What Community Theatre Unknowingly Gave to Me

The Music Man — Cullman Community Theatre

The Music Man — Cullman Community Theatre

  • Timothy Fitzgerald

I am a devoted advocate of community theatre and have been for more than 40 years. Admittedly, I always wanted to become a professional and do theatre full time, but the cards never seemed to be in my favor. Between bad timing, injury and financial obligations, I am what I am…a community theatre performer and director and proud of it.

When people ask me why I am not doing this professionally, it makes me happy that they feel like I have the talent to do this on a higher level. The truth is I put my whole fiber and being into all that I do in community theatre. I strive for the most professional performance I can give to an audience. Anything less from me is not acceptable on a personal level.

When I was about 40, I decided I needed to know if I could make it on a professional level. I wanted to be able to tell myself I tried and years from then would have no regrets. So, I went to New York City, the BIG Apple, to audition for a professional touring company of a show. To say I was nervous was an understatement, but I knew I had to give it my all if I was going to have any chance at all.

I got to the audition site and, no lie, there had to have been close to 300 people in this small room, all of whom were there to throw their hat in the ring as well. I signed in and found a corner of the room to plant myself. Most of these folks knew each other from working together in the past or from previous auditions. Here I was, the new guy in the corner, surrounded by a multitude of experience professional performers. All I could think was don’t be intimidated. You have a purpose for being here, and you need to focus.

It was a very long day, and by 3:00 pm in the afternoon, we were all informed that they ran behind and folks for the rest of the time were limited to 8 bars of vocals. I had done my research and prepared 16 bars of music and suddenly began to panic. I threw my music open and made a quick decision on where I would be able, to begin with only 8 bars to sing. Next thing I knew, they were calling my number, and I was convinced that I would be able to sing and take the long train ride home to Rhode Island kicking myself.

I entered the room where there was the audition accompanist, the director and two other people at the audition table. Accordingly, I gave my music to the accompanist indicating my 8 bars, introduced myself to the panel and the piece I would be singing. The music started, and I sang and before I knew it. It was done. I thanked the group, got my music and proceeded to leave the room. I was not expecting what happened next.

The director asked me if I could wait a moment and then after some discussion with the panel, he asked me if I could come to a callback the following week. I think I left my body as I felt like this was a dream sequence but quickly came back to reality. I said I could, and they directed me to pick up a side out the front desk along with details for the callback. Leaving the room in a state of disbelief, one guy that I talked to in the waiting area asked me how it went. He was so happy for me when I told him and wished me the best.

When I left the building, I had this feeling of euphoria from my accomplishment. Even if I didn’t get cast, I got a callback on my first time out.

A week later, I came back and was advised that they would begin with the dance audition. OK, folks, I was not a dancer…more of a mover. But here we go. They taught us the audition piece, and I knew this was beyond what I could do with my dance experience. We were then put into groups of six and put us to task. By the time my group came up, which was last, there were only two people left. I was asked if I wanted to have others join us in our small group, to which I responded, “No, that’s OK. Let’s do this.” I danced, and it was over. I prepared to gather my belongings and head back home.

The director’s assistant began to announce the numbers of the people who would continue in the process. They finished, and to my complete shock and surprise, I made it through the dance audition to the next round! I remember looking to heaven and thinking, “Is this some sort of cosmic joke?” But it wasn’t. I was moving on to the singing round.

I made it through two more cuts of singing, and I was done. I gathered my stuff and, on the way, out the door, I thanked the director, and he took the time to tell me something that changed my life. He told me he knew this was my first professional audition and I should be proud of what I accomplished. He then proceeded to tell me that I should not give up even though I didn’t get chosen for this show. “You have what it takes,” he said.

I realized on the way home that I got the validation I had been looking for all those years. All those years in community theatre and all the shows had given me what I needed. I could do this at the professional level. I didn’t need anything more.

And I continue performing to this day in community theatre, appreciating every opportunity to be on the boards doing what I love to do, thanks to community theatre.

Do you have a special story to share of your journey in theatre? I would love to hear it, so please, share the love.