The other day, I was thinking about the highs and lows of the recent production of Sister Act: The Musical that I was in (I was Sister Mary Patrick and I was fabulous) and how I wasn’t bright enough to write any of it down in my journal.
See, the thing is, between auditions for that show and the beginning of rehearsals, my BFF Jill died. And it sucked. And I stopped writing in my journal entirely and I didn’t want to go to rehearsals and I very much considered dropping the show completely. Cooler heads prevailed and I stayed in the show and I’m glad I did, but all those fun, quirky little things that happened during rehearsals that I would love to remember are gone now, lost to the holey memory fog of grief.
I’m still not ready to open up my journal and get back to it; it was a brand new, totally awesome notebook and I’m furious that Jill died only a few pages in, but even those few pages I did write were written by a person who used to be me. I’m still in that phase of trying to figure out who I am now, so there’s no point in ruining another notebook with a false start.
But then I was like, hey. You have a blog. And people who’ve never been in a show might really enjoy reading about what it’s like. And people who have been in shows might be interested in seeing what it’s like at my theater.
So, I’m gonna dump all my theater stuff here. With a few caveats. Unless otherwise noted, I’m not using the real names of any performers or staff or crew. And I’m not going to put a lot of juicy gossip or anything like that in here; I’m generally peripheral to off-stage drama. I’m the person people come to when they want to vent about someone else, and I don’t want anyone to worry that I’m going to put it on the blog. But I will talk about how I feel about things realistically and mention, you know. Appropriate stuff to mention.
Last night was the first cast meeting. You know how I just said I’m not going to say negative stuff? I’ll say negative stuff about cast meetings. I don’t care what theater I’m at, I loathe the cast meeting and I refuse to make it a secret. I especially loathe cast meetings that include a script read-through because a) we will be reading the damn script every night for like six weeks and b) let’s just get into it, I’m ready to go. Luckily, last night’s meeting didn’t have a read-through. It was the standard Center Stage Theater welcome night, where things get explained to newcomers and reiterated for people who’ve been there a while. We cover stuff like how nobody is allowed to be a dick, we’re a queer and disabled safe-space and your ass will get booted if you don’t respect that (not in those exact words, of course), and various fundraising and ticket-selling opportunities we’re doing to publicize the show.
I hate meetings sooooooooooo much. Generally, I take it as an opportunity to get some crochet time and zone out. That’s not to say I don’t care about my friends on all the various committees who speak at the meeting and put in some hard work, but the noise and fidgeting and heat and closeness of about two-hundred people crammed into a church basement is sensory hell. I don’t think anyone faults me for having a total shut down to cope.
Why are there so many people? Because CST casts every person who tries out, so long as they’re over six years old. It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or neurodivergent, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never done theater before, it doesn’t matter if you’re 100 years old and someone needs to remind you that you’re currently on stage in a play, Mabel. If you audition, you’re in. We will find a way to put you on stage if you want to be there (and you’re willing to put in the time and effort).
One-hundred and eighty people auditioned for this show. As of last night, we had a total cast of like a hundred and twenty-eight. Some of those people are kids who have parents and guardians so. You know. It was crowded, and I knew that it would be going in and everything turned out fine if exhausting from an over-stimulation point of view. I’m not sure what size cast we’ll actually end up with; I know at least one person dropped after last night’s meeting because they hadn’t realized what an enormous time commitment it was going to be.
People drop for all sorts of reasons. Some of the original one-hundred-eighty couldn’t be cast due to conflicts late in the rehearsal schedule. Some had their hearts set only on one particular role and asked not to be cast in anything else. Some maybe saw the cast list and were unhappy with it. One teen I know and have worked with several times dropped not because of anything to do with the cast list or the production but because she’d been doing back-to-back-to-back shows since our production of Moana Jr. back in October and, despite getting a named role with featured solos, she’s just too exhausted to tackle something as big as Beauty and the Beast as her fourth consecutive show (her last one closed on this past Sunday, the day before our rehearsals start).
