Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thirty Minutes of Wonderful: My Northern Steel Magnolias

I was in my first theatrical production--it involved the children's choir of the First United Methodist Church of Gadsden, Alabama--when I was six. By the time I was ten, I had moved on to the local community theater. I have dabbled ever since.

Okay, "dabbled" isn't the right word. "Dabbled" implies that I did it casually or on occasion which while true for some years, doesn't even begin to cover most. I have done costume design and worked box office and built sets and served on the production committee and directed and choreographed and been on the board of directors and stage managedan. All of it. Sometimes more that one of those things at a time. But mostly, I've performed.

When I moved to New Jersey in 2005, I was coming off a period of four straight years where I had been involved, usually on stage, with community theater productions. And it's not like I told myself I was going to take a break. It just sort of happened. For one thing, having worked almost exclusively with various theaters within a thirty mile radius of my hometown, I guess I was shy. Even though I'm really not. It was the idea of, at the age of thirty, suddenly being....well, without a net. It was so strange--the idea of walking into an audition where I didn't know a director or musical director or choreographer or even another actor auditioning--that I just left it alone.

And then two years ago, almost exactly two years ago, in fact, I went to see my friend, Allison, in her show that was going out on tour. She had been cast in an Equity children's show which was going to tour the west coast and their first show as they made their way west was going to be at the local community college. Of course, I couldn't miss this, so on Valentine's Day afternoon, I, along with about 200 mothers and preschoolers, filed into a theater to watch If You Give a Pig a Pancake. But fate being what it is, I was also handed a brochure that outlined all of the OTHER shows--community and college--that were being performed. And lo and behold, right there in July--Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Now, to be honest, it's not, when taken purely on its own merits, one of my favorites, but I must admit that the one time I had done it was one of my favorite experiences. And for that reason alone, it will always hold a special place in my heart. And so, with sweaty palms and a hammering heart I waited until the auditions were officially announced and scheduled one. And the rest is history. I loved it. I met some REALLY great people. And I was once again in the whirl of the community theater world.

Which brings me to now. Now, I am preparing to play Shelby in Steel Magnolias. It's my fifth New Jersey show. And I have loved them all. But I can't help but think that THIS show is going to be one of those--like the original Joseph, and the first time I did Godspell, and Little Women--that I will hold dearly in my heart forever.

I'm pretty sure that part of it is that I am so far from the world it portrays. And that for a few hours a few times a week, I can imagine that I am immersed in the gentle rhythms and molasses in January pace of a small, southern town again. Or maybe it's that, more than any other show I've ever done, I GET this one. I grew up--and I mean from the time I first sat in a beautician's chair until the day I moved away--getting my hair done at a place where I knew everybody. Where the lady (and she was and is a lady in the truest sense of the word) who cut and styled and washed was a FRIEND. She had known my mother before I was born. Her kids were in my mother's class when they were in third grade. And she always had the best, the most entertaining, the absolute most intriguing stories of what was happening in town. The grand dames of the play--Ouiser and Clairee--my great-aunts and the ladies at my church. I am pretty sure that given the chance, my dad and brother would LOVE to strap firecrackers to a bow and arrow and shoot it into the trees. And then there's M'Lynn and Shelby. Ok, so I don't have diabetes. But that relationship--there are so many little things that come so easily because I can see my mother and I having, if not that exact conversation, then something eerily similar. And Shelby herself--the pink, the sorority, the slightly snarky side that made her FIRST notice Jackson because of his non-existent dancing prowess--I just get her.

I am the resident expert on pronunciation--"oil" and "syrup" and "New Orleans" and "Karo". Knowing that it's not "cola" or "Coca-cola" but most definitely "co-cola". I don't even question that Clairee is obsessed with football. OF COURSE Ouiser grows tomatoes--didn't my own grandmother do the same every summer?

And the ladies in the show with me...oh, I must use southern superlatives--the cutest, most precious, loveliest, sweetest ladies you could imagine. And so, for a couple of months, I am in sweet home Alabama. Ok, Louisiana, but close enough.


Ally said...

I am so glad to have played a small part and I can't wait to see you in this show! I'm tickled pink!


I just wanted to say that I thought y (and the rest of the cast) were terrific last wknd! I saw the opening night performance and while I couldn't stay to to tell y so directly (nor to meet y formally, for that matter) I just had to let y know regardless. Hopefully we can meet one day soon. Break a leg this wknd!!

~ William