The other day I was rummaging through a drawer for something-or-other and came across the enclosed photograph. Within seconds I was transported back to being a teenager for a pleasant trip down memory lane.
Throughout high school, I always worked behind-the-scenes on the school plays.
Fascinated by the workings of theatrical productions as a kid, this became one of the highlights of my high school years whether it was working on sets, organizing props and furnishings or pulling open the curtain at show time.My drama teacher Mr. Richard Snyder, who also directed and produced all of our main stage productions, was an incredible influence on me. A friend and mentor, he made a shy and insecure teenager feel appreciated and accepted and I will always be grateful to him for that.
During my senior year I was privileged to be the Assistant Director of the comedy-farce “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder. A funny little play filled with hilarious characters and circumstances, it’s about a Yonkers merchant named Mr. Vandergelder who decides it’s time to take a wife.
We had a great cast that year – filled with the regulars and a few surprises from the football and cheerleading teams. Together this mis-“matched” group of teenagers became a family. It didn’t matter what social standing we had in the hallways, we all grew to have a genuine affection and respect for each other that lasted for the remainder of the school year.
A few weeks before our first dress rehearsal, a minor character was forced to drop out of the production because of personal reasons. While on-stage only briefly, she already knew all the lines, the blocking and how to interact with the other actors in the scene. Replacing her was not ideal so close to opening night.
But there was someone else who also knew all her lines (from hearing them repeatedly); knew all her blocking; knew how to interact with the other actors on stage. That person was me.
At the encouragement of my cast mates, I filled in until a replacement could be found. Rarely did we get through the scene without everyone laughing hysterically – probably due to the fact that I often raided the wardrobe closet and emerged wearing a wig and a housedress, while performing the best “old lady” impersonation I could. But as time went on, everyone agreed that my comedic portrayal of Gertrude, Mr. Vandergelder’s old, eccentric housekeeper, was just what the play needed.
I had never acted on stage before – unless you count the time I was a dancing snowman in kindergarten. I was reluctant at first, but when I saw the enthusiasm and excitement on the faces of everyone around me I couldn’t say no. Besides, I’d be in disguise! (see photograph).
I was only in the first few minutes of the opening scene – which was good seeing as how I had other back stage tasks to tend to. When the lights came up on opening night I made my entrance with Mr. Vandergelder – happy to realize that I could only see the first few rows of the audience and nothing more. What a rush it was playing in front of a crowd and hearing their laughter after something you did or said resonated with them.
One thing I will always treasure happened as I finished my portrayal of Gertrude and made my way off stage. As I passed through the doorway, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It wasn’t the end of the scene or intermission, and yet the audience collectively was applauding my performance. Me – the fill-in for a part I was never meant to have in the first place. The other actors, who were patiently waiting backstage, were overjoyed – embracing the “old lady” no doubt proud of what we all were able to create and accomplish collectively.
That was 20 years ago now – boy does time fly. And yet I can still remember much of that experience in great detail – an enjoyable time filled with wonderful memories at an age I don’t often think of fondly. There are times when I miss the camaraderie of that experience and the bright lights of the stage. But memories and photographs always allow me to revisit the feelings and the people I had the great pleasure of working with in the past. And while the experience may be over, the impact will always be there.