It's been a week since I stepped ontstage into a role that I never anticipated playing and, as I desribed in my previous blog "I guess I'm Henry Ford, had less then four days to prepare. I just realized that I never wrotre about it afterwards like I said I would.
It was a blast.
First of all, after I closed the video store one night I went directly to the theatre with the intention of seeing the set that I would be working on, to catch the curtain call I'd be participating in and perhaps talk to Jon (the actor whose part I'd be playing) about what would be expected of me. He was kind enough to walk me through the blocking and costume changes that he did every night so that when I showed up early on Friday I would have some idea of what I was doing. He also introduced me to Heather, my lovely "dancing" partner (see accompanying photo) in the show's opening number, who was very encouraging of me, giving me the support I needed to do this thing with ease and confidence. In fact, the entire cast was very open and welcoming to me, really making me feel like a member of the group even though I was a last minute addition. I forgot how good that felt. It's been almost two years since I was last in a show (Hamlet) and I really that miss that comraderie, that sense of "family" that develops between actors throughout such an endeavor.
On the night of the performance, despite everyone's kind words and optimistic attitudes, the nervousness started to set in. I arrived early in order to walk through (literally) the opening number with Heather and what at first sounded simple and easy suddenly felt much more complicated and involved. In the dressing room, Jon had left me a bottle of champaigne as a "Thank you" for helping him out with this. That was nice of him I thought (even though I don't reall drink). I slipped into his costume and discovered that although we were about the same height we were not the same... ahem, "width." All I can say is, thank God for belts.
We all did warm-ups and I was "introduced" to the rest of the cast. Eventually the stage manager called "places" and I joined the rest of the chorus who first appeare on stage when the show starts. As we stood behind the curtain listening to the audience make their way into the auditorium, I was informed that Jon always told a joke just beforehand. This was something he had neglected to tell me. I quickly racked my brain to come up with something funny to say and the first joke that popped into my mind (and I am not making this up) involved two rabbis. About halfway through telling it I got worried that it might offend somebody, but they laughed. That felt good. The director, Mary Jeanne, stepped out to make her usual opening remarks (remind people to turn off cell phones, inform the audience of any changes in the cast for that evening, etc) and as it turned out, she forgot to mention my name. Heather, bless her heart, was more upset about it than I was I think. I'll admit that it hurt a little bit, but at the same time I realized that if the audience knew that I was just a "stand-in" they would have been eveluating my performance from that perspective. As it is, they would've have no way of knowing I was just another member of the cast (although there were a few people in the audience who knew me and, as they told me after the show, were suprised to see me up there given that my name didn't appear in the program nor my face in the lobby photos). Halfway through the first act, as I was up in the green room, waiting for my "Henry Ford" number, Mary Jeanne approached me and apologized profusely. I have her a big hug and assured her that it was okay.
So, curtain opened, the orchestra struck its first note and the show began. I walked across the stage to the beat of the music arm-in-arm with Heather trying to remember the lyrics I had learned in the previous four days and stepping the way that Mary Jeanne wanted. I don't think I succeeded in doing either one. I felt like I was tripping over my own feet and forgetting what I was supposed to be singing. People tell me I wasn't that bad, but I felt like I was. Once I got offstage and slipped into the Henry Ford outfit though, everything changed. This was the part I was really preparing to play, that I was more suited for, which I knew I could do better than just adequately and I felt like I acquitted myself rather well. Once the "Henry Ford" song was over, I felt both a huge sigh of relief and a sense of "That's it?" At that point I felt more than willing to do it again if the need arose. Once more, the cast was extremely kind with their praise and their compliments. This was a great bunch of people.
So, I just "chilled" until the curtain call. When it was all over I went home with a real sense of accomplishment (and a bottle of wine). I had faced an acting challenge that I had never faced before and I conquered it. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was also great fun and I was glad that I did it. On Saturday I actually got to go see the show that I had appeared in the night before. That was a truly unique experience to be both actor and audience. The irony did not escape me that the song I sang was about "assembly line production" and each worker having their own small part to play in the overall scheme. I had been given a chance to see how my little part fit into the great machine that Mary Jeanne was operating. She was the REAL Henry Ford of this show. I was just a "cog in the motion," but I loved it and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.