(Image property of Lone Star College: Cyfair Drama Department)
In the semester of Fall 2020, I was enrolled in several classes at my local community college. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a member of said college’s Honors College program, and they offer a selection of exclusive classes each semester. I enrolled in DRAMH 1310, and our professor told us on our first day of the course that we had to audition for one of the two plays being put on by the campus’ Drama Department, and the one that I liked the best was the one that my professor was directing. This play was called Lincolnesque.
As was required by my professor, I showed up to callbacks and felt quite ridiculous looking around at all of the other confident student actors all around me. I was just a homeschooled kid trying to take a class where I would not be required to do math. What was I doing here? I was just going to go into the auditorium, read for the female lead, and work backstage or something.
Something miraculous happened as I began to read a scene with a fellow student. I thought back to my childhood when I would make-believe regularly with my friends, both real and imaginary. This was just make-believe on a larger scale. And before I knew it, the scene was over, and I was back on the stage. Just as how I lose myself in my books, I lost myself in the acting.
I ended up reading for the female lead – a tough lady boss cliché, and I did not feel very connected to that role and I think my professor/director realized that. He asked me to stay to read for the Secretary of War. The Secretary of War is the closest friend of the main character – a homeless man who indulges in conspiracy theories and substance abuse. My professor told us that the character can be played as either a man or a woman, and he wanted this version of the play to feature a female interpretation on the character.
Although the character was daunting to wrap my head around at first, I gave it my all. I became paranoid; I stuttered and paced around the room, shouting some dialogue and whispering other lines. I could see the person reading opposite me become genuinely concerned and taken aback. I could tell he believed it. So I did, too.
That night I was cast as the understudy for the Secretary of War. In all honestly, I had no idea what being an understudy entailed or how involved I was expected to be in the production. The answer became apparent as soon as rehearsals began the following week – I lived in the theatre and studied my lines 24/7 practically.
Rehearsals were four days a week, sometimes going from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, with time forgotten as we lost ourselves in the story. I enjoyed watching from the sidelines. I was included, but there was no pressure on me as an understudy. I was the just-in-case actor.
A few weeks before our performance, the actress playing the Secretary of War had to drop out of the production due to health concerns. I was no longer the “just-in-case” actress; I was now THE actress. Whatever I put out on that stage would be the only interpretation of the Secretary of War that the audience would know. I was suddenly tasked with a huge responsibility that I never expected to have.
Since I was able to put in the work and have my lines memorized, I could have a lot of fun during rehearsals. I could go off-script reasonably quickly, which surprised me as I am a person who often struggles with memorization, especially with lengthy material. For some reason, though, the dialogue came naturally to me after I had acted out the scenes a couple of times. I have always been able to remember the exact dialogue from specific movie scenes, and I love to read fiction books in my spare time – I can sometimes read a 350-page novel within 48 hours, and I can still tell you the contents of the story. I think that is what I can always easily remember: stories.
Even though rehearsals were four days a week and I sometimes fell behind on my assignments, I considered these hours spent at the college to be the best part of my week. I did not have to think about my countless assignments and papers and exams; I could exist at that moment as the Secretary of War, struggling to find my place in a world that had rejected me. I could focus on my character’s more straightforward problems instead of the complex issues of my own life.
All of the frustration, anger, and sadness I had been feeling that day could become the emotions that the Secretary of War felt, and I could pour them out while engaging in the scene as the character. At the end of rehearsals, I would always feel a strange sense of exhausted satisfaction. Like I had just run a marathon, and I was bone-weary and spent, but I had left everything I had on that road. For me, I left everything behind on that stage every night. This became rather exhausting, but the immersion my wholehearted efforts created made the exhaustion and repetition worth it.
A week before rehearsal, I was given components of my costume to wear during practices to become familiar with how I moved in the clothing. The most significant part of my costume was the long trench coat that the Secretary of War wears. As soon as I slipped on that oversized coat and felt it flap around my legs as I moved, the character suddenly became more real and exciting. I was no longer just a kid playing pretend. I was an actress who had been given the tools to add to my performance.
I do not think I realized that I was an essential part of the cast of Lincolnesque until tech week. That was “crunch week.” We were no longer stopped by our stage manager when we messed up our lines. If something went wrong, we pushed through it.
When I stepped out on that stage, with everything being dark except where I was standing, I felt a nervous giddiness wash over me. This was real. I was really doing this. My grand imagination that had been cute and endearing when I was a kid was now seen as a great talent and asset to my community. The rest of tech week flew by. I do not remember much about what happened, except I was in full costume and makeup every night we ran the show. So when we had our “performance,” it felt just like any other rehearsal, except that cameras were filming the show.
Our performance went great. I had no frame of reference for what a theatrical performance was supposed to look like, so my opinion might not have been shared by everyone else. It did not matter if the final version was a complete disaster. I changed and learned so much over the two months of preparation and rehearsals that I felt entirely rewarded by the experience.
That night, once I had left the campus and driven home, I realized: I had become an actress! I did something I had never dreamed I would be comfortable doing.
Now, although this was a surprisingly enjoyable experience, I do not see myself changing my degree or diving into the theatre as a profession. I still feel called by God and equipped by Him to pursue a career in marketing and advertising, although if God lets me know that He has a different plan in store, that is perfectly fine by me.
I continue to thank God for this incredible opportunity He gave me. Thrust into an uncomfortable situation, I decided to put my trust in Him and rest in the assurance that He would give me the strength and confidence to conquer a task I never thought I would be given.
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Until next time!