Back near the end of July, while I was in Williamsburg, Virginia, on a hot Saturday afternoon while standing in the parking lot of a hotel visiting with friends I received a phone call from my wife and daughter who were at home. They had just finished auditioning for the Portsmouth Theater Company’s play of William Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. Both of them had gotten roles and were excited to tell me about everything.
I obliged them and offered my congratulations. That’s when things took a strange turn. They asked if I’d like to be a part of the play and that there were three rolls left open. All three male roles, one the lead, the other two not. I agreed to audition under the condition that it would not disturb my work schedule too much. After all, how often does one get to act with his family? Not often.
Four days later I find myself sitting on the porch of the Director’s house smoking a cigar and discussing my extremely limited theater experience. He then had me read for all three parts then we sat down and talked for another half an hour. After our conversation was over, he excused himself and went inside to get my script.
I stood there perplexed. He hadn’t told me what part he was giving me or even when rehearsals were or where. I just shrugged my shoulders and figured since he was the director, he knew what he was doing. When he came out he had a bright orange three ring binder in his hand. As he offered me the binder he said “You’ll make a handsome Falstaff. We’re going to have to get you a fat suit but you’ll be great.”
I took the binder and tucked it under my arm and said “Uh, are you sure you want me for Falstaff? Isn’t he like the anti-hero, the villain, the lech of this play?”
“Yes he is dear boy, and you’ll be brilliant. Now, go home and start reading your part and memorizing your lines.”
I walked down his porch steps, put the binder in my saddle bag, climbed on my Harley and left. I didn’t know what to say or really what to think. By the time I got home I was sure I was wrong for the part. I had no training in theater whatsoever, and the characters I’d played over the years had not been as intricate as Shakespeare’s favorite character.
At home, my family was thrilled I got a part, and when they found out I was the lead, they cheered.
Then rehearsals started.
The first few were okay. Everyone getting their blocking done, discovering their characters and of course finding ways around personality differences. Which, after I spoke with friends who’d worked in professional theater companies about the tension, they assured me it was all part of the creative process. I shrugged and said “okay”. After all, I’d never really been involved in a professional or even semi-professional production. So I went with the flow, tried to discover my characters motives, moods and foibles. Which was cool, simply because I love research and the application of the knowledge you receive after you learn it. My character, Sir John Falstaff, was the best friend of the King. He was knighted by the king himself. He was the only reoccurring character in Old Bill’s plays and he was a scamp, a tramp, a man who abused his position and power because he knew the king had his back and nothing he did would get him in serious trouble. He was also loathed by almost the entire country because of this. A deliciously deviant vagabond. A real “Ass” in the words of the Bard himself. I figured I’d do my best to do both the character and the writer proud.
I also spent time researching all the other characters I’d be interacting with. I chuckled with glee the more I read about each and every one that Bill wrote about. These people, their foibles, their attitudes, their suspicions and their personalities ring true to this day. The more I researched, the more I realized how timeless this piece of writing was and the happier I was to be involved in the production.
Then, things went south.
There was a fight between the Director, Assistant Director and the Stage Manager (who also happened to be the Vice President of the theater company). When this happened, I was on stage, in character and in the middle of a line. I wanted to break character, I wanted to step in, I wanted to put my two cents in so to speak, but I couldn’t. After all, I was in rehearsal and everything I’d ever read was you do not allow things offstage to affect your performance on stage, especially during a monologue. So adhered to the unwritten rule.
The next rehearsal, everyone seemed to show up. The ruffled feathers of the previous rehearsal seemed to be smoothed. I was sitting on the stage going over a scene and lines with a couple of other actors when the stage manager came in and quit.
She just picked up her stuff, announced she quit and walked out. My wife followed, as did my daughter, as did a few other actors and I. In the parking lot, the wardrobe mistress made an appearance with my fat suit, my costumes and various other sundries. Soon, it seemed the entire cast shy of one was standing in the parking lot talking about what had transpired and what we were going to do.
I took the opportunity to don my fat suit, take a photo or two and joke around with the cast and crew that were there. The general consensus was that we all still wanted to perform together, however; we did not want to be treated as ungrateful peasants who were not committed to the production. After all, each and every one of us had rearranged our work schedules, our commitments to our churches, our families and other extra-curricular activities. To be accused of not being committed to the cause of the production was not just ridiculous but also a slap in the face of our loyalty to our community.
A few short days later, all of our fears and worries were laid to rest with the announcement of the Director and Assistant Director quitting the company and moving to another state.
Twenty-four hours later everyone in the cast and crew were seemingly called and told there was a meeting for everyone interested in continuing in the company. However; we were not given a time or place. Meaning, no one would show up for the meeting. Strange, I know.
So, here I sit, on my porch, relighting my cigar, listening to jazz and rock-a-billy music wondering if there ever will be any sort of theatrical production on a community level to my adopted home town.
Will I ever act again? Will I ever be given the opportunity to be the lead in a play? Will I ever get asked by my daughter and wife to perform with them on stage and share a once in a lifetime experience? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I have the opportunity to create memories and bond with my family on a daily basis and that at both jobs I work, I can put on any face or personality and be whomever the people I come into contact with. So in a sense, I will always be acting.
Acting like a mature adult. Acting like a father. Acting like a husband. Acting like a caring employee. Acting like a human and taking on the role of a person who is what others expect me to be. Just like you do. Everyday.
However; if you really are interested in who and what I am, you, my dear reader, you’ll continue to keep reading these blogs and make up your own mind as to who and what I am. I won’t judge you. That is not my place. I’m just here trying to not goof my life up too bad.
Have a great week.