This past August, I found myself on a middle school stage, auditioning for my first play since 2008. The play was “Harvey,” by Mary Chase, and I still couldn’t quite tell you what had made me decide to audition. I had found out about the Prior Lake Players community theater organization through work. The Players had donated proceeds to our food shelf the previous season. I was familiar with the play – well, not just familiar, I adored both the film and stage versions. It’s tough to beat a Jimmy Stewart movie, and the character of Elwood Dowd was one of my favorites.
Anyway, I auditioned. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t have any particular stakes. If I got in, great! If not, it’s not like I had lost anything. I hoped I would get in of course, but wasn’t pinning any big dreams on it.
Then I left the country on vacation for a couple of weeks. I got the email saying that I was being offered the part of Nurse Kelly while I was in Norway. And just like that, it was the biggest deal in the world to me! I accepted the part right away. I was so nervous and excited. I hadn’t been in a play in almost a decade, and the last part I had played was a pie server in Beauty and the Beast. I mean the actual utensil, not someone who served pies. That had been in community theater back in college. I had never had this large of a part or this many lines! I had an actual character! With a personality!
Right after Labor Day, rehearsals started. We all stumbled through our lines, literally stumbled through blocking the movements on stage, and introduced ourselves to our fellow cast members.
The community created around a show is an odd thing. You are thrown together with this group of people, with no say in who your fellow cast members will be. Sometimes cast members know each other, but I had never met any of them before. And it starts of very professionally. You show up, you run the scene, you work out the bugs. Slowly, you might start to have side conversations when you’re not on. You find out what people do for a living, what their theater experience has been, which musicals they love and hate. It’s a group of theater lovers. Musicals come up a lot.
Then, you start rehearsing with the set, and with props, and pieces of costumes. It starts to take shape. And you are truly in this world belonging exclusively to the cast and crew. You sit around together in between scenes or when the directors are arguing over a bit of blocking. You might have things in common with your cast mates, you might not. But you find out you like each other. In this weird little world all your own, you become family. You joke and laugh hysterically at things no one else would find funny. You become a family.
I have never experienced anything else like the community one finds in theater. These people, who a couple months ago I didn’t know at all and who I hadn’t specifically chosen to spend time with, are now dear friends. They are hilarious and odd and wildly goofy. I have no idea if I will keep up contact with them once this show is over. People tend to go their own way. I’m sure we’ll check in on Facebook now and then. I hope for more concrete friendships though, with at least a few. My female costars especially. Girl friends are frightfully important, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never have too many.
Community theater is a funny thing. We spend hours upon hours of our lives for weeks rehearsing for a show. We do not get paid. We do not perform before enormous audiences. We do not get famous. We are all there simply because we love it. A shared love for theater. Yeah. That’s more than enough to build a community on.