Becoming A Thespian

I was found in a local Pub one nite way back in 1983. A large group of people were gathered around a piano singing, drinking, and having a good time. They invited me to join them. They were a group of people having just finished a rehearsal of Brigadoon to be done at the Woodstock Opera House. They were with the community theatre company, TownsSquare Players, Inc. Also known as TSP. Apparently, they came to this bar after every rehearsal to wind down and let loose. They told me they’d be there the following nite and why didn’t I stop by. Stop by I did.

The people I met that nite were all actors/actresses so when they invited me to be a part of theatre I did hesitate. I said I wasn’t an actress, nor could I sing. Yes, but they were always in need of crew people and I would be more than welcome. I continued to join them 3 nites a week to drink and sing along. By now I’d gotten to know more people and was asked if I still wanted to work on a show. I said “why not?”

After being part of the Stage Crew on their next production I knew I’d found a new home. I worked the next show with the other resident company, Woodstock Musical Theatre Company, a.k.a. WMTC. I have also worked at Hemmens Auditorium in Elgin, IL as well as McHenry County College.

GETTING MORE INVOLVED

Working on Stage Crew led to Stage Managing, Assistant Directing, Property Design, Crew Chief, set construction and set painting. I think I’ve worked on 53 shows, it’s hard to keep track. My forte’ was “the workhorse” – give me something heavy to move around the stage and I’m a happy camper! I’ve learned that stage crew can be a thankless job. It is also one that takes patience and practice – and not everyone is cut out for it. As is not everyone cut out to be on stage – that would be ME! Nonetheless, it is an important part of the whole picture.

It is said time and time again, “there is no such thing as a small role”. This is very true. It takes countless hours, people and talent to put together a production. Something I’d never realized until being a part of it all. The behind the scenes efforts, that seem to go un noticed by the average theatre goer, are astounding. But without everyone working together, it cannot come together!

I’d worked on every single show for both groups from 1983 until mid-1989. There were a few summer things thrown in with the original “Paradise People”.  This was a group of mostly local church people, but several of the TSP and WMTC people were also involved.  The money raised at these performances always went to a local charity.

TSP, used to travel to Rockford, IL if I remember correctly “selling ourselves” at “Beattie Is” or some such thing. Late in 1989 my MS flared up big time, and I was forced into “semi-retirement” until 1993. I got involved again in 1993 although not to the extent I was once able.

To this day I try to figure out how I did everything I did back then. I would drive straight from work to the theatre. This would give me about 2 hours to help build or paint the set, or make a prop(s), before rehearsal started. It was not uncommon for rehearsals to go until 12:00 P.M. back then. Rehearsals were 3-4 nites a week. I did the same thing the next day and the day after that. Many times, I’d spend my weekends at the Opera House as well.

Then came Tech Week, or as we lovingly call it, “Hell Week”. The show went up at the end of that week. During the week while there wasn’t a performance, I’d be busy working on the next production: the painting, set building whatever! The current show closed, and it was on to the next one! This was the cycle for the entire season. Ah… youth huh? Obviously, a whole lot of love as well. I loved being involved, or I wouldn’t have done it.

It’s not all work. We did have fun. Afterall, it ain’t for the money honey! There ain’t none! It’s for the fun, the camaraderie and the learning experience that we all share. “Hell Week” is usually just that. That week prior to Opening Night, the first time everyone gets to work on stage, lights are hung and set, sound levels set, the cast is working on the actual set for the first time, the crew is getting their first chance to work with the set pieces, the costumes, make-up, wigs all come into play. The hours are long, tension is quite high, patience is at a very low level, and tempers are flaring and the thought that, “this will never work!” is uttered many times. But another thing we always say, and is true, “It always comes together in the end.” Opening Night is usually a whole different show than Dress Rehearsal. Once the show closes, usually the “pain along the way” becomes something to laugh at over drinks. You move on to the next one and go through the whole process all over. The magic of theatre! Ya gotta love it!

Unfortunately, my level of involvement led to a few “walk-on” roles. What an experience that was! I have had my share, and I am done with that! I have no desire to be on stage unless it’s in the dark!

WHAT MAKES IT ALL WORTH IT

Perhaps the greatest part are the people I’ve met in the last 20 years. Many friendships have been made and some lost. Not everyone stays around to become a “fixture”. Many go on to other things or go away to college. However, I had made some lasting friendships, and those friendships are ones that I cannot begin to explain the importance of. We refer to ourselves as a family. We truly become that. It is a close knit group.

Theatre had become one of the greatest joys of my life. It had also been a life saver as well. For all of the insanity there comes a certain amount of maintaining my sanity with it. And the friends. How can I forget them? We truly are a family. I have met so many wonderful people that have gotten me through some very rough times with my health. Their love and support is something that simply cannot be measured. Many of us had been together for 20 years and more. We just kept trudging along, moving a little slower perhaps, not quite as involved as we once were, but we’re still around and kicking, perhaps just not as high.

I’m afraid due to health reasons, that my theatre days ended at the end of 2000. Not an easy thing to live with when it had occupied so much of my time over the years. I was not far away though. It gets in your blood, you can’t live without it. Not to mention the people. They are the most important tie. It’s where my friends were, so it’s where I was. I had to participate in the extracurricular activities as well.

I became the Web Mistress for TSP. I was on the SARA Committee which is the rehearsal and storage area both companies share. I started my own theatre website, The Theatre Den that I kept up to date with coverage of productions by both companies. These were small things, yet kept me involved and connected.

Carlotta says it best in FOLLIES:

“Good times and bum times I’ve seen them all, and my dear,
I’m still here.”


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