I want to talk for a second about theater and my experience.
I was never particularly sporty as a kid. I guess you could say I was a performer. We already know I was a story teller searching for her outlet. I did dance sporadically as a child. Nothing really stuck. I was a bright child, as everyone kept telling me, and expectations were high. World. Oyster. Blah blah blah. I didn’t make friends easily, apparently I’m a lot to digest, and I moved schools a few times in my academic development.
One school I went to offered an advanced learning program for senior primary school students. There was a test you had to pass to get in. I did it. And I didn’t. I looked at the ones who did manage to get in to the class and noticed that they all had extra curriculars under their belt. In hindsight I don’t test very well. I know now that my massive amounts of anxiety on the day of the test probably contributed to my failing the test. It is important to note that vomiting before, after and during a test due to pend up nerves probably won’t help you succeed or concentrate. But as a ten year old I believed that the highest contributing factor to my failing the test was what they had and i did not; extra curricular activities. I never enjoyed clubs and if I am being perfectly honest I still don’t work well with others but at the time I managed to sway towards doing something in the realms of an activity.
I joined chess club one lunch time. Hated it. I don’t like losing and I wasn’t very good. Then I’m not sure how it happened but my mother got me into doing short courses in drama with her drama teacher from high school. She told me about how this woman had influenced her and about her own experiences of doing plays and musicals in high school, i rolled my eyes and dismissed her, as most children tend to do. When I become a fully fledged “grown up” and i recount my time doing theater in school I do hope my children are a little more sensitive or at least attentive than i was at that age. Just as I hope that these essays don’t bore those who read them to tears and that you all take something away from what I am about to say about something that ended up changing my life.
So I started doing these courses on weekends. Script writing, camera technique, editing, recording, voice projection (like i ever needed it, i think I would have benefited more in learning how to use my indoor voice) and improvisation. i learned how to read a script and work with others, how to talk and stay on topic, how to stand up straight and think on my feet. All the things that doing drama as a child teach you. Including how to play space jump for hours. Those early days of drama classes were all theater sports, improv, improv and more improv. I suppose the other kids didn’t have much interest or patience but I wished we could focus more on learning about scripts and the craft in a way that mattered. This and public speaking lessons in school gave me more confidence. I still get awful stage fright though. Probably more than before because now I actually care.
I wrote my first script in school. My sister and I were always putting on little performances at home combining our interest in singing with my background of failed attempts at dance classes. So when I wrote my little play I wanted to perform it right away, i showed my teacher who allowed me to gather some other students at lunch time to rehearse, outside, which we could have done anyway without my teacher’s support. I’m not sure how it even happened but I do know that in the end we (a group of about a dozen 10/11 year olds) put on our little play in front of the rest of the grade, in the assembly hall, with my parents and teacher present. I look back and wonder how it happened at all, why they even let us put it on, or how they sat through it. It bothers me now that my first and only play was so random and not very good. It was drama and it starred a young female reporter who inherited a house which was home to an evil ghost which she had to banish at the end. It’s a strange memory. I even named the lead after a student teacher our class had had temporarily the year before because i had admired her for being so young and pretty and relatable. In my primary school year book we all had a little biography written about our interested and what we wanted to be when we grew up mine read something about becoming a director of theater.
When I moved to high school i knew no body. I attempted to join a drama class in a nearby town but I was shy and didn’t like to join a group with so many existing friendships. For my thirteenth birthday I received a small video camera from my parents which i had always wanted and believed I would do great things with. i found the tapes years later. There was lots of footage of me and my friends playing around or dancing at sleep overs and talking about boys they liked, disappointing to say the least. I wish my younger self had tried a little harder. I remember writing down some notes for a short video series idea I had. If i had known that things like that were possible maybe I would have filmed a bit of it but YouTube didn’t even exist before that same year (and wouldn’t feature in my world for a couple more years) so there was a feeling that there was no point unless it was a feature length idea.
In year 8 we finally began doing Drama as a school subject. I was excited and one of the only students in the class with any experience. We ended up playing more theater games and learning to juggle. My entire high school experience up until this point could be described in the same way i would describe this drama class. I found it underwhelming and under-stimulating, especially as I lack the coordination for juggling. I moved schools half way through year 8 to a school with an accelerated learning program and a much more promising theater studies curriculum.
It was an anxiety riddled environment going into a class of people who were already familiar with one another, most of whom had been friends since childhood. I was the misfit and my confidence began to deteriorate. The Drama class was great although I didn’t try as hard as I might have done due to fear of embarrassment. These kids were quirky and worldly and much more experienced than I was. I tried to stay out of the improv games because I was so intimidated but I much preferred the group activities where we wrote and performed. We sat in on a small performance by the upperclassmen, I was enthusiastic and optimistic about what we would learn in the following years and how I could continue to study the craft for the rest of my life. The school hadn’t put on a show in a few years and that year they decided to revive it’s annual production.
Back to the 80s. We had an amazing music department at my school and most of those who auditioned were from there. A few of us from the drama department decided we wanted to be involved even though we weren’t singers, we volunteered and were assigned to costuming. The costume closet was a bit of a mess and we spent a lot of time just trying to catalog what we had. It got me out of class and I was making friends so I was happy. It was an easy show to start my theater career with because all the costumes just had to fit into the 80s theme.
Weeks went by and eventually we had finished our job and were helping to bump in to the theater. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been backstage before and I still remember to this day what it was like to walk in. The organized chaos was thrilling. Everyone fed off one another. The energy is contagious. There were three of us who had worked on costuming and my two friends were soon reassigned. One to filming the show and the other to follow spot which I had gotten out of due to my fear of heights. I was left standing in the wings surrounded by props and set pieces when the director (who was also narrating the show) handed me a list and asked me to take charge of the set changes.
I was terrified but still optimistic especially as I became infected with the enthusiasm of my peers, so I stepped up. I read the script I borrowed from my best friend at the time (also starring in the show) and I memorized the changes in a couple of hours. I learnt by doing. That was my first experience as an ASM (assist stage manager). I admired everyone’s roles and quickly got to know what everybody was responsible for. By the end of the opening performance I had decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. During the second show I made my first mistake, I got cocky. I had memorized the changes but accidentally got ahead of myself and skipped a scene in my head therefore putting out the props for the next scene. I hated myself. I burst into tears when i realized. I expected to lose my job and everyone to hate me too. Luckily it was time for intermission and all my new friends gathered around me and reassured me. When the show closed after two nights we all went out for pizza and sat around singing show tunes until the early hours of the morning. The adrenaline coursed through us all. These were my people.
I still didn’t fit in to the mainstream but at least I knew I finally had a group, friends connected by the blood sweat and tears of a mutual passion. From then on I had somewhere to go at lunch. It changed my life. We would hang out in the music room every day at lunch and I continued to do this until our senior year when the music teacher retired and we were all herded back into the mainstream. We laughed together and cried together and fought with one another and fell in love with one another. I figured out later that every group of friends did these things but to us it seemed we had found something special. Our own little bubble.
I went on to participate in productions until I graduated. I applied to study live production, theater and events at TAFE but they consistently dodged my calls and sent me information about an acting course that I had no intention of enrolling in. I found out later all this confusion of information was due to the program only being in it’s infancy. As with most things however there was a silver lining and my close friend benefited greatly from my mis-sent enrollment information (he applied and got in). The following year after graduation I applied again to the appropriate course and got in. I moved an hour away from my family to be closer to the thing I loved.
I studied live production for a year. It’s a long and confusing story about what happened over there. One that woul do no good recounting here. It was the best of times and the worst of times. From that year and the resulting events I have developed a love/hate relationship with theater. But today, in this story, I want to write about my love. I worked on four main shows while studying, I also participated in two or three others as a part of my course work and helped bump in and out and tech for my required work experience at a local theater. I believe I gained a lot from these experiences. At the end of every show I am involved in I feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction. I also believe I learn and grow from these experiences. I quit theater when I no longer enjoyed the experience and felt more relief when I wasn’t in the theater. I wanted to hold on to that feeling I had when I first walked in to a theater and I found that I couldn’t keep my positivity and excitement if I had continued at that time. I needed a break.
I would also like to mention that over the years I volunteered at a small local theater company. Just doing stage hand work but also befriending my fellow thespians, musicians and all round creative people. It’s inspiring the kind of people you meet being involved in a small town hobby company like the one I was with. You meet, sometimes for the first time, these people who you didn’t notice before or you didn’t expect to share this passion with. Every day people banding together to doing something that makes people happy, including yourselves. You find yourself talking to people of all ages and walks of life when you participate in a production. Sometimes you find your new best friend, or enemy (unfortunately, it is competitive) or even your future spouse.
When all is said and done I do miss working in theater. I look back at my experience as a happy one. I do recommend it to anyone creative or lonely or friendly or even bored. I hope that one day my children can gain what I did. Team work, confidence, elocution, and friendship (all very important thing to learn).