As the lights dimmed we gathered behind the large black curtain and waited for our cue. When the lights returned, we waited some more. Across the stage, Jon Bristol, the visionary behind the Elmwood Productions phenomenon, moved into his place behind the large “desk” that would mask the puppeteer. Then those of us stage-left walked to our positions and stood at our markers. Laughter emanated from the audience witnessing our ragtag merry band on stage as the music started.
From my vantage point I could no longer see faces in the audience due to the overhead lights which might have been advantageous if I suffered from stage fright but as I didn’t, I merely made a mental note of it. I stood at my post behind the desk next to the talented Caitlin Barra and Meric Martin and remembered in my head my first line and the cue that would precede it. I was participating in a ten minute one-act play on the Warner Theatre’s Nancy Marine Studio stage, and it was my second foray into world of acting from an actor’s perspective.
This surprise adventure started when Sharon Wilcox. production manager of the Warner Theatre, posted a casting call on social media for actors for an Artist and Playwright festival. I reached out and advised I had acted in one production for Keith Paul of the Desultory Theatre Club but if there was a part that fit and it didn’t conflict with the rehearsal schedule I’d already committed to for 12 Angry Jurors, I was game. As it turned out the piece they were casting for did have an open role and the one act was to be directed by Keith Paul himself. The play was a riff on a 1950’s style game show and I’d be one of three panelists who come up against three “contestants”, one of whom might be the Grim Reaper.
Keith Paul was wearing many hats for the festival; he was an actor in one play and the director of three other plays, one of which was mine. With his plate full, I wanted to make extra sure that the last thing he’d have to worry about was my performance. I studied the part and said it aloud and then wrote down the lines as a mnemonic device.
I was lucky to be working with such an amazing group of actors for this short play. Jon Bristol creates fantastic work with the Elmwood Productions. His company is wrapping up filming of a feature length puppet horror film called HEAD and then will be filming a puppet web series that I really think is going to take off. I’ll be writing about that show before it airs. Jon’s performance would be behind a table. He had a separate rehearsal with the director to get the particulars of the role and of the staging right. Jon’s puppet character was “Art”, the host of the show.
In the cast playing the part of “Sandy”, a panelist, was Caitlin Barra, an exceptional talent whom I had the opportunity to see at the Landmark Theatre in Thomaston. She ran tech for The Game’s Afoot, choreographed South Pacific and acted and danced in Mary Poppins and Buddy Holly, all shows I wrote about in this blog, so it was wonderful to meet her in person. Throughout rehearsal she never missed a beat or her lines and she delivered them with humor and style.
The third panelist was played by Meric Martin who, like Jon, had rehearsed separately. His character had the duty of asking a series of questions in the skit and then setting up the lines that my character would give so we were lucky to have a professional of his caliber to carry that work.
The three contestant “Grim Reapers” were played by Jack Bourque, creative mind behind the NC-Cubed improv group based in Winsted, Amber Mason, an impressive actress whose dramatic work on another one-act play she performed directly after this ensemble piece was outstanding and Deborah Goodman-Forish who worked with the Phoenix Stage Company among many other local theaters. Cole Sutton, a wonderful actor who recently starred in Reefer Madness has a surprise role in the production as well.
I was the “novice” but I resolved to be punctual, professional and prepared. There was a tech rehearsal where we prepared where we would stand and they worked on sound and lights. There were seven of us on stage at one time, three behind the table, three in the chairs and one puppet behind the podium. There was no need for any choreography for the panelists but the potential “Grim Reaper contestants” had their share of movement so they rehearsed it on stage. I’m glad that we had that time because the very first time we ran it, I took extra three seconds before saying my first line and I knew that for the actual show, I’d have to time it better.
At 3:00pm the Festival began with a great crowd in attendance. I didn’t know how many people would turn up for the show and part of me wondered whether it would be easier to perform for a smaller crowd or a large one but as I stood there waiting to go on stage I was happy there was a substantial audience. We were the fourth one-act to go on so we rehearsed in the dressing room one more time before we were called out to get ready.
Out of all the times we had said our lines together in rehearsals I believe our very best performance of the one-act was during the actual festival show. When there’s an audience laughing, that makes the comedy work. Our group returned on stage for our bow before going around the back and joining the audience so we could see the rest of the festival one-acts. I’m grateful to Sharon Wilcox, Keith Paul and the Warner Theatre for the opportunity to act in the festival, to the professional cast who helped to carry my performance and most importantly to the audience for showing up, giving the idea of the festival and the performances meaning, purpose and value.
Nearly the full cast during rehearsal (missing Meric Martin)