• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Drama-Free Theater

A success at multiple levels.


April 19, 2015

Over the past few years, I have stopped auditioning for plays. I have a few trusted director and playwright friends who call me when they have a part for a gray-haired woman, but in general I stick with films, videos and improv. Plays are stressful — the pressure of having to master an entire work of art, on deadline, for a live performance, is often enough to crack even the most tranquil meditator.

There is always someone who hasn't learned their lines, throwing everyone else off and eventually causing tempers to flare. The intensity of the work can spark affairs, which tend to blow up publicly, often polarizing the cast and crew. Costumes don't fit, props are misplaced, and terrified actors throw tantrums that would put a two-year-old to shame. In addition, no matter how small your part is, and how on top of it you are, you still have to hang around and witness all of this, unlike in indie film work, where you basically come in, do your scenes, and go home. (And unlike improv, which a lot of people think would be even more terrifying, but because we are working with nothing but ourselves, the expectation is that we will screw up sometimes, and so the pressure is much less intense.)

It is a young person's game, I had decided, so when a young improviser friend invited me to be in a play she had written and planned to direct, I hesitated. She herself is delightful, but I dreaded being pulled into that vortex again. In the end I accepted without having read the script, because I wanted to support her, but I braced myself for another rough ride, starting with a probably-amateurish script.

The script turned out to be a funny and ultimately deeply moving depiction of a young woman coming to terms with her sexual orientation. I loved my part, as an over-the-top abusive boss. And I kept waiting for the offstage drama to start, but it never did. Everyone was nice. Everyone approached their parts with simplicity and straightforwardness, and told the other actors how great they were. Occasionally someone was delayed at work, or ill, and no one grumbled. The other actors simply filled in for them until they were able to come. I had a block about a key piece of business, dropping a wineglass, and kept apologizing for ruining the scene. The director and other actors assured me that if I couldn't get it, it didn't matter; it was easy to work around. (That assurance in itself allowed me to relax and just remember to drop the stupid glass. It was easy.)

Midway through the rehearsal period I came home one night, and Ben asked me how it had gone. "I honestly don't know," I told him. "It seems fine, but it's almost too smooth. Something is bound to go wrong."

On opening night, our stage manager was hospitalized with pancreatitis. No one had a meltdown or talked about it at all, except to send get-well texts. The actors and crew members took over, coordinating set changes and moving furniture. A few of the actors expressed nervousness, but no one made a production out of it.

And the play was terrific — sweet, funny, and cumulatively powerful. The audience was with us all the way. The most common audience response was, "I loved watching you; you all were having so much fun up there!" And we were.

We closed last night. I am tired and ready to get back to my regular hours, but I will miss it, both the wonderful people and the sweet simplicity of the work. I have been  thinking about other projects I have been, and am currently, engaged with, and wondering whether they are more difficult and stressful than they need to be.

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Susan O'Doherty

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