Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Night I Fell In Love With Community Theater

After I posted this yesterday I was unsatisfied with the ending. So I tried to fix it a little. I feel much better now!

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I didn't know how early to get to the Scera Shell outdoor theater, but when Anson and I arrived I figured we were on the late side. White plastic chairs covered the western side of the grassy ampitheater and a patchwork of blankets smothered the eastern half. Still, we stood in line with our tickets, Anson picking out all the letters he knew on the sponsor posters lining the opening gate. At five years old this would be my son's first theater experience. When I asked him if he wanted to go to a play with me he asked, "What's a play?"

This was a defeat of sorts. My husband, has acted professionally for more than fifteen years. His resume boasts film, TV, industrial, commercials and (my favorite) the theater. However, I realized in this short invitation to my son we hadn't educated him at all on "what daddy does" or even the thrills of a stage coming to life. Granted, we are not the musical theater type family and this scales back the exposure we would give to our young children, but still I asked myself, why hadn't we taken time to create plays in the backyard?

I think when you are a professional of any sort, there is a sad pretentiousness about the less-professional performances in your field. Because I grew up with a brother who acted and directed and then married a producer/actor I haven't had much exposure to community theater. In fact, last night was the second time in my entire life I had been to a play at the Scera--a realization that came to me when it was announced that Tarzan (the play of the evening) was the theater's one-hundred-and-thirty-fifth play in twenty years. I only live ten minutes away.

We found a spot on the top of the hill, a pretty good view obstructed slightly by some speakers. Anson repeatedly asked if "this is the play?" as we sat and watched the empty stage covered in vines and rocks. When it did start, Anson couldn't believe his eyes. He talked and talked and asked every question under the dusty sky, which made me also realize I hadn't taught him "theater voice."

"Why are those people dressed up like butterflies?"

"Why is that girl dressed up like a gorilla?"

"Is that a real baby, like for reals?"

We watched dancers of ranging skills move and kick and twirl and focus on light choreography. We heard singing that sometimes strayed from its intended key, but boasted a meaningful deliverance. We saw lights that sparkled and shook the stage. And we clapped and laughed along with our neighbors sitting on quilts brushing off the gnats and hand-diving for popcorn.

For me it was refreshing to see all different body types cast in the chorus. In fact, my desire for the uniformity and professionalism in high-scale theater melted away entirely. I looked forward to the big cast numbers where I could watch lots of different bodies types dance to the same song. I liked looking at costumes produced by an imagination and a tight budget. The whole production -from the actors to the audience participation- was approachable and pro-community and it made me wonder, where have I been?

By the second act Anson was sold. We cuddled up in the cool June air and watch the play spark and die. Before the last line was delivered and Tarzan had swung on the vine across the stage for the last time, Anson turned to me and said, "I love spending time with you Mommy," and he gave me the most passionate kiss right on my lips.

And when we walked back to our car with the quilt in my one hand and Anson's hand in the other, he looked up in the sky and saw his first shooting star.

That's the thrill of the theater, how it turns life into something spectacular.

Welcome to the magic my boy!

Thanks to the talented and fabulously fun McKeon sisters for the tickets (Jacqueline, Camille and Gabby)! You'll be in my heart alwaaaaays...

Do you want to go? Tarzan runs until the 22nd. See here for details.


Christine said...

Even though some stage moms give the rest of a bad name, I'm happy to be one too! My daughter has a vision problem with anything close up (think reading, computers, homework) and struggled in school until we figured out what it was. Taking musical theater classes in Centerville really has done wonders for her, and come to find out, she has TALENT. I am so grateful for community theater.

P.S. Come see Fiddler on the Roof at Centerpoint. :)

Pol said...

I’m really surprised that you’ve never been to community (amateur?) theatre before. I love professional theatre – every spare penny we have goes towards trips to London; to the Globe or the National or one of the West End theatres. Every year we go to Stratford for the RSC. And we are lucky to have absolutely brilliant theatres in nearby Manchester and Liverpool.
But I get just as much pleasure from local and amateur theatre, from watching friends perform (my dear friend Jude was a stunning Rita a few years ago – she won awards for it.) If nothing else - it means that I can see more and different drama because we can afford a few pounds for a local company when we can’t stretch to the professional show.
And of course there is the joy of taking part ourselves in plays and musicals at Church .A couple of years ago I did some training with the RSC on Shakespeare for young children (I teach 5 year olds.) The actor leading the sessions pointed out that it’s a play. Children enjoy playing. Adults love to play. It’s shame to let the professionals have all the fun playing!

Angela said...

I love community theatre! When I was in college in Austin I went all the time--I loved watching my theatre major friends in all of their productions around town.

And I'm officially jealous of your "cool June air." We've got 95 degrees and enough humidity to make you sweat when you look out the window here in San Antonio.

Treble Clef ♪ said...

Perfect venue to take a five year old for his first theatre experience. Less restrictive and formal. And many musicals are the best choices for children. Did you by chance see your brother's "Kiss Me Kate" at that same venue 6 summers ago? My Caitlyn was in the cast and that is where I first 'formally' met your brother. (He is one of my directing idols.) Cait loved working with him and the show was fun. Get Anson involved in those "backyard plays!" I started doing them at his age on my big front porch:) Theatre was my first love.

MamaHintze said...

And your brother is a director--it's in Anson's blood. We recently saw Ragtime at HTC in WVC. Christopher Clark works magic in the round. Go see it!

Marnie said...

Community (and amateur) theatre is life-affirming. Even when you know the cast have gotten through it on sheer enthusiasm alone (in lieu of skill). No matter how bad the singing or how mature the "young" leads actually are, it's just infectious. It's joyous. Especially when it's unpaid, because you know the performers are there because they love it. My parents always took us to see local theatre and were involved themselves right through my childhood. Long live amateur and community theatre!

JackandFlip said...

I can't see an email to send this privately but...there is an unbelievably incredible witness about being mormon on a blog I am really familiar with. In private discussion the author (Loralee) stated that in one case she started bawling all over you right after introducing herself to you at a conference in salt lake city because she was supposed to speak on a panel with (one of you?) and she broke under the feeling of feeling inferior to you and your sister in times of trial as she left mormonism (She is back in a...huge, huge...i can't even know what to think of it way). What I am wondering is...this story is something I really want to believe so much and I am intrigued by Mormonism but...can you confirm that bit that she stated to me? (It was not published online) Here is the addressed to the last part of the story...she has a link that takes you through it all.

Tamsin North said...

I have such a tender spot in my heart for community theatre. The End.

Jenn S. said...

Court! I love that you know my cute cousins! Aren't they the best? I'm so glad you got to see them perform - I'm too close to delivery to have traveled up there and I was so bummed to miss it. I shall live vicariously through your blog post! xoxo