There are so many reasons that people fall away from a cast between the posting of the list and the first rehearsal, but there’s also a bittersweet, psychological component some performers can’t get past: what if you’ve always dreamed of playing a particular role, finally got your chance to audition for it, but ultimately have to watch from the ensemble as someone else lives out your dream? For some people, that’s not a hurdle they can get past.
Performers get a bad rep for being divas or egotistical, especially in local theaters. And I’m not going to pretend some people aren’t divas or egotistical. But other times, loss of interest in a production when one doesn’t get the role they wanted is simply a matter of disappointment that has to be nursed from afar. In a town as small as Kalamazoo, big, splashy musicals bring out lots of talent (and it doesn’t help that there are two colleges with notable performing arts programs located right in the heart of the city), but you might only have one chance in your entire lifetime to reach for the bucket-list role you covet. Most theaters operate on a ten-year-plus wait time between repeating shows, and some simply don’t get repeated. My first role at the Kalamazoo Civic Theater was in a production of Rags back in the 1990s, and I’ve never heard of another local theater doing it ever again. Missing out on a local community theater role really can feel like closing the door on your dreams, because you never know if you’ll get the chance again, or, if that chance comes, if you’ll still be the right fit for the role.
One actress, disappointed with the casting of Beauty and the Beast, confided in me that she couldn’t find it in herself to congratulate the person who ultimately won the role that she’d had her heart set on since the season was announced. “Does that make me a bad person?”
I don’t think it does. Maybe if that actress holds onto that grudge for ten years, it would. Maybe if she treated the person differently from here on out, being cold and snide and terrible about it? Sure. But being unable to be hyped-up and happy for someone who got the thing you wanted immediately after they got it and you lost it? To me, that’s understandable.
What I don’t understand are the people who do act shitty toward folks who get bigger parts. A few years back, I went into a first cast meeting and greeted someone I considered a theater friend. She turned away, pointedly and obviously starting a conversation with someone else to drive home the point that she was ignoring me. We’d both been called back for the role that I got, and though later she apologized for her actions and I told her I understood… I kinda don’t. It wasn’t my call, it was the director’s, and there was no need for the nastiness.
Another time, an actor who’d had the lead in the previous show was upset to be given a featured, but not lead, role in the next. He accepted it, then for several weeks either turned up to rehearsal in a terrible mood, refused to expend any effort in the rehearsal process, or just didn’t bother to show up at all. After a few no-call/no-shows, his part was recast and he went on to bad mouth that theater to anyone who would listen. He hasn’t been back and frankly… good riddance? Nobody needs that kind of attitude and negativity around. Which is one of the things I really, really like about my current theater: everybody puts on their big kid underoos and gets to work, and the people who don’t like a positive atmosphere tend to drift away.
There have been many a company meeting that I’ve attended, holding back a chest-burster of disappointment and tears because the finality of how everything shook out finally hit (being called back for, but not being cast as, Maria in The Sound of Music was all-time emotional theater low for me and I almost did quit that cast at the first company meeting). Last night wasn’t one of them, though I was pretty bummed to lose out on Le Fou, the role I received a callback for. I knew I was a longshot because, hey, AFAB and turning forty-two on the second weekend of performances, so while not getting the role stung a little bit for a couple days, I’m perfectly happy being Milkmaid in the opening number, “Belle.” I get to say a “Bonjour,” so what else can you ask for?
Plus, I gotta be honest, it was about time for me to be in the ensemble, just for fairness sake. In the past four shows, I’ve had featured roles: the above mentioned Sister Mary Patrick; Hunyak in Chicago; the Emerald City Guard in The Wizard of Oz; Mrs. Gloop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It was starting to feel a little uncomfortable and greedy on my part.
My kid gets a big time to shine in this one, as well. She’s been cast as the Sausage Curl Girl in the opener, and she’s thrilled. We’ve done several shows together and, she’s quick to point out, this is the first time she’s had more lines than I do.
The first cast meeting and all the emotions that go with it is in the bag. Now the hard work starts.