Tonight I’m appearing in a play that has the largest role I’ve ever been played. They say there are no small roles, but there are certainly really big ones, and this one’s pretty big.
There is only one other actor in the play, the role of my daughter, which is being played by a lovely young woman who is actually young enough to be my daughter, only relatively recently having graduated from college.
Rehearsing with her over the last few weeks, I’ve sometimes tried to remember what it was like to be her age, what I would have thought of a woman my age. A suburban mom with a M-F 8-5, full-time job, on the PTA, who drinks a lot of wine and coffee. Who has health insurance and is hot for men over 40 (or over 50), with specialists she sees for the various problems that come from aging. I can’t even remember anyone like that when I was this girl’s age. I didn’t even see them. If I did see them, I didn’t see them the way they saw themselves, the way I see myself now, so different from her young, slim self. Me with my wrinkles and broken veins, stretch marks and bad knees and more gray hair every day. Beauty really does have to come from within as you age, as the outside gets more unpleasant to look at, ha.
I am more than those things, of course, and different than a lot of the other wine and coffee-drinking suburban moms in certain ways. I’m a writer and an actor. I hang out with a lot of weirdo creative types, being one myself. I swear a lot and sometimes make inappropriate jokes because I grew up in the 70s and my knee-jerk reaction when I open my mouth now sometimes gets me into trouble. I still haven’t fully learned to engage my brain before opening my mouth, which my Dad was always telling me to do when I was little.
But so to the show tonight, which is being held in a wine bar’s back room. It’s a good space, albeit not a theater space, and the audience will be on top of us. A friend asked me yesterday if we were ready and I said if you ask any theater person if they’re ready just prior to opening night, they’ll often say, “We need another week.” I feel about the same, and yet we’ll go and get it done. It is, after all, a staged reading. The actors will carry the scripts. It’s really a workshop for this new work – to gauge audience reaction and help the writer get some feedback on how to fine tune it before submitting it somewhere in hopes of getting it produced. But there’s a lot of stage action and bits of business, and the script has gone through changes every time we’ve read it. Tonight will actually be the first time we’ve read this version out loud. So it’s a bit nerve-wracking, and yet, strangely, I’m very ok with that. I’ve gotten that from aging as well, so that’s a good part of getting older.
A few years ago when I started to get back to doing some small amount of theater after having a baby, I started to realize that the people on the other side of the curtain – the audience – want you to succeed as much as you want to. It’s not a gladiator contest. We aren’t appearing in a reality show where some people will want us voted off. They’re friends and family of the people involved with the production, and patrons of the arts who actually like to go see things like this and be supportive. They’re pulling for us. They want us to entertain them. And especially with a staged reading, they will forgive us if it’s not perfect. It’s helped manage what used to be a crippling stage fright. I enjoy doing this, and people want to enjoy seeing it. So we try to make that happen.
The years I’ve spent now doing the Dark Room almost every month have helped train me for a performance like this. Each month I’m handed scripts I’ve never seen and asked to go on stage and bring them to life, with little to no preparation, often having not even had a chance to read the script through first. I’ve gotten fairly good at it, I think. At least I hope so. They keep giving me scripts when I show up and I doubt it’s to be polite, so I must be doing ok. I feel lucky I’m able to participate.
All we can do is do our best, and then work to feel good about having given that effort once the task is over. This is true for so many things. I will need to tuck that thought into my hat when I step off for the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.
I shall endeavor to do the same this evening. For the actor I share the stage with. For the writer/director. For the audience of friends and strangers. I will go big, and then go home, to pick up my son in the morning and transform into the role of Mom, which is all he knows me to be. Another role I’m lucky to play. Never-ending run on that show. The pay sucks but the benefits are amazing.
Let’s squeeze and suck the day.