When you think of hair-raising hobbies, Community Theater doesn’t readily spring to mind. Sky-diving, bungee jumping or mud wrestling, maybe, but Community Theater somehow conjures images of men in tights, more likely to elicit a chuckle than a chill. Yet, few past times require the raw guts demanded of an actor when confronting a stone-faced audience or a dictatorial director. In fact, the audition alone can be a perilous pursuit and I should know because I have the hospital bills to prove it.
I had been out of the theatrical loop for awhile and just segued back in thanks to an unexpected role as “Glinda” the Good Witch of the North. Due to a snowstorm, the pool of available blonde sopranos apparently evaporated (or froze) and I was grateful to be granted the role. In my optimistic mindset, any theater west of Manhattan is Off-Broadway and this certainly was off, off, way off, west of the turnpike suburban theater, presenting a variation of The Wizard of Oz, a semi-calypso version cleverly entitled, Oz. And for those who don’t think theater requires courage, just try and boogie to a calypso tune in an enormous fairy gown while talking in a high-pitched helium voice with a straight face and total conviction. I dare you!
After conquering Glinda I approached my next audition with confidence and enthusiasm. So much enthusiasm that I ended up in the hospital.
I had always dreamed of being in The Music Man, Meredith Wilson’s classic play about small town life in Iowa at the turn of the century. Even if I didn’t get the coveted role of Marian the Librarian I would have been happy to settle for any of the character parts just for the chance to sing and dance to the memorable musical score.
The building where the auditions were held was a charming old theater. “Charming,” I later learned, is sometimes a euphemism for “desperately in need of repair.”
After scanning the foyer for competition I felt certain I could at least count on a chorus part. The director ushered me into the theater for the audition and pointed toward the stage. I was moving purposefully forward, looking up at the proscenium when it happened — I didn’t trip, I didn’t fall, but suddenly collapsed like a marionette with the strings cut.
What had happened? I wondered as I righted myself with the speed of lightning, paying no heed to the throbbing in my foot and swelling in my ankle. As I discovered that day, humiliation is a natural pain suppressant or at least a compelling distraction from pain.
As it turned out, clumsiness was not to blame (I’m a dancer for goodness sake!). The building was not up to code, probably not even up to code when it was built a hundred years ago. There was an odd, unmarked half step in the middle of the aisle that was there for no particular purpose. Except to make me look like a buffoon. I stood there feeling awkward and misshapen — if they had been auditioning for The Hunchback of Notre Dame I would have easily won the role.
The director expressed fleeting concern, but I was already moving toward the stage. The fact that I could scarcely lift my foot up the steps should have been a warning sign, but I just continued to drag my limb, Quasimodo style, until I hit my mark and started singing. I belted out Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?, unaware that my foot had swollen to the size of a watermelon. I must have looked anything but loverly as I actually attempted the dance portion of the audition. If it had been a musical about Frankenstein I probably would have got a part.
As it was, they didn’t even offer me a mercy role. My only consolation was an anecdote from a fellow actress who informed me that she had fainted, fallen off the stage and broken her cheek during an audition. But at least they offered her a part! I didn’t even get a callback. Maybe they needed dancers who could walk.
I spent the rest of the night in the emergency room and six months in an ankle brace. I walked with a slight limp for the remainder of the year.
So if you think theater is only for fragile, artistic types, think again. As for me, I intend to take up a safer hobby, like rattlesnake wrangling.