In the year 1972, for the first time in my life I found myself immersed in theater, both as an acting student and two as an actor in the Traveling Theater of Rockland county. Admittedly I was a shy boy of 15 years old and had never had an experience where out of necessity to survive the traveling group, I was literally shaken out of my shell. I remember thinking about the joy I felt when the audiences laughed or applauded, as well as the young ladies who were enamored by who they perceived me to be. Pretty powerful stuff for a 15 year old.
My mentor in Summer Theater was a dynamic, eccentric woman named Jane Hunt, who enjoyed being referred to as Gramma Jane. Gramma Jane was the director of the Summer Happening Theater program and every for five years we would end the summer by putting on her show. Jane's son Richard became a main Muppeteer, Scooter , Sweetums, Beeker etc. The theater became a microcosm of all our lives on stage and off. I have friendships to this day that stemmed from our bonding and mutual interest in the romance of theater. We learned to sing, dance, act and relate to each other and the world around us. If it wasn't for Gramma Jane's encouragement I would have never auditioned for the Traveling Theater. The experience changed my life.
Since the summer theater I have been doing community theater for forty four years. This just doesn't happen, this has to be cultivated by trust, love of craft, respect for your fellow performers and most importantly, showing up prepared. I have found over the years that whatever you bring to the table is the deciding factor in how your personal theater experience will play out. In my case my theater family has always been there when I was in need, when I became homeless my theater friends took me in, when I had my heart attack in 2014, they brought me meals, when I needed a ride to an audition or back and forth from rehearsals my theater friends were there. I don't think I could I have recovered if I didn't have the one constant in my life, the theater.
If you have the bug, go for it, don't let anyone talk you out of being the creative human being that you are. I call it my glorious burden, the need to perform, in my case make people laugh, cry or cheer, and have the means to express that need. When you realize on that Sunday matinee, the people who you have touched, and want to thank you personally, from the young to the elderly, it's their lives you have changed for the two and a half hours they watched your show. There is no better way to give back to people than to give the best performance you can give.
Don't be afraid to take command and change a persons life through performance. If you want longevity, be generous and kind, if you have the tendency to be a diva and not get along with your fellow performers, your career will be short and sweet. It's a small world in the theater and word does get around, as a director reminded the cast, directors do talk to each other. So don't worry if your too old, or too young for the role you want, just trust the casting call and know you will be right for what ever role you get. The joy is in the work not in the size of the role you are cast in.
This community you share if you immerse yourself with all your heart, will enrich your soul, make you life long friends, open many doors on stage and in your personal and professional lives as well. Take that acting, scene study or improv class, find yourself, improve yourself, and give back through your performances the love you have share with your audience.
Photo: Lab! Theatre and Kenan Production Company