I think people probably imagine that if they were “discovered” by broadway or hollywood and given a starring role to play they would be able to act without a lot of coaching or training. How hard can it be to pretend to be someone else for a while?
I got to test that theory recently when I was one of a number of local “celebrities” invited to play a cameo role in the Winnipesaukee Players production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.”
The part had one line (shouted from offstage) and required a little blocking: I drop the packages and receive a tip. It was set up in the first scene of the play in such a way that all the actor had to do was appear exhausted from climbing six flights of stairs. Exhaustion is something I’m pretty intimately familiar with, so how could I miss?
My character was identified as “Delivery Man” so I understood my motivation. I wanted to bring some spontaneity to the part so I decided not to watch the movie version lest I be biased by some other interpretation.
The Winnipesaukee Players have recently moved from a tiny storefront theater in the Weirs to the old Annalee Doll company site, a sprawling campus in Meredith. They’ve converted it into a state-of-the-art theatrical wonderland with on-site residences for actors, an outdoor amphitheater, a tented picnic area with catered meals and a sense of peace amidst nature. Of course, that “peace” is actually a cover for the non-stop action and suspense involved in the process of producing dozens of community and professional plays and a number of theatre camps each year.
Anyway, as I waited backstage for my entrance I was regaled with reassurances and stories of how previous “celebs” had handled the part. Alex Ray, famous owner of The Common Man with some prior stage experience, had gotten some big laughs. Rusty McLear, a prosperous Lakes Region developer and philanthropist, ad-libbed a line when he was handed his “tip.” He said “Thanks, I can really use this.” Those in the know enjoyed the humor. Van McLeod, the state’s eternal commissioner of cultural resources and a former theatre producer, took the role by the throat and essentially rewrote the scene during his brief time on stage.
I gulped, suddenly wishing I had watched the movie version.
I received my cue and shouted my line, “Lord and Taylor!” (Apparently that’s what I was delivering, but how should I know?) Then I stumbled onto the stage. My attempts at wheezing in exhaustion seemed a lot more like gasping in terror, but when I made my awkward exit I received just enough chuckles and applause to know I hadn’t completely bewildered the audience. Let’s just say my role was a learning experience.
What I learned is what Broadway people mean when they say, “Keep your day job.”