It was the end of summer 2016 and I was sitting in my car outside of the Yorkshire Playhouse. I was gripping the steering wheel trying to get the courage up to go inside and audition for a part for the first time in over 35 years. The last time I had been in any production I was 17, a senior in high school with a character part in the musical “No-No, Nannette!”
In high school I didn’t fit into any certain group. There was the typical groups-the jocks, the cheerleaders, the band kids, the smart kids, the popular kids, the artsy kids; I was none of them. I was tall, clumsy with two left feet- no athletic ability, awkward, a little funny but a tad bit shy until you got to know me. I couldn’t draw a stick figure so art was out and I was a strong B-C student, so no honor roll here. There wasn’t a lot of clubs or activities for kids like me. One day my choir director asked me to sing a solo, I was so nervous my voice shook and I almost passed out, but after I heard the applause from the audience, I was hooked. I started to try out for small parts in the plays and musicals and soon I found my niche.
I had been kicking around trying out for a production for about two years since my youngest had left home for college. Many times I had driven up to the front of the building and talked myself out of it. I had been to many productions the playhouse had put on over the years, but once I actually pulled up in my car, that little voice inside of my head would start, “You will never get a part, you can’t compete with those people, they are so much better than you!” I had seen the plays, I had heard a lot of the actors were theater majors in college and even the old shy girl from high school in me showed back up when I saw some of the “kids” I went to highschool with on stage, that had lead roles in plays in high school. I would sit in the car and talk myself out of it and drive up the hill to my house and lay in bed that night and think “next time”. Next time would come and it would be the same thing, audition after audition.
I’m not sure what was different about this audition, but I have my suspicions. My youngest had left for college and I was feeling a bit lost. My identity as a mother was changing. Sure I was a mother, but a long-distance mother at best. The days of having a living room full of teenage girls and teenage girl drama to listen to was gone. I used to regale the girls with my tales, ad-libbing a bit here and there for more laughs. I would change my voice to mimic the characters in my story, not realizing I was enjoying telling the story as much as the girls enjoyed hearing it. When the girls left, my audience was gone. I missed the laughter, I missed the reactions, but mostly I missed them. I needed something to fill my empty time and fill me up, so it was now or never.
The play was “The Mousetrap”, a classic whodunit by Agatha Christie, a bit of drama mixed with humor. I had looked the parts up online and found one I thought I might be able to play. At 52, the characters are limited so when I found a cranky old lady I thought “Well this sounds pretty much perfect!” The rest of the characters were either too young or the wrong sex, so I figured I had one shot and if I didn’t get the part it was the universe telling me I wasn’t supposed to do this.
I went in and Sue Curran was sitting at the table with Arazi handing out audition papers to fill out-I was happy to see a face I knew. Sue welcomed me and said she was happy to see me auditioning. I was so nervous I could barely talk, looking back now I’m sure Sue doesn’t remember that, but that’s part of the beauty of being able to act. I had no idea what to expect, but I do remember filling out the questionnaire and one of areas asked you to list any productions you had been in, the role and the year it took place. I searched my brain trying to remember the name of the characters I played in high school and the names of the productions. I looked up at the other people in the room and realized I was at least 25 years older than everyone in the room and doubt started to settle in. I wondered if it was even worth writing “Give My Regards to Broadway” in 1981, since it was apparent most of the people in the room had recent experience as I recognized them from productions I had just seen. I wondered how awkward it would be to pretend I forgot something and bolt for the door. About the same time a group of people came out into the lobby and went around the corner. They were all laughing and having a great time and started to work on a scene from the play. Something in me clicked at that very moment and I decided to forge ahead, just the thought of holding a script and reading with someone else made me excited, so I decided since I had come this far I was going to finish.
I went out on stage with my paper and handed it to the director, Mitch Roush and the assistant director, Danielle Berry-Massey. I kept pushing those thoughts aside like, “What are they thinking looking at my past experiences from 1981 and 1982, and a little church program? They are probably laughing right now wondering what I am doing here!” I swallowed hard as Mitch asked me to read the part of Mrs. Boyle, the grouchy old lady. My mouth was dry and I was a bit shaky, but I was there and I knew I had to at least try. I had looked at the script many times before coming to audition, I felt like I knew this character and I knew I could do her justice. We tried the scene several different times with several different actors but it never quite felt right. I knew in my heart I wasn’t going to get the part, and then Mitch asked me to do something I had never been asked to do before. He asked me to read the part of a male character-Paravicini. Paravicini is a snake-like weasel of a character with a fake accent, an over-the-top persona who wears lots of bling and is quite eccentric. I was thinking when I read the part how fun it would be to play it, but it was a male part. I wasn’t ready for it at all, but I thought “It’s just for fun, so go with it.” I threw out this huge fake accent and false bravado, I was overly dramatic and quite ridiculous. I remember when I was done hearing Sue say “Wow!” It made me feel good. When I left I knew I didn’t get the part of Mrs. Boyle, but I felt like I got the kinks out and I was ready to try out for a play again, it wasn’t nearly as petrifying as I thought, the people were fantastic and fun. I wanted to be a part of it in some way, it didn’t matter to me anymore. I needed to be in the theater again, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the people, the energy. The Oscar Wilde quote, “It was only in the theatre that I lived” came to me, and I knew I was home again. I was going to volunteer in any way I could, just to be back where I knew I belonged.
When I got home that afternoon my husband asked me how it went and I told him. I told him I was sure I hadn’t gotten the part, but I was so happy just to be on the stage that the rejection was worth it. That evening my cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize, it was Mitch Roush. He offered me a part in The Mousetrap-the part of Paravicini. I was shocked since Paravicini was obviously a male role, but that’s the beauty of theater, the production becomes the vision of the director and Mitch saw me as Paravicini. I didn’t hesitate one bit, I jumped at the chance. The next seven weeks were crazy busy, but out of it came a new love of the theater, new skills, new memories and best of all, new friends.
The Playhouse has become like a second home to me, a place of refuge for me when life gets a little too hectic. It’s a place where the reality of the world can slip away for just a little bit by being on a set in a different place and time, in clothes that belong to a different character and at times a mind that belongs to a different person if only for a few hours a night. If anyone has considered trying out for a production, I would highly encourage you. There is something freeing about doing what your soul is meant to do, there is a completeness about it that you can’t explain until you experience it.