Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"It's Only Community Theatre, But..."

I’m a professional writer.  In addition to this blog, I’ve written for newspapers, radio and the stage with varying amounts of success.  I aspire to being a novelist, a challenge that has me “on perk” from the moment I get up some days.  It’s a passionate pursuit.

Less well known about me is my time as a performer on stage, a vocation I once looked at in a much different way.  I was fortunate to participate in a very well written piece this past weekend and was flattered by the praise that was offered, sometimes by complete strangers.  “You should be a professional actor,” some said, compliments I sincerely appreciated.  I responded with thank-yous, but a more appropriate answer would have been “Thanks, but no thanks.”

There was a time many years ago when I wanted to make my living as an actor, but the person I was then, before I acquired this thin, unruly head of white hair (that made me a “Q-Tip”) was a different man.  Young Marc Holland was not an ideal cast-mate, sometimes incapable or unwilling to take instruction.  Headstrong and cocksure, I must have had some talent or I wouldn’t have worked at all. 

Awarded at times with scholarships and trophies, I took them almost as my birthright.  I returned the favors I had been given with quarrelsome behavior in rehearsals and unswerving opinions about how the show, and more specifically my performance, should be presented.  It is a generous assessment to say I had a lot to learn about life and about acting, if only I had shut up for a goddamned moment and listened.

You see, I had friends and acquaintances that were out there working professionally and making their own way in show business.  I never doubted that I was as good, if not better, than those courageous individuals.  I wondered why it wasn’t happening for me, and when that wonder turned to spite, I spared no one around me from my disappointment and, for those lucky few actors that were making it, my scorn. 

Part of it was my youth, of course, still believing the platitude that if you want something bad enough and are willing to work for it, it’s yours.  But as I have said before, when you turn thirty, you ought to know better.  Yet some of us are slow learners.  I burned for the recognition I felt I deserved and took it personally when others didn’t share my world view.

After I had married and had children, I kept my hand in the acting stream by taking part in what was then the vogue, dinner theatre murder mysteries.  From there, I co-wrote, produced and directed short radio dramas that failed to produce waves anywhere but in the air.  Feeling stifled, angry and somewhat humiliated, one night I unloaded on my wife, Miss Kitty, about the perceived slights I had suffered during a particular day.  She nodded at the appropriate points and waited until I had finished to ask me the salient question.

“Okay.  Now can I tell you the results of my cancer screening?”  I don’t know what the great actor’s face looked like at that moment.  I wasn’t a good enough actor to mask that I was horrified, truly horrified, at what I, in my self-importance, had forgotten. Fortunately, the test results were negative.  If she had had cancer, I doubt I would be telling you this tale right now.  In my shame, I probably would have taken this story to my grave.

I knew at that moment some thing had to change immediately, and that thing was me.  I had to stop being that guy that feels the need to fill up every silence with the sound of his own voice, or half-listens to someone else’s story, all the while searching his memory for one to top it.  I was also aware that if I ever went back to the theatre, it would have to be a different experience.

I did go back, and it was different.  As my children became teenagers and barely had time to look up from their homework when I came home, my wife and I decided that it was time for me to go back on stage and see if I still loved it, as well as if I still “had it”.  I have auditioned for one show a year since I turned forty-five and have been fortunate to get a part in each of those shows, even getting a couple of lead roles.

Let me make one digression in this story: I have always hated it when I hear someone (usually an actor inviting a friend to a local show) say, “It’s only community theatre, but…” If you have never been to an amateur theatre production in your community, you should go.  Some of your neighbors are fine actors.  They almost always offer a very good evening’s entertainment at a fair price.  The commitment of an amateur actor is the same as that of a professional, in fact, it is probably greater.  Most toil for eight hours at a day job before gobbling a quick dinner and then spend three hours in the evening working at a rehearsal and/or a performance.  Make no mistake, acting is work.

The older, wiser Marc Holland listened to his director and did as he was told, knowing that their vision of the production as a whole was the most important view.  I learned that there is always time to give a word of encouragement to a cast member that is tackling a demanding part, or to throw your arm around someone who had a tough night.  Even the auditions were different.  Where once I had approached a cold reading (a couple of pages of dialogue you’ve never seen before) as something that would confer upon me a sense of my self-worth, I now felt like a kid in a playroom filled with shiny, new toys.

The weekend just past was a challenging one for myself and Miss Kitty.  I had an Opening Night on Thursday with performances on the two subsequent evenings.  On Friday afternoon, my daughter graduated from college.  Saturday night, my son attended his senior prom.  Come Sunday, my wife and I were both exhausted.  We spent the Sabbath in each other’s arms, kissing and watching movies, talking about the drama, both real and imagined, we had experienced over the preceding three days.  I shared with her a story about my Friday performance, a story I feel certain I will tell many more times.

In a production filled with talented writers and actors, I played a man haunted by the kidnapping of a child, trying to come to grips with what he feels he failed to do to prevent the disappearance.  We were performing in a small theatre just miles from my house, with the crowd so close you could look into each audience member’s face if you wanted to, and I wanted to.

Two-thirds of the way through my monologue, my eyes came to rest on a young man sitting at stage right, a twenty-something with a thin beard.  His return gaze registered something just shy of fear.  I spoke directly to him as I delivered an impassioned rationalization, saying, “I just didn’t make the connection at the time.  I just didn’t connect the dots.  Well…I mean…why would I?”  His eyes narrowed and he nodded at me, as if to say, Yeah, I feel ya, brother.

I had made a connection with another human being, a total stranger.  Hopefully, I also gave him a theatre memory he wouldn’t soon forget.  I, along with tens of thousands of other Americans, am a community theatre actor.

That’s what we do.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully put. I was very proud to be in the show with you and am so glad to have met you.