always working behind the scenes during these shows to be sure each character looks their best. As the person who was always putting the costumes on, I never got the chance to actually see what they looked like. As I step outside the confining the walls of the stage itself, I can now see the beautiful portrait these costumes paint. There is such a precision with choosing what we wear, and I really had no idea. One of our stage moms noted, “I love watching the Bella character grow up through her costumes.” And once she said that, I see how right she is. Each character’s costume in each scene tells a subtle story, and I’m glad my eyes were opened to that fact during this run. Rebecca also made sure to take care of us during show week as well. One night this week she brought in pizza for everyone, exclaiming that her mother always taught her that “the way you show people that you love them, is to feed them.” So, thank you, Rebecca. We love you too!
And our “booth crew:” the sound technician, Richard (my hubby – you may have heard me mention him before), the spotlight operator Kelly (my daughter…and I may have mentioned her a time or two before as well), and the lighting technician, Jeremy. These three are the lucky peeps who get to listen to me on headset trying to tell them what to do and when to do it. All three of them have very similar personalities – calm, organized, chill. And thank God for it! My first night on headset, I was a nervous wreck…and yet they calmly did what they were supposed to do (whether I remembered to tell them to or not) and told me I did a great job (even when I was certain I didn’t). The people like these three are the true heroes of a show, believe me.
And then there’s Ken and Judi. Ken designed and built our set (together with many helpers: Doug, John, Jim, Bobbi Jo, and Richard to name a few…I know there were more) and Judi spent lots of time painting and “sprucing it up” (the set is a Grandma’s apartment so Judi added all the small, Grandma-ish touches that, like Richard pointed out, you’d hardly notice…unless they weren’t there.) Once that was done, Ken and Judi jumped in to help backstage throughout the run of the show, Judi helping with the many costume changes and Ken helping me with the set changes between scenes. More unsung heroes right there, that’s for sure.
And then there’s the makeup ladies, Charna and Cynthia. Spending all that time working on making others look good, with no applause for their efforts. Consider this your applause, ladies. You are appreciated, needed, and loved. I hope you know that. (They even had the added bonus of using makeup to cover some tattoos in this show…and they’ve done it fabulously!)
And a special thank you to Linda who designed our show poster and programs. Another small, yet huge, addition to the puzzle. What would a show be without advertisement and information? Thank you, Linda.
And then there are the parents and spouses of all of the people involved (too many to list here) who have sacrificed their time with their loved ones while we spent so many hours bring this show to life. We thank you, from the bottom of our hearts for your patience and your support. Your sacrifice is just as much a part of this show as any of the other working parts, and we appreciate you.
And last, but most certainly not least, our actors. Yes, you get to applaud them as the show ends, but those are just the characters. I want to tell you a little about how special each of the real people are behind those “masks.”
First, there’s Mason and Olivia. These two kids have family in the show and have willingly volunteered to serve as extras for a few of our scenes. And when they’re not onstage, they are helping backstage – Mason helping his brother Levi with costume changes and Olivia bringing her dad a glass of water between scenes. The work you two do is noticed and the enthusiasm you show while doing it is contagious. Thank you kiddos. 🙂
Then there’s Bobbi Jo. Bobbi Jo is a warrior, let me tell you. She’s my friend so I know the sacrifice she’s had to make to be in this show. Between a working hubby and having to bring her little ones to the theatre with her, having more than her share of car trouble, and even losing her father during the months of rehearsal, she has not missed a beat. (In fact, just before one rehearsal when she realized her car wouldn’t start, I found all 100-pounds of her walking on the road headed to rehearsal when I came to pick her up. That little thing was so dedicated to the show, she was going to walk the 3+ miles to rehearsal and hope she got there before her appearance in the second act. Now, that is some serious dedication, folks.) So, Bobbi Jo, thank you for the love you bring to this show. It is noticed and appreciated.
Next, there’s Baron. Baron and I have worked in a few shows together now. He brings something to every show that would be missing if he wasn’t there – and that something is fun. Baron is always there with a snicker or an inside joke and makes sure we keep laughing through all the work we are putting in to this thing. People like this are a joy to be around, and I hope he knows that. Thank you, Baron. (“Gooooper, honey….”) [See? Inside jokes…]
And then there’s Ike. This is only my second time working with Ike and he brings an experience to the stage that can’t be overlooked. This dude can act. And the first role he was cast in with our theatre? A small role as an aide in an insane asylum. With the vast experience and knowledge that he has of the theatre, he was still happily willing to play a small role in order to be a part of the show. He is the living example of the saying, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” This, my friends, is no small actor. And if you get to see this show, I promise you’re in for a treat when you see this guy walk out onto the stage. (And I’m not just saying that because he strips down to his boxers in one scene…) 😉
Then, there’s Sharon. Sharon plays the Grandma in this show and, like her character, she brings a wisdom to the show, both on and off stage. A veteran of the theatre, Sharon knows her stuff and has had excellent ideas throughout the show’s run. Thank you for putting up with this family of misfits, Sharon!
Then, there’s Abby. Abby is new to our theatre and what a welcome gift she is. Abby has single-handedly shown me what an actress should be. She is full of energy and life and will bring you a performance that will put chills down your spine. And then, once she steps off the stage, she is thanking everyone. She has more than once thanked me for the work I’ve put in as the stage manager. I know I will be a better actress after this experience, and Abby is part of the reason for that. Thank you, Abby, for teaching by example.
Ah, and then there are our boys, Rowan and Levi. These two kids are the focal point of the show, on and off the stage. These kids are phenomenal! Their talent goes well beyond what you’d expect from kids this young. And what professionals! Learning their lines from the get-go and carrying many scenes alone – I’m not sure they realize what a huge undertaking that is for young people. There are so many kids who’d be mortified to get up in front of people, and these two steal the show in scenes where there isn’t an adult in sight. They are going to go far…long after the memories of this show have faded. I just know it. You two are fabulous and I am honored to be sharing in this experience with you. I’m so proud of you!
Whew…tired of my list yet? Are you still with me?
And see, here’s the thing – even after listing all of these names and roles they played in bringing a performance to you, I’d be willing to bet that I’ve left someone out. (And if that’s you – I’m so sorry! You are appreciated too. I promise.) The list goes on and on. The amount of effort that goes into something like this is astronomical.
So, in closing, here is what I’d like to ask of you. The next time you go to see a show, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to notice things. Yes, yes, I know my husband said you’re not supposed to notice people like him…but don’t listen to him. Listen to me. 😉 Seriously…read your program. Read the bios of the actors you are about to see. Read about the director. And then, don’t forget to flip to the last page of that program, and run your finger down the list of all of those behind-the-scenes names, won’t you? Behind each of those names is a heart for the theatre. A heart that has sacrificed weeks of their time to bring you two hours of entertainment. Give them all a little silent thank you in your mind, won’t you?
I know I will.
Oh, and one more name I forgot to add to the list: you.
That’s right – you’re important too. The theatre is a family. And as you walk into it, you become a part of the family as well. That’s when you step into your role as the audience. Without you, why would any of us be here? You add your touch to the show as well – your laughter, your sniffles, your smiles, and your presence.
You place that final piece into the puzzle that makes it complete.
And we thank you.
“Theatre was my first love. I can’t take the theatre out of me. And I wouldn’t want to. To me, it’s home.”
– Jim Parsons