Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Twenty-Three: The Sound of Music (or, The Rise of Uncle Max)

I think the year was 1997, so that would have put me at 15 years old when WCT pulled out all the stops and decided to go ahead and try our first full-scale musical in who knows how long. (The United Methodist Church in town had used to do large community musicals, but that too was before my time. This production was basically the first of its kind in Wellington in around ten years)

Now, keep in mind that we were a theatre troupe used to seeing anywhere from six to twenty people in auditions. The Sound of Music would require at least thirty, probably more. This was a pretty big risk on the part of our Board of Directors. However, it seems like big, famous musicals really bring people out in droves. Well, relatively speaking. We had enough people audition to cast the majority of the speaking roles and the nun's chorus. From there, it was simply a matter of the ladies on the board asking for favors from the men in their lives or their friends husbands, and we had a cast. A huge cast. Like, forty people or so of a cast.

We'd never dealt with that big of a cast, nor had we done a show that needed so many different locales or so large a set. We weren't all singers, either. By all rights, we probably shouldn't have been able to accomplish this show, but we didn't know that. We just worked our tails off together and did what it took to get it off the ground. (One of the highlights of the performance for many people was seeing some of the most respected men in the community run through the Memorial Auditorium with guns and Swastikas on their shoulders. Hm...reading that as I typed it, I'm actually a little weirded out by it. Why was that funny again???) Still, coming up to opening weekend (our only weekend, if I remember correctly), we had no idea what would happen. Our final dress rehearsal had lasted just about till midnight, and there were still hiccups left and right. As for an audience, we were still used to attracting 50 people and calling it a night. We knew we needed more than that to make back our cash on this one, and we'd hit the Wellington Daily News with a massive marketing campaign the week of the show (massive marketing campaign = one front-page story every day that week. Helps to live in a small town sometimes; we bumped things like "Cattle Births Steady This Year" and "Chamber OK's One Extra Day for Annual Wheat Festival" all the way to page four), so we were pretty confident that we had done all we could, but as to what would actually happen the next night, no one knew.

We drew over 100 for every performance that weekend. We were turning profit by the end of the first night. We didn't have enough chairs on the floor to seat everyone; people were actually sitting on the upper level. The show still had hiccups, sure, but the audiences--both our regulars and the many, many newcomers--were completely blown away by what we'd accomplished. Several said something along the lines of, "I didn't know we had this kind of talent in this little town!" For a lot of Wellingtonians, this had been the first arts-related event they'd probably ever been to in their own hometown.

For three nights, we were awesome.

I've found there are very few true "mountaintop" experiences in theatre. There are all kinds of good shows and great nights and adrenaline rushes, but there are not many moments where, twelve years later, you're still get a rush from an evening, a production, or a season of your career. I've had three, in 105 productions. This show, this event, this culmination of five years of learning and growing with WCT, was one of them.

The show was also significant to me, personally, for a couple of other reasons: First, it was my sister's last show with WCT before going off to college. Every show after The Nerd had been a Christa-and-William thing. From now on, anything I did with WCT I did on my own. That was significant. Also: this is the only show in my entire career that my entire family was involved with: My mom played a young nun, my dad played Captain Von Trapp, my sister played Liesl, and I played Rolf. And yes, that was awkward, thanks for asking, but we were serious actors. We managed to put it aside for the good of the theatre! ;-)

The next summer, we did it again with Fiddler on the Roof, though Fiddler was a different kind of experience. My family wasn't around for that one, so it was just me. Also, while SoM was still primarily WCT staples from my childhood, Fiddler brought in a lot of new folks. Like, a LOT of new folks. And that was very good, don't get me wrong. But it also signaled a change in the direction WCT would be headed. Again, not bad, but the influx of involvement, especially from other men in the community, meant roles that had been opened to someone my age were not necessarily there anymore. Further, the WCT Board of Directors was gradually taken over by the man who'd first appeared on the Memorial Auditorium stage as Uncle Max in SoM. Fitting. Also fitting, Uncle Max and my father started to have some serious personality conflicts, and while my dad never discouraged me from acting with WCT, it no doubt still made my time there slightly less comfortable than it had used to be. Finally, Uncle Max started taking WCT in a more exclusively adult direction and less of a family-production vein. Not, like, X-rated or anything, but not really stuff the kids would follow. I had joined our Board as the youth representative, and I stayed active doing things like running crew for The Odd Couple and props manager for Steel Magnolias, but two significant things were changing here: first, WCT no longer "needed" me. Second, I was going into high school, and quite honestly, there wasn't a whole lot more growth I could get out of WCT.

We never "broke up," but we both realized it was time to start seeing other people ;-)

Oh, you remember how the other day I mentioned that my early WCT years were the first point in my life I ever believed I would be a professional actor someday? Well, this was the first time where I decided I would never do theatre for a profession. I knew the odds. I knew most people never made it. I knew I was a big fish in a small pond, and I figured, while I'd always love being involved, I would never, ever, ever put all my eggs in that basket, because that's a dream that, realistically, just didn't come true. And I wasn't being depressed or cynical about it, it just made sense.

Look at young me! Wasn't I the mature, rational little teenager!