Being Agatha: Sticking My Toe In The Theater World

You know that sudden urge to spring clean that you need to act on quickly or Netflix will distract? I recently had a similar impulse, but for something a bit more significant than a closet reorganization. This time it was an audition for a production at the local community theater. I’d tossed around the idea in the past, but never given it too much thought because of my work schedule and long commute.

But the email dropped into my inbox announcing open auditions, and I thought, ‘What the heck!’. I’d give it a try. I called my cousin who acts professionally, and asked her for some help with a prepared monologue. It was listed as optional, but I sure wasn’t going to show up unprepared!

As prepared as I knew how to be, I headed to the auditions one evening, just hoping I didn’t look as insecure as I felt. I knew absolutely nothing about what I was about to step into. Despite how friendly everyone was, the number of obvious theater veterans made me nervous. Hugs were exchanged, funny stories from plays of the past bantered around. I was grateful to spot at least a couple of people who just sat there and twiddled their thumbs. I wasn’t alone.

Fun little hold-the-fake-ball-and-throw-it kind of exercises helped us warm up our imaginations. I later recounted this to my actor cousin, and her response was a sarcastic “Oh, theater warmups”. After some warm ups, we took turns with cold readings of the script. I was most intrigued watching the director pick and choose who read what and how many times he had them do it. You could tell he was extremely deliberate, but had no clue as to his thought process.

But I survived. And to top it all off, I got a part! I was proud of myself for even trying, and really would have been OK with not making it. Sometimes we say it’ll be fine if something doesn’t work out, but we don’t really mean it. This was not that time. I truly was satisfied either way.

I accepted the part of Agatha in the Shelby County Community Theater production of Frankenstein.  And the hard work started off with a bang.  Two hour long rehearsals, four nights a week.  I was immediately out of commission for the months of September and October.  But it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.  An experience that taught me several thing about myself, and how I interact with those around me.

Agatha and Felix

Safety.  

“This is a safe space. A space to fail. Try something big. If it’s too much, I’ll tell you. But this is a place where we go for it: and if it’s not right, we try something different.” Clint (the director) was encouraging us to explore our characters, try things that we felt fit their personality and background.

You don’t have to look too far back through my articles to figure out that failure is a big deal to me.  To the point that sometimes just speaking up is difficult because I fear the fallout to come. Failure has the ability to paralyze me quickly.  But something about Clint was trustworthy.  I believed him, and somehow that rehearsal space became just that.  A very safe and comfortable space, because it was void of failure.

It made me ponder how I can help create that space for other people. Am I the kind of person that people trust even when facing apparent failure? Do I applaud their efforts, and encourage them to ‘just try something different’?

And do I seek those kinds of environments and relationships in my own life? I know that Jesus died for all my failures, and I can live with a confidence because of that. But I often forget that and focus on the relationships in life that let me down instead.

Self Awareness.  

Let’s jump back to those exercises that my cousin mocked with her verbal eye roll. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Feel the stress leaving your body. What do you hear in the silence? What do you feel in the room. What shadows do you see cast on the walls? The point of this routine was to get us in the rehearsal space. Know the space, and be ready to exist in this space.

Yes, I thought they were corny at first, but figured I should roll with it since I was the newbie.  But one day, my husband and I had had a stressful conversation right before rehearsal.  Typical Kala brain just mulled that stress over and over until it blew up in my head and consumed.  But I found that this type of self awareness brough my immediate reality into focus, and de-prioritized the explosion in my mind. 

Still today, when I start to walk in anxiousness, I find myself working similar exercises.  As I write, I notice the furnace kicking on and off.  The dog jumping on and off the bed upstairs.  The headlights from the passing cars.  The way my oversized fuzzy socks feel on my feet.  The give that my office chair has because I can’t figure out how to stiffen up the back.

When I pay attention to the sensory details around me, the exagerations that my brain obsesses over fade in comparison to the sensations that actually are.

Confidence.  

I’m forever grateful to my husband for pushing me to try things out of my comfort zone.  Without his support, I probably wouldn’t have this blog today, and would have missed out on so many other experiences.  He brings out those hidden talents in me. 

But this experience fostered a different kind of pride. I tried something without someone else assuring me I could do it. It was a little bit more risky because it was all on me. But now I know I can try things. I don’t always have to play it safe and fly under the radar. And it’s boosted my confidence to take more steps like this in the future- wherever life may take me.

It’s a fake baby bump…promise!

Dedication

Even a smaller production is some serious work.  It was sacrificing time at home, having to decline dinner invites, and running on a lot less sleep.  I felt constantly behind on basic things like laundry and grocery shopping.  And several times towards the end, I felt like quitting, wished I hadn’t even started.  

But I had committed to it. And it was a good lesson in sticking with things even when they are difficult.  I think we all need to be reminded that sticking to our commitments is difficult but honorable, and ultimately rewarding.

And I can’t close this chapter without mentioning the amazing people that I worked with.  If I’m being completely transparent, I was a little worried about fitting in with ‘theater people’.  My hubby had me worried after stories about the theater department people in college….and he was a choir nerd!

But I found an amazing group of 20 people from all walks of life. I loved watching the highschoolers take endless selfies for Snapchat. I was insanely jealous of the ten year old who got to leave early because he had school the next day and it was getting late. Hello….I have to get up early too! I found a Buffalo Bills fan to talk football with…which led to deeper conversations about what made her 37 year marriage so successful. I got caught up on all the latest pop music while one of the 20-somethings got ready before every performance. And I got some great book recommendations from the lady who had a different book every evening. I even found a way to get a smile out of the stage manager who has a notorious ‘bark’….but is really a softy underneath. And I felt greatly encouraged by the heartfelt thank you card from one of the leads.

Cast and Crew!

I soaked up the techniques of those who had been doing this a long time, and tried to learn as much as I possibly could. Because, yes, I definitely hope to make a return performance to the community theater stage one day in the near future.

-Agatha

Your thoughts